Nexus 5 Review

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The Nexus 5 might be the most leaked device of the year, but it’s finally real and available to the public. The follow-up to the Nexus 4 bumps up the specs almost across the board and has a feature set that bares a striking resemblance to the LG G2.  That said, the Nexus 5 is still a very different device than the handset it was based on and may prove to be one of the best options in the Android handset lineup this year.

Outside of its impressive hardware, the Nexus 5 is also the first device to ship with Android 4.4 Kit Kat out of the box. The latest update to Android brings quite a few changes to the table, and the Nexus 5 is sure to have the latest and greatest updates to the OS for some time.

Solid hardware and new software aside, the Nexus 5’s starting price is $349 off contract, which may be the most enticing part of the entire handset. Should the Nexus 5 be your next smartphone? Read on to find out!

The Good
  • Great display
  • Kit Kat has a few nifty tricks
The Bad
  • Camera can't compete with some of the competition
  • Battery life is very hit or miss

Hardware

We've known what the Nexus 5 was going to look like and what hardware it was going to ship with for a while now, but that doesn't make it any less exciting. The Nexus 5 is fully equipped to take on just about any task you could throw at it with ease.

The Nexus 5 ships with a 5 inch 1080p HD IPS+ display, 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB RAM, 8 megapixel OIS camera, 16 or 32GB storage options, and more.

The display on the Nexus 5 is stunning. Shipping with a 5 inch 1080p HD IPS+ display and protected by Gorilla Glass 3, the screen on this bad boy is one of our favorites alongside the Super LCD 3. Color representation is spot on and not oversaturated like AMOLED displays, with great viewing angles. Watching movies on the device really showcases just how beautiful and rich the display can be.

The face of the device is just what you'd expect a Nexus handset to be; simple. The 5 inch display covers a majority of the face with the standard assortment of sensors above and below. The bezels surrounding the display are pretty small, which may not be as tiny as the bezels found on the G2, but most definitely help the handset fit comfortably in the hand.

Above the display, you'll find the expected sensors (proximity and ambient light) along with the 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. The earpiece on the device is  a small circular hole with a grill inside, which is interesting enough, though we don't see any genuine benefits from this implementation. The grill on the white version of the Nexus 5 is also white, which adds a bit of an odd contrast, but some may like it. Below the display, you'll find the multi-colored notification LED that's been found on the past few Nexus devices.

The sides of the Nexus 5 are virtually identical to that of the Nexus 4. The right side houses the power button, with the micro SIM card slot right below it, and the volume rocker can be found on the left side. These buttons are made of ceramic, which really does nothing for the handset, but we're not complaining. The bottom is where you'll find the micro USB port that's inverted when put next to the Nexus 4, and the 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the top of the handset.  The backside of the handset is where you'll find the 8 megapixel OIS camera, LED flash, Nexus and LG logos.

Outside of the earpiece color on the black and white versions of the Nexus 5, you'll find that the sides of the two are also different. The sides on the black Nexus 5 have the same soft touch material found of the backside. However, the sides of the white Nexus 5 are done up with a glossy plastic, which may give off a cheap look and feel to some.

Design

The design of the Nexus 5 is pretty simple. The boxy slab of a device is rather easy on the eyes, while some may find it a bit drab.

The rear side of the handset is the most dramatic as far as design goes. The camera is surrounded by a black, circular ring that provides some contrast on the white version of the handset.

The large Nexus logo that spans the back of the device is also pretty interesting. It's oriented in the landscape position like the new Nexus 7. Like the black ring around the camera, it doesn't look bad, but it's not necessarily something that makes the design look better.

Overall, the design on the Nexus 5 is pretty sleek, and we wouldn't be surprised if we saw these design choices come to more Nexus devices in the future.

Build Quality

We're pretty sure that many are happy to see that the Nexus 5 doesn't ship with a glass panel on the back like the Nexus 4 did. The Nexus 4 looked great, but the back was fragile and would slip off of almost any surface without the protection of a bumper or a case. Luckily, the Nexus 5 ships with a soft-touch backside that feels great in the hand and you won't have to worry about it shattering into a million Gorilla Glass pieces.

