Design & Build Quality
As we already knew, the Nexus 5 is manufactured by LG and is based loosely on the G2. While the Nexus 5 doesn’t have the flashy rear key or curvy behind, the high-end build quality of the G2 (and the Nexus 4, for that matter) is apparent immediately. It’s like a Nexus 4 that’s gone through a minimal phase. Gone is the silver trim, rounded display glass and curve on the sides where they meet the back plate.
The Nexus 5 is a solid slab of screen with sharp corners and no apologies. It’s all G2 up front and Nexus 7 at the back. The stark “edginess” of the device is quite noticeable when you pull it out of the box and if you must level a criticism at it, it’s a little plain looking.
The chassis is made of the same rubberized plastic as the new Nexus 7 which wraps up the sides as well. It seems a shame to lose that nice tacky rubber feel from the edges of the Nexus 4, but the Nexus 5 feels great and sticky nonetheless. Despite the sharp edges it feels very good in the hand and the near-5-inch screen doesn’t impact on the feel of the device’s footprint, in large part due to the tiny side bezels.
Interestingly, the Nexus 5 now has ceramic power and volume buttons that are super sharp compared to the Nexus 4. But the same design style is followed through on both: where the Nexus 4's screen, chassis and buttons were rounded and smooth, the Nexus 5 is hard and sharp all over. Even the characteristic Nexus corner curves are sharper and tighter this time around.
Despite having a larger screen, the Nexus 5 is only marginally taller than the Nexus 4, and is actually a little thinner and lighter. The front features a slightly recessed call speaker, sensors, a camera and a LED notification light. The back has the slightly recessed Nexus logo emblazoned across it like the Nexus 7, and in the top corner sits the conspicuous main camera lens glass, which is raised above the rear cover. When the device is laid flat, the raised edge surrounding the glass touches the surface and there’s a peculiar wobble to the device when you press down on the other top corner. It’s a strange design choice that won’t please everyone and is a little out of place in the otherwise clean and slick build.
There’s twin speaker grills, although one houses a mono speaker and the other the microphone, on the bottom along with the micro USB charging port. The speaker jack and pinhole mic are up top, on the left and right respectively. The left side has the volume rocker and the right side holds the power button and micro SIM slot. There is, of course, no removable rear cover, replaceable battery or microSD card expansion, nor is there an IR blaster port.
It’s a perfect right angle from the screen to the sides, so the Gorilla Glass 3 is fully exposed, but should be capable of withstanding regular knocks and scrapes without a case. The shatter-magnet Nexus 4 glass back panel has been switched out for a much more shock-absorbent polycarbonate skin that will please many. All in all, the Nexus 5 feels great, looks great and is very solidly put together.
The Nexus 5 has a 4.95-inch, Full HD IPS LCD display with 1,920 x 1,080p resolution and 445 pixels per inch – a very impressive pixel density. The display is bright and crisp, noticeably sharper and brighter than the Nexus 4, and the color reproduction is a little pink where the Nexus 4 was a little purple. The whites are nice and even, albeit a little warm, and to my eye it is only a touch more contrasty and saturated than the Nexus 4 display. The viewing angles are brilliant, but the blacks are not great which is typical for LCD screens, and are actually a little grayer than the Nexus 4. The sharpness of the screen is exceptional though and makes for an amazing slate for video, reading and internet browsing.
As an Android showcase device, the Nexus 5 runs stock Android and only ships with the basic Google apps pre-installed. The device comes straight out of the box running Android 4.4 KitKat which has not appeared on any other Android devices yet. Of the 16 GB of internal memory on our model, 12.55 GB was available out of the box. For the details of Android 4.4 you can read up on our KitKat features article, but as far as the Nexus 5 goes, there’s nothing but essential Android here.
