Google’s brain children gave been becoming significantly better as the years pass. Take a look at the Nexus One and anything after that and the quality is blatantly better. From the Nexus S to the Nexus 4, there’ve only been few hiccups along the way that slowed down the guys at Mountain View.

Enter the Nexus 5; Faster, better and stronger than it’s predecessor, the Nexus 4, and with full LTE support to boot. Google’s new flagship holds promise of a semi hands-free world filled with stock support and a clean experience, along with a camera that they say won’t disappoint. For only $350 of your hard earned money, Google promises to give you bang for your buck with what they say is the best Nexus phone yet.

Do the promotions and rumours hold true? Is the Nexus 5 really a champion of the cost-wise smartphone domain? Will disappointment and bitter notes pour out of the Google+ posts and tweets of buyers? Head on down to find out.

Insides

Processor

Take apart the Nexus 5 and all you’ll see is a mash of wires, circuits and chips. The inner beauty is hard to see directly, but when the spec sheet is out you get a feeling of how wonderful the device really is.

Let’s start with the processor: Google and LG have housed the Nexus 5 with a Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 chipset, running a quad core Krait 400 CPU at 2.3GHz along with an Adreno 330 GPU. Processing storage is no hassle for the Nexus 5 either. It packs a wonderful 2GBs of RAM inside, making for speedy transfers and a phone experience without lag or pause.

At any time we used the Nexus 5, it performed beautifully. We never caught a lag, videos and audio streamed and played incredibly, and multitasking was a breeze. AnTuTu’s benchmarking put it rather high up as well; They compared our unit as par to the Galaxy S4 with a rating of 27610. Looking at the spec difference of the two really highlights just how unfettered the Nexus 5 is with regards to usability, namely, the S4′s octa-core versus the quad core of the Nexus 5. While the RAM is the same, the performance should favour the S4′s faster and more efficient processor, but the minimalist concept of the Nexus 5 makes it shine.

Storage

Space wise, you should get what you pay for with the Nexus 5. Internal storage choices go from 16GB to 32GB depending on your budget and model choice, but be warned that your selection is permanent. Unfortunately, LG and Google chose to omit a microSD slot, limiting users to whatever is remaining in built in storage. For our model, the 16GB version, we had roughly 12 .5 GB’s available to use after the system allocated the necessary 4GBs. Out of that 12.5, about a single gigabyte was used towards cache, app data and miscellaneous items, meaning that the total space for our was more around only 11GBs. Generally, that should be more than enough space, but if you’re watching movies, taking videos and photos and downloading files, it may not suffice.

Battery

Google hasn’t made the most powerful phone, nor the best; The Nexus 5 has some superb hardware, though it’s not without faults. One of these shortcomings, unfortunately, is the battery life. At first look, you might think the 2300 mAh Lithium Ion battery is powerful, even reliant. Start using the phone daily and you get a better idea; The Nexus 5′s battery just is. With a full day of use, spanning a minimum of 12 hours and including video watching, emails, texting, web browsing and the odd tweet, we barely pulled through with 7% or so remaining. Add in an early start or some navigation and it’s likely the battery won’t last the entire day. That being said, usage differs from person to person, and for the most part we used the phone pretty heavily. On quieter days the battery did it for us until the end of the day no sweat, with a backup of around 37% life remaining. It’s important to mention that the battery is non-removable by users; once you get the phone, you’re stuck until you claim a warranty or pay to get it replaced.

Outsides

Body

Design and ergonomics are getting really technical nowadays, but Google went simple with the Nexus 5. The overall glamour is minimal, whereas comfort and usability is at a maximum.

When you first hold the phone you get a sense of how comfortable it is; a simple monoblock slab that measures well with a soft grip and perfect size. Google made the Nexus 5 similar to the Nexus 7, out of a polymer back and casing with a rubberized matte finish. While it’s not necessarily the most durable material to be tacked on to a glass screen, it certainly can hold its weight when meeting floor or wall. The rubber helps against scratches on the back from keys and coins in the pocket

Starting from the top of the device, there’s not all that much to look at. Housed on the top left is the Nexus 5′s 3.5mm headphone jack in addition to the second microphone, meant for noise cancellation of course. Move down either side though, and you’ll be met with either the power button on the right side or the volume rocker on the left. Those two are pretty standard; rubberized buttons that stick out ever so slightly to perform their respective functions.

