Very fast performance; Handy new features in Android 4.4 KitKat; Easy-to-grip soft-touch design; Much cheaper than competing flagship phones
Camera needs improvement; Display a bit cloudy
The Nexus 5 delivers fast performance, a bright full-HD screen and lots of new features in Android KitKat, all for a very affordable off-contract price.
It has all the makings of one of the best values in the smartphone world. At just $349 unlocked for the 16GB version ($399 for 32GB), the Google Nexus 5 is $250 to $300 cheaper than other flagship devices without a contract, like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Apple iPhone 5s. And yet this LG-made device packs Qualcomm's fastest Snapdragon 800 processor and a 5-inch full-HD screen. The other reason to want this smartphone is that it runs pure Android 4.4 KitKat, which brings new features, like voice-activated search from the home screen and a smarter phone app. Find out if the Nexus 5 is the steal it seems.
The Nexus 5 has a fairly low-key aesthetic compared with that of its predecessor. While the Nexus 4 sported a glass back with flecks that subtly danced as you held it at different angles, the Nexus 5 is more utilitarian. It has a soft-touch black back with a large embossed Nexus logo running vertically down the middle. (You can also order it in white.) The chrome edges of the Nexus 4 have given way to smooth black plastic around the Nexus 5's perimeter. This is a completely bling-free phone, which, while lacking in excitement, befits the bloat-free vibe of the software.
The right side of the Nexus 5 houses the power button and SIM card slot, while the volume rocker lines the left side. A microUSB port, flanked by two speakers, sits on the bottom, and there's a headphone jack up top.
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Measuring 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.33 inches and weighing 4.6 ounces, the Nexus 5 is fairly compact, given its large 5-inch screen. At 5.4 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is slightly wider and thinner but pretty much the same size and weight. Unlike the S4, though, the back on the Nexus 5 isn't removable, so you can't replace the battery or add a microSD card.
We had to stretch our thumb a bit to reach the phone icon on the main home screen, but it's certainly easier to use the Nexus 5 with one hand than bigger phablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
DisplayHTC One (439 lux) and the same as the Galaxy S4. However, the Galaxy Note 3 (539 lux) and iPhone 5s (500 lux) are both brighter.
To gauge the image quality of the Nexus 5, we watched the high-def trailer for the "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" on this device and the Galaxy S4 at the same time. In a close-up of Donald Sutherland's face, we could more easily make out the creases around his eyes and the strands in his beard on the S4. The colors were also more saturated on Samsung's AMOLED screen; plus, the blacks were blacker. The Nexus 5's viewing angles also aren't as generous; images looked a bit washed-out by comparison.
Android 4.4 KitKat OS
The Nexus 5's voice controls aren't quite as versatile as Motorola's touchless controls for the Moto X. You can't activate them with the screen off, and the device isn't trained to your specific voice. Nevertheless, we found this feature very convenient.
Android 4.4 also has a smarter phone app. When you get an incoming call from a business that's listed in Google Maps, it will automatically be identified in caller ID. The main screen of the phone app has a search screen right up top for looking up contacts or nearby businesses, and the Nexus 5 will automatically prioritize people based on whom you call most and display their faces in the middle of the screen. Other Android phones have a similar feature, but we prefer the Nexus 5's presentation. Overall, there's much less need for the dialpad, which you can always launch at the bottom of the screen.
There are lots of other enhancements in Android 4.4 KitKat, including easier home-screen switching for those who have downloaded replacements and a new Location tile in the quick-settings menu. However, we wish Google would combine quick settings with notifications, as Samsung and LG have done on their phones. And while we like that you can launch Google Now or the camera from the lock screen, other Android phones let you unlock to any app you want.
The Nexus 5 also delivered smooth performance when we played "Real Boxing." The action never stuttered as we dodged and delivered a blood-splattering uppercut.
As expected, the Nexus 5 blazed through most Android benchmarks, but faltered on one homegrown test. On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the device notched 2,689. That showing is more than 1,000 points higher than the category average and faster than the iPhone 5s (2,556) and LG G2 (1,873). However, the Galaxy Note 3 (2.3-GHz Snapdragon 800 and 3GB of RAM) scored a higher 2,979.
The Nexus 5 similarly impressed on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, scoring 16,103. That's faster than the LG G2 (14,762) and HTC One (10,325) but again behind the Note 3 (18,808).
We gauged the Nexus 5's real-world performance by transcoding a 240MB 1080p video to 480p using the VidTrim app. The phone took 7 minutes and 51 seconds, which is a good 40 seconds faster than the category average but well behind such phones as the Note 3 (5:15). Surprisingly, even the ostensibly slower Galaxy S4 finished this task in a shorter time (7:27).
Lastly, the Nexus 5 opened the NOVA 3 game in 12 seconds, which is faster than the 15-second category average, a hair faster than the Note 3 (13 seconds) and on a par with the Moto X (12 seconds).
To help you be more productive, Google also bundles its Quickoffice suite, which lets you create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Quickoffice also integrates with Google Drive for opening and saving files, although, during our testing, we had some trouble getting our Google documents to load within the app.
On paper, the Nexus 5's camera sounds like a serious step up from its predecessor. A new lens captures more light, there's built-in optical image stabilization and a new HDR + promises better daytime and nighttime shots. Unfortunately, the Nexus 5 didn't impress in our testing.
Not only was the Nexus 5's camera slow to focus and fire (sometimes a little more than a second), an image of a flower and some Halloween decorations took on a yellowish tinge on an overcast day. The same photos taken with the iPhone 5s looked cleaner and sharper, with more accurate colors. The Nexus 5 fared much better on a sunny day, capturing a crisp shot of a tree with orange leaves and a bright blue sky.
The good news is that Google told us that it's working on an update to improve the camera experience.
The 1.3-MP front camera fared better when we made a Google Hangouts call to a colleague. He said we looked a little washed-out but relatively clear.
Footage we captured of a golden retriever and some surrounding trees looked warm and colorful, with not too much shake as we walked. However, the Nexus 5 had some trouble focusing.
Those looking for nifty camera features -- like sequence shots, eraser mode and animated photos (found in the Galaxy S4 and HTC One) -- will be disappointed. The only gee-whiz feature here is the Photo Sphere mode, which captures 360-degree images.
With light to moderate usage throughout a day -- including checking email, participating in a 30-minute conference call, taking some photos and streaming music on Spotify -- the battery got down to 15 percent after 9 hours and 11 minutes. So, you may be able to make it through to the evening on a charge, depending on your usage patterns.
The biggest weakness of the Nexus 5 is its camera. The image quality, performance and functionality don't measure up to the best smartphone cameras, so you might want to wait for Google to supply an update before snatching up this device. But it's really hard to beat this Nexus on value. For example, the LG G2, which has similar specs, costs $175 more off contract. Overall, the Nexus 5 is a great choice for those who want Google's latest software and cutting-edge hardware for a low price.
|Alternate Carriers||Straight Talk|
|Alternate Carriers||Red Pocket Mobile|
|Phone Display Size||5|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Operating System||Android 4.4|
|Networks||2G, 3G, 4G LTE|
|CPU||2.26-GHz Snapdragon 800|
|Processor Family||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800|
|Internal Memory||16GB or 32GB|
|Memory Expansion Type|
|Display (main)||4.95", 1920 x 1080|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||1.3MP|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time|
|Ports||SIM card slot|
|Size||5.4 x 2.7 x 0.33 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|