We’ve had our Nexus 5 for a little over a week now, making sure we’ve had enough time to get well acquainted with the device. During this time, we’ve taken the Nexus 5 out on dates, slept with it, got real nice and schmoozy with the phone. While I can’t show you video of the great lengths I took in getting a good “feel” for the device, I will describe my experiences with the phone over the past week. Like any first date, I’ll be judging the Nexus 5 based solely on the physical: its hardware.
First things first, the Nexus 5 is dead sexy. Sure it has that strange, overly large, camera areola on its back. But it’s the little quirks that give an otherwise boring, matte black slab some defining personality. Especially since design-wise, you kinda get the feeling LG designed the phone to not stand out. It’s entirely possible this was an intentional move by Google to keep the spotlight on Android, and not the tool that delivers the goods (Google services). The “ceramic” buttons were a nice touch, and probably the most premium aspect of the Nexus 5’s design.
The phone is surprisingly much thinner and lighter than I expected, measuring in at 8.59mm thin and a feathery 4.8oz. This, along with the silky smooth soft touch finish, makes for a phone that feels great in the hand (or anywhere else for that matter). It’s definitely a clear departure from the gaudy, glittery glass backing of the previous model.
The best part about the soft touch finish is that the phone sits wherever you lay it: your lap, car seat, sofa arm rest. It wasn’t until I revisited my HTC One — which somehow always ends up sliding onto the floor or in between couch cushions — that I realized how much I had been missing this.
LG made it so the soft touch finish fully extends around the device, even along the rim where it meets with the glass display on top (white version features a glossy plastic rim). I noticed that this creates an uncomfortable feeling when dragging your finger off the sides of the display. It also traps a crazy amount of lint/debris in the crevices where the rim and glass meet. As much as knock the Nexus 4, those smooth beveled edges on the display are sorely missed in the Nexus 5.
Speaker placement on the Nexus 5 is odd. It’s found along the bottom of the device — yes, just like the iPhone — with another grill right beside it for the microphone. While using the phone with one hand and in landscape, I found my hand would actually cover, muffling the sound. Pretty annoying for those who watch a lot of video or do some gaming on their smartphones.
Can’t say I was too crazy about the speaker quality either. The speaker does get fairly loud, it’s just not crisp or clear. In the end, it seemed to get the job done. Apparently there’s a software bug in KitKat that makes audio output inconsistent and Google will be addressing in a future update, so we’ll be on the lookout for that.
Nexus 5 right side up (left), Nexus 5 upside down (right)
My biggest complaint with the Nexus 5’s design was the large chin (bezel) along the bottom of the device. Sure, LG could have created a smaller overall device by simply chopping off the bottom chin but they didn’t. Gotta leave room for improvement in next year’s Nexus, right? What I can’t for the life of me figure out is why Google didn’t have LG flip the phone upside down, so that the incredibly small bezel was at the bottom of the phone.
This would make infinitely more sense given the bottom software buttons already take away some screen real estate and would make for a phone that looks more balanced. Lastly, it’d also allow your thumb extend further over the screen, making it easier to hit those hard to reach corner UI buttons in single handed use.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz) and Adreno 330 GPU (450MHz) quite frankly haul ass on the Nexus 5. It’s pretty noticeable when moving up from a Snapdragon 600 phone and will be even more apparent coming from an older SoC. With 2GB of RAM, it’s almost like Android 4.4 KitKat simply stands out of the way and lets the Snapdragon 800 do its thing.
What’s interesting is in a few side-by-side tests with the LG G2 (housing the same Snapdragon 800), we saw the Nexus 5 consistently beat the G2 when opening apps or loading web pages. Not by much, but it was certainly there. This lead to a phone that felt more snappy and responsive than any other phone we’ve come across — bar none. If speed is what you’re after, there has never been an Android device faster than the Nexus 5. Ever.
While we never place much weight in benchmarks, we feel obligated to provide the usual tests, simply because it gives us something a little more concrete than subjective opinions. Yes, some OEMs like to doctor their results but in the end benchmarks do measure something, even if it’s nothing more than the potential of the hardware within.
Also worth noting is that while we were performing these benchmarks the Nexus 5 stayed cool, never reaching “hot” temperatures that we noticed from other devices during these same tests.
The Nexus 5 comes in 2 storage options: 16GB and 32GB with no option for expandable memory (micro SD cards). On our 32GB model we found that after formatting and the loading of the OS, there’s about 26.78GB of total space left for apps and media. Last year’s model only offered 8GB/16GB of storage, so this year’s 16/32 was a definite upgrade.
32GB isn’t terribly confining, but after loading up only a few apps and games, we’re already down to 22GB of free storage. Because Google wants to keep costs of the the Nexus 5 to a minimum, we get that storage is just one of those specs they need to cut corners on. It just doesn’t mean we have to like it (or wouldn’t considering paying a higher premium for a 64GB option).
