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Thinking of Buying A Nexus 5? Here’s A Real Life Review

We review Google's latest phone, the Nexus 5.

Google recently released its 5th foray into the smartphone space with the Nexus 5 – but what’s it like?

In the article I share my take on Google’s newest flagship Android device.

First impressions

Front of the Nexus 10The Nexus 5 comes with a pretty standard assortment of accessories: a longer-than-usual USB cable, a 1.2A mains plug, SIM card ejector tool and a few booklets. There are no headphones, but given that most in-box headphones tend to be fairly substandard, this isn’t a massive loss.

I ordered the 16GB white version, and it really is a beautiful thing.

Like all other Nexuses, the 5 has no branding whatsoever on the front. It only has a subtle notification light below the screen and a camera, speaker and some sensors above the screen. On the white version, the speaker is the only thing that stands out, which is helpful as it helps orientate the phone when you take it out of your pocket.

The Nexus 5 uses the newer Gorilla Glass 3 for the screen, so it’s both tougher and more scratch-resistant than that found on the Nexus 4.

On both colour models the sides are black. The power and volume buttons are in their usual places, the headphone jack is on the top and a micro-USB port is on the bottom. The volume and power buttons are made out of ceramic, although I’m uncertain of the benefit of this.

Back of the Nexus 5Perhaps more unusually the speaker is also on the bottom. Even though there’s two grilles at the bottom on the phone, there’s only one speaker, and the other grille is used for the microphone. This is slightly disappointing and at the moment there appears to be a bug affecting the quality of the speaker in some apps, as Android Central confirmed.

The positioning of the speaker can be a little annoying, as you can cover them with your finger and muffle the sound, especially when holding the phone landscape while playing motion controlled games like Riptide GP2.

The back itself is a wonderfully silky and smooth, high quality plastic, with a landscape Nexus logo centrally across it, a tiny portrait LG logo below it and hardly visible legal information.

The rear camera protrudes slightly out of the top-right corner of the device, with the LED flash located below it.

Finally, neither the back cover nor the battery can be removed. We’ll cover the importance of this in a moment.

Overall, the device feels solid, well made and it never creaks.

Hardware

The screen is probably a highlight of this phone.

Let’s start with the screen, as it really is a thing to behold.

It’s a 5 inch display with a full HD resolution at 445ppi (pixels per inch) and actually pleasing to look at. Even the smallest icons are crisp and the overall display is bright. Even better, the Google Play Store now offers more high-resolution apps than there were back in January when I reviewed the Nexus 10.

Aside from being, perhaps, a little bit big, there are a few niggles to be found with it. Even then, most of these only depend on how you hold the phone. It’s quite big, so it’s difficult to reach some areas of the screen sometimes. The narrow screen margins can also cause unwanted touches, but on the other hand keep the size of the phone small.

The screen is also unreasonably light, so you’ll probably end up keeping it at 5–10% (or even 0% in dark conditions, where it can still be too bright) instead of automatic brightness. Since the screen is clearly visible outside at this time of year on 10% darkness, I’d also imagine it’ll produce no visibility problems in the summer either.

Camera

There’s a 1.3MP camera on the front and an 8MP camera with optical image stabilisation at the back. While I haven’t seen that much of a change with the front camera, the back camera is a big improvement over both my Galaxy Nexus and my Nexus 10. While it’s not a mind-blowing camera, it’s now far beyond what you need to shoot with a smartphone and the photos look good. They’re crisp and the colours are vibrant.

I took a selection of shots which you can see below, but unfortunately I did not have the ability to experiment with low light shots. I’ve included both normal and HDR+ versions. The latter certainly look more pretty, but a bit oversaturated in places.

Battery

Now, the battery. This is definitely the worst thing about this phone. For the first 6 days of using it I found it to be awful, to the point where it barely lasts my usual 7–16 daily routine of tweeting, messaging and listening to music. However, on the day of writing it has improved considerably, leaving me with 33% rather than 10-15%. It’s definitely inconsistent, and the response on Google+ seems to reflect this: a few people get really great battery life and a few people can barely make it through the day.