The new Hangouts with bundled SMS/MMS integration is a key feature, Google Now gets its own home screen and voice search from any home screen is also available (I can confirm that voice search did not work from the lock screen or with the screen off and no lock enabled, but was otherwise perfect, albeit only in English). It seems a little strange that Google wouldn’t include the always-on voice search that the Moto X features, although that device has a dedicated processor specifically for that purpose. Google Now can be accessed from the lock screen by swiping up, however, which will then give you access to voice search.
The Google Experience Launcher, aka the Google Search Launcher, feels and functions exactly as it did with the leaked APKs on my Nexus 4, minus the bugs and crashes. Both KitKat and the new launcher are not the major change some were hoping for, but they both feel clean, light and functional. The improved display space available to the Nexus 5, thanks to KitKat’s transparent system bars, is very apparent on the home screens, which feel really expansive due to the status and navigation bars floating on top of the wallpaper. Icons in the app drawer are larger and fill more space. There’s now a better dialer with more Google Now-like functionality that prioritizes your most frequent contacts, and adds predictive dialing and Google search within the dialer.
Lightness is everywhere, from white icons and swipe gesture trails, to brighter colors and app themes. There’s also full screen, immersive viewing modes and more KitKat generic features we’ve also covered elsewhere that will come to all devices soon enough (or not soon enough, depending on your outlook). There’s the addition of Google Keep, Drive and Quickoffice to the system apps, and you’ll get nice inclusions like Play Books, Play Games and Google Photos too. Google Wallet is more ingrained via the Tap and Pay feature, Locations offers High Accuracy, Battery Saving and Device Only modes, and cloud printing is now supported. If you hate manufacturer user interfaces, then the stock Android purity will be a pleasure, and the lack of bloatware and wasted space will be more than welcome.
The Nexus 5 specs pretty much have it all: a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor throbbing away at 2.3 GHz and Adreno 330 graphics. Not surprisingly, everything I put the device up against it handled with ease, although most strangely, swiping up and down repeatedly in Chrome and some other apps produced about the same response lag as the Nexus 4. But general processing speeds, app launches, switching, transitions and gaming were all silky smooth and super fast.
In our AnTuTu test, the Nexus 5 popped up lower than the HTC One, which seems surprising considering the pace you feel when you use it. In many other benchmarks for the device, only the iPhone 5s and Galaxy Note 3 posted better results. As always though, benchmarks are not the best, well, benchmark, and the general performance was nothing to sneeze at. Considering the Nexus 5 has the same processor as the LG G2, which is a processing beast, there’s very little to be displeased with on this front.
Simple processing tasks like playing Dead Trigger 2 produced flawless response times and there was no trace of the minor lags or jumps which I had experienced in the game previously, including on the new Nexus 7. The camera app wasn’t particularly fast though, and sometimes closing apps was a tiny bit slower than I would have expected, but all in all the processing speeds and raw power of the Nexus 5 are very impressive, and absolutely unheard of at this price.
Considering the LG G2 costs double the price, to get the same CPU and GPU combo in a sub-$400 handset, you really can’t complain. One noticeable aspect is start-up and shutdown. The Nexus 5 starts in 20 seconds and shuts off in 3-4 seconds, compared to the Nexus 4 which took 50 and 14 seconds respectively. Despite all this power and speed though, our Nexus 5 experienced some crahes and freezes when setting up.
The Nexus 5 has an 8 MP main camera with built-in optical image stabilization, which is, coincidentally, the reason behind the extra large lens glass on the back. In my very limited exposure to the Nexus 5 camera, it produced better results than the Nexus 4, but was still nothing to get too excited about.
Low light images were a solid improvement in terms of sharpness and grain, but were pretty unstable in terms of automatic white balance. Under fluorescent lighting the white balance jumped wildly between crazy golden washes and stark whiteness and it had some issues with auto focus as well. The Nexus 4 was uninspiring in the same conditions, but it was reliably so. Stay tuned for Johannes’ full camera comparison which will be out in the coming days, but based on first impressions, I wouldn’t expect the Nexus 5 to perform as well as the G2. As far as camera modes go, it’s much the same as the stock Android camera app from Android 4.3 although the Nexus 5 has a HDR+ mode. A software update is reputedly in the works.
