Google Nexus 5 review: Great value for money

Google Nexus 5 review: Great value for money

Summary: Given its specification and performance, the Nexus 5 delivers great value for money — if you can live with its (few) drawbacks. The middling-quality camera and uninspiring chassis design don't worry us, but the lack of MicroSD card storage expansion and moderate battery life are more serious minus points.

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  • Editors' rating:
    8.0
  • User rating:
    8.2
  • RRP:
    £282.50

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Excellent performance
  • Large, clear, bright screen
  • Android 4.4 (KitKat)

Cons

  • No MicroSD expansion
  • Moderate battery life
  • Uninspiring design
  • Middling camera quality

Google's Nexus handsets and tablets consistently do well in reviews, and one major reason is the fact that they run the very latest version of the Android operating system. As we write, the new Nexus 5 is the only Android 4.4 handset available, and updates are rolling out to other Nexus devices — but not to those from other manufacturers.

Google has strong hardware partners, including, most recently, Asus for its tablets and LG for its smartphones. The Nexus 5 has some high-end specifications that ensure it will be praised for being good value for money. However, there are also one or two disappointments.

nexus-5-main
The 4.95-inch Nexus 5 comes in white or black liveries, with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. It's powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC running at 2.2GHz. (Image: Google)

 Design

The Nexus 5 is not a particularly attractive handset. Our review sample was black, although there's also a white version that might be a bit more attractive. There's no branding on the front, so when the handset is in use nothing distracts from the screen. On the back, which is made from a rubberised, grip-friendly material, the Nexus brand is embedded as it is on the most recent Nexus 7 tablet. It catches the light, providing relief from an otherwise very sombre chassis.

The top and bottom edges are slightly curved which adds a little character to the Nexus 5's appearance. Two grilles at the bottom suggest stereo speakers, but in fact there's just a single speaker that seems only to pump audio through one of the grilles. Sound quality is not too shabby, but maximum volume is on the low side (better that than distortion).

nexus-5-right
The Nexus 5 weighs 130g and measures 8.59mm thick. The 2,300mAh is non-removable, with the Micro-SIM card slot on the right edge next to the power button. (Image: Google)

The Micro-SIM sits in a pop-out caddy on the right edge of the chassis. Button and connector placement is ergonomic, with the Micro-USB slot on the bottom, headset jack on top, volume rocker on the left and power on the right. Those volume and power buttons sit proud of the chassis, making them easy to find by touch.

Good button placement is important on a handset of the size of the Nexus 5. Its 69.17mm by 137.84mm by 8.59mm measurements will make it difficult for some people to reach across the screen one-handed, although it's easy to hit the power and volume buttons with the phone cradled in one hand.

Oddly, the 130g Nexus 5 feels and looks bulkier than it is. That's got to be an illusion, perhaps because of the somewhat bland chassis design and the fact that the (non-removable) backplate is made from a separate section that's attached to the handset's edges. A curved edge with no break for the backplate would have appeared slimmer.

The Nexus 5's name might lead you to think it has a 5-inch screen, but it actually measures 4.95 inches across the diagonal — not that 0.05 of an inch makes much difference. Its resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (445ppi) gives today's top-end handsets such as the 5in. Samsung Galaxy S4 (441ppi), 5.7in. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (386ppi) and 5in. Sony Xperia Z1 (441ppi) a run for their money. Only the 4.7in. HTC One exceeds its pixel density (469ppi).

The screen itself is an IPS panel, so it lacks what some call the overdone vibrancy and tone richness of AMOLED panels. It's sharp and bright, with clear and easy-to-read text. The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3.

Features

The Google Nexus 5's headline feature is that it runs the latest Android 4.4 (KitKat). If you want to stay at the front of Android versions then you need to stick with Google's devices as they are the first to receive very latest operating system updates.

There are two versions of the Nexus 5 available, varying only in terms of the amount of internal storage available. The 16GB version costs £299 (inc. VAT, or $349), while the 32GB version costs £339 (inc. VAT, or $399). We were sent the 32GB model, which had 26.7GB free available for applications and data.

As with its predecessor, there's no MicroSD card slot on the Nexus 5, so you'll need to be certain that your internal storage selection is sufficient. With 64GB MicroSD cards now very affordable, it's a real shame that Google, like Apple, doesn't offer this option on its flagship smartphone. Google's online Drive storage is available, of course, but as far as we're aware you only get the standard 15GB allocation for free. On Motorola's Moto X and recently launched Moto G handsets, you get an additional 50GB of free storage for two years.

