There hasn’t been a single Nexus phone or tablet that hasn’t been stunning both inside and out. The Nexus 5 is no exception.
What Is It?
The Nexus 5 — from a hardware standpoint — is essentially the excellent LG G2: a phone we said had great hardware and crap software.
Carrying this thing around in your pocket is like wielding Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolnir. Whomsoever holds this phone, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor: with a lightning-fast quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, a god-like 2GB of RAM and a beautiful 1080x1920 (1080p) panel with 445ppi, all suited in a svelte, rubberised armour. It’s out of this world.
The Nexus 5 also packs in an 8-megapixel camera with Optical Image Stabilisation, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage (no microSD card slot here), an Adreno 330 graphics processor, wireless charging, Android 4.4 “Kit Kat”, Gorilla Glass 3 and a 2300mAh battery.
All that power goes for a shockingly cheap $399 for the 16GB version, and $449 for the 32GB version.
The design of the Nexus 5 is delightful, not because of how flashy it is, but because of how handsomely unremarkable it is. With curved top and bottom edges, a rubberised back and a barely-there bezel, the Nexus 5 is a gorgeous, gimmick-free device that you’ll enjoy carrying around. If you want a bit of flash in your Nexus 5, however, you can get it in a dazzling white.
The 5-inch screen is big and beautiful, but not so large as to be ridiculous. Here’s looking at you, phablets. The screen is bright and the colours vibrant; something the phone inherited from the excellent LG G2 framework it’s based on.
We got around 10 hours of battery life with the Nexus 5, which is perfect for use in your work day and on your commute home/drinks after work (because that’s how you roll).
The Nexus line finally has 4G with the introduction of the 5. That’s great news, especially considering that Google had previously shied away from 4G connectivity on the Nexus phone because of global compatibility and software upgrade issues.
Android 4.4 makes an awesome debut onto the Nexus 5, making the flagship Google OS look slicker and smarter than ever. Android 4.4, also known as Kit Kat, packs some welcome new additions to make your smartphone experience better.
Google Now is no longer just a widget on your homescreen, instead living on its own bespoke page on the far left. It updates regularly and throws information as you need it into your Notification Center. Google also asks you to opt in or out on set-up now so you can start using it straight away.
The Nexus 5 also has passive listening features, similar to those of Google Glass. By saying “OK Google” while the phone is unlocked, the Nexus 5 will trigger a new voice search for you to start typing. Honestly, it’s not much effort to push one button, but it’s still pretty awesome that your phone can now respond properly to voice commands.
The phone app has also been overhauled in Kit Kat, with the software now remembering who you call and prioritising those people. It also lets you search for places from the phone app now, which is handy. We tested searching for everything from "food" to "hospitals", and found that you probably need to know the name of something you're searching for before you start typing. For example, if you want a GP, don't type "doctor", type "medical", as it will produce results for a medical centre. Contextual search changes would be nice, but it's still a welcome addition.
The camera on the Nexus 5 is great in well-lit scenes, with the HDR+ mode adding some rich tones to your image. It's not perfect, however, but we'll get to that.
The Nexus 5 tears up the joint when it comes to raw hardware power. We clocked it at a phenomenal 2744 on Geekbench 3, making it more powerful than the new Nexus 7 and even the iPhone 5s, both of which clocked in just north of 2500. It's fascinating to see those numbers, because while the LG G2 has a slightly higher clock speed, it still managed to lose by a massive margin to the Nexus 5 on benchmarks, scoring 2200 against the latter's 2750.
That rubberised finish on the back of the Nexus 5 sure might look simplistic and beautiful, but it attracts a bunch of marks and fingerprints from whatever you put it down on. Sure, they can be easily buffed out, but it doesn’t look great most of the time.
Android 4.4 Kit Kat is great, but we noticed that the passive listening, also known as ”OK Google” functionality, only works when you have US English enabled as the voice language. Google supports the Australian Voice and understands your accent, but passive listening only comes from those configured to the US of A.
The only other concern we had with Android 4.4 is the locked-down search bar. Google’s 4x1 search bar widget is locked onto the top of every page and (from the looks of things) can’t be shifted. It’s not as bad as Samsung locking the entire dock on the Australian Galaxy range, but it’d be nice not to have something locked down on the Android home screen for a change.
It’d also be nice if the Nexus 5 had the battery tech that its clone, the LG G2 has. Under the hood, the G2 packs in 3000mAh of battery, thanks to the fact that LG Chem — the South Korean manufacturer’s bespoke battery facility — has been able to perfect the “stepped” battery. That means the battery gets wedged right up to the corners of the phone, despite the chassis being curved. It looks like Google weren’t able to wrangle such a deal, and owners will be saddled with a 2300mAh non-removable battery instead.
Low-light photos should still be avoided on the Nexus 5, with the camera in the iPhone 5s trumping it in both HDR+/HDR and normal modes. For all the drama that the massive lens cover calls to the device, too, the field of view on the camera is still decidedly narrow. It's better than any Nexus camera before it, but that doesn't amount to much in the end.
The only saving grace of the camera in low-light comes from the addition of Optical Image Stabilisation which makes your pictures less blurry amidst all the noise.
This Is Weird
The Nexus 5 is a brilliant smartphone, but Google has done relatively little when it comes to getting this phone onto the market.
It pinched a phone from hardware partner, LG, gave it preferential treatment with a new version of Android and tightened up the design some. You might even argue that the design is slightly boring given how the last Nexus looked with its flashy back cover.
One simple question floats to the top, however: why can’t other manufacturers do this?
Like we said above, Android skins are mostly rubbish, throwing bloatware, “content services” and unnecessary crap in your face that gets in the way of the whole experience. Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony are all at fault here.
The Nexus experience is so perfect because it focuses on beautiful hardware and clean installs of Android. It’s brilliant out of the box because of the beautiful simplicity paired with savage power.
Nexus devices aren’t successful just because they’re comparatively cheap, Nexus devices are successful because Google knows best.
Should You Buy It?
Despite a few issues, the Nexus 5 is the perfect Android phone. It’s not too big, not too small, not too expensive and not too cluttered with third-party nonsense. It’s just right. It’s the perfect formula, and it makes the Nexus 5 is the brilliant. Personally speaking, this is the only Android phone I can ever see myself living with from now on.