By going with the soft touch back, the Nexus 5 doesn't give off the premium feel found on its predecessor.  We liked the feeling of the cold glass when picking up the Nexus 4, but the soft touch on the Nexus 5 is a worthy trade off that will be able to handle more wear and tear.

Software

As you'd expect, the Nexus 5 ships with the latest version of Android, 4.4 Kit Kat. The latest and greatest version of the OS brings a wealth of new features, along with a handful of user interface tweaks that some will enjoy, while others might not.

Possibly one of the most interesting changes in Kit Kat is that Google Now is fully integrated into your homescreen. A quick swipe to the left from your main homescreen panel will reveal all of the Google Now goodness that was previously tucked away and accessed by a swipe up from the home button. Now, this gesture will only bring up a Google Search. (I'm personally not a fan of this new implementation at all.) If you've been used to having your homescreen setup on both sides of the main homescreen,  you'll need to adjust to the new way the panels are laid out. And while you can disable Google Now, you won't be able to get the extra screen to the left of the main panel back, so it's best to keep the feature enabled. The only way to send Google Now back to where it used to be in Jelly Bean is to install a third-party home replacement.

Other home screen tweaks include the ability to say "Ok, Google" from any panel to launch a voice search, but the Nexus 5 won't wake up from it's locked state like the Moto X. You can also move entire homescreens to another position, but the only way you can delete them is by removing every icon and widget from said panel. The user is also allowed to make many more homescreen panels (we stopped at 31), so if you've ever needed more panels on your homescreen, you now seem to have an endless supply.

The all apps button on your homescreen will reveal that icons in the application drawer are much larger than previous versions of the OS. This can be a good and a bad thing, depending on the resolution of the application's icon. You'll also find that there's now no way of adding a widget to the homescreen from the app drawer, and Google has gone back to a previous implementation to get this done. For the Nexus 5, you simply long press on the homescreen, where you'll be able to tweak your Google Now settings, add widgets, and change your wallpaper.

Throughout the system, Google has gotten rid of the blue accents that were introduced in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Instead, it wants applications to shine through and the OS to simply be the vessel, which is why the new accent color found throughout is a more subdued grey.

In an attempt to bring the latest version of Android to more devices, Google has made KitKat extremely power efficient and can run on devices that ship with 512MB RAM. The idea is rather great, but we have our doubts that existing handsets that are lower priority to handset-makers will be receiving KitKat, and may be reserved for upcoming 'budget' Android devices. The jury is still out on that one, and we'll have to wait and see what low-end devices make the KitKat cut.

What else does KitKat have to offer? A lot. While some KitKat 'features' live within Google Play applications that users can have without KitKat, they're best showcased on the Nexus 5.

  • The new Phone Dialer offers up a new way to search for contacts and businesses, right in the same place. With the new phone dialer, no longer will you need to search for a business' number in Google Maps, as you can just type in the name of the business and the dialer will give you the results you're looking for. Google also makes this new feature work for you when you're receiving calls, too. If a number calls your phone that's not in your contact list, it will attempt to match the number of businesses through Google Maps.
  • Full screen album art now adorns the lock screen when listening to Play Music.
  • Android KitKat now natively supports IR blasters, so you can control your television with your phone or tablet. While official support for IR blasters is definitely a welcomed feature, we're still pretty surprised to find that the Nexus 5 lacks one. Luckily, with Android 4.4 KitKat, we'll likely begin to see some quality IR blaster remote applications hit the Google Play Store in the future.
  • It's now easier than ever to print from your Android phone or tablet with KitKat. Documents can be sent easily to printers connected with Google Cloud Print or HP ePrint Printers, along with other printers that have accompanying Google Play applications.
  • The new Google Keyboard has seen a fair amount of tweaks and now includes emoji support for those who just can't get enough of it.
  • A refined version of Android's font, Roboto, is found throughout the system.
  • Tap & Pay now offers up an easier way to pay for items and is built right into the system and works across any mobile carrier.
  • The on-screen navigation keys are now hidden when reading books and other content, allowing for a full screen view. A quick swipe from the edge of the display will bring the keys back into view.
  • Google Hangouts now includes SMS integration and replaces the messaging application on the Nexus 5.
Overall, KitKat brings a lot of features to the table, but we'd be lying if we said it was the update we were expecting. Some new additions are more than welcomed, but we aren't huge fans of the homescreen layout right now. It will take some time to get used to the new way things are done with KitKat's UI. We would have loved to see Google release the launcher to the Play Store, allowing users to get a little bit closer to the stock Android look and feel if they wanted to. Overall, KitKat is a pretty sizable update to the OS, even if many of the enhancements are found under the hood.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

By now, one should know that a higher megapixel count doesn't make a camera better, and this stands true with the Nexus 5. The  8 megapixel shooter on the Nexus 5 ships with OIS and can produce some great shots with the new HDR+ mode.