A huge aspect of a phone’s hardware is its camera. Given that we’ve covered that in depth in a previous post, you guys can read up on that here. To make a long story short, we found that while the Nexus 5’s camera was lacking, we think a good portion of that is software based — not hardware. That being said, the Nexus 5 wasn’t the best smartphone camera we’ve shot with, but it’s also not the worst (an ongoing theme in the Nexus 5).
The 8MP camera’s optical image stabilization helps out a lot while taking video, but the camera’s slow focus and performance make shooting from the hip feel like a chore. Also, video was nice, but for whatever reason, Google’s camera software only utilizes a single microphone when recording video instead of the available 2 (although rooting can enable both).
Don’t get us wrong, there are instances where the Nexus 5 camera can deliver a really nice image. Give it enough light, and it will perform well. When using HDR+ mode, you can shoot in even the lowest of lighting conditions and deliver a great image. Just good luck getting the Nexus 5 to focus correctly.
Lets talk about the display quality. The Nexus 5 features a 4.95-inch Gorilla Glass 3 1080p display. Some of you may know from previous reviews, but I’m kinda big on displays. Because the Nexus 5 isn’t offered at the premium price-point of other smartphones, I expect LG would skimp out on a few parts, the display being one of them. Believe it or not, the 1080p display used for the Nexus 5 is actually the same one used in the HTC DROID DNA (which I loved).
That’s not to say there aren’t differences. Google/LG tweak the color saturation and gamma differently than other OEMs, so what you’re left with is a very true to life, accurate color representation. Of course, for some folks, that might be too bland or “washed out” at first glance, especially when comparing it to other devices. Like the Nexus 4 before it, viewing angles were pretty bad. A good argument can be made by how how often anyone really uses their phone from an angle.
Comparing it side-by-side with the G2, I preferred the display on the G2 with much brighter whites, darker blacks, and vibrant colors. We decided to do a quick comparison test, pitting the Nexus 5 against the LG G2, HTC One, and iPhone 5s in a dark comparison test. Results can be found above and below.
Note: battery life on any mobile device will never be the same for any 2 people. That being said, I can only give you my personal experience, comparing it to other devices I’ve own or currently have in my possession. This is in no way the final word in battery life for the Nexus 5, and your mileage may (and likely will) vary.
With that out of the way, the Nexus 5 comes equipped with a sizable 2,300mAh battery. While it’s far from the 3,000mAh found in its cousin, the LG G2, we were hoping that a similar 23% decrease of the G2’s 2-day battery life would also be found in the Nexus 5. Not the case. We found that on average (after tallying up a little over a week’s worth of data), the Nexus 5 hit a respectable 12 to 14 hours of battery life with light usage. Anyone who is looking to actually use their phone should expect a few hours less.
Of course we know a large portion of battery life has to do with software working along with the processor, so we’re hoping future updates will improve this number substantially. Battery life is always a huge concern for anyone looking to buy a new smartphone and rightly so. With options like the LG G2 and Moto X who offer phenomenal battery life, the Nexus 5 is up against some stiff competition.
There’s a handful of other hardware specs that are worth mentioning, so we’ll round them up here. It’s not always mentioned, but the Nexus 5 features a micro SIM card, not the tiny new nanos. This means you wont be able to swap SIMs from your Moto X or iPhone 5s with ease, something we were a little disappointed with.
Also, like the Nexus 4, Google once again opted for a Slimport enabled micro USB. We’ve never used Slimport (which is said to be a better technology than MHL) and likely never will, so we’re not sure if this is a plus or minus. You’ll also find the Nexus 5 is capable of wireless charging using your favorite Qi compatible charging accessories.
Like most good Androids these days, the Nexus 5 also features NFC for tap-to-pay transactions at participating retailers and Android Beam (now Google+ compatible) which is also convenient and something you wont find on an Apple device. There’s also Bluetooth 4.0 on board, along with dual-band WiFi 802.11 ac, and the Nexus 5 offered in the Play Store offers support for AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint networks. How many smartphones have you seen that can do that?
So who, if anyone, is the Nexus 5 aimed for? Of course, there’s the small minority of Android fanboys who love (and demand) constant and unhindered software updates directly from Google. But with the Nexus 5, Google is really targeting those fed up by paying steep monthly cell phone rates, simply to get online with a great smartphone. It’s a way out. Like the all-American Miller High Life, the Nexus 5 is a good phone, at an honest price.
Now comes the tough part of figuring out whether the Nexus 5 is worth your hard earned money. In fact, great value is exactly what the Nexus 5 is all about. While it’s true the Nexus 5 doesn’t excel in every area, this was an intentional move by Google.
Google simply wants to get their goods and services into as many hands as possible. A Nexus phone always gives consumers the biggest bang for their buck. At only $350/$400 unlocked, simply put: there’s no better smartphone you can buy for the money. Of course, when factoring in carrier subsidies, there are other — even better — options offered from other smartphone makers.
Is the Nexus 5 the best smartphone on the market? Definitely not. But its not that far from it either.