The Nexus 5 is the best Smartphone you can buy for $349, especially if you want to experience all that the new Android 4.4 KitKat has to offer. However, while the price may suit your budget, you will have to make a few compromises along the way.
Nexus phones have been a well-kept secret among Android fanatics for many years (although not intentionally so). However, as the phone gradually attracts mainstream attention, you might be wondering why Android fans all over the world go hog-wild whenever Google releases their latest model.
Yes, the price has everyone googly-eyed, but this fifth generation Google-designed Nexus phone represents the best of Google. It’s faster, slimmer, and much better than its predecessors. Google collaborated with LG – for the second time- to deliver a phone that has their name stamped all over it. Built with the company’s hardware and software, the phone is Google’s through and through.
Nexus 5 vs Its Predecessors
The Nexus 5 has come a long way from the Nexus One, which was released almost four years ago. The original phone and subsequent models were exclusive and appealed directly to developers and Android fans who cared more about the software than futuristic features.
The latest release will bring about a shift in the market as the pocket-friendly price tag, wide availability, and consumer-centric software and features appeal to the average smartphone user. Even so, Google will hold on to their developer and techy fan base with the new Android 4.4 KitKat software, which promises to improve calls, SMS, browsing, and the Google Now experience.
The real question is this; can the Nexus 5 deliver exceptional value for $349? It promises high-end hardware and revolutionary software, but is it the best way to experience the latest Android edition or should you spend a little more? Hit the brakes and let’s take a look behind the N5’s simplistic design.
Nexus 5 Design
The streamlined and basic design of the Nexus 5 may not be as striking as Apple’s iPhone, but it’s the perfect complement to the design language of Android 4.4. The straight and flat sides curve slightly at the top and bottom edges – which only just saves the phone from being a square slab of black or white.
A tiny circular earpiece in the front is the only feature that interrupts the flow of the dark, muted front screen. The backside of the phone varies according to the color option you choose. The black version has a cushiony-soft plastic all across the back while the white version comes with a slick white back with a glassy black finish along the sides.
The phone may not have the most striking design, but it has a lot to offer as far as ergonomics are concerned. The soft-touch material on the back provides a firm grip, which is much better than the white version. The curved back panel and slightly angled sides are hand and pocket-ready, but it’s the weight of the phone that makes all the difference. The Nexus 5 is surprisingly airy for a phone of this size – clearly, something any smartphone user will welcome.
The phone’s 8-megapixel rear camera protrudes slightly out of the back panel, which is the only obstruction on the otherwise smooth surface.
Developers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief that Google hasn’t lost sight of the N5’s main purpose: To showcase the latest version of Android. Thankfully, the 4.95″, 1080p IPS LCD doesn’t disappoint as it provides a beautiful frame for equally beautiful software.
The N5’s ports and buttons are where you’d expect them to be: The power button is situated on the right, and the volume is located on the left. The headphone jack and the micro USB are situated on the top and bottom respectively. The phone also has a microSIM tray situated just under the power button.
On either side of the USB connector at the bottom, you’ll find two sets of speaker holes. Unfortunately, only one of the two represents an actual speaker. Therefore, the sound is only good enough for ringtones and notifications, so don’t expect much sound for music and movie playback.
Nexus 5 Hardware
The phone’s hardware is just as innovative as previous models. The 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU and an Adreno 330 GPU give the N5 the fastest chipset of any Android phone on the market. You’ll have the choice of 16 or 32 GB of internal storage to go along with 2GB of RAM.
The high-end hardware, paired with the latest Android version, results in a phone that’s blazingly fast – whether you’re using Android apps or playing resource-sucking games.
Welcome to the world of wireless charging. The N5 comes with a fixed 2,300mAh battery and Qi wireless charging receiver. While the longevity of the battery leaves a lot to be desired -in part due to the phone’s auto brightness- the wireless receiver should definitely be an option for any high-end smartphone.
Google included LTE in this model, but the implementation is not without flaws. You’ll have to choose one of two configurations – based on where you live. The D820, or North American version, has a nine-band LTE, which offers support for T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and a few networks in Canada, Africa, Asia, and South America.
The second model, the D821, comes with quad-band GSM/EDGE, six-band LTE, and six-band DC-HSPA+. While the N5’s hardware is top-notch, it’s nothing compared to the software.
Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat
The N5 is the first smartphone to run the Android 4.4 KitKat OS. While there are many refinements, both small and large, the most obvious change is the appearance. KitKat is more visual, which is appropriate for the modern, high-resolution screens seen on smartphones today.
For the most part, the darker tones have been replaced by light, flat, and more colorful hues. Fonts are less heavy than previous versions, and the developer has even included new wallpapers to complement the new design language.
Google’s handprint is embedded in the heart of Android – as one would expect. The dialer, launcher, and Hangouts (the new SMS app) have been updated to include more of Google. For instance, the phone dialer now shows recent callers on the first screen and the Google search bar at the top provides a handy way to search for local businesses without leaving the app.
The marriage of the new Hangout app with traditional SMS is somewhat less ideal. However, Hangouts 2.0 is the only way to send and receive text messages on the N5. It’s an obvious ploy to enlist more users on the platform, but it’s likely to create some confusion for new users. However, there’s always the option to use another third party app to manage SMS messages.
The home screen launcher received a much needed update in KitKat. Apart from the icons and fonts, Google Now is an ever present feature on the home screen – so it’s easier to find and use. The N5 is the only device that carries Google Now on the home screen.
KitKat now makes it easier to activate voice search from the home screen. U.S. English users can activate with an “OK Google” command, which is a significant step forward for the app.
Other significant changes that come with KitKit include easy customization from the home screen, full screen immersive mode, printing support, and improved responsiveness – according to Google, the OS will run seamlessly on devices with less memory.
The bottom line is that the OS incorporates more of Google’s services in order to enhance user experience. Enterprise and personal users will benefit tremendously from accepting wireless payments through KitKit’s HCE feature and using QuickOffice for managing Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents. All in all, the N5 and Android KitKat 4.4 is an immensely powerful combination.
Nexus 5 Camera
The Nexus line has a reputation for poor camera quality. So is the Nexus 5’s camera any good? While it’s certainly much better than its predecessors, it’s not perfect.
The 8-MP rear camera with LED flash, 1/3.2-inch BSI sensor and f/2.4 aperture lens with OIS all work together to produce decent photos in most lighting conditions. The new HDR+ shooting mode is expected to enhance shots with smarter sharpening techniques.
Under the same well-lit conditions, there’s nothing to differentiate the N5 from other Android phone cameras. However, it will outperform some smartphones when it comes to daylight shots – it captures more details and a wider dynamic range.
However, the N5’s camera has some shortcomings, the greatest being the capture speed – the camera is slow to focus and capture. And the manual focus is just as troublesome, especially when focusing on objects in reduced lighting.
Overall, the N5’s camera is not bad – just problematic under certain conditions. Once you’ve taken your shots, you can use the “Gallery” app to edit your photos or the new Google+ “Photos” app to create video highlight reels from your videos and photos.
Finally, you can use Google+ to share your highlight reels or just save them on your device.
The Bottom Line
Affordable, fast, and full of fantastic features, the Nexus 5 is as good as it gets. It provides the perfect frame for Android 4.4 KitKat, a gigantic step forward for Google’s mobile OS.
Like every other high-end smartphone, the N5 doesn’t excel in every category, but for the price, you’re sure to enjoy all the phone has to offer.
Google Nexus 5 Video Review