Google and LG have teamed up once again to offer the Nexus 5, the latest smartphone to offer a completely unadulterated Android experience. How does the Nexus 5 stand up to other smartphones on the market, in terms of features, specs and overall user experience?
The Nexus 5 costs $349 for 16GB of storage, and for the price, stacks up quite well against the competition. It also does not look like a “budget” phone on paper — the Nexus 5 packs substantial specs on par with any other flagship currently on the market, and thanks to LG’s display prowess, has a big and beautiful 1080p screen.
There are some flaws that prevent the Nexus 5 from being the best smartphone out there, but they are few and far between. For those of you who said TL;DR to my full review, here are the top 11 features of the Nexus 5.
Nexus 5 Review: The Bad
The Nexus 5 features a better camera than its predecessor, and with KitKat updated from Android 4.4 to 4.4.2, it has gotten even better. Both the Nexus 4 and 5 feature an 8-megapixel main shooter, while the latter has been updated with optical image stabilization, or OIS.
OIS consists of a spring behind the main camera on the Nexus 5, reducing the blurring caused by shaky hands or motion. However, the autofocus on the Nexus 5 is touchy, and most photos appear to come out blurry on the first try, especially portraits or those with human subjects.
While it might take a while for the autofocus to kick in, the Nexus 5 camera’s shutter speed is fast. Therefore, it is easy to quickly snap three or four pictures of the same subject, with at least one acceptable shot finding its way into the bunch.
Unfortunately, photos on the Nexus 5 are less robust than on many other flagships, including the iPhone 5S and the LG G2. That being said, the Nexus 5 is also priced much lower than most of its competitors, and certain components were inevitably going to be plucked from the bargain bin to reduce the overall manufacturing cost.
10) Not Available On Verizon Wireless
The Nexus 5, like the Nexus 7 tablet and the LG Nexus 4 before it, is not compatible with the Verizon Wireless network. Since the Nexus 5 has the hardware necessary to work on Verizon’s network, it looks as if the provider is stubbornly blocking the Google phone for one reason or another.
Whether or not it’s the Nexus 5’s fault, the fact that stock KitKat is not supported by the most popular U.S. wireless provider is causing heartache among Verizon’s Android fans. While this may be a deal-breaker for Verizon customers, there is hope that future Nexus devices will be supported in the upcoming year.
SVP of Android Sundar Pichai told The Verge that Google was working with Verizon “on a set of projects for 2014.” While the Nexus 5 may not appear on Verizon, the upcoming release of a Nexus device running Android 5.0 probably will.
9) No MicroSD Card Slot Or Replaceable Battery
The Nexus 5 features an unremovable plastic rear shell, similar to the glass back on the Nexus 4, which means the battery cannot be easily replaced by a consumer. Manufacturers sometimes prefer the non-removable approach to batteries, since it allows for a larger capacity, while many consumers are irked since lithium polymer batteries, like all rechargeables, degrade over time -- eventually losing their ability to hold a charge.
Google has said that a microSD card reader would not appear on a Nexus device, since it creates two separate storage locations and does not mesh with the search giant’s approach to Android. While 16GB and 32GB are large enough to hold more than a few apps and photos, more is always better. Just ask that little girl from the AT&T commercials.
8) Build Quality
The Nexus 5 consists outwardly of glass and plastic. While the plastic rear shell might break less easily than the glass back featured on the Nexus 4, it makes the Nexus 5 almost too light, and unbalanced in the hand.
The camera lens awkwardly protrudes from the back of the phone, and the white Nexus 5 has a glossy plastic around the edges that makes it much harder to hold than the rubberized ring that surrounded its predecessor.
All of these gripes are easily fixed by purchasing a case for the Nexus 5. However, depending on the case, users may notice that the Nexus 5’s ceramic buttons do not protrude enough from the side to be comfortably pressed. Otherwise, the ceramic buttons are a step up over the plastic ones found on most other Android devices.
7) No Touchless Control
Many smartphones have exclusive features, and it stands to reason that not all of those features are going to end up on a sub-$400 smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One have infrared remote control blasters and can control an entire home theater. The LG G2 features Knock Knock, where a double tap on the screen awakes the phone from sleep. Neither of the aforementioned features made their way to the Nexus 5, and we’re okay with that.
However, Touchless Control, the always-on voice technology introduced by Motorola with the Moto X, is a major leap forward for Android. It makes Siri look like a silly toy by comparison, and is one of the more glaring omissions from the Nexus 5.
The Nexus program is Google’s way of setting the standard for Android, gently pushing its hardware partners to innovate with their offerings. Since Mountain View decided to omit Touchless Control from its Nexus devices, it sent a signal to other manufacturers that voice controls are optional or unnecessary, slowing the advancement of truly hands-free technology.
The “OK, Google” hot-word works if the Nexus 5 is awake and on the home screen, but it’s just not the same as being able to command your smartphone from across the room.
