Google Nexus 5 full review
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The Nexus 5 smartphone brought Android 4.4 KitKat with it and has been around for nearly a year. It's still one of the best value smartphone around and here's our full review but bear in mind that the Nexus 6 will arrive in November. Updated 23/9/15 as the Nexus 5X is about to launch. See also: The best smartphones of 2014.
Nexus 5 review: Nexus 5X launching imminently
The Nexus 5 has been around for two years – that's a lot for a smartphone – and although it's still a reasonable choice for a phone (if you can find one), there's a new version on the way very soon. See: How to watch Google Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P launch live.
It's rumoured that Google will announce two new Nexus handsets in order to launch Android 6.0 Marshmallow. One is a new Nexus 6P made by Huawei and the other is the Nexus 5X which is once again made by LG.
Google has confirmed an event on 29 September where it promises it will 'unveil some tasty new treats' - this is after months of rumours and leaks on the new devices. For this reason you should at least hang on until after the event – even if it means you can pick up the original Nexus 5 for a lower price. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.
Nexus 5 review: Price
We've given the Nexus 5 a price section in this review simply because it deserves one – it's one of the reasons why you'll want to at least consider this smartphone over others. The Nexus 4 caused a bit of a stir in the smartphone market with a price of just £239. We're talking SIM-free prices here.
Although the Nexus 5 is more expensive, starting from £299, there's good reason for it which we'll explain in this review. See also: Nexus 5: Where to buy.
It's key to remember that the Nexus 5 is a flagship smartphone so it's going up against the best of Samsung, HTC, Sony, Apple, LG and Nokia. So, with high-end handsets almost always priced at £500-600, the Nexus is a comparative bargain. Read our Nexus 5 vs iPhone 5S comparison review.
The closest competition in the flagship world is the LG G2 which can be snapped up for £399 on a pay as you go deal. You'll save £100 if you opt for the Nexus 5 instead.
If you're sick of lengthy and expensive contracts then you should seriously consider buying a phone outright and then using a SIM-only deal. New phones come out so often that if you really want to upgrade then you can sell your current device and pay the difference to get a shiny new one. A rolling SIM-only deal means you can always make sure you're on the best deal around rather than being tied down.
Nexus 5 review: Design and build quality
The Nexus 5 has simple and understated style – none of the spangled glass rear cover of the Nexus 4 that divided opinions and made the phone slide off anything you put it on. The black model has a nice matt soft to the touch finish plastic casing. From the off, there's also a white model but we took a look at the former.
The rear cover is slightly curved helping it to sit nicely in the hand but it's a separate piece of plastic so there is a seam where it meets the edging. The build quality doesn't quite match up to rival flagship devices and although we'd prefer a uni-body, it somehow has that desirable feel to it. The back isn't removable, so the battery isn't user-replaceable.
Google and LG have shaved off some bulk compared to the Nexus 4 so the Nexus is now 8.9mm and 130g which is nicely thin and light for a device with a large screen. Like the LG G2, the Nexus 5 has impressively small bezels down either side helping it feel like you're holding a screen rather than a smartphone. It's a small phone considering it has a 5in screen.
Nexus 5 review: Hardware and performance
Processor and memory
You might think that to keep the price down Google has scrimped on specifications. After all, the Nexus 4 was a little behind the competition in a few areas so it wouldn't be out of the question.
However, the Nexus 5 is up there with the best with, at its core, the impressively speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip which is inside a few other flagship Android smartphones. The phone has 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU.
Below are the benchmark results for the Nexus 5 and although these figures don't automatically reflect real-world performance, in the case of this handset, they do. As with other Snapdragon 800 powered phones we've seen, the Nexus 5 is more than capable of anything you throw at it without batting an eyelid.
The Nexus 4 was hindered by its lack of storage. The device only came in 8- or 16GB models with no microSD card slot. Google has made sensible decision of doubling these capacities to 16- and 32GB, so there's another reason why the price has jumped.
Once again there's no expandable storage but the 32GB adds only £40 the cost so it's easily worth the extra. Unless you want to load the phone with a shed-load of video content and huge games, you should be ok. And, let's not forget that plenty of other flagship smartphones omit a microSD card slot: the iPhone 5S, LG G2 and HTC One.
The display was an area where the Nexus 4 was a little off the pace. The Nexus 5, on the otherhand, has a 5in (4.95 to be precise) Full HD IPS screen which is common for a top-end smartphone at the moment. That 1080 x 1920 resolution results in a high pixel density of 445ppi.
Covered in Gorilla Glass 3, the Nexus 5's display is beautifully rich, clear and responsive. It's got the great viewing angles you'd expect from an IPS panel and works well outdoors just like the Nexus 4 did.
The Nexus 5 is well-rounded in terms of connectivity, even if it doesn't have an infrared transmitter for controlling your TV like a few rival devices. It's got dual-band Wi-Fi with the latest 802.11ac standard, Bluetooth 4.0 low energy and GPS.
