Google Nexus 5, first take: Latest specs and Android OS at a low price

Google Nexus 5, first take: Latest specs and Android OS at a low price

Summary: I spent this weekend with the Google Nexus 5 and am impressed by the hardware and Android 4.4 KitKat operating system.


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  • Nexus 5 with flash

    Google officially announced the Nexus 5 last week and a white 32GB model arrived on Friday. While the hardware is solid, it's the Android 4.4 OS that I find more compelling.

    Initial hardware thoughts

    The HTC One sets the bar for smartphone hardware, but I am happy to say the Nexus 5 is also pretty competitive and worth considering. The Nexus 5 is light at 130 grams, yet it is also solidly built and feels great in the hand.

    When the Nexus 5 was announced, I first ordered a black 32Gb model before then ordering a white 32GB model I planned to give to my wife. The evaluation unit that arrived came in white and I now plan to keep the white one for myself. I really do not like phones with a white front, but thankfully Google and LG kept the front of the white Nexus 5 black. The only white part on the front is the small speaker grille circle above the display.

    The display looks fantastic and with 445 ppi text doesn't get any crisper on a smartphone display. I like that three software keys appear at the bottom with back, home, and task switcher buttons that rotate when you rotate into landscape orientation. There is also a notification light at the bottom of the display that only appears when a notification comes in.

    The power button on the right and volume button on the left are ceramic material. Like the HTC One, the microUSB port is upside down when compared to most all other devices with microUSB.

    The back has a matte finish with Nexus in large letters centered on the back. A small LG logo is centered near the bottom. The camera is positioned over to the left side of the back with the flash positioned just below the camera lens.

    The internal specs are top notch and the Snapdragon 800 with 2GB RAM seems to fly.

    I am a huge fan of wireless charging since it is convenient to just drop a device down on a Qi wireless charging plate.

    The Nexus 5 seems to have it all in terms of hardware. It is not quite at the level of the HTC One, but I do like it and when you consider it is priced nearly half of what the HTC One or Galaxy S4 costs then it is a super deal.

    Initial software thoughts

    The Nexus 5 is a pure Android device, which is great for Google purists. However, there is also plenty missing when you look at devices like the LG G2, HTC One, Moto X, and Samsung Galaxy S4. All of those devices offer advanced utilities and consumer user experiences beyond what is offered in Android KitKat.

    I am pleased with the overall look and feel of Android 4.4 on the Nexus 5. I like the lower transition/dark area, the swipe from left to right to access Google Now, new "OK Google" voice activation, and QuickOffice integration.

    The new immersive mode is what I have wanted to see for a long time and has already made reading better than ever. For example, in Play Books all the buttons and status bars disappear so the only thing you see on the entire display is text. I look forward to more apps supporting this functionality.

    As a person who uses daily activity trackers, I am also very interested in the integrated pedometer capability. Samsung has this in the Galaxy S4, but it is used just for their S Health app. Developers can use the hardware capability in the Nexus 5 for this capability. I am testing out the Moves app at the moment and since my phone is nearly always with me it may just serve as a replacement for my Fitbit One.

    The phone app is improved with contact prioritization and Google Maps integration. However, I would still like to see some advanced features like social networking service integration. I'm used to having Facebook photos appear as my contact photos and am disappointed to now see several contacts without contact photos.

    Hangouts has been updated to be your central messaging app with SMS integration. I was doing the same thing with Facebook Messenger, but prefer having my text messaging integrated with Hangouts.

    I am not pleased with the Exchange email application, limited Gallery functionality, limited camera application, and some apps that now appear broken. The Exchange email client is better than that in the Note 3 since I can now access my local folders, but there is no way I can find to view by conversation even though the email app looks a lot like Gmail. There are very basic options in the Exchange email client and I hope for updates to make it better or I may go back to using TouchDown on the Nexus 5 too.

    On my HTC One I can easily add Dropbox and Facebook to the Gallery to view images on those services. I can also add Evernote to sync to my notes and other service integration is placed throughout the device. I understand that the Nexus 5 is Google-centric so that Drive, Gmail, Google+, and Google Photos is front and center, but I wish there were more account options as well.

    It takes a bit for an image to be captured and my wife handed the Nexus 5 back to me immediately after trying to take a couple of photos in our kitchen. Her One Mini is much faster and capturing an image and even supports burst mode so you don't miss anything. The camera app on the Nexus 5 is very basic and a bit clumsy to use as well with the swipes up and down to jump between options.

    There was lots of NFL action on Sunday, but the ESPN Fantasy Football app kept crashing on me on the Nexus 5. I understand that developers need to tweak some apps for Android 4.4 and am sure this will get better over time.

    To be tested

    The 2,300 mAh internal battery seems to be a bit low for a device with such a large high resolution display so battery life is one thing I look forward to testing out over the next couple weeks.

    I included some sample images I captured with the Nexus 5 in this gallery, but need to test the camera more since it looks like the HDR+ option is better for almost all photos outside even in conditions you might not normally think of using HDR.

    Please let me know what else you want me to check out and I will try to cover it when my full review goes live after at least a week of use.

    Related reading

  • HTC One with no flash

  • Nokia Lumia 1020 with no flash

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Reviews, Smartphones

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  • slideshow

    liked the fact that you put the summary on one page...I am not plowin through 68 pages, at least from my point of view, you wasted a bunch of time and effort
    • Thanks, I try to do what I can

      I understand your frustration with the ZDNet gallery setup and I have expressed that to our editors since I personally don't enjoy going through each image as a separate page either. I try to get all the content written on the first image to give the reader the choice to go through each image or not.

