Approximately a year after Google released the Nexus 4, the company behind Android has come out with its successor — the Nexus 5. The new iteration of the popular and (relatively) cheap Android smartphone brings about plenty of improvements to its older sibling, enough so that the device sold out within hours after its release. Is the new device really worth the upgrade from the Nexus 4, or could it be your next high-end smartphone?
We’re giving away a white, 16 GB Nexus 5 at the end of this review. Stick around and join the competition to win it!
The Nexus 5 faces a bevy of competitors. Essentially, all high-end smartphones are competitors, including the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One, the LG G2, the iPhone 5s5c, and even the Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 is still somewhat a competitor because it has good hardware at an even lower price point, the iPhone is the iOS product, and all of the others are running older versions of Android with extras (bloatware) from their respective manufacturers. The advantages that the Nexus 5 has is that it offers a vanilla Android experience (no manufacturer or carrier bloatware). With prices starting at just $349, it costs several hundred dollars less than any of its competitors (besides the Nexus 4).
The Nexus 5 comes with the following specifications:
- 4.95-inch 1920 x 1080 HD IPS display (445 ppi) with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- Snapdragon 800, 2.26GHz CPU; Adreno 330, 450MHz GPU
- 4G/LTE and Dualband Wi-Fi
- Supported Frequencies:
- GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
- CDMA*: Band Class: 0*/1*/10*
- WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/6/8/19*
- LTE: Bands: 1/2*/3**/4*/5/7**/8**/17*/19*/20**/25*/26*/41*
- American carrier support: AT&T, T-Mobile US, and Sprint
- (* represents North American-only bands; ** represents “Rest of World” bands only. All others are found on both models.)
- Camera: 8 megapixel rear facing with Optical Image Stabilization; 1.3MP front facing
- Dual microphones
- 16 GB or 32 GB of flash storage ($349 or $399, respectively)
- 2 GB of RAM
- Battery: 2300 mAh (17 hours of talk time, 8.5 hours of Internet on WiFi, 7 hours of Internet on LTE, 300 hours of standby)
- NFC (for Android Beam, Google Wallet, etc.)
- Built-in wireless charging
- Proximity/Ambient Light
- Pressure (think barometers)
- Hall, sometimes called Hall Effect. It measures the magnetic field strength used for proximity and presence detection likely used for smart covers.
- Weight: 4.59 oz. (130 g)
- Dimensions: 69.17 x 137.84 x 8.59 mm
As you can see, the Nexus 5 packs plenty of great hardware. The main points to get out of this is the almost-5-inch 1080p screen, its 2.26 GHz processor, and its wide range of supported frequencies — including its support for CDMA, allowing it to be used on Sprint. I assume that the phone can’t be used on Verizon because they’re picky about which devices they activate on their network and/or there’s some sort of frequency incompatibility.
The phone is rather simply packed, where you can find the phone itself, a packet of reading material (along with a SIM-tray removal pin), a charger, and a microUSB-to-USB cable. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, which is good. Don’t expect any fancy accessories when you’re already paying a low price for the device.
I have to admit, I really like the design of the phone. Similar to the Nexus 4, the front face of the phone has no “blemishes” in the form of buttons or text. There’s just the screen, the front-facing camera, some slyly-hidden sensors, and the call speaker. On the left side, you’ll find just the volume rocker, and on the right, you’ll find just the power button and micro SIM tray. Both of these buttons are made of ceramic, which provides plenty of rigidity to the buttons. They feel very sturdy and should last for a long time. At the top, you’ll find the 3.5 mm headphone jack and a microphone; the bottom houses the microUSB port, a speaker behind the left grille, and a microphone on the right. On the back, you’ll find a hard matte plastic which provides a little bit of extra grip in your hand, but not necessarily on any surface. The seemingly large camera is found in the top left, along with a small flash.
The only issue I’ve noticed with the design has to do with the edge of the front face of the phone being slightly beveled. This isn’t a problem in any scenario except while in a call, because that little increase in elevation means that most of the pressure that the phone applies to your face is right along that edge. Maybe I’m just being a bit sensitive about that, but I’ve noticed that either way.
The build quality is excellent on the Nexus 5. While the body is made of hard plastic, it is still a high-quality material that should last for a long time. The Gorilla Glass 3 screen and ceramic buttons also add strength to the phone. I’m also glad that the glass back has been replaced with the hard matte plastic which will make it more robust. I tried squeezing various areas of the phone to see if it made any creaking sounds, but I didn’t detect any. It’s also a plus that the Nexus 5 is lighter than the Nexus 4, despite being bigger and sporting faster hardware.
