Since the Nexus One was released in 2010 Google have been using the Nexus line to cater to lots of different use cases and needs. Nexus phones have served honourably as Android Developer phones. Nexus phones have been the poster child for the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) too. If you wanted to modify your phone with a Custom ROM, it’s always been easy to do that with a Nexus. Nexus phones are also used to highlight Google services and a Nexus phone is a great vehicle for the ever developing Android ecosystem.
Although we didn’t have a launch this year to tell us directly about all the aspirations of the new Nexus phone, Google have made it plain for all to see on their online promotional pages. From the Play Store Device page “The best of Google, now in the palm of your hand”. So, the Nexus 5 is being positioned as a Handheld Portal to the best that Google offers. Staples like Google Search, Gmail, Maps, Chrome, YouTube and some newcomers like Google+, Hangouts, Play Music and Drive have been woven into the fabric of Google’s phone. On no other phone are these services integrated so well, nor are they as prominent. Sure, there are other great phones on the market, like the Galaxy S4, HTC One or iPhone that also give you access to Google’s services but those phones have their own aims and reasons for being.
Galaxy phones are designed to keep you buying Samsung products. It’s the same with Nokia or Apple. Everyone is about product lock-in these days and Google are joining the party more than ever before with Nexus phones, tablets and Chrome products too. To access those services, Google aim to give us the best possible hardware they can ship for about half the retail price of the other major players. Last year, in collaboration with LG, they gave us the Nexus 4. That phone still does a great job as a capable, user friendly portal to the best of Google (and the rest of the internet too!) But some things were lacking…
Google and LG had some work to do sourcing components and designing hardware in such a way that the Nexus 4’s low points would be diminished and its highlights improved. Problem areas for Nexus phones have traditionally been in battery life, camera capture results and more recently, the lack of LTE. So without any further ado, here’s a snapshot of the new Nexus 5’s highs and lows:
The first thing I noticed was the similarity between the Nexus 5 and the 2013 Nexus 7. It looks like a shrunken, rounded version of its 7 inch brother and it feels like it too. The black model has a lovely soft, grippy exterior that feels almost silky to touch. In an improvement for usability, they’ve ditched the more premium looking (but fragile) glass adorning the back. In white you get (in my opinion) a more attractive, harder matte design but the tradeoff is that its less grippy, due to the different materials used on the sides and back.
One of the major improvements over last years model is seen in the way LG managed to minimise the bezel to allow for a bigger display in a phone with only a slightly larger overall footprint. Despite featuring a larger 5 inch display (up from 4.7 inches) the Nexus 5 is only a few millimetres taller and half a millimetre wider, not that you’ll notice. It’s also a half millimetre slimmer, making it ever so slightly easier to hold or pocket.
Placement of Ports and Buttons
Along the right hand side are the power button, and the MicroSIM slot, opposite the left side which features the volume rocker. The power button and volume rocker are ceramic, and you may find they have sharp edges, but on the plus side, they’re impossible to miss. The bottom edge accommodates the external speaker, the upside down microUSB port and microphone.
On the front at the top are the earpiece, sensors and front camera. The top edge is home to the headphone jack (it was better on the bottom in our opinion) and noise cancelling microphone. The rear facing camera and LED flash make their abode on the back, as is fitting. On screen buttons negate the need for physical or capacitive buttons and leave the front completely clean at the bottom.
Wanting to improve on last years rather lack lustre effort, Google and LG have taken a new approach with an optically stabilised sensor in this current Nexus phone. 8 Million pixels are probably enough for a phone if all the components are good quality and in the Nexus 5 that looks to be the case. Firstly, I must say that I like the improvements over the Nexus 4 camera.
The Nexus 5 captures images with much less noise and blur than its predecessor, especially as lighting gets more challenging. In fact, the darker it gets, the more I’m impressed with the Nexus 5. Using optical image stabilisation and HDR+ can net some impressive results – for a tiny phone camera. Consider the 2 crops below which show the Nexus 5 on top and Nexus 4 below.
Where the Nexus 4 shutter was too fast, the Nexus 5 is too slow. If you like to take burst photos this isn’t the camera for you. If like me, you like to take your time with it, you’ll appreciate the results you can get, especially with HDR+. Google have some special sauce going on in the software and ISP (I suspect) to stitch together the multiple exposures taken in a kind of burst mode to create an image with more true to life colour, exposure and detail than you would otherwise get using an Auto setting. In fact, I think it’s the most realistic HDR I’ve used on a phone. But you’ll have to work for it.
If you’re the type that holds their phone out presses the shutter button and expects everything to come out good in a nanosecond you’d be better off with a Galaxy S4 or an iPhone. Those phones have software that can grab a focus point and fire the shutter quickly and effectively with good results. At times the Nexus 5 hunts for a focus point like a drunk man who can’t find his keys! When you consider the large photography community on Google+ who consider their shots carefully, I think we’re getting a picture of where Google has aimed. But to bring in a bigger range of shooters Google need to speed that software up. Take your time Google and get it right!
