Google Nexus 5 review: Best low-priced, high-end Android smartphone

After a week with the Nexus 5, it is clear to me that the hardware is solid, the software is compelling, and while everything is not perfect it is possible to achieve more with some updates.

Google Nexus 5 review: Best low-priced, high-end Android smartphone

I have been living with the Google Nexus 5 for a week and just a couple days ago I thought I was going to return the device . After further evaluation and looking at available smartphones, it is clear to me the Nexus 5 is an outstanding value and there is no way I returning it.

Hardware

The Nexus 5 hardware isn't particularly stunning or unique. I was surprised at how light it was and it gives you the feel that the battery is missing or something. As you carry around in your pocket though, the light weight actually ends up being a nice bonus.

The ceramic volume button (left side) and power button (right side) have sharp edges and the skin of my tender office hands tends to catch on the edges.

There is a single mono speaker on the bottom with the microphone on the other side and an upside-down microUSB port (same as my HTC One) in between. The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top, just left of center.

There is a funky disc, reminds me of a small vinyl record actually, around the camera lens that sticks out a bit and may actually provide a bit of protection for the camera. A small flash is located below the camera, all on the upper left side of the back.

I like the large Nexus logo on the back of the device, reminiscent of what I see on my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet.

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It's a rather squared off device, but the edges are curved nicely. The solid glass front panel is attractive and the bezel on the sides is pretty minimal.

It is nice to have a multi-color notification LED hidden down below the display and now I just need to find apps to set different colors for different notifications.

There have been some complaints about the display being washed out or having other issues, but I honestly haven't seen any of that. I think the display is gorgeous and absolutely love the crispness of the fonts and brightness of the display.

The Nexus 5 flies and handles everything I have thrown at it perfectly. The camera seems slow to focus, but with good lighting it seems to take decent photos outside (couple posted in this article.

Qi wireless charging is something you need to experience to appreciate and now that a couple of my devices have it, I expect all of them to support this charging technology. It is so dang convenient to just drop my device down on a Qi charging pad, especially when the Nexus 5 uses a reversed microUSB like the HTC One.

The pedometer function is great to see in the hardware and now I want Runkeeper to make a life tracking application that lets me use my Nexus 5 to track my daily activity as well as my dedicated periods of running. I am using the free Moves app at this time to track my steps.

Software

As great as the hardware is on the Nexus 5, the real focal point and reason for its existence is really the latest and greatest Android operating system. Android KitKat 4.4 is great on the Nexus 5, for the most part.

As I wrote in my first impressions article , I like the overall look of the design, the new OK Google voice control functionality, the Quickoffice integration, the integrated pedometer functionality, and the pure application launch area.The ability to easily add widgets, folders, and shortcuts with an unlimited number of home screen panels is great for the person who likes to fully customize their Nexus experience.

Immersive mode is great for reading in Google Books, but I want to see it come to more apps too.

The Hangouts unified SMS and Google Talk/Hangouts messages app is a failure at this time. With the same contact, you have multiple discussion threads, depending on the service you are using. This defeats the intent of unification and creates a very clumsy messaging experience. I installed Textra for SMS/MMS and have it setup as the default messaging app in my settings.

Google worked on improving the phone dialer and People app, but it still needs LOTS of work to make me happy. Very few of my contacts now have caller ID images because those people do not have a Gmail account. I used to see changing contact photos through Facebook service integration seen on my other Android smartphones. I'm not sure if Google will update this support, but I don't like how my contact currently appear. Google did integrate smart dialing into the phone app so that is useful and appreciated.

I don't have an HP printer and haven't yet gotten printing to work on my Canon home network printer.

There are reported touchscreen improvements and I find it works just fine.

The camera software frustrates me a bit. It is pretty much what you find on the Nexus 4 and on Google Play Edition devices, but I don't like how you have to tap through all the way to the end to select a setting and then go back through the taps to setup yet another setting. I often accidentally choose a setting and have to go back and make mods.

The camera software is also very basic and doesn't give you any of the advanced functions seen on LG, Samsung, and HTC devices. These include filters, dual camera ability, and more.

