When the Nexus 5 was released back in November of last year, it flipped the script on the smartphone market. Never before had a flagship phone with such amazing features been so accessible in price. It's such good value that we're still comparing it to flagship devices released in mid-2014, like the Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8. As the Nexus 5 comes up on its first birthday, we thought we'd take a look at the field as it sits today, to see if Google's pride and joy is still good value, both on contract and for outright purchase.
Welcome to Gizmodo's new semi-regular feature, The Price Is Right, where we take a look at particular devices to find out whether or not you should spend your hard-earned coin on top-flight gadgets, or whether cheaper models will do the job. Got an idea for us to crunch the numbers on? Tell us in the comments!
First of all, let's revisit what the Nexus 5 is running under the hood, and compare it to current handsets.
You've got the quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 1920x1080 pixel (1080p) screen packing in 445 pixels per inch. The Nexus 5 also has 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.
Sure, it's running a last-generation processor (in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800), but when you look at the specs you soon realise it has exactly the same power under the hood as the Nokia Lumia 930, which we reviewed today.
The Nexus 5 also comes in red, and while that's completely inconsequential to whether or not you should buy it, it looks fantastic — and it provides a unique point of difference over the sea of black, white and gold handsets on the market right now.
So how do those specs match up against smartphone flagships from this calendar year?
Well, the HTC One M8 is powered by a 2.5GHz version of the new quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor (over and above the Nexus 5's Snapdragon 800), packs 2GB of RAM (the same), and adds in 16GB of storage for the Australian version (so that's a win for the Nexus).
To offset your disk woes, however, HTC has finally stuck a microSD expandable slot in the side of the device that can support 128GB worth of storage, which you don't get on the Nexus. It’s powered by a 2600mAh battery, making it slightly larger than the battery unit on the Nexus 5. The One M8 also packs in a fast-charging ability, which juices the device up from sub-10 per cent to 80 per cent within one hour.
Now, let's look at the Galaxy S5.
The Galaxy S5 is a 5.1-inch smartphone, powered by a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor (once again, more powerful than the Nexus 5), 2GB of RAM (same across the board) and holds 16GB of internal storage (expandable up to 128GB via a microSD card). It runs Android 4.4.2 with a TouchWiz UI overlay. It runs on just about every 4G network you can imagine, and also packs in a proprietary Download Boost feature that fuses together speeds from your 4G network and your Wi-Fi connection to make nabbing files faster.
The S5 is also packing Bluetooth 4.0, a 16-megapixel camera, an integrated heart rate monitor built into the flash unit which reads your pulse from your finger, a fingerprint scanner under the home button, and a IP67 waterproof rating meaning you can immerse it in water up to one metre for a period not exceeding 30 minutes. It’s also dustproof, and protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which means you can be a tad rougher with it than you would a Nexus 5 or an HTC One M8.
Both the S5 and the One M8 pack in faster, more modern processors than the Nexus 5, and both include better added extras like microSD slots and better cameras. But are those features worth the extra cost?
The Samsung Galaxy S5 retails for an eye-watering $929 in Australia. The HTC One M8 is just as wallet-thinning, coming in at $899 outright. Compare that to even the most expensive Nexus 5 at $449, you find that the Galaxy S5 is literally twice the price, with the One M8 costing $450 extra. You could buy two Nexus 5 phones for one Galaxy S5. No matter how you cut it, that's way too pricey.
But is it cheaper to get a Galaxy S5 or One M8 on contract? Slightly.
You'll get a Galaxy S5 on contract from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for anywhere between $61 per month for 24 months and $82 per month for 24 months, while the HTC One M8 will cost you about the same.
The Nexus 5 still works out cheaper, however: Telstra offers the device exclusively for $0 extra per month on the $55 Mobile Accelerate Plan. In terms of cheapest on a plan, the Nexus still comes out ahead.
The only device that really comes close to the Nexus 5 when it comes to price versus features is the excellent Motorola Moto X.
It’s packing a 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED screen, a dual-core 1.7GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of non-expandable internal storage. It also comes with Bluetooth 4.0, a 10-megapixel camera, 50GB of free Google Drive storage for two years and weighs 130 grams.
I had a brief flirtation with the Moto X a few months ago — it's a great handset. As we said at the time, however, it was almost engineered to be worse than the Nexus 5. It’s basically last year’s hardware at this year’s price point.
$549 nabs you a 32GB Nexus 5 with $100 to spare for accessories, apps or a nice meal, or it just nabs you a phone that wishes it was a Nexus 5, with half the storage. Looking at it another way, for just a few hundred bucks extra, you’re in flagship phone territory, with the Sony Xperia Z or the HTC One M8 in your grasp. If you could get a Motorola Moto X for less than a Nexus 5, I’d say buy it in a heartbeat, but at $549 it just doesn’t stack up.
But price is just one consideration when it comes to purchasing a smartphone. What do you miss out on with the much cheaper Nexus 5?
One clear advantage the competition has over the Google flagship is the screen. While it's running a fantastic 5-inch panel, the Nexus 5's colour palette is a little dull when compared to vivid AMOLED and SuperLCD3 panels on the GS5 and One M8 respectively. The colours just aren't as heavily saturated on the Nexus 5.
Both competitor devices also snap much better photos than the Nexus 5, with more interesting camera tech to boot (read: HTC's DuoCamera system for 3D photos).
Of course, the Nexus 5 still has one advantage the competition will always miss out on: software updates.
Google is still pushing regular Android package updates to Nexus 5 customers, with the latest coming a few weeks ago in the form of Android 4.4.4. Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S5, for example, and you'll be left wanting. The S5 is still running Android 4.4.2, highlighting the problem that software updates still take way too long on third-party Android devices.
Overall, the Nexus 5 has a few features that feel slightly outdated when compared to superphones of today, but for the price you're paying either on contract or outright, it can't be ignored. Need a new Android phone on the cheap? Buy a Nexus 5.