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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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.