Usage and experiences

When a new device arrives I am usually all caught up and excited over it to start. I was a bit cooler at first with the Nexus 5 and started seriously considering the LG G2 or Moto X. If the Moto X with Moto Maker ever comes to T-Mobile then I might have to consider it.

I am now all warmed up to the Nexus 5 and the few software issues I have should hopefully be fixed with software updates. It was great to read on Android Central that the speaker may also be improved upon with a software fix in the future.

The camera is a slow to focus and frustrates me, but I am getting used to using it more each day and have been taking some fine pics. I like having the device in my pocket thanks to the super light weight and soft touch feel.

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Pros and Cons

To summarize my experiences of the Nexus 5, here are my pros and cons. The cons I have listed can all be fixed with software updates so if that happens, and I am pretty sure it will for some things, then I would bump up my rating to at least 9.5.

Pros

  • Low price for high end specs
  • Latest internal specifications
  • Newest version of Android OS
  • Super fast performance
  • Solid construction

Cons

  • Average battery life
  • Camera is slow to focus
  • "Beta" version of Android apps (Hangouts, People, Camera)

Pricing and availability

The Nexus 5 sold out rather quickly from the Play Store with a current estimated shipping date 2-4 weeks out. Carrier stores will eventually get the device too, with T-Mobile rumored to have them in towards the end of November.

The 16GB model is priced at just $349 while the 32GB model is $399. These prices are for fully unlocked smartphones with no carrier contract. Some carriers will launch the Nexus 5 under their subsidized pricing scheme at a lower initial price.

If you take an apples-to-apples look at pricing then you will find the LG G2 at $604 (32GB), Galaxy S4 (16GB) at $630, Galaxy Note 3 (16GB) at $704, iPhone 5C (32GB) at $650, and iPhone 5S (32GB) at $750. It is easy to see that $349 and $399 are fantastic prices for the Nexus 5.

The competition

I try to judge phones for their desired market and audience. For example, you shouldn't take away rating points from the Note 3 because it is a large phone. It is designed to be a large phone so that is not a con.

In the same way, there really is no competition for the Nexus 5 other than maybe the older Nexus 4. In that case, the Nexus 5 is easily the better device.

Many of us thought, or maybe just hoped, that the Moto X was going to launch as a reasonably priced unlocked device, but that did not happen and it is priced the same as all other high end smartphones.Thus, the Nexus 5 stands alone in the world of Android. Looking across the mobile operating spectrum, one might consider a low cost, unlocked Lumia device. However, the devices in this price range do not have the specs to compete with the Nexus 5.

Specifications

  • Android 4.4 KitKat OS
  • 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor and Adreno 330 GPU
  • 2GB RAM and 16/32GB flash storage memory
  • 4.95 inch 1920x1080 HD display with Gorilla Glass 3
  • 8 megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization (OIS)
  • 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • 2,300 mAh non-removable battery
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 low energy
  • Sensors include proximity, barometer, accelerometer, and gyroscope
  • Dimensions of 137.84 x 69.17 x 8.59 mm and 130 grams (4.59 ounces)

Conclusion

If you plan to buy a Nexus 5, I recommend you purchase the black model. The white one looks attractive with the black front, but the glossy sides, funky white handset speaker grille, and slippery white plastic back take away from the hardware design. With a soft touch back, matte finish edges and a black speaker cover I think the black one is the preferred option.

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If you need a smartphone that will last you more than a day or want one focused on the camera experience, then the Nexus 5 is really not for you. The Nexus 5 is for those who want to test out the latest and greatest operating system updates from Google, those who like to pay full price for their phones, and developers looking to create Android apps.

For the majority of Americans who pay hidden subsidy fees with their wireless plans, you can get a better device from LG, Samsung, Motorola, and HTC through your carrier for half the price of the Nexus 5. I think the LG G2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4, Moto X, Motorola Droid Maxx, and HTC One are all better devices, in terms of hardware and software experiences.

That said, the Nexus 5 is the best Nexus device made yet and is a great option to consider for the smartphone enthusiast, who are likely the majority of people reading this review.

Contributor's rating: 9 out of 10

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