On the bottom are the two speakers and the microUSB charger port, similar in fashion to the iPhone. The grills are completely flush with the device and blend seamlessly, which, while being in collaboration with the rest of the phone, is also a bit of a downside. The nature and positioning of the speakers means that they can be blocked or covered extremely easily, and even with dual grills sound muffles at the slightest touch. That being said, having the speakers blend with the bottom means you can’t immediately tell if your hand is over-top the speakers or not. In addition to the aforementioned items, the main microphone is also hidden somewhere underneath without so much as an extra hole to show us where it is.

The front and back are simple too, but carry the most important features. On the front, firstly, there’s the wonderful 5″ screen, sized incredibly well comparative to the dimensions, and making great use of the bezel. Because of the lesser surface area for bezel, the overall size of the Nexus 5 diminishes, too. It shrinks the additional bezel around the screen to almost nothing, which means it’s easier for one handed gripping and use. Close to the top there’s the circular earpiece, likely one of the smaller headsets we’ve seen on a smartphone. On either side of the headset there’s the usual; to the far left is the front camera, and to the far right the ambient light and proximity sensors. We’ve also got a bit of a chin at the bottom, but that has some use, too. Between the edge of the display and the bottom of the phone stands a single LED indicator light which pulses ever so gently in differentiating colours for notifications. Usually there’s an off-white glow that emanates, but we saw the odd red LED for BBM and perhaps another app or two.

The back of the device is just as nice as the rest, but unfortunately non-removable. Marked only by the Nexus logo emblazoned vertically and the expected LG and FCC information close to the bottom of the cover, it’s a completion of the aesthetic the smartphone holds. With the same matte rubber as the sides and buttons, it ties together the texture of the phone, creating an unbroken pattern. Towards the top of the back is the camera, a single large 8MP sensor partnered to a small yet effective LED flash next to it. The size of the camera lens may be a bit surprising, it’s a rather large sensor that’s not flush with the device; there’s about a millimetre of a jut out from the back, and the sensor itself is about 1/3.2″ inches.

Display

Moving on to the Nexus 5′s display, it isn’t out of this world, but it is pretty a good. We’ve got a 5″ screen under a Gorilla Glass 3 display, pushing out a resolution of 1080 x 1920, which is roughly a density of 445 ppi. Just like its counterpart the G2, LG stuck in a True HD IPS+ screen, but not the same quality of screen. While renders are sharp and there aren’t any pixelation issues, there is the little problem of colour reproduction.

There’s nothing wrong with the Nexus 5′s display if you aren’t picky; In fact, we almost didn’t take notice until we looked closely that there was a gripe. What we found was that the whites weren’t truly white; There was a beige/off-white tint to the colours, changing them ever so slightly from near-life to being a very good reproduction. This reflected especially in movies like The Wolverine, or animated videos like Winnie The Pooh in which the colours should have been much sharper and deeper, and would normally have been so on a TV screen.

Viewing angles on the phone were extremely good for us. We took the odd glance while lying down and having the Nexus 5 on a table next to us, and for the most part we could see the screen. Some colours were a little washed out, which is normal for the sharp degrees that we viewed from. Side viewing and angled viewing shouldn’t be an issue, and even outdoor visibility is great. With the Nexus 5′s auto brightness, the screen adjusts fairly well to the lighting.

Camera

We were a bit anxious about the camera, firstly because it’s only an 8MP rear shooter, and secondly due to the reputation of the Nexus 4′s camera. We did have a worry for a second out of the box, but then we installed KitKat. See, the Nexus 5 had some camera bugs (software end) right off the bat with low light and night shots in addition to some motion shots, but once KitKat came along, Google patched that all right up.

Going back to the camera itself though, the Nexus 5 comes standard with two. There’s the front 1.3MP camera and the rear 8.0MP camera, which has a resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels and 1080p video capability. Performance on the front camera isn’t stellar; after all, it is a 1.3MP lens. It’s blurry and rather colourless, but for your stereotypical selfies and video calls it’d suffice.

The main camera on the other hand does well, especially with the KitKat update. Low light shots now have better auto adjustment, colours blend well, autofocus and focus in general is crisp, and motion shots are pretty decent. Colours and saturation and wonderful, and the lens can keep up pretty well with rapid-fire photos. Macro shots are surprisingly accurate with manual focus and lower lighting settings which was a lovely surprise. Night shots are good enough with the LED and updated low light, and indoor shots in perfect conditions are nothing short of superb.

