The Nexus 5 is the second Nexus device in a row that has been manufactured by LG, and like the Nexus 4 before it, takes a lot of design cues from LG’s current flagship, the G2. However, the Nexus 5 also comes with a lot of unique features, most of which are centered around the software side of things. The Nexus 5 is intended for those who want to try out Android the way Google intended it. The device comes with the latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat, and is loaded with high-end hardware. Unlike other high-end devices, however, the Nexus 5 costs just $349 for the 16 GB version, which is a great deal for users. Let’s delve in and find out whether the Nexus 5 can go head to head with other high-end mobiles.
The Nexus 5 looks much more refined than the Nexus 4, and has a design that is similarly understated. The back now comes with a soft touch plastic material unlike the glass back of the Nexus 4. The white version of the device features a glossy plastic coating, while the black variant comes with a matte finish. The orientation of the Nexus logo has also changed. The device features ceramic volume and power buttons, and is actually lighter at 130 gms when seen against the 139 gms Nexus 4. The decision to use ceramic buttons on the device came after it was discovered that the plastic buttons on the Nexus 4 were not durable.
Although the Nexus 5 has a larger 4.95-inch screen to the 4.7-inch screen on the Nexus 4, the device is only marginally bigger than the Nexus 4. This is due to the incredibly thin bezels on the Nexus 5. There is also a similar LED notification light at the front of the device, but by default it blinks once every 10 seconds. There is no way to change this directly from Android settings, but a utility like LightFlow should do the trick.
Also, there are cutout lines running over the length of the back of the device, which would lead one to believe that the device comes with a removable battery. However, this is not the case on the Nexus 5. It is likely that LG just fused these two sections together rather than use a one piece construction like HTC has done with the One. The bottom of the device features a single speaker, which is louder than the one on the Nexus 4 in most use cases mainly due to the fact that it is not at the back of the device. It is not a stereo speaker, but is loud enough.
The Nexus 5 is the first Nexus mobile device to feature a full-HD screen. The IPS LCD screen has a pixel density of 445 ppi, which is the second highest next to the HTC One in terms of pixel density. While the Nexus 5 shares a lot of hardware elements from the LG G2, the pixel arrangement on the Nexus 5 is different from that on the G2.
It is also backed by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection, which should add a modicum of durability to the screen. Colors on the Nexus 5 are accurate (most of the time) and not oversaturated like we’ve come to see on AMOLED screens. There were instances wherein colors looked washed out and the contrast levels were low, but overall the screen was decent. It is not on the same level as that of the HTC One, but it is great for a device in this price segment.
Hardware and performance
The Nexus 5 comes with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800, which is seen on mobiles like the LG G2 and a few versions of the Galaxy Note 3. The Snapdragon 800 included in the Nexus 5 is the higher-binned variant, which means that it comes with a 2.26 GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU along with a 450MHz Adreno 330 GPU. It also features 2 GB LPDDR3 RAM, internal memory variations of 16 or 32 GB, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, active noise cancellation and the much-awaited LTE.
The LG Nexus 5 is one of the fastest mobiles around, and it shows. The Nexus 5 is 40 to 50 percent faster than the Nexus 4, and is also significantly faster than the Nexus 7 2013. The inclusion of Wi-Fi ac also pays huge dividends, with the Nexus 5 able to download data at about 450 Mbit/sec.
Be that as it may, the Nexus 5 did post lower benchmark scores than devices like the LG G2, Galaxy Note 3 and the Z1. This might be due to the fact that most manufacturers have been caught gaming benchmark tests. The Nexus 5 is one of the few devices that does not do so, and its AnTuTu benchmark scores might actually be indicative of the how much other manufacturers are cheating.
Android 4.4 KitKat is the first major change from Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and comes with a host of new features. One such addition is the ability to search from anywhere on the homescreen by just saying: OK Google. You can also activate voice search by saying “OK Jarvis”, which is a reference to Iron Man. Google Now is now a full-time fixture on the left-most homescreen, and now shows new articles from websites as a notification. The Google Now homescreen cannot be set as default, but can be switched off.
Google has also integrated voice actions into Google Now, and you can now use the voice activated feature to send an SMS, email or call someone. You can also view movie listings, nearby locations of interests and check your calendar from directly within Google Now. Google has also made it easier to set reminders, which can now be done by accessing the button on the lower left-hand corner.
While voice search works by saying “OK Google” from anywhere on the homescreen, the device does not have an always on listening mode like the Moto X. Motorola has used a dedicated hardware processor to make the always on feature available, but Qualcomm has mentioned that its Snapdragon 800 mobile SoC should similarly work with such an always listening mode.
