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.

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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

Further reading

Topics: Reviews, Android, Google, Mobility, Smartphones

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Talkback

49 comments
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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 )?
    jkohut
    • 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...
      AleMartin
      • 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.
        danbi
        • 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.
          Vbitrate
          • 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! http://goo.gl/KE5Kcr
      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.
    drwong
    • 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
      MathieuLLF
  • 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?
    ikissfutebol
    • 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.
      marque2
    • 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.
        furlonium
      • 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.
        josh442
    • 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.
      josh442
  • 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.
      marque2
      • 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.
        ChazzMatt
        • 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.
          Fulaman1984