The good news is that the Nexus 5's internal storage is readily accessible: simply connecting the device to your notebook via USB makes all the internal folders available for file copy.

Google uses the 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800/450MHz Adreno 330 SoC to power the Nexus 5, with 2GB of RAM in support. This is the most capable CPU/GPU combo you'll find on a 32-bit ARM handset at present, and it's used in flagship devices like Samsung's Galaxy Note 3.

Other specs show that Google has aimed high with the Nexus 5. It supports a good range of LTE frequency bands — nine in the US, six in the rest of the world. Wireless charging and NFC (Near Field Communications) are catered for. Wi-Fi support includes the latest and fastest 802.11ac standard, which is far from ubiquitous in smartphones (it's absent from the new iPhone 5s, for example). The MicroUSB connector is SlimPort compatible, which means that, with the appropriate dongle, you can share the phone's screen to other devices such as a TV or monitor — HDMI and VGA adapters are available.

Two features disappoint, however. First, the rear camera shoots stills at up to 8 megapixels, which is no advance on the Nexus 4. The Nexus 5 does add optical image stabilisation, though, which helps to improve low-light performance. We found our test shots perfectly good enough for sharing online, and unless you need great camera performance, what's on offer here should be fine.

Battery life is rather more of a let-down. Google has only managed to fit a (non-removable) 2,300mAh battery into the Nexus 5, which is disappointing. Flagship handsets generally have more capacious batteries — 3,000mAh in the Sony Xperia Z1, for example. We could get through a day of fairly light usage on a single charge, but heavy usage involving GPS, music playing and gaming required a recharge during the day.

Android 4.4 has a familiar look and feel, but includes some handy software enhancements. We particularly like the full-screen option for some apps, which we found most useful when reading e-books. Removing all menu clutter from the screen makes reading a lot more pleasant.

We're less happy about the integration of SMS and Hangouts. You can use a separate app for SMS if you want, but there's nothing natively installed so you'll need to download one. Sadly the advertised ability to start Google Now just by saying 'OK Google' on the home screen didn't work for us; we hope this is only a software tweak away.

There's a nice note-taking app called Keep — which has actually been around before — that saves to Google Drive and is handy for taking down quick ideas or observations. For more complex tasks, QuickOffice is now included. Google clearly sees this as maintaining competitiveness with Windows Phone's document-creation features. All in all, though, there's nothing mind-blowingly new about either Android 4.4 or the preinstalled apps.

Benchmarks

To gauge its CPU performance, we tested the Nexus 5 on GeekBench 3, along with its Nexus 4 predecessor and Apple's iPhone 5s — the first smartphone with a 64-bit ARM processor. The Nexus 5 comfortably beats the Nexus 4 on both the single-core and multi-core tests, but lags well behind the iPhone 5s on the single-core test:

nexus-5-geekbench

We assessed GPU performance using Futuremark's 3DMark Unlimited benchmark — specifically the Ice Storm Unlimited test. The Nexus 5 shines in this benchmark, particularly in the Physics test, where non-sequential data structures with memory dependencies hamper the 64-bit Apple A7 processor's performance:

nexus-5-ice-storm

Conclusion

Given its specification and performance, the Nexus 5 is superb value for money — if you can live with its (few) drawbacks. The middling-quality camera and uninspiring chassis design don't worry us, but the lack of MicroSD card storage expansion and moderate battery life are more serious minus points.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 69.17x8.59x137.84 mm
Weight 130 g
OS & software
Software included Android 4.4 (KitKat)
Processor & memory
Clock speed 2.26 GHz
Processor model Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
RAM 2048 MB
Storage
Internal 32000 MB
Display
Display technology TFT touch-screen (active matrix)
Display size 4.95 in
Native resolution 1920x1080 pixels
Connections
Ports Micro-USB 2.0 (SlimPort enabled), 3.5mm audio-out
Networks
2G GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
3.xG HSPA+
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac
Short range Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
GPS technology
Antenna built in
GPS receiver yes
Input devices
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Main camera resolution 8 megapixels
Power
Removable battery No
Battery capacity 2300 mAh
Claimed battery life 8.5 h
Number of batteries 1
Standby time 300 h
Talk time 17 h
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Expand

Prices

Price
Price AUD 449
Price GBP 282.5
Price USD 399

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Mobility, Reviews

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Talkback

35 comments
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  • Better than other Android handsets

    8.0

    I bought one.

    The 'OK Google' feature does work. However you've got to switch the phone to US English for the time being. Then the voice commands work.