Here’s some pictures taken while travelling around. Most of them were square cropped for sharing. I thought I’d kept the originals but sadly, it seems I didn’t. Hopefully you’ll get an idea what the camera can achieve regardless. The names of the images will give you an idea of the conditions they were shot under.
The boffins at XDA Developers have determined that the Nexus 5 doesn’t use an LG display, opting rather for a JDI (Japan Display Inc.) panel also used on the HTC Butterfly/Droid DNA, albeit with a different calibration. JDI also supplied the excellent Nexus 7 (2013) panel to Asus/Google. One of the criticisms of Nexus displays has been their lack of calibration. Thankfully that seems to be changing. While the white point on the Nexus 4 looked tremendously bluish to my eyes, the Nexus 5 seems a lot closer to true white but just a tad yellowish. Personally, I prefer a warmer display. Now that Android 4.4 has begun dispensing with the colder blacks and blues seen in the Android 4.0 – 4.3 design, the warmer panel seems like a welcome choice.
Brightness on the Nexus 5 at around 485 nits is up ever so slightly over the Nexus 4’s 466 nits. It’s no match for the Nexus 7’s 583 nits but that’s not really necessary in most cases I suspect. Among LCDs, its brightness is heading toward the high end and compared with AMOLED displays the Nexus 5’s screen is significantly brighter than most. AMOLEDs, of course, have pure blacks due to lack of a need for a backlight and unbeatable contrast but some LCDs are getting close. The HTC One is an example of an LCD with excellent contrast. The Nexus 5’s blacks are just a little muddy and there is some light bleed at the top of my unit. This may be a problem for you if you watch movies on your phone, but only if you’re really picky. It’s unnoticeable in general navigation of the interface and apps.
You’ll have no issues viewing details on your Nexus 5 from any angle as this is a good quality IPS display. There are also no colour shift concerns with off axis viewing. I had no problem making out details and colours when using the phone outdoors. Concerning sharpness, if you use Buzz’s excellent pixel density calculator you’ll get a figure of 445 PPI for the Nexus 5, which is more than you’ll need for sharp text rendering and lovely crisp pictures and video. In short, this is a lovely big, bright, crisp phone display that 99% of consumers will enjoy.
That overwhelming feeling you get when things open and close instantaneously and you’re not used to it on a phone! I’ve tried every high end phone on the market with the exception of LG’s G2 and nothing is quite so responsive (straight out of the box) as the Nexus 5. I had a taste of this when I’d gotten a hold of a work colleague’s Sony Xperia Z1. But the Nexus 5 takes it to another level, every time. That Snapdragon 800 SoC and the lean, mean software machine (lower system requirements) in Android 4.4 “Kit Kat” together make for, what is in my opinion, an unbeatable combination for getting stuff done fast.
I doubt a Core i7 could launch the Youtube and Google Drive apps instantaneously. For some reason there’s an (intentional?) one second pause launching those two guys. It’s even longer on lesser phones. Those things aside, I’ve seen no latency in the Nexus 5. None. Zero. Yeah, in six or twelve months time it may need a hard reset because it has become clogged with files all over the place. Three weeks in and there’s no sign of slowdown. I’ve not seen any scrolling or zooming problems while navigating the home screens, app draw, menus or in any first party apps. I’ve seen a couple of (presumably) poorly coded third party apps with some slight scrolling or zooming imperfections. Not a big deal.
With four Krait 400 cores running at up to 2.27 GHz, we’re getting close to regular consumer PC performance now. The acid test of this is that the Chrome browser is actually a joy to use on the Nexus 5. I think this is the first time I can say those words without any fear of contradiction! Whether you’re tapping, flicking or pinching the brute force power of the Nexus 5 makes using Chrome easy, finally. On the graphics side the Adreno 330 has oodles of pixel pushing power. Games load faster than ever and complex graphics are rendered at 1920×1080 resolution with smooth framerates. I’m not a heavy gamer but my favourite game Need For Speed Most Wanted was silky smooth. Tip; turn off those notifications before you start your game as the haptic feedback affects gameplay.
You’ll be gobbling down wireless networks like a hungry man at a BBQ too with the Nexus 5 because on board is the latest spec dual band WiFi AC for superfast compatible routers and Category 4 LTE for the fastest 4G networks around town too. Notably for Optus customers, the exception to this is that there’s no support for 4G Plus (2300MHz). The performance here was without issue for me although some other flagship phones do offer some fuller featured software options when connecting to preferred networks.
We have had a couple of Nexus handsets on the different carriers and we’ll be posting some SpeedTest results soon showing off how fast this handset can pump the wireless data. I’ll let you in on a little secret — we’ve seen performance in excess of 100mbps. Phenomenal.
