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Google Nexus 5 Full Review

phenomenon

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Today we'll be conducting our full review of the Nexus 5, Google's latest smartphone. 
 
The Nexus 5 is an attractive proposition, thanks to its combination of impressive hardware, the latest stock Android software and a very low price - £299. It's about half of the price of other flagships like the Sony Xperia Z1 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3, while having much better hardware specifications than other phones at this price point, like the Sony Xperia SP.
 
Is the Nexus 5 as good as it sounds? Read on to find out, as we evaluate the Nexus 5's design, hardware and software. We'll also be examining the phone's camera and provide some benchmarks, for the photographers and Android enthusiasts in the audience. Let's get started!
 
Design
 
As we saw in the Unboxing and First Impressions article last week, the Nexus 5 is a conservatively attractive smartphone in black or white. There are a few noticeable elements - the large horizontal Nexus logo on the back, the wide ring around the camera and the high-contrast circular earpiece on the white model - but overall, this is a phone that is content to remain under the radar.
 
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Instead, the Nexus 5's design speaks more to Google's desire to craft the ultimate in-hand experience. The phone's soft touch back is comfortable to hold, and is far less slippery than the sweaty plastic of the Galaxy S4 or the slick glass of the Nexus 4. The phone's gently curved edges fit nicely into your hand, and maintain the overall shape of the Nexus series. Even the ceramic buttons seem clickier and easier to reach than those on other Android handsets.
 
The phone is light, too. Despite increasing the screen size to 5 inches and the resolution to 1920 x 1080p, the weight has gone down to 130 grams - the same as the Galaxy S4. The minimal bezels definitely help here, although the effect isn't as impressive as that of the even larger-screened LG G2, with its rear-positioned buttons. Instead, the Nexus 5 takes a more measured approach that won't alienate users or require them to relearn their hand position.
 
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The Nexus 5, like previous Nexus smartphones, doesn't include a microSD card slot for additional storage or a user-accessible battery. That means that the Galaxy S4 gets an edge in utility, but it makes for a lighter and simpler design.
 
Overall, the Nexus 5 is an attractive phone which doesn't match the beauty of the HTC One or an iPhone 5S, but retains enough design flourishes to make it unique. 
 
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Ultimately, you are going to be looking into the gorgeous display and be focused on the software running and the hardware powering it, so let's have a look at these areas now.
 
Hardware
 
Internally, the latest Nexus is a monster. The heart of this phone is its Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, which right now represents the fastest silicon shipping in an Android phone. Backed with 2 GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of speedy storage, there are no compromises in performance here despite the low price.
 
 

Google

Nexus 5

LG

G2

Samsung

Galaxy S4

Google

Nexus 4

Sony

Xperia SP

Price £339 £439 £519 £279 £329
Display 5" 1080p 5.2" 1080p 5" 1080p 4.7" 720p 4.6" 720p
Chipset Snapdragon 800 Snapdragon 800 Snapdragon 600 S4 Pro S4
CPU Quad 2.3 GHz Quad 2.3 GHz Quad 1.9 GHz Quad 1.5 GHz Dual 1.7 GHz
Storage 32 GB 16 GB 16 GB 16 GB 8 GB
MicroSD No No Yes No Yes
Camera 8 MP OIS 13 MP OIS 13 MP 8 MP 8 MP
Network LTE LTE LTE HSDPA+ LTE
Release November September April November '12 April
Battery 2300 mAh 3000 mAh 2600 mAh 2100 mAh 2370 mAh
Android 4.4 KitKat 4.2 Jelly Bean 4.3 Jelly Bean 4.3 Jelly Bean 4.1 Jelly Bean

 

Neither have cuts been made in connectivity. The Nexus 5 supports LTE - a noticeable missing feature on the Nexus 4 - as well as the latest wireless standards. That includes dual-band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. The phone's lone microUSB port also supports USB OTG (for the connection of peripherals and storage devices) and SlimPort (for HDMI mirroring to HDTVs and the like).

 

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The two places in which compromises have been made are the camera and the battery. Let's take the battery first, as it's fairly straight-forward. The battery has a capacity of 2300 mAh, while other flagships like the Galaxy S4 and LG G2 have capacities of 2600 and 3000 mAh, respectively. While raw size isn't the only meaningful attribute, it definitely helps - and in my testing, I only barely squeaked by to the end of the day. Enabling ART improved matters, but particularly given the non-removable battery I would have liked to see stronger results here.

Still, this is a powerful phone that rivals the most expensive Android phones on the market and handily outperforms other phones at this price point.
 
For more hardware information, check out our Nexus 5 comparison article, which compares the hardware of the Nexus 5 against popular Android smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S4, LG G2, Sony Xperia SP and Google Nexus 4.
 
Camera
 
With the battery out of the way, let's have a look at the camera. This is an 8 megapixel unit, while most other flagships are sitting at 13 megapixels. The lower megapixel count is partially made up for by the inclusion of optical image stabilisation, which should make the average photo sharper and less blurry.
 
In practice however, this isn't always the case. Especially in dark scenes that should benefit most for the OIS, I got very mixed results. While sometimes photos came out well, other times I was shaking my head at the smudged and barely usable result.
 
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While the camera is still an improvement on the similarly mediocre Nexus 4, I had expected more given the more capable hardware and Google's focus on the camera in their marketing strategy - indeed, the first ad for the phone focused entirely around the experience of taking photos with the camera.
 
The front-facing camera is also a bit underwhelming, at 1.3 megapixels. With 2.1 megapixels being a standard on the Galaxy S4 and other flagships (and 5, 8 and even 13 megapixel front-facing cameras gaining popularity in China and Korea), Google could have done better here. I imagine the decision was primarily to keep the price down though, and that makes it more understandable.
 
