Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Google’s Nexus 5 was unveiled on Halloween, and you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. What exactly makes the Nexus 5 so special to the average user?
For techies, it’s a hacker’s dream with a multitude of options for rooting and modding. But it’s great for other people, too: The Nexus program has evolved into something far beyond its nerdy beginnings. It’s now a popular consumer line with many advantages over other major smartphones.
The Nexus 4 is no longer for sale from the Play Store, but there remains some stiff competition for the Nexus 5. The Galaxy S4 is consistently popular among consumers, and there’s also the HTC One, Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, Moto X, and Xperia Z1 to consider. All of these phones cost much more than the Nexus 5 — the cheapest being the $500 Moto X and most expensive being the $725 Note 3 — but, at least in terms of specs, don’t outclass it.
Google’s Nexus 5 has a 1080p screen, just like the rest of these phones (besides the Moto X’s 720p screen), and a Snapdragon 800 processor, which is the same as you’ll find in the Note 3, G2, and Z1. The Nexus 5’s processor is even a generation newer than the Galaxy S4 and HTC One’s Snapdragon 600.
And while all of these phones have NFC, only the Nexus 5 can use the tap-and-pay function of Google Wallet, since buying on on-contract phone means having your carrier block it (unless you’re on Sprint).
Let’s break down a few of these advantages.
The Nexus 5’s biggest advantage is its incredible price. Whereas a 16GB iPhone 5S from AT&T costs $650 off-contract, an unlocked 16GB Nexus 5 from the Play Store is only $350. The Moto X, which is arguably a lower-end phone, comes in at $530 for an off-contract 16GB model from AT&T. The Nexus 5 is simply in a league of its own when it comes to price. It has the specs and design of a high-end phone, with the price of a low-end one.
Of course, the Nexus 5 will also be coming to Sprint under contract (for a subsidized $149 with a two-year contract) as well as to T-Mobile with their monthly payment plans. The unlocked version is also compatible with AT&T, although they won’t be directly selling it, but you simply will not be able to use one with Verizon. The best option for a Nexus 5 right now is to order one from the Google Play Store, although they seem to be backordered about 2-4 weeks right now depending on what storage option you choose.
But if you’re currently under contract and looking to renew your contract, why would you spend $350 on an off-contract device when you could sign another two-year agreement and get a different high-end device for $200? Because you could save a lot of money going the prepaid route.
When the Nexus 4 arrived, we covered seven of the best American SIM cards you could get, and that list remains largely relevant with the Nexus 5 today. My only addition would be AIO Wireless, a subsidy of AT&T which uses their network at a much lower monthly cost. If you like AT&T’s extensive coverage, but would rather pay $55 a month using an off-contract phone than pay $100+ a month with an on-contract phone, AIO will be perfect for you.
In a nutshell, major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) inflate the price of your talk, text, and data by subsidizing the cost of your phone; that’s why you can get a $650 iPhone for $200 on a two-year contract. They know they’ll make up the difference in those two years. But with an off-contract Nexus 5 and a cheaper prepaid monthly plan, you’ll save loads in the long run.
And for such a high-quality device, there’s really no competition in terms of price here.
Without getting technical, let me just assure you that this thing is fast. Early reviews have shown it to zip by some of today’s high-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 (which we quite liked) and HTC One. This device isn’t the laggy Android of yesteryear; it’s a brand new phone ready for some gaming and multitasking.
You may have experienced older Android phones that over time just became slow, buggy, and awful. Those days are behind us with the Nexus 5. This device won’t be slowing down anytime soon, and since it’s Google flagship, it will get the attention it deserves. Two years from now, will there be better phones than the Nexus 5? Of course, but this phone will still be no slouch.
Plus, all Nexus devices get automatic updates to the newest operating system without having to wait around for wireless carriers or hardware manufacturers to approve it. That means that you’ll always have the newest version of Android and all of the goodies that come along with that.
Wireless charging still seems like a futuristic marvel to me, but it’s actually been available for a while. For some reason, phone manufacturers have been slow to adopt it. It’s been in many Nokia Lumia smartphones, the Nexus 4 had it, and the Galaxy S4 has an optional (and expensive) wireless charging-compatible backplate. But many major devices, like the iPhone 5S, Xperia Z1, HTC One, and Moto X, simply don’t support it.
However, it’s lack of broad adoption means that it’s a rather standout feature for the Nexus 5 and differentiates it among a crowded market. Google has said that it will be selling an official Nexus 5 wireless charger soon, although it has yet to pop up on the Play Store, but the Nexus 5 should work with any Qi-compatible wireless charger.
To learn a bit more about wireless charging, read up on Matt Smith’s excellent article on what exactly wireless charging is and how it works.
While actually introduced last year with the Nexus 4, Photo Sphere is still a relevant and awesome feature; it is Google’s super-panorama. It allows you to take 360 degree pictures, capturing the entire room around you or the entire view from the top of a mountain. It’s an insanely cool feature that, unfortunately, hasn’t made it to other high-end Android phones like the Galaxy S4 or HTC One. (Unless you buy the Google Play Editions, but those are $650 and $600 respectively and only available off-contract at the Play Store.)
If you want to wow your friends with astounding 360 degree photos, the Nexus 5 is the way to go. Google even has a community site for uploading your cool Photo Sphere shots. Plus, the Nexus 5’s camera is much improved from the Nexus 4, including Optical Image Stabilization that steadies the camera even if your hands are shaking slightly, producing much less blurry photos.
With the Google Wallet app, wireless payments should be mainstream by now. Ever seen those tap-to-pay terminals at grocery stores or fast food locations where you swipe your credit card? Well, there’s a chip in most modern phones called an NFC chip that can be used to make payments just by tapping your phones against it, if you have your credit card information stored in Google Wallet.
Unfortunately, Google Wallet’s usefulness has been severely limited by carriers who have flat-out blocked it and by its US-only availability. But since the Nexus 5 has NFC and isn’t limited by carriers, Google Wallet will work to its full glory and you can use it to pay wherever the tap-to-pay terminals are located.
Currently, there are only a handful of devices on select carriers (No AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile) that support this tap and pay functionality, and out of all of them, the Nexus 5 gives the most bang for your buck. Without carrier support, Google Wallet won’t be hitting carrier-branded devices any time soon. NFC itself isn’t that much of a stand-out feature, but being able to use Google Wallet to its full extent is.
Besides, there are some other cool uses for your NFC-enabled device as well.
If there’s one point I could reiterate here, it’s that this phone is ridiculously inexpensive for being of such high-quality. The phones that it gets compared to are nearly double its price or more, and it has all of these features that the others don’t.
What do you think of the Nexus 5? Will you be ordering one from the Play Store anytime soon? Let us know in the comments.