6) Battery Life
The Nexus 5 has slightly more capacity than its predecessor (2,300 mAh up from 2,100), but barely lasts a whole day with heavy usage. The Nexus 5 has three major factors working against its battery — the 4.95-inch 1080p display, LTE compatibility and Google’s gentle (but firm) insistence on using GPS and WiFi to determine a user’s location at all times.
It's not terrible, but those looking to play games, stream movies or browse the Web at LTE speeds are going to be able to drain the Nexus 5’s battery very quickly. Fortunately, Android 4.4 KitKat arrived with the addition of Android Runtime, or ART. Compared to the Dalvik Runtime currently employed on most Android devices, ART completely changes the way that the OS operates.
While it causes apps to take up slightly more space, ART allows them to open more quickly, and is more power-efficient than DRT. Here are a few more tips for prolonging battery life on the Nexus 5, and embedded below is a video on how to enable ART on Android 4.4 KitKat.
Nexus 5 Review: The Good
5) 4G LTE
Google has endowed the Nexus 5 with LTE compatibility. A notable flaw of the Nexus 4 was its omission of 4G-LTE, a wireless technology that is significantly faster than HSPA+ or 3G. While increases in speed comes at the expense of battery life, so does everything else worth doing on a smartphone.
Video streaming from Netflix is crisper, apps and games download faster, and web pages open up quickly. While it depends on network coverage, LTE coupled with Chrome makes web-browsing on the Nexus 5 so fast and easy, we sometimes prefer it over our desktop PCs.
4) International Availability
The Nexus 5 includes support for most radio bands worldwide, making it an excellent phone for international travelers and those who do business overseas. While the International Business Times named the Moto X as the best Android smartphone of 2013, the Motorola flagship is only available in the U.S.
For $349, the Nexus 5 is a killer deal. Despite the flaws mentioned above, the Nexus 5 is truly more than the sum of its parts. Compared to other devices that cost nearly double, LG and Google have created a device that challenges the notion of a “budget smartphone."
There are two other contenders that bear mention when it comes to smartphone buyers on a budget — the Moto X (starting at $399) and the Moto G (starting at $179). While those outside of the U.S. are unable to purchase the Moto X, the Moto G costs a little more than half of the Nexus 5 and will see a worldwide release.
The Nexus 5 wins in terms of overall hardware value, with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 4.95-inch 1080p display and 16GB of storage for $349. While the Moto G compares more favorably to the Nexus 4 in terms of specs -- with a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 4.5-inch 720p display, it costs little more than half of the 5 and is still a great value.
One of the most remarkable features of the Nexus 5 is its display. While the Nexus 4 featured one of the poorest displays in its class with 318 pixels-per-inch (ppi) on a 4.7-inch screen, the Nexus 5 features minimal bezel and a super-bright 4.95-inch display with 445 ppi, in full 1080p HD.
The Nexus 5 also features Gorilla Glass 3, a big improvement over earlier incarnations of the touchscreen covering. The Nexus 5 has escaped from pockets filled with sand, coins and even car keys on several occasions. Each time it has come out unscathed.
Streaming Netflix is remarkable. Games look great and webpages featuring dense text are clearly visible, and require less zooming to read than on 720p devices. Users with small hands may find the Nexus 5 too large, but I found it the perfect balance between a smaller phone and a true “phablet” like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
1) Stock Android, Updated by Google and Free of Carrier Bloatware
Outside of its low price, one of the best things about buying the Nexus 5 is the stock version of Android 4.4 KitKat that it bears. Google made some questionable decisions with KitKat, most notably by setting Hangouts the default text-messaging app and thereby once again jamming Google+ down consumers’ throats. However, Android 4.4 is snappy and powerful compared to its successors.
Not only will the Nexus 5 receive OS updates faster than any other Android device, it also has a few exclusive features. The “OK, Google” hot-word works from anywhere on the home screen. Accessing Google Now cards is easier and just a bit faster, as it is now available by swiping to the left side of the screen, in addition to pressing and holding the home button.
Carrier bloatware takes up valuable storage space and can oftentimes slow down the Android experience for users. These potentially unwanted, and often unremovable apps are a nuisance across all carriers, although some or worse than others. Luckily, the Nexus 5 is void of any sort of carrier-installed apps, and is practically guaranteed to be upgradable to Android 5.0, or the next major OS release from Google.
Nexus 5 Review: Conclusion
There have been hardware problems reported in some Nexus 5 models, including non-functioning GPS and buttons that rattle when the phone vibrates. LG and Google have addressed some of these issues in a slightly tweaked version of the Nexus 5 in an attempt to eliminate customer frustration. With any large hardware launch, there are oftentimes issues with the first run of a hotly-anticipated device, and outside of these issues the Nexus 5 is largely a reliable, fast and easy to use smartphone.
LG and Google began to shift the smartphone market towards lower-priced, full-featured devices with the Nexus 4, which was offered direct to consumers for under $300 without the need to extend or start a two-year contract with a service provider. They have successfully followed up with the Nexus 5, which offers a gorgeous display, speedy processor and stock Android 4.4 KitKat.
Follow Thomas Halleck on Twitter @tommylikey