    The camera has enough megapixels. You don't need more than 8 in a phone. The MEMs camera allows you to take optically stabilized shots in quick bursts. That allows you to switch on the cam's HDR+ function and get better image dynamic range (from light to dark).

    Yes, the inclusion of SMS into Hangouts was a mistake. But it doesn't matter much, because you can install a different SMS app from the store. Try Textra, Chomp, Handcent or Go SMS apps.
    Vbitrate
    • Re:- Mems

      9.0

      Love my N5 - waaaaay more than my iPhones. Android J freedom to me. However just to clarify on the comments that above - the N5 has OIS(Optical image stabilisation) not MEMS.
      Stuart Law
      • You're right, the camera is a Sony.

        I stand corrected. The manufacturer of the Nexus 5's camera is Sony, rather than Mems, as you say.

        I'm happy with the N5 camera. The two factors I value in a camera are dynamic range (so it won't bleach out highlights) and low-light capability. The photos I've taken with the Nexus 5 do well for both. However, I've had the camera set to HDR+ mode all the time, so maybe that's why I'm getting good dynamic range.
        Vbitrate
        • Agreed

          9.0

          Completely agree on the camera being quite good. I'm very surprised every article faults the camera.

          -For a cell phone camera, maybe it's not the best, but it's significantly above average.
          -For a cell phone camera on a $350 cell phone, it's incredible.
          -For a cell phone camera on a $350 phone with the overall specs of the Nexus 5... it's spectacular.

          Overall, the Nexus 5 is one of the best Android phones you can buy, and without question it's *the best* Android phone you can buy for $350.
          PC987
          • More camera testing

            8.0

            I've been taking some more photos with the Nexus 5.

            I normally use a pro-SLR. But I can't take the SLR everywhere, so it's good to have a usable camera in my pocket all the time.

            The more I use the Nexus 5 camera the more impressed I am with it. The photos are great. Very clear. Very good light-to-dark range, though that could be because I have it set to HDR+. The photos I've taken have a clarity that would look good, even if enlarged for printing.

            I think some reviewers have seen the specification of 8 megapixels, and assumed that's not enough. You really don't need more than 8 megapixels in a phone. People should judge a camera on the other elements (which don't get as many headlines as the megapixel number).

            I'll soon connect the phone to my large-screen television. I'm still deciding whether to use a SlimPort cable to connect to the TV's HDMI input, or spend a bit more and use a wireless MiraCast dongle (MiraCast can send 1080p video from the phone to a TV using Wi-Fi).
            Vbitrate
    • Does it Suppot Call Recording

      8.0

      Thank your for your reviews. Can you please update whether it comes with in-built call recording or supports the apps which have call recording facility
      Rohit Khanna
      • Yes, it supports call recording

        8.0

        I have tested it using an app called 'Call Recorder' by a company called Clever Mobile, which I downloaded from the Google Play store.

        It records both sides of the conversation.
        Vbitrate
        • Both Sides on Mic or Speaker

          9.0

          Thank you very much for the review, but if you please tell whether it records, through mic, phone line or speaker,

          Also many friends say it has poor call recording quality in traffic.
          Rohit Khanna
  • The right mix of features will always depend on the user

    9.0

    To hit the $350 price point, Google appears to have carefully considered what a mainstream user values and needs in a smartphone. For most, that's likely not browsing the web all day, so the battery will be fine. Similarly, they compromised on the camera. Despite what you imply, megapixels don't matter, but in the areas that do count, the camera is, as you say, mediocre. Some of this appears to be software and so could potentially be fixed. Most will reach for a real camera if they want to take high quality photos, since no cell phone camera, however good, can produce that kind of quality.

    Ditto storage. An SD slot is nice, but it's really necessary for a few movie hounds who travel and don't want to pay too much for data. For most, it's unnecessary and something they'd rather not pay for, either in price or size and weight.

    To some, the blah appearance will be an issue, but I wouldn't overlook the reason they raised the edge a bit at the expense of a cooler look -- to protect the glass when the phone is face down. And the glass back of the Nexus 4 wasn't exactly practical.

    Ditto the superior saturation of an OLED -- it's a secondary concern for most, and trades off brightness on a sunlit day.

    "Go Google" works fine on the phone I tried, by the way, and voice recognition has been flawless. What doesn't work properly on Android phones is WiFi roaming. With multiple access points with the same SSID, as in a business, school, or large house: the Nexus 5 has a driver bug that keeps it attached to the access point it was on until the connection fails completely rather than following the WiFi spec and switching to the stronger signal as you approach another access point. That's inexcusable -- Microsoft does this right, Apple had the problem but fixed it. There are some apps that kludge this but they're far from perfect. Those who will use wifi heavily and move around between access points might find it worthwhile to spend $300 more for an iPhone.

