Nexus 5: Google’s New Flagship Phone

November 29, 2013 by

At a Glance

Look and Feel
An attractive device with a nice physical texture and a brilliant screen. It's also very light.

Defining Features
The Nexus 5 introduces Android 4.4 KitKat, which puts Google Services front and center.

Core Functionality
"OK, Google" voice command is cool. Speed and performance are excellent. But the camera and battery life are questionable.

Recommended For
Android fans, those seeking performance on a budget, fans of unlocked devices.

Editor’s Rating
**** (out of 5 stars)

A New Phone for the KitKat Era

The Nexus 5 was released right before the holiday season, shortly after the iPhone 5s and a couple new versions of the HTC One (Max and Mini). Samsung isn’t expected to release a new Galaxy S phone until spring 2014, so the time was right for Google (and Nexus 5 manufacturer LG) to hit the market with its latest premium phone – which showcases the newest version of Android: 4.4 KitKat.

At such a low price, how premium can the Nexus 5 be?

The big question on everybody’s mind is: At such a low, unlocked price ($349 for 16GB; $399 for 32GB), how premium is the Nexus 5, really?

Using It

Look and Feel
The Nexus 5 is an attractive device, with a striking 5-inch HD display and a nice, grippy matte finish on its back panel. I immediately saw it as a hardware upgrade from last year’s Nexus 4, which felt like a cheaper device in your hands.
And although the Nexus 5 significantly more guts than the Nexus 4 (double the memory, faster processor, 4G connectivity, etc.) it’s still really lightweight. It actually feels compact, more so than the Galaxy S4 – which is also a 5-inch device.

Defining Features

Android 4.4 KitKat
Google advertises 4.4 KitKat as "Smart, simple, and truly yours” and the Nexus 5 user experience definitely delivers. Everything is easy to find, layout and app icons are clean, screens open and close smoothly, and multitasking is a breeze.

No bloatware: The Nexus 5 interface is fast, smooth and extremely user friendly.

And because it’s a Google device, it’s not bogged down by additional manufacturer’s "bloatware” you might find on other Android phones. KitKat is designed around the user experience and one of its best features is integration of Google Services…

Google Services at Your Fingertips
As Google grows, so do its services, and KitKat makes it easier than ever to launch Gmail, Hangouts (integrated with messaging), Google+, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Play and more – all from your home screen.
No matter your OS, Google is the gold standard for search and maps – two of the handiest integrations on the Nexus 5, particularly when you consider you can launch both hands-free, speaking only two words:

"OK, Google” Voice Command

When I first tried "OK, Google” I figured it was the Nexus 5 equivalent to the Moto X’s always on voice control, but you actually have to unlock the phone before you can give it a go.

But once I did, I was very impressed. For all of my queries and commands, the results were accurate and helpful. Like Siri on iOS, however, it sometimes misunderstood what I was saying if I