One day, it lasts less than eight hours of only moderate use. The next, more than 16. It lasted 3 hours, 43 minutes on the Verge Battery Test, which is among the lowest scores we’ve seen on a high-end phone in some time, but it would occasionally surprise with its longevity.

– Joshua Topolsky, The Verge

The screen is likely to be a huge catalyst, but considering how wildly the battery life varies across days and users, it’s probably something Google needs to take a hard look at. It’s disappointing this wasn’t fixed before release, so if you really care about battery life you should probably hold off a little while or invest in a portable battery.

On the brighter side, this phone does have Qi wireless charging so you can charge it without any wires (apart from the one going to the charger, of course!).

Performance

As far as the performance goes, this Nexus 5 is fantastic. It whooshes through all parts of the OS, and games too. I played popular games like Riptide GP2 and Temple Run 2 and they ran without any lag whatsoever.

The phone also scored 28696 points in the AnTuTu Benchmark, making it the second most powerful device just behind the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and with the Samsung Galaxy S4 close behind it. The previous iteration of the Nexus, the Nexus 4, is 9 places below the Nexus 5.

KitKat

The Nexus 5 launcher in KitKat.

The Nexus 5 launcher in KitKat.

As with most other Nexus devices, the release of a new phone also marks the release of a new version of their Android operating system. This time it’s Android 4.4 KitKat, mainly bringing support for Android on low-power devices, not that this applies to the Nexus 5. It also bears support for many features specific to the Nexus 5 at the moment.

Even though we’ve already covered the new features in Android 4.4, I’ll take another look at some of them here now that I actually got to use them.

First up: the updated launcher.

In certain situations the notification and navigation bars are now partially transparent, and these situations include the launcher and Google Now. This makes the launcher really pretty.

Google Now is now accessible from the left-most side of the launcher and the widget picker has now been relegated to a long press of the home screen instead of a tray in the apps list (which is now transparent). Google Now can supposedly be activated by saying “OK Google”, but this only works from the home screen or Google Now itself, and only when using US English as the language for Google Now. It’s a bit redundant as in those situations I’m only one tap away from it, but it’s a cool trick nevertheless. Overall, the launcher has been pleasantly refreshed, with a definite iOS 7 influence.

Another new feature is the smart dialler that brings the traditional dialler into the smartphone era. Apart from searching your local phone contacts, you can now also search local businesses. While it’s not a comprehensive search where you can narrow it down depending on exactly what you want, it’s definitely good enough. It reliably found what I wanted it to find.

In the future, the dialer will also show the details of other Android users you don’t have in your contact book, unless they disable this option. Overall, the whole dialer is prettier and easier to use.

Hangouts and SMS in the new Hangouts app.

Hangouts and SMS in the new Hangouts app.

The Messaging app and Hangouts have recently been merged, and this is now default. While the change makes it easier to communicate, it’s not yet perfect. All your open conversations are in the navigation drawer on the left. SMS conversations and Hangouts are separated, and you can see which is which as SMS conversations have an appropriate emblem on the contact’s picture.

You can quickly switch between SMS and Hangouts conversations when you’re in the chat window by tapping their name. This is all helpful, as it reduces the focus on where the conversation is held, but I expected something more intelligent from Google. The conversations should be merged and the appropriate medium should be selected automatically, depending on whether you have an internet connection and if the other person is online in Hangouts. However, this is likely to come in a future update as Google continues its push for Google+ and Hangouts.

There’s also a bunch of other changes, like “tap to pay” capabilities, a Chrome-based WebView, system-wide Emojis and new printing capabilities outside of CloudPrint. You can view them in more detail on Google’s Android 4.4 page.

The Nexus 5 is now available from the Play Store and other retailers for £299/$349 for the 16GB version and £339/$399 for the 32GB, both of which are available in black and white.