Features are plentiful, and among them are HDR, Panorama and Photosphere. HDR enhances regular shots rather nicely, albeit the lack of flash use for that to happen. Panoramas didn’t patch together the greatest for us, likely due to our shaking hands in the cold, but even still, we weren’t overly impressed. As for Photosphere, it’s a gimmick that’s getting there. To get a good shot requires lots of patience and steady hands, neither of which we really mustered, but even still, it gave a good overview image at the end. It’s a neat trick, that’s for sure, but whether it’s really a feature that’ll be used is personal choice.

Video is not bad; We’re  not sure if we’d say it’s 1080p quality, but it’s at least 720p when recording in ideally lit conditions. Focus is quick and the frame refresh keeps away lag or lens flickers.

Speakers

Sound and speakers do well for the Nexus 5. Even on low we managed to hear quite well through the dual speakers on move night, which just happened to catch us watching This Is The End.

Sound is general is pretty good. The headpiece itself isn’t tinny or too loud at all, and calls on Skype actually came out almost as loud as the speakers on low through the headset. Voice calls themselves were surprisingly clear at full volume, no yelling needed.

Base is rather splendid when playing music through the speakers and tunes transmit well. There does come a point where sound distorts slightly from headphone quality, but it’s not all that noticeable with audio unless you look for it. Movies, music, YouTube; We never had a hard time listening to any of them.

Microphone

Sound came through OK on the smartphone, and by that we mean it wasn’t the best. While other phones we’ve used can pick up sounds from almost halfway across the room, or even from a distance of 10-15 feet, we needed to be within range of the phone by about 7 or so feet for speech to be picked up. The issue came to light during Skype and loudspeaker calls, as the folks we were talking to couldn’t hear us with the phone on the table in front of us while we reclined on a couch.

Noise cancellation works well at least; the second microphone does well to help with surrounding noises and isolation, as our calls went through clear and apparently not tinny.

Sensors

There’s the general motley of sensors present in the Nexus 5. We’ve got our accelerometer, compass, gyrometer, proximity sensor and barometer all accounted for, and all working as they should be. The only one that was a little funny occasionally was the proximity sensor; sometimes we ended a call to find that we’d made our way to the browser or Gmail somehow. Otherwise, though, we can’t say that there was a problem.

Software

KitKat

The software side of the Nexus 5 is what really makes it the sleek beauty that it is. Now it’s especially true after the 4.4.2 upgrade, aka KitKat, which brings a suite of fixes and updates to the Nexus 5 that Day 1 users desperately wanted and needed. With 4.4.2 comes updates to the Google Play suite in addition to Google+ and Hangouts features. It’s like we said in the LG G2 Review; Google’s all about being social. And we’re not complaining, in fact, we love the ideology. Android’s way of interacting with your world and keeping things alive makes it feel real, and with that an extension of productivity. We’re not going to go in-depth with KitKat; there’s nothing extremely visibly different from Jelly Bean (Which is in the G2 review) but we do want to touch on the Nexus 5′s simple nature. It does hold some differences with Gmail and other features, all of them more internal that visible. With an updated UI and Roboto keeping things in check, it’s clear sailing.

Google’s skinning (or lack thereof) really sells the phone for us. Without bloatware or layers of customization, the system runs like clockwork, smooth and unyielding. There’s nothing extremely taxing on the system that we hate, but there are some features lacking. For starters, there’s no built in PDF support for Drive or QuickOffice, nor is there a handy File Manager. Remedies were made through Adobe Reader and File Manager from the Play Store, but the two are rudimentary and should have some form off the bat.

But I digress. The software is nothing short of a work of art with its minimalism. From the standardized app icons to folder creations, KitKat keeps things as un-fragmented as possible. There aren’t any crazy animations or lock screens, and onboard wallpapers are kept to select options as well. Google’s made a serious phone with serious software; It’s both fun and no-nonsense, the perfect mix for work and play.

Quintessential to KitKat is Google Now, which has been getting better ever since it came about with Jelly Bean. Integration with the Nexus 5 is key; Google Now basically helps you run and work with your phone. It’s a hub of sorts for all your important information, from sports scores to reminders to transit information, Google Now is there for you. It puts a different spin on the word assistant, doing things the Siri isn’t really up to par with on the iPhone. Honestly, we can’t think of anyone doing a better job that Google with instant access on a smartphone at the moment. The way it works with location data and tailored information both creeps us out and astounds us; Google knows what we like, where we’ve been, what we’ve seen. It knows what games we might watch, and some products we’ve bought. In an ever-connected society, it’s a stellar marketing agent.

