Welcome to the second part of our review of the Google Nexus 5, the latest phone from our favourite Californian search company. Like its predecessor the Nexus 4, this new Nexus smartphone delivers a compelling blend of flagship hardware and the very latest vanilla Android software at a reasonable price. The sim-free phone is ideal for giffgaff customers for that reason, costing just £299 for the 16 GB version and £339 for the 32 GB version.
In this article, I'll unbox the Nexus 5, have a look at its physical features, and give you my first impressions - read on!
The Nexus 5 comes in a large and cheerful box, similar in style to those we've seen previously for the Nexus 7, Nexus 10 and Nexus 4. A photograph on the front shows the Nexus 5 in profile and from the front, letting us see which colour variety we've ordered.
Looking at the top of the box, we can see a sticker with all of the various pieces of information - the model number (LG-D821), the variant (White 32 GB UK) and the network bands supported (4 bands of GSM, 6 bands of WCDMA, 6 bands of LTE). The phone is made in LG's home nation of South Korea.
On the back of the box, we've got a bit of regulatory information, a Bluetooth logo, and another shot of the rear of the phone.
We slide the outer cover off, revealing the white box inside with a small Google logo.
Inside, we find the phone itself at the top layer.
Beneath, there are precisely three useful things: a UK AC adapter, a USB cable and a SIM removal tool (not pictured because I've already lost the thing!). It's worth noting that the phone doesn't come with headphones, so you'll have to provide your own.
Now let's take the phone out of the box and have a look at it, starting with the rear of the phone. Here I really appreciate the white version, because it makes photography quite a bit easier! From left to right, we can see some almost invisible regulatory information, an LG logo, a rather large horizontal Nexus logo, and the camera assembly. This includes a small LED flash and a camera mounted inside an unusually large ring.
From the front, there's only one indication this is the white model - a white circular earpiece at the top of the phone. The front-facing camera is in the upper left, with the proximity sensor in the upper right. With no physical or capacitive buttons, the rest of the phone is merely display and bezel, giving quite a nice flat look that draws attention to the gorgeous display.
Let's take a look at the buttons. We've got a ceramic volume rocker on the left hand side, in an arrangement that'll be familiar to most Android users. I'm not sure why the buttons are made of ceramic, but they do feel quite nice to push.
On the right side, we've got a ceramic lock button near the top of the phone, with the sim tray just below this.
On the top, we've got a headphone jack and a microphone for noise cancellation.
Finally, at the bottom we have a microUSB port (which is mounted inverted to most Samsung and HTC phones) and a pair of speakers grilles. Behind the left grille is the mono speaker, while the right houses the primary microphone.
Thus far, my impressions of the phone have been quite positive. The Snapdragon 800 processor and Android 4.4 seem to work excellently in concert, with everything loading very quickly and apps installing particularly quickly.
Coming from the Galaxy S4 and the Oppo Find 5, I've definitely noticed a big improvement. Compared to the Galaxy S4, there's also much more disk space available, even with the 16 GB Nexus 5, as all that Samsung cruft isn't here. Apart from Multi-View (splitting your screen to display two apps at once), I haven't really missed any S4 feature thus far.
Left to right: Google Now, the default home screen, my current home screen.
Android 4.4 is also quite interesting. I like the changes to the overall look and feel - the blue trim from Honeycomb seems mostly gone now, in favour of white. The new lighter Roboto font is used to good effect, and the entire system feels a bit slicker and fresher than before. The new launcher is also good, particularly the Google Now page available with a swipe to the left and the ability to say "OK Google" and get instant voice search. I do miss being able to customise the launcher (like having a 5x5 grid of icons instead of 4x4) though, and I worry that Nova Launcher (my preferred third party alternative launcher) won't be able to copy the unique new abilities of the stock launcher.
Of course, I've also noticed a few downsides as well - most noticeably in camera performance. While the Nexus 5 is definitely capable of taking great pictures, it seems difficult to get a consistently good result compared to the Galaxy S4. Hopefully this can be improved in software, as the 8 megapixel OIS sensor in the Nexus 5 should perform better than this.
Battery life also seems a bit inconsistent - while I've had good results today (after turning on ART, see below), on other days the battery has drained faster than I've expected. While I've still never run out of power, even on long days, I'm not seeing as good results as I did with the Galaxy S4. I'll try to do some proper tests of this for the full review next week.
Overall though, things seem awesome - I'm very happy with the Nexus 5 right now, and I look forward to going into more detail in the full review!
Interestingly, Android 4.4 includes support for 'ART', a new Android runtime that allows CPU-intensive tasks to be completed much faster - which also improves battery life, as CPU cores can idle more often. This is achieved by compiling apps before runtime, instead of the approach of the old Dalvik runtime that compiling apps each time they are run. You can turn on ART in the developer options, and I'd recommend that you do - it takes a while to convert your apps, but it does seem to improve app speed and battery life. For more information on ART, check out this excellent article by Android Police.
Bonus: Benchmark Results
I thought I may as well throw in the benchmark results that I've done so far, so you get an idea of synthetic performance (although as we now know, enough companies cheat at Android benchmarks to make them a poor indicator of performance).
OK, that's all for now. I hope you tune in next week for my full review!
In the meantime, be sure to let me know what you think of the Nexus 5 if you've picked one up, and the first impressions piece as a whole. Have a good weekend!