- Nexus 5 camera problems and how to fix them
I unfortunately didn't see any sunshine while I had the Nexus 5, but in daylight the results were fairly comparable between the two Nexuses. Neither focused particularly well at close range, but the Nexus 5 was better. As you can see in the flower picture in the image gallery below, the Nexus 5 put a rich purple color on the flowers where the Nexus 4 went wildly blue – in reality it was somewhere around the middle. The internal shots at low light were debatable.
Low-light performance was significantly better on the Nexus 5, but everything consistently came out too yellow, except the still life of my night stand, which was, in fact, quite yellow and accurately captured by the Nexus 4, whereas the Nexus 5 turned it unnaturally white. In both cases, the color reproduction of the Nexus 4 was more true to life. The clearness of HDR+ low-light performance and the enhancements of OIS in the dark and daytime were pretty noticeable though. Otherwise there wasn't too much separating the two cameras, which are passable at best.
Many fans of the Nexus line were disappointed to hear the Nexus 5 would not only miss out on the unicorn feature of battery capacity options, but also just on a significant jump in regular capacity. The Nexus 5 has a 2,300 mAh Lithium-Polymer battery with Qi charging that is non-replaceable compared to the 3,000 mAh found in the G2, which, while also a little larger than the Nexus 5 is only 10 grams heavier.
Nevertheless, the improvements Android 4.4 supposedly brings should make that battery life last longer (we’ll bring you more information on battery performance as we use the device for longer) and I can at least confirm that the Nexus 5 battery charges fast. From 10% to fully charged in an hour and a half. My Nexus 4, plugged in at the same time, had charged about 30% in the same time. But with that big, bright screen and crazy processor, I’m not sure the Nexus 5 will make anyone swoon in terms of battery life.
In the short time I had it, the battery seemed relatively slow to drain, but we'll have more for you on that in Jakob's living with the Nexus 5 article in the coming week or two. Other sites that have had the Nexus 5 for longer are reporting mixed results: good life one day, bad the next, but none are writing home about the battery's performance.
Release date and price
The Nexus 5 release date was Halloween 2013: October 31st. In recent Google style, the Nexus 5 was simply released to the Google Play Store without fan fare or public presentation. The Nexus 5 launch coincided with the launch of Android 4.4 KitKat. The Nexus 5 price remained true to the standard set by the Nexus 4, with a minor increase due to increased storage capacities: the 16 GB Nexus 5 cost 349 USD and the 32 GB Nexus 5 cost 399 USD.
The Nexus 5 is going to be, for many, the smartphone they’ve been waiting for since last November. And in many ways that is justified. You simply cannot beat the price/performance ratio with this phone, thanks in large part to Google’s willingness to earn nothing from their line of Nexus devices. As a showcase for what Android can do, the Nexus 5 is nearly flawless, although battery life, camera performance, memory expansion, removable battery and uninspiring speaker performance are a pretty big counter-balance to a stunning display, slick minimal build and top of the line processor and graphics. There were also several unexpected crashes with our Nexus 5 when setting it up. In general though, the Nexus 5 improves on the Nexus 4's successes (speed, display), and fails in the exact same places (battery, camera).
But the biggest things that have always stood Nexus devices apart from the competition are the platform, the price and the performance. Stock Android, no bloatware, unbeatable price point and superior performance are a decent trade-off for many, including me, who are more interested in what Android can do on a clean platform for half the price of the competition than in replacing their point and shoot camera, never needing to charge again or having a surround sound system in their pocket: those are the buyers Google are interested in. Everyone else is welcome to spend the extra money to get better peripherals, Google seems to be saying, and at this price you have to expect some things to be less than spectacular. As an example of what can be achieved in a cheap smartphone though, in terms of successes and failures, the Nexus 5 looks to once again be the yardstick against which to measure the rest.