Since the phone doesn’t have a removable back, it would be ideal and rather straightforward to just have the phone be made out of metal, but doing so would surely increase its price.
The screen is so densely packed with pixels, it’s fantastic. The colors are bright and accurate (although the darks still aren’t as strongly represented as they are on Samsung screens), the resolution makes everything crisp and sharp, and the screen has a large range of brightness levels, which is good for readability or to allow you to save power. The 445 pixels-per-inch display very readable even in sunlight, so I have no complaints about the screen.
The Nexus 5 has received a different camera, which is a relief as the Nexus 4 suffered various camera issues that deteriorated overall picture quality. None of this seems to be present in the Nexus 5’s camera. A few example pictures that I took are very clear (for the 8 megapixels it has); therefore, excellent camera quality has been restored. Of course, it doesn’t have features like the iPhone’s slow-motion video recording capability, but I don’t think that’s a must-have feature. Instead, the Optical Image Stabilization is a much better feature to have, and it works very well in real-time. The flash for the camera is acceptable, although sometimes a tad bit harsh in low-light conditions.
The speakers on smartphones have been getting some well-deserved attention lately, and the Nexus 5 is no exception. While the Nexus 4 had a single decent speaker (at best) at the rear near the bottom (a flawed design — sound is muffled when placed down on any surface), the Nexus 5 has a speaker along the bottom edge of the phone. The new design and speaker location enables perception of increased volume — more sound is directed towards your ears, compared with a speaker which faces away from you. The sound quality generated by the speakers are acceptable, but the sound’s clarity seems to be reduced as the volume is lowered (almost seems a little muffled). It is reported that Google is working on a software fix for this.
The best speakers I’ve ever experienced on a smartphone was on the HTC One — the speakers are high-quality, there are two of them, and they’re pointed right at you. I mean, it makes sense to have the speakers pointed towards you, so I’m wondering why it’s so hard to place them in the front rather than all the other locations in which speakers have been found.
NFC and Wireless Charging
One of the cooler features about this phone (despite it being called a gimmick by some folks) is NFC and the wireless charging capability. The NFC capability on the device should work with any other NFC-enabled device including other Android phones and NFC-enabled payment terminals.
Google is planning to release a wireless charging pad of its own for the Nexus 5, but it doesn’t appear to be on sale at the time of writing. People who actually use wireless charging report that any Qi-compatible wireless charger will work just fine. It’s a cool thing to have, but not necessarily any different than just plugging in your phone.
One of the fantastic things about the Google Nexus 5 is that it’s currently the only phone running Android 4.4 “KitKat”. While it comes with plenty of fantastic new features, it also has a lot of behind-the-scenes improvements that makes the operating system a lot more resource-efficient. That, along with the improved processor in the Nexus 5, makes for a seriously smooth experience. For example, stuttering during scrolling as now been completely eliminated except in situations where you’re scrolling while the browser is still fetching information from the Internet (such as loading pictures). The launcher has also been improved and merged with the Google Search and Google Now apps. Now, you have just three home pages, where the left-most page is Google Now. Also, the phone is very responsive to, “Okay, Google.” — so much so that a friend was able to just walk past me and say the phrase to get my phone to react. Assuming that you don’t have friends who utter the phrase on purpose to mess you up, this is a good thing.
In any case, as a Nexus, the phone should be the first to receive new Android updates for quite a while. I don’t think any other Android phone was able to hold up to the Nexus 4’s upgrade pace, so this should continue until Google (presumably speaking) releases the Nexus 5 2015 edition.
Should you buy the Nexus 5?
The Nexus 5 is a fantastic phone that provides a great Android experience for common users, and a friendly setup for Android developers and enthusiasts. Of course, at $349 for the 16 GB model, it doesn’t hurt that the phone also costs substantially less than other smartphones with similar specifications on the market today.
Ultimately, the only downside to this phone is that it’s slightly priced above the Nexus 4’s opening prices by maybe $50, so if that’s a major concern to you (which it probably shouldn’t be), then you can go ahead and just get the Nexus 4 at its new discounted price. Otherwise, the Nexus 5 is awesome, and even better for the price.
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