OK, Google

Our favourite feature on the Nexus is the most rethought and progressively steadfast one; voice controls. Google Now (now) works right from the home screen with the command of “OK Google,” launching immediately and ready to undertake your tasks. From writing notes to saving reminders, Voice Commands became a part of our everyday lives for the period we spent with the phone, helping us be lazy and complete our menial tasks without moving.

There is still a long way to go for perfection, and there’s the downside of limited usability without a wireless connection. We’re disappointed that we can’t do dictation without being connected, or heck, even anything more than just number and contact recognition for calls. That was a feature present back the early 2000′s, and you’d think it would have gone a bit further by now.

Potentially concerning is the safety aspect of Voice Control; Google is always listening, and that might not be OK for some. There is the ever present issue of privacy and data collection, in this case with regards to what you say and command. We’re not entirely sure what Google does with the data they receive on the functionality, but one can hope that the NS of A (and its Canadian counterparts) doesn’t take too high an interest on the noises coming from all the Nexus 5′s (And Moto X, and Moto G’s) worldwide.

Connectivity

WiFi, Bluetooth & NFC

Staying connected and sharing isn’t a worry with the Nexus 5. As expected, all the bells and whistles are there, meaning you’ve got WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC as well.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to test out of NFC too much, only with the odd Beam feature, but it connected fairly quickly at first tap. The downside to it is how close it needs to be to another device and the positioning; we’d rather the tops of phones connected rather than the backs smacking into each other, but at least the functionality is there.

Bluetooth range isn’t a big issue, and neither is WiFi. The two did their jobs without fail, and with the Nexus 5′s 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band chip, no hotspot was safe. Along that line, Wireless Hotspot off the Nexus 5 shone in the spotlight too. We connected for a day with our laptop and another phone, and with HSPA+ working at peak performance (LTE coverage wasn’t in the area) we almost had a better connection than on our home line.

Calls and Network (LTE)

Network performance exceeded our expectations with both calls and data. On Bell’s LTE network, we got amazing service in both the Lower Mainland (Vancouver area) and Vancouver Island. Network calls connected and never dropped on us even in more rural areas, which was comforting. We did lose service a number of times, but that’s taking into consideration that we were in the boonies of Abbotsford.

Data speeds still never cease to amaze me. Network bands on the Nexus 5 are LTE 700 / 800 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600, along with HSDPA and GSM/CDMA networks on similar bands. We’re focusing mainly on the LTE, as it’s one of the main highlights to the new Nexus. Speeds are estimated at 150mbps top for download and 50mbps for uploads, speeds that we think are reachable on the Nexus 5. We found ourselves downloading over HSPA+ at around 2 megabytes per second, and on average in LTE zones at closer to 7 or 8 megabytes per second in decent coverage. It’s not that Bell caps the download speeds, but more likely the servers we were downloading from were a little bit slower.

That being said, performance on LTE was admirable. The antenna seems to a have a bit of a problem catching on and keeping a signal in more far out areas, but within the city there was no problem whatsoever, other than once or twice where auto switching between LTE and HSPA seemed to freeze the connection.

Roundup

The Nexus 5 is one device we really will have a hard time parting with. It’s got a strange hold on us; unlike TouchWiz infused Samsung devices, HTC’s Sense, or any other manufacturer’s non Google Play phones really, the Nexus 5 is just beautifully pure and minimal. It’s not complicated, there’s no bloatware, and it performs extremely well. With a great screen, wonderful post-update camera, amazing form factor and superb aesthetics, we’ll be crying all the way through data erase.

By no amount is the Nexus 5 perfect, even with our childlike lusting. The screen’s vibrancy and colour reproduction is sadly only just what we’d expect without being overly wowing, and battery life is OK. LG and Google haven’t put their all into the camera, which suffers from the occasional sad focus, poor motion shots and subpar low light capability. Microphone quality doesn’t do well for speaker calls, but with everyone texting nowadays, does that matter?

In the end there’s nothing to really complain about. For the outright price of $350 from Google Play and the amazing device you’re getting, any flaws can be called additions to character. Google and LG’s Nexus 5 is, without embellishment, a no frills smartphone meant to please, which it does. It’s not a slow giant, it’s not a super-powerhouse; The Nexus 5 is just right.

The Pros

  • Great viewing angles

-Stock KitKat and support

  • OK, Google

  • Post update camera adds to the game

  • Always social, always connected

  • LTE connectivity is wonderful

The Cons

  • Screen could be better

  • Microphone isn’t the best with quieter voices and distance

  • Mediocre battery life

  • No built in file management or PDF support

  • Lack of microSD storage

  • Non removable battery

 

 

 

Final Score

8.5/10