After 3 weeks of use I feel like the battery has settled into its rhythm. I’ve also found my sweet spot with how I like to run things too. I want to let you know my preferences as a primer to the efficiency statistics I’ll share shortly. Firstly, there isn’t an overall battery saving feature like you’ll find on other phones. Sony, for example, has a Stamina mode which I quite like that manages background data efficiently. On the Nexus 5 I purposely set my brightness level. This is important because the Auto setting cranks it way too high for my liking. Indoors I find that a mere 10% brightness is plenty for me on this display. Outdoors I need about 50% brightness to see well. In direct sunlight I need 100% brightness. I’m in constantly changing lighting environments during the working week so I tend to compromise at around 30%.
My screen on time during the week when I’m running around on mobile data during the day is around 3 to 3.5 hours with an average screen brightness of around 30%. On the weekend I only need about 10% brightness as I’m mostly indoors on WiFi so the screen on time jumps to around 5 to 5.5 hours. These results are a tremendous improvement over the Nexus 4, with which I would only get around 2 to 2.5 hours screen on time during the day on mobile data. On the weekend on WiFi and lower brightness I could never get more than about 3.5 to 4 hours screen on time. These tremendous improvements I put down to the efficiencies in wireless technologies of both LTE and WiFi and the more efficient Krait 400 processing cores. The Snapdragon 800 has an envelope tracking feature which enables it to use less battery negotiating with cell sites and with LTE you don’t waste time waiting for data. Using CPU Spy we can see that the processor spends most of its time (85%) in deep sleep. This race to sleep is the special sauce of the good battery life of a big screened phone with a relatively small battery.
Based on my results I expect you get could get 2 or 3 days with light use depending on the screen brightness used. Heavy users who like to crank up the brightness will probably be looking for a charger before bedtime.
You might be fooled into thinking that the Nexus 5 has two speakers at the bottom due to the dual grills but one of them is simply an opening to the microphone. Although we prefer the speaker placement to that on the Nexus 4 (where it’s on the back and easily muffled) we’d like it if the volume was more substantial in some of the apps. Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust in the Play Music app sounds loud and full but muted and dull on YouTube’s official QueenVEVO channel. Google have confirmed to Android Central that they’re working on a fix. If you’re heavy into sound quality and adequate volume I’d suggest you head down to a bricks and mortar store like Telstra (when they have the Nexus 5 in stock) and check it out for yourself.
The Nexus 5, like many other top-tier smartphones this year, features Bluetooth 4.0 LE (Low Energy) which means that for compatible accessories (the Pebble and FitBit products come to mind), connections can be maintained for extended periods without significant impact on battery life. Word about is that there’s a modified FitBit app floating around which enables FitBit devices to sync with the Nexus 5, and an official app isn’t too far away.
Also important to note is the inclusion of Slimport and Miracast compatibility for those that like to share their small screen on the big screen via a cable or wirelessly respectively. We’ve talked about Miracast extensively before at Ausdroid, so read up if you’re keen to know more.
Wireless charging is provided courtesy of Qi certification, meaning that you can charge your Nexus 5 on any Qi-certified hardware, including chargers from Nokia, Energiser, Gadgets 4 Geeks and KiDiGi and many more. It is worth noting, though, that wireless charging isn’t quite as fast as charging via a cable, but it does of course offer the convenience of not having to fumble with cables when trying to plug the phone to charge overnight.
Price and Availability
The Nexus 5 is available in both black and white models from the Google Play Store. The 16GB version has a price of AU$399.00 while the 32GB version costs AU$449.00. It’s simply too expensive to buy outright from anywhere else. You can preorder the phone on a subsidised 24 month repayment plan with Telstra until the 26 November. Telstra are throwing in 2x $50 Google Play vouchers to sweeten the deal.
Starting at only $399 outright this is an absolute bargain considering you’re getting the very latest specced hardware. You can move up to physically larger phones like an Xperia Z1, LG G2 or a “phablet” sized Galaxy Note 3 and get similar hardware specs or get a similar sized phone with 6 month old specs like a HTC One or Galaxy S4. From my point of view, the user experience is often diminished by the extra software on those phones. In some cases though, the extra features can be useful. It really comes down to personal taste and the features you value.
It’s no secret that lots of guys (not everyone) in the Ausdroid team go for Nexus phones and tablets because we use Google services. There’s no better phone than a Nexus if you’re a fan of the Google ecosystem. There’s still a little bit of work for Google to do to make the package more compelling. Speeding up the camera software and lowering the default auto brightness will go a long way to placating many users. If the speaker volume can get a bit of a boost via a software tweak then we’d like to see Google make it happen. One thing is sure, no other Android vendor is better than Google at releasing timely software updates to improve their devices!
“Not just for Nexus fans”
The Nexus 5 is arguably the fastest and easiest way to enjoy everything Google has to offer in the Android ecosystem. Previous Nexus phones have mainly appealed to fans of ‘pure’ or ‘stock’ Android. Those days are over. You don’t have to be some sort of Android purist to enjoy a Nexus 5. Now that LTE and better battery life are here, I can recommend a Nexus 5 to anyone wholeheartedly and without reservation. OK, just one caveat – you’ll need to be a patient photographer.