      At least you can look through the thumbnail filmstrip at the bottom and find an image or two to view individually, right?
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • Impressions, Impressions

        Money, Money
  • slideshow

    liked the fact that you put the summary on one page...I am not plowin through 68 pages, at least from my point of view, you wasted a bunch of time and effort
  • Remember that old Star Trek "Trouble with Tribbles" ep?

    I have this vision of your house being overrun by mobile devices - you open a closet door, like Kirk opening a storage hatch, and they just come tumbling out, burying you.

    Appreciate the even-handedness, especially while pointing out the hardware on this phone rocks for the price. And not just "for the price". Many, many other "$600" off contract Androids don't have Snapdragon 800 and OIS cameras. So, this phone could be price $200 higher and would still win.

    Thank for the picture comparisons between the Nexus 5, Nokia, and HTC One.

    Speaking of the HTC One, while I know you admire their build, look at how compact the Nexus 5 is with a 5" (ok, 4.95") 1080p display, while HTC went with "last year" specs of 4.7" display. HTC should have gone with 5" in the practically the same sized phone.

    Nexus 5: 137.84 x 69.17 x 8.59 mm
    HTC One: 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm

    I really, really think that earlier this year (six months ago) when the HTC One and Galaxy S4 came out, that HTC would have WON the battle if the displays were equal. S4 had 5" 1080p while HTC only had 4.7" 1080p. People felt they were getting more value with the S4 for the same price. IF HTC had done a 5" 1080p as EVERY OTHER 2013 TOP TIER ANDROID has (Xperia Z, Xperia ZL, G2 with 5.2"), it would have evened the playing field. People could then focus on the strengths of the HTC One vs the S4.
    • My Nexus 5

      arrives Tuesday. I have two gen3 Galaxy Nexus, so looking forward to using the new hardware.
  • photos

    Thanks for all the sample photos, but I think you have pics 63 & 66 reversed
    • AGREED

      Since in the "Nexus 5 with no flash" I clearly see a reflected FLASH on the mantel art picture frame. :)
  • Spam!

    Sbob Pants
  • Speaker Volume/Clarity ?

    I listen to lots of podcasts using the phone's speaker (not headphones) ... and I sold my Nexus 4 because the sound even @ max volume was far lower than other smart phones and barely audible in many places.

    Has the Nexus 5 speaker increased in both volume and ???

    Thanks ... enjoy your reviews and the MobileTechRoundup podcasts!
  • Thanks for the article

    I'm really wanting to upgrade my old android phone for a higher end unit. Nexus 5 looks pretty much unbeatable for what I need.
  • You say it has all hardware wise? Is there IR?

    I need IR like on S4.
  • Important to consider KitKat and Android OS upgrades (maybe not)

    The Google Nexus brand is supposed to be the best Android experience available. Yet, Google has completely isolated and abandoned the Google Galaxy Nexus phone owners. The phone was released with much fanfare touting its Android free of carrier limitations just two years ago. People are still buying them today. But Google announced that this Nexus will not receive the 4.4 Android KitKat (and presumably) future Android updates, thereby making the Nexus phone obsolete. Over 15,000 frustrated Nexus phone owners have sent a petition to Google.
    I share this information as it is pertinent to any prospective Google phone buyer. Warning: your phone may become obsolete faster than you expect. With Google's Android OS fragmentation... maybe planned obsolescence is their strategy? Seems evil to me (against their credo).
    • Carrier problems

      The reason why they had to discontinue the Galaxy Nexus is because of Verizon and Sprint basically ruining the two main benefits of having a Nexus phone: The speed of the software update and no bloatware. Google had to discontinue the product because the carriers would delay software updates for months on end.
  • Didn't answer the two most important questions:

    OK - well, really just one of these is a dealbreaker, provided there is sufficient onboard storage to compensate me for the loss of interchangeable 64gb micro SD cards I have now, but I look for these features in a phone:

    1) User-swappable battery
    2) Micro SD storage expansion

    The first is a dealbreaker for a professional, flat out. I'm not going to be using my phone to navigate to "what is the name of the hotel they put me up in this time?" after a 9pm dinner after a) forgetting to put my phone in airplane mode, or b) making more calls than usual, or c) using my phone and Lync app constantly at a remote office, and getting in the rental car to see my battery about to die.
    I want to pull a charged battery out of my pocket and plug it in. You can buy a pair of them and an external charger (travel bonus) for $25 on amazon.
    I don't want to pull out a cigarette-box sized "extra battery" Rube-Goldberg dongle to try to manipulate plugged into my phone, emergency or not.

    The Micro SD card is also somewhat work related... usually, I have music filling my card. When I travel, I swap that one out for one that has movies and work documents I may need to access. Much nicer and faster and easier than having to plug the phone into a computer that has both sets of data, and copying/pasting things around.

    High-end phones NEED these things. Otherwise, it's a low-end phone.
    • i agree they are nice features but..

      it doesn't make it a low end phone. can you get a snow
      plow on a bmw?
      • rubbish

        get a real analogy.

        What is wrong, you didn't think "Can you get a safety deposit box in a septic tank" was valid?
  • OK Miller... come clean...

    ... exactly how much of ZDNets scarce financial resources did you spend on hiring the supermodel on page 66?