Another major change on the software side of things is Hangouts, which now features SMS integration. Hangouts is the unified client for text messages and Google+ chats. All conversations are shown in different threads. The dialer on Android 4.4 KitKat has also been reworked, and features a new layout and icon. The dialer allows you to search for local business and call them directly, if their numbers have been added on Google.
Android 4.4 KitKat also consists of bigger icons, which is a noticeable difference. The status bar and navigation buttons now come with a translucent background, and Google has mentioned that at least for now, this is a feature that will be exclusive to the Nexus 5. Widgets are now accessible by doing a long press on the homescreen. Most widgets are also resizable now. The notification bar and quick toggles sections do not see any changes.
The Nexus 5 comes with an 8MP camera sensor. The camera was one of the few let-downs on the Nexus 4, and many users were clamouring to see if Google had fixed the issue with the Nexus 5. To a certain extent, it has. The Nexus 5 camera features optical image stabilisation, but is still leagues behind what the iPhone can achieve. The camera sensor itself is protected by a large glass casing, which makes it stand out. It also makes the sensor protrude slightly on the back, and might attract scratches if left on a flat surface.
The Nexus 5 comes with a 1/3.2-inch image sensor which packs in 1.4um pixels, which is much better than the 1/4.0-inch camera sensor and 1.12um pixels that was included on the Nexus 4. The 1.3 MP front camera is good enough for video calls, and not much else.
In daylight conditions, the camera on the Nexus 5 is quite good, although the sensor fared very badly when it came to white balance. More often than not, the images that came out were too cold or too warm. In low light conditions, however, the Nexus 5 fared much better, even beating the LG G2 in a few tests. While there was a lot of graininess in the images that were taken in the dark, they were detailed and overall image quality was better than what was put out by the G2. Video in low-light is also remarkably good, although the device does not come close to what the Lumia 1020 achieves.
The camera UI is the same that was featured on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, although there is a new shooting mode that is available only on the Nexus 5 for now, called HDR+. While HDR mode takes two images and merges them at a hardware level for better contrast levels, HDR+ takes two images and merges them using a software algorithm. Using the HDR+ mode results in the image resolution decreasing from 3264 x 2448 to 3200 x 2368 pixels.
The Nexus 5 takes full-HD videos at 30 fps, which is a let-down considering that the device has hardware that can easily allow for shooting video in 4K, 1080p at 60 fps and 720p at 120 fps modes.
In terms of software, the Nexus 5 features a new gallery, which is called Photos. It has two tabs: Camera and Highlights. You can now create movies by selecting a melange of images, adding a background track and other effects. The feature is very similar to the Highlights Reel that was included on the HTC One. The Highlights tab contains all images that have been saved to Google+, and these are sorted by date.
When it comes to video playback, however, there isn’t much that has changed. There is still no ability to add subtitles to a video track, and there are no new format additions. That being said, watching full-HD video on the 1080p screen is a delight. Audio playback is much better on the Nexus 5, thanks to a dedicated digital signal processor that handles all the processing without the intervention of the main CPU, which saves battery.
Contrary to rumors suggesting that the Nexus 5 would come with two battery variations based on the internal storage, the retail model features a standard 2,300 mAh non-removable battery. One of the main reasons for the Nexus 5 weighing less is because of the much smaller battery. Although the Nexus 5 is based off the LG G2, Google has decided not to include the same battery on this device. The G2’s 3,000 mAh battery gives significantly more battery life, as illustrated by this chart that shows battery life of various high-end mobiles:
However, it is not all bad news. The battery drain on the Nexus 5 is significantly less, with only a 15 percent decrease after six hours in idle mode.
The Nexus 5 is available (when it is in stock at least) unlocked and contract free for $349 for the 16 GB version and $399 for the 32 GB variant, which is close to half of what mobiles like the Galaxy Note 3 are selling for. There is nothing in this price segment that comes close to the Nexus 5 in terms of the sheer number of features that are offered. The only negative factors on the Nexus 5 are the battery life and the camera quality. The lack of a micro-SD card slot might be an issue to some, but the 32 GB version should be more than enough storage for most users. If you already have a Nexus 4, it does not make much sense to buy the Nexus 5 as it does not offer anything else other than a slightly better screen. But if you’re coming from a device like the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus 5 is a worthy choice.
While the camera on the device is slightly better than the one on the Nexus 4, it is a far sight behind what other high-end mobiles feature. Google had to make a few concessions in some area to ensure that manufacturing costs were low, but we wonder whether doing so in the imaging segment was a wise move, considering that camera quality is a deciding factor for most users when buying a new handset. Otherwise, the Nexus 5 is a great device and manages to offer high-end hardware at a fraction of the cost.