Once again, the microUSB port is SlimPort enabled which means it supports video output to a larger display like TV if you buy an appropriate adapter.
Another flaw of the Nexus 4 that the Nexus 5 rectifies is support for 4G LTE networks. The device supports all current and upcoming 4G networks.
Nexus 5 review: Cameras
You might think, based on the large lens on the back of the phone that the Nexus 5 has been given a significant camera upgrade. It's still 8Mp but Google says it's better than the Nexus 4 because it's able to capture more light. Another addition is optical image stabilisation and although this helps keep photos and videos shake free, it doesn't work as well as other devices with it like the LG G2.
The camera is fairly good, but other flagship smartphones outpace it on levels of detail and exposure. The Nexus 5 takes its best photos using the HDR+ mode which is switched off by default. Video quality isn't as good as we'd hoped with a lower amount of detail than we're used to at the maximum 1080p. The camera also continuously focuses during filming which you can't switch off. Check out our sample photos and video from the Nexus 5 below (click to enlarge the photos).
The camera app is simple, easy to use and includes panoramic and photo sphere modes once again. A feature called 'Auto Awesome' creates animations, photo booths and panoramas using the content in your library. Unfortunately, the camera app lacks flagship type features like a burst mode but you can always download third party apps for this kind of thing.
At 1.6Mp and 720p, the front facing camera is perfectly good for selfies and video chat. It produces a clear image.
Nexus 5 review: Software
With the Nexus 5 comes a new version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 4.4 KitKat (not Key Lime Pie as once expected). KitKat comes with a new look interface and a plethora of new features.
The KitKat interface is clean, simple and colourful – as you would expect from 'vanilla' Android. It's easy and intuitive to use, especially when compared to the overly complex skins which Google's manufacturing partners slap on.
Android KitKat 4.4: A new look
Detailing, including the status bar, is now white and new app icons keep things looking fresh. The same is true of the switch to transparent status- and button bars instead of solid black ones allowing the wallpaper to take over more. Full screen album art on the lock screen looks slick.
The app menu is simpler, just showing app icons rather than apps and widgets. Customising the home screens with widgets and wallpapers is now done with a long press on a free space.
Access to Google Now, should you opt in, is a left swipe away from the main home screen bringing the feature to the forefront. The Google search bar stays put as you swipe around the home screens and saying 'Ok Google' launches a voice search and voice control but we couldn't get it to work. However, it won't work at all unless you change the language in the settings from English (UK) to English (US).
All this stuff combined is called the 'launcher' and it's well worth noting that - as things stand - it's exclusive to the Nexus 5. Android 4.4 KitKat will look different even on other Nexus devices, unless Google changes its mind.
As well as a new look, the interface runs better than before. Thanks to things like memory optimisation, multi-tasking is snappier meaning the OS feels more responsive than ever – on the Nexus 5 anyway.
Android KitKat 4.4: Big changes
Mirroring Apple's iMessage, the new Hangouts app combines instant messaging with your regular text messages. However, Hangouts separates SMS and instant messages for the same person into different threads which somewhat defeats the point. It replaces the messaging app but you can still download third-party alternatives and set them as the default.
Something called Immersive Mode is welcome, allowing apps and games to run in full-screen without the status bar or buttons. Only certain apps like Play Books (right) take advantage of this at the moment but it will no doubt spread quickly as developers pick it up.
The new phone app presents you with your most used contacts instead of simply the number pad to dial a number. The app also aims to tell you the name of a company which is calling you if the number isn't saved in your contacts. We haven't had any calls like this so can't verify whether it works.
Some other smaller but noteworthy features include wireless printing (with compatible printers), support for Chromecast, a new location tile in the quick settings bar and low-power audio playback so you can listen to music all day.
Nexus 5 review: Battery life
At 8.5Wh, the battery inside the Nexus 5, which is non-removable, is smaller than a lot of other flagship smartphones. We found battery life to be mediocre, with just a day of regular use from the Nexus 5 before needing a charge. Only very light users will get any more life out of this smartphone.
The advantage the Nexus 5 has it that is charges up fast and, like the Nexus 4, has wireless charging which is a feature not a great deal of smartphones offer. Spend a few quid on a compatible charger and it should be fairly easy to keep the Nexus 5 topped up.
Google Nexus 5: Specs
- Android 4.4 KitKat OS
- 5in IPS display (1080x1920), 445 ppi
- 2.26GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 16/32GB internal storage
- 8Mp rear camera, AF with LED Flash
- 1.6Mp front camera
- Video recording at up to 1080p
- dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- Micro-USB (SlimPort)
- HSDPA, 42 Mbps
- HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps
- 4G LTE (Cat3)
- 8.5Wh (2300mAh) battery