    A more questionable design decision -- the camera lens sticks out in back. That doesn't look good and risks damage beside. I can't help but thinking that they wanted to make the thickness spec better than it should be. Not worth it.

    Finally, you didn't mention the biggest limitation -- that it won't work with Verizon. I feel sorry for Verizon customers but the problem is a consequence of Verizon's monopoly behavior and they should make it clear to their provider that this is something that they want. But sadly, this rules out the Nexus 5 for people in areas where Verizon is the only coverage option.

    So I'd say it won't work for everybody, but it definitely hits a sweet price/performance spot for many or most -- which is to say, I concur with your conclusion.
    josh442
    • Some new info

      9.0

      Just wanted to add that I just read in another review that Google says the camera problems are in software and is working on a fix.
      josh442
  • I bought one

    8.0

    It's not here, so don't know how I could possibly select a rating, but eight it is.

    Imo all pictures need tweaking, even the huge megapixel/nice software ones. Google is working on their software, but do others have a PhotoSphere function? No where in A/B comparisons to other's cams is this ever mentioned. Kind of a deal for some.

    Given many many people will be putting cases on the phones, why does what it looks like underneath really matter? Make it thin and light, put your best pink sparkly frock on for raves, leave it black for the suit and ties. Like the way many live their lives these days.
    penelopebuena
  • Great value

    9.0

    It's the best value with glitch and lag free stock Android. Nexus 5 doesn't get any additional storage in Drive, but LG phones do get 50 gb free box.net storage so take advantage of that before the end of the year.
    Robert Lyon
  • Can't beat its price point

    9.0

    Starting at $349, you can't beat the price point and specs that it has. The camera is decent (software update will take care of that), and battery life for me has been fine. After two weeks, I still enjoy it!

    BTW, Sandra Vogel said the phone was "bulky" It's about as thin as an iPhone 5...how thin is she expecting? :p
    jsarino
  • Exceeded Expectations.

    10.0

    After almost two weeks with the Nexus 5, I am left wondering why anyone would choose an IPhone over this device! My N5 is replacing a 2+ year old Galaxy Nexus. This N5 is the main reason I will likely be leaving Verizon Wireless after 10+ years! What a mistake they are making by not supporting the N5 on their network.
    rm6565
  • The best nexus ever. If you use any Android smartphone, you will be very ha

    10.0

    Given the very likely fix of exposure control software of camera, I cannot say how much more can be expected from this type of device. 5 inch is ideal and clearly something that iPhone cannot provide in terms of browsing experience which is very significant but not fairly appreciated by the unawareness of iPhone users' limited comparative experience on larger and higher quality display than they realize.
    blst2012
  • Nexus 5 Design

    8.0

    Design uninspiring the author! What inspires her?
    Cheetah43
  • No need for SD card - equally useful as a laptop's CD slot

    I'd say there's no need for an SD card nowadays. More and more services are mirrored/cached from cloud storage including photos and music, e.g. pin the albums you want to be cached on the device so that they are available offline. By embracing the cloud storage, you'll also don't have to worry about losing your data if you loose your phone. Relying on SD card storage, increases the risk for loosing valuable data.

    Also, if you would be able to fill up the internal storage, which is unlikely with 32GB, it is very easy to move files on/off the device via USB. Connect the Nexus 5 to a computer via USB and it shows up as a portable device on the computer (verified on Windows 7). You get access to all folders of the internal storage, not just media.

    So, unless you have lots of music/movies you want to carry around on you phone and/or you have very expensive internet access (and no free wifi), I wouldn't worry about not having an SD card slot. It belongs to the past just like CD/DVD drives on laptops.
    henrik_b
  • Nexus 5 Camera

    9.0

    "... the rear camera shoots stills at up to 8 megapixels, which is no advance on the Nexus 4"

    So, all 8 megapixel cameras are the same? And more is always better, right? Uh huh.

    There is no comparison between the Nexus 4 and the 5. While the 5 is not as good as the iPhone 5S camera, it finally plays in the same league (especially in HDR mode) whereas the Nexus 4 camera is not good for much more than eBay listings.
    monteith
    • people confuse megapixels for quality all the time

      But you would think a tech magazine wouldn't fall for that Nexus 5 pics are much better than Nexus 4.
      marque2
  • Another Google spyPhone

    4.0

    The NSA will be pleased. Nobody does spying better than Google.
    jorjitop