The camera software hasn't changed much since Jelly Bean, which is a bit of a bummer. The camera software UI is simple and to the point, but it's also very barebones, lacking a significant amount of shooting modes and features found on other Android handsets.  This leaves a lot to be desired. Although some handset-makers tend to throw in way too many camera tweaks in their software, we'd rather have the option to have these features without having to install a third-party application.

While significantly better than the Nexus 4, the low-light performance of the Nexus 5's camera isn't anything to praise. A lot of detail that a few other smartphone cameras would be able to pick up is lost with the Nexus 5's shooter. In perfect lighting, some photos come out oversaturated, which might look nice, but the results are less accurate.

If all Google set out to do with the camera on the Nexus 5 was to make it better than its predecessor, then it succeeded. If it was aiming to take on every smartphone camera around,  it didn't.  That said, the camera itself it certainly capable of taking some great shots, even if it isn't the most powerful.

Want to see how the Nexus 5's camera does against the  iPhone 5S and LG G2? Be sure to check out our Photo Shootouts below!

Photo Shootout: Nexus 5 vs. iPhone 5S

Photo Shootout: Nexus 5 vs. LG G2

 

HDR+

HDR+

HDR+

HDR+

HDR+

Call Quality And Battery Life

When using the Nexus 5 on T-Mobile, we ran into no issues whatsoever when on the phone. The calls came through clear on both sides, with little to no interference. The loudspeaker on the back of the handset is pretty loud, but don't expect anything above average.

One of the most important features on a smartphone is the battery, and the Nexus 5 misses the mark here. Battery life ranged widely from a little more than 4 hours, all the way up to 16 hours. With heavy usage, we were able to burn through 25% of the 2300 mAh battery in about 20 minutes. Further testing may yield more favorable results, but battery life is something you'll want to keep an eye on if you're a power user and might be a deal breaker for some people.

The Final Take

Well, what can we say about the Nexus 5? It's the latest flagship handset that we've been waiting quite a long time for, features the latest version of Android, and a fast CPU. This much we know, but is this the Nexus we've been looking for? With a great in-hand feel, and solid hardware through out, the Nexus 5 is a great device that Android purists will surely enjoy, but it's not perfect.

Personally, I'm less impressed with the Nexus 5 than I thought I would be, which is disappointing, considering I've bought three of the four past Nexus handsets. The new tricks KitKat bring to the table are solid, but I'm not in love with the new homescreen layout, which makes Nova Launcher a staple for me with this handset.  The hit or miss battery life on the Nexus 5 is really a let down, and it's an area that Google has continued to skimp on. That said, the price of the Nexus 5  will probably have many overlooking anything that's less than perfect.

Starting at $349 off-contract, the Nexus 5 may indeed be the best Android handset you can grab right now. The value alone makes it good enough to ignore just about any other Android smartphone available today, unless you're on Verizon. And believe me, despite the annoyances I have with the Nexus 5, it would be my personal device if I wasn't sold on the LG G2 right now.

With a better build quality and spec sheet than it's predecessor, the Nexus 5 will no doubt turn out to be the most popular handset in the family. Plus, this is pretty much the cheapest off-contract option to get a Snapdragon 800-touting handset in your hands, and that sounds pretty good to us.

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  • Orange Peanut

    Typically reviewers complain about android devices feeling too plasticy. Obviously ceramic buttons don’t matter but do they make the device feel a little more high-end?

    • blakestimac

      I’d say it’s a bit too subtle for it to really matter. It’s a nice touch, though.

  • Billy Lee

    What’s a good estimate as to when Google will have a fix for their camera and speaker software?

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