Handset: The New Nexus 5 Review

 nexus 5 android handsetGoogle looked to LG to make their 2013 Nexus handset, the Nexus 5. As regular readers will no doubt be bored of reading, I upgraded to the Nexus 4 at the end of 2012 but recently, I have been spending quite a bit of time with the Nexus 5. I'm writing this article from the perspective of how good a productivity device this is, but there's also going to be an undertow of, “is this worth the upgrade?”

I'm going to write a little about the Nexus 5 box specifications, but these are more for academic interest. Firstly, it uses a 1080p 4.95″ IPS LCD, which is a good screen. Actually, no; it's a great screen but not the best in the industry; more on this later. Under the hood the handset has a Qualcomm 800 processor, which is a 2.3 GHz quad core unit, equipped with 2 GB of RAM. I've been playing with the 32 GB model but Google also sell a 16 GB version. You get dual band WiFi, LTE, 3G, NFC, Qi wireless charging, Bluetooth 4 and a 2,300 mAh battery powering it all.

The Nexus 5 runs Android 4.4 Kit Kat, but the experience out of the box on the Nexus 5 is a little different to other Nexus devices, which again I'll come on to.

Nexus 5 VS HTC ONEJust as the Nexus 4 was quite a large handset, so too is the Nexus 5. In terms of size, it's broadly comparable to the older Nexus, the HTC One and indeed most high end devices that you can buy these days. That LG have squeezed a bigger screen into a similar sized object is a credit to the design, but I do need to write that in day to day use, the difference in screen size is not noticeable. However, whilst it's slightly larger than say the Nexus 4, it's noticeably lighter. It's a good size if you're used to large, high end devices.

For day to day use, the Nexus 5 is beautifully smooth and responsive. Let's be fair; it should not be any different with devices such as the Moto G managing the same experience. There's little difference when moving about the interface between the new and the old Nexus devices, but launching and switching between applications, the ‘5 is definitely quicker. It is the only device that makes my Nexus 4 feel old, which somehow is fitting…

That the Nexus 5 comes with LTE is a good thing if you live in an area with coverage. I don't, but I'm close enough that I've used the device with LTE coverage. Unfortunately, it's still in the early stages of being rolled out and I only have a few devices that I've experimented with, which means I can't quantify if the Nexus 5 is any quicker or slower than say my HTC One with LTE. Nevertheless, both feel a world quicker than my Nexus 4 when working with cellular data.

nexus 5 android handset 03When I saw that LG increased the Nexus 5's battery by under 10% compared with the Nexus 4, I was a little disappointed. This is because the new handset has more technology under the skin and that bigger screen. However, the Nexus 5 uses clever antenna and signal opimization designed to save battery. It's impossible to tell how significant this is because there are so many other things that use battery, but in day to day use I have found that I see similar battery life in the Nexus 5 compared to the other high end devices I use. It's a little better than my Nexus 4. I can see a day but need to make some compromises to make it through two days. As with other handsets, the Nexus 5 prefers WiFi networks for battery life. Using LTE doesn't make a major difference to battery life either way.

I do need to commend LG and Google for how little battery the handset uses when idle and stationary. It's a sad fact that for long periods of time, my handset sits idle and I do appreciate good battery life under these circumstances.

The 1080p 4.95″ screen is an improvement compared with the Nexus 4. It's very sharp, just as with the HTC One. I do need to highlight that jumping from an older generation screen to a 720p screen is quite a jump, whereas going from the 720p to 1080p resolution screen is not such a leap. The Nexus 5 is sharper than the Nexus 4 but the difference is quite small. There's also some difference in the color tuning between the two, which I've only noticed with the two devices side by side: I'd say that the Nexus 5 is more accurate and vivid whereas the Nexus 4 is a bit dull. Comparing the Nexus 5 with the HTC One, I find that the One is the tiniest bit sharper and has a more natural colour scheme, but not enough to be a deal breaker. This feels like I am nit-picking, because both have great screen.

I should write about the Google Experience Launcher as used in the Nexus 5, which is not present in the 4.4 updates to the other Nexus devices. This simplifies the launcher and puts Google Now as the left most home screen on the device and, depending on your language preferences, you can talk to Google from the homescreen. Another feature of the Google launcher is that it enlarges the size of the icons in the application drawer, which either makes the handset a little inelegant or less fussy compared with the Nexus 4, depending on your perspective. I like the Google Experience Launcher for the tight integration of Google Now and do not mind the larger icons either way; it's possible to sideload the Google Experience Launcher onto any device running Android Jelly Bean or later.

nexus 5 android handset 02The Nexus 5 uses an optically stabilized 8 MPixel camera, which is a definite improvement over the Nexus 4. Day to day use, the camera is better but it's still not the best in class. It can be slow to focus and in this respect it's just like the Nexus 4 in that for the best shots, you really do need to take your time with it. It's a decent upgrade, but you'd not be buying the Nexus 5 for just the camera.

Whilst writing the review, Google announced the update to Android 4.4.1 with various improvements to the camera. It hadn't arrive on my test device by the time I was writing this.

There is one area where the Nexus 5 takes a little backwards step compared with the Nexus 4 and that's in voice quality during a call. The Nexus 4 is superb, whereas the Nexus 5 is not quite as good. It's still usable for those of us with less then perfect hearing, but I was a little surprised that it wasn't as stellar. Nobody else with the Nexus 5 has any complaints so I'm putting this down to the Nexus 4 being superb in this respect.

For productivity purposes, it's hard to fault the Nexus 5. The spacious and sharp screen, high performance internals and decent battery means that it walks through emails, messages, social networking, websites and indeed everything else that I've thrown at it. The black model that I've been using has a soft touch feel to it, which is far removed from the glass Nexus 4; it doesn't feel as elegant to hold but it's more practical. Throw in a price that makes most of the competition look expensive and this is a commendable device.

If you have a Nexus 4 and are wondering if you can justify the upgrade, that's a tough call. But sometimes, a new device isn't about justification…

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