Buy Nexus 5 from Google Play

 

Photo credit: Tiana Campbell
Rating
Display
Power
Looks
Software
Camera
Battery Life
Summary: A very good phone all-around, amazing for the price, only let down by weak battery life.
4.35
  • http://www.live-craft.com/ Jonathan Alfonso

    Looking to replace my BlackBerry Bold 9000 with one of these. This BlackBerry definitely outlived it’s time, but it had to be one of my favorite phones ever. Looking forward to the Nexus 5 taking that spot :)

    • Brandon Watkins

      Haha wow black berry bold, I didn’t know people still had those. But I definitely agree that phone was an amazing phone.

      • http://www.live-craft.com/ Jonathan Alfonso

        Indeed :)

    • David G

      Not interested in the new BB phones to replace your old one?

      • http://www.live-craft.com/ Jonathan Alfonso

        I would love the Q10 but it’s too expensive and the Android sideload option does not support any apps which rely on Google’s services.

        • David G

          good to know.

      • Jesus

        Blackberry in this day and age? Ha!

  • xshaneyx

    Got my Nexus 5 a bit over a week ago to replace my old Nexus 4.
    Mostly great but I agree about the battery. It was only lasting til around tea-time the first 2 days, next day it lasted til late evening and the following day only lasted til tea-time. Then I had two days in a row where it lasted well over a full day and today, despite light usage it ran out early again.
    Way too unpredictable and I am considering swapping it for something else.

    • David G

      don’t give up so easily. the battery is just calibrating and it’s lifespan will increase as you use it until it finishes the break-in period. So honestly, the battery life is damn good, too many people judge it too quickly without using it long enough just so they can be “first” with their “insights”

    • Nicolas Ruiz

      Agree, when I started with my N5 I was upset about the battery life. But then I change the location settings, and the exchange interval from push to 1 hour… It changed my battery life from 8 hours to 16. Sometimes 16 with 20% left. But I do agree that it is inconsistent. Today after 9 hours and 20% I decided to recharge it… It has been the first day since I made the configuration changes so it’s not that bad, but I would like a better consistency.

  • http://www.techmansworld.com/ Michael Hazell

    Nexus 5 looks pretty good. I might look into getting one. Is there different models for the Nexus 5 or is it one size fits all, allowing you to use any carrier?

    • Sam Tran

      There’re only two models this time around: one for North America and one for everyone else. So with the exception of the kerfuffle with Verizon, the NA device will work fine across Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. :)

    • David G

      there are just two (technically 4) versions: 16GB and 32GB either white or black, aside from that they’re all good.

  • David G

    32GB Black N5 for me. No Regrets.

    • almo

      hell ya! best choice so far, wish chromebooks were this good

      • David G

        Chromebooks work great for what they were designed to be: a quick way to use the web while connected to the web. Anything other than basically an online-only “kiosk” type machine, and it falls on it’s face. So for those that need a computer that will run when even not on the web, either a real laptop with Windows, OSX, or Linux, or a 10 inch Android tablet with a dock (Asus Transformer) works better.

        • almo

          well if they just merge Android and Chrome OS and let people just use it however they want, i think they shouldn’t limit a starting OS and make it open like Android that way it progresses much faster and all options are there without limitations.

          • David G

            I get the reasoning why they made the chromebooks, but to me it seems like it’s competing against Android, as you can use a 10 inch android tablet with a keyboard and have the same kind of functionality and access to Google services in a device that isn’t as dependant on internet as the chromebook is. I feel maybe instead of making chrome os, they should’ve moved android onto those ARM chromebooks and make droidbooks.

          • jsebean

            I’d really like to see android and Chrome OS merge into awesomeness

  • Deviatomic

    My battery was dying rapidly the first few days as well, often within 3-4 hours, with Exchange Services on being responsible for almost 50% of that. I set my email account sync settings to, “Never” and now I’m averaging 12 on a charge.

  • Jesus

    Nexus 4 for me Jesus. No regregs.

  • Asator

    Did I miss something? You said you were going to cover the issue with the non-removable battery, but never did.