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

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

Summary: 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.


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.


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.


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.

Topics: Reviews, Android, Google, Mobility, Smartphones

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  • Do you think slow camera focus is due to image stabilization

    I thought I heard GN5 was going to have that in the cameran and I am wondering if you could turn that off, if it would speed up focus (but the trade off would be no stabilization )?
    • Maybe a bit

      With SLR cameras/lenses, turning on the image stabilization seems to have a small impact on AF speed, but it must be a very small influence...
      • stabilized AF

        Well, in fact it is exactly the opposite. In-lens optical stabilization tend to focus noticeably faster than lens without stabilization on SLRs, because stabilization affects the phase-detection AF too.

        Of course, one can notice this only when using longer focal length lenses.. and it is especially noticeable when using tracking focus. For a short focal lengths it does not matter much -- but these are rarely stabilized.
        • The 'funky disk' is actually a spinning gyro

          The camera has a gyroscoping wheel to stabilize the images and prevent camera shake.

          The wheel spins around the Mems lens. The HDR function in the camera settings is unique, when coupled with the fast burst of the Mems Cam. It gives a greater range from light to dark than would otherwise be possible (the highlights don't bleach out as much).

          Yes, SMS is broken in Hangouts. That was a crazy and failed move by Google. I'm sure the 3rd party SMS apps such as Chomp SMS, Handcent and Textra will be doing a great business.
          • Pretty sure MEMS is NOT supported on Nexus 5

            There were rumors that the Nexus 5 would launch with MEMS technology, but I am pretty sure that is not the case here. The Oppo phone is likely to launch with this.

            Do you have any information to support your statements about the wheel and MEMS?
            palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
    • Nexus 5 Full Review

      check out the Full Nexus 5 review with full phone specifications right here!
      Nadeem Ansari
  • You can get a t-mobile galaxy s4 at negri for $489.

    Thats only $90 more than a 32GB nexus 5, so I'm going for it. That's 16 vs 32 GB, but the GS4 has a SD slot and I have loads of cards laying around already. If I don't like touchwiz, I can install a stock launcher.
    • But for a phone without a low power extra processor...

      A less efficient main processor, less powerful GPU, no OIS, and $140 more, doesn't seem worth it to me. Plus this supports USB OTG out of the box, so storage isn't much an issue. Everyone has their priorities, though.....
      Christian McConner-Hughes
    • Meh

      I had an S4 and I hated it. I gladly got rid of it. I love my Nexus 5
  • Best low-priced, high end phone?

    Not trying to take anything away from the Nexus, but are you saying this is the least expensive flagship or the best low-priced phone with high end features? I think it is unfair to judge a flagship device based on the margins a company wants to sell it for... and I think it isn't that low priced to even compare it with other low-priced phones. Perhaps it would be better to phrase this as the best value for a high end phone?
    • not as exciting as Nexus 4

      Last year Nexus 4 was the first phone to include all the premium features at a lower price. This years phone doesn't excite me as much. I have to say though looking at the N4 and N5 next to each other makes the 4 look quite dated. It is nice the put the speaker on the side as well - having the speaker on the bottom was a major flaw as it muffles the sound too much.

      The heftnof the 5 - contrary to this report is heavy. Heavier than you would expect considering the devices size. Unfortunately - I can't tell you how well it functions since I haven't actually turned it on. Bought it as a gift for my wife and am going to let her turn it on when I see her next.
    • Is it better than the 1520 because its cheaper? Is it better than the 520

      because it does more? What exactly are you comparing what to? It's very hard to tell how you're ranking this.
      Johnny Vegas
    • Best low price for top-of-the line specs

      My intent was that this is the best value for high end specs that you can find in the Android space, when you consider the "real" cost of the phone and not the subsidized cost. It is an amazing value, but that is not realized for most in the US who purchase subsidized phones.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • re: Best low price for top-of-the line specs

        "that is not realized for most in the US who purchase subsidized phones."

        Ain't that the truth. I purchased a Nexus 5 for my wife to replace her very aging Nexus S. We're on a great plan now, loads cheaper than what we were paying a year ago.
      • It might be worth helping those people out

        by suggestion that they drop the contracts and the subsidized plans if they possibly can. It's typically a much better deal to buy a Nexus 5 and go with a monthly plan.
    • But the price difference is huge

      On the order of $300-$400. What, exactly, do other flagship devices have that's worth an extra $300?

      Don't get me wrong, needs differ and some people will need more battery life, or better camera software (Google apparently couldn't finish it in time for release, thus the mediocre performance of the camera -- a fix has been promised), or voice commands from the home screen, an SD slot, etc. But if I needed to spend $300 for one of those things, I'd be a bit t'd.

      I also think Matthew Miller's overall assessment of how the 5 stands compared to other flagship smartphones is overly negative. He says "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." But that's not really what I'm hearing from people who have owned those phones and the Nexus 5. In this thread, for example: "I had an S4 and I hated it. I gladly got rid of it. I love my Nexus 5." In particular, most are glad to get away from bloatware and experience Android as it was meant to be.
  • Low-priced?!

    I'd say that the Nexus 5 is squarely mid-market.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • i would agree

      Last year the Nexus 4 could be compared to the best. This year the Nexus 5 is a nice phone and still a decent value - but definitely not as good as the premium phones with the exception of iPhone 5S, which it easily beats.
      • Nexus 5 can be compared to the BEST

        Snapdragon 800, 8MP OIS camera? What other top tier phones have that at any price? 2 or 3? Nexus 5 is better than almost any other phone out there, with the exception of the G2 it's based on, the Note 3 and the updated Xperia Z.
        • Very true

          But you also have to remember the price point you are paying for for those 3 phones. Other than that, the differences between the Nexus 5, The Xperia Z1, the Samsung Note 3, and LG G2 are all ranked rather similarly.