Software
 
The Google Nexus 5 runs the very latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat. Beyond an easter egg there's no trace of corporate branding here, so you can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, 4.4 is all about improving the look and feel of the most core parts of the Android experience.
 
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Left to right: Google Now, the default home screen, my current home screen.

  

The first changes you'll notice are to the default launcher. Here, a new lighter Roboto font and a fully transparent top and bottom bar make for a much better looking homescreen. The blue trim from Honeycomb has been traded for white, and makes for a much more modern look, in holding with Google's recent card-based design efforts. The app drawer is also cleaner, with widgets banished to a menu that appears only when you tap and hold on an empty space.
 
Google Now takes a position of prominence to the left of your first home-screen, allowing for more rapid access in most situations than even the old drag-from-the-bottom gesture could provide. Here you'll find weather updates, public transport and traffic information, sports scores and stock prices. 
 
All of these are gleaned from your current location and past search history, so you get surprisingly prescient results. Searching for information about a restaurant, even on your PC, will result in directions appearing in Google Now. If you get a parcel shipment email, you'll get a tracking card. It's very cool to play around with, and is legitimately useful as well.
 
You can also switch your voice language to US English, and then you'll be able to just say "OK Google" when you're on the home screen to launch applications, set reminders and perform searches. 
 
For more Android 4.4 information, see our recent articles on what it can do and the "OK Google" feature.
 
Android 4.4 from a design point of view is quite lovely, but how does it perform? My first-hand impressions are that it is incredibly fluid - no doubt helped by the powerful hardware in the Nexus 5. Rarely do Google regress in this regard, but it's still great to see Android continue to evolve and improve.
 
Benchmarks
 
To give you an idea of synthetic performance, let's have a look at some benchmark results (although as we now know, enough companies cheat at Android benchmarks to make them an often unreliable indicator of performance). We'll start with some CPU/GPU benchmarks: 3DMark (left), AnTuTu (centre) and Vellamo Metal (right).
 
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In the tests above, we can see that the Snapdragon 800 CPU and Adreno 330 GPU perform admirably, particularly in tests that examine gaming performance. The Nexus 5 isn't the fastest ever Android phone, but it's right up there with the very latest releases. It's also noticeably faster than the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, which both use an older Snapdragon 600 processor.
 
Next, we'll try some web benchmarks: Kraken (left), Sunspider (centre) and Vellamo HTML5 (right).
 
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The Kraken results are quite strong - at 7.1 seconds, the phone is better than the LG G2, Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3 (which typically have results around 7.6 - 7.9 seconds to complete the benchmark, with lower times being better). Sunspider is less of a win, with the score of 700 ms being a bit higher than the leading Android (the Note 3) and the iPhone 5S. Still, it's also faster than the Xperia Z1, LG G2, HTC One and Galaxy S4 so not a bad result by any means. 
 
The Vellamo HTML5 benchmark is only 1460, which is less than half that of other Snapdragon 600 and 800 handsets, and I'm not sure why. I believe Google have changed some things in Android 4.4, which may be to blame for the uncharacteristically poor showing. Again, another indicator that benchmark scores aren't as useful as I wish they could be!
 
Conclusion
 
Like the Nexus 4 behind it, the Nexus 5 fulfils its promise of high-end power at a mid-range price. A few recurring weaknesses like battery life and camera inconsistencies are disappointing, but at £299 it's difficult to complain. While the previous Nexus 4 and the recently announced Motorola Moto G offer comparable value, if you want a high-end experience without paying a lot for it, the Nexus 5 is the phone to beat.
 
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The Nexus 5 is also ideal for giffgaff customers, with that low sim-free price. It's much easier to afford to pay £299 up front for the Nexus 5, compared with the £500 to £600 required to buy most Android flagships. Once purchased, you're able to enjoy inexpensive £10 or £12 a month goodybags, and you gain the freedom of being able to sell on your phone at any time. Nexus phones tend to maintain their value well, so overall it's highly recommended.
 
What do you think of this review and the Nexus 5 itself? Let me know in the comments below - I'd love to hear your impressions and feedback. Thanks for reading the article and have a great week!
24 Comments
governor
😳
consultant

Thanks 

good review Smiley Happy

enigma

Another great review. Thanks, in the running for my next 4G phone. Smiley Happy

mastermind
Thanks for the review
consultant
Very good in detail review, phone looks awesome! Smiley Very Happy

That was a good review, it's impressive that Google can sell a high quality smartphone at a lower price point, and only sacrifice on the battery and camera...Unfortunately, LG sells the Nexus 5 reportedly to wholesalers at a higher cost (around £350), then what the Google Play store sells it for...so it's unlikely to be sold by giffgaff...

cim
phenomenon

Great review thanks. The review mentions the camera and battery as the two key compromises - for completeness on the debit side I would add two others - the Nexus 5 speaker is definitely a bit lacking in volume and also the screen colours lack impact of some other phones, with a lower contrast and depth of black compared to the screen in the LG G2 for example.  

 

On the plus side and worth noting the camera has an HDR+ mode which can produce improved results in contrasty scenes. Downside of that is shutter lag is much worse and won't do such a good job if the subject is moving as it works by taking multiple shots of the same scene at different exposures and combining them. 

 

That all said, I am impressed with mine overall so far, especially considering the price  Smiley Happy

coach
Great review thanks
newcomer

Good review, google are working an update for camera and speaker, getting good battery after its bedded in.

 

 

professor

excellent review. this has helped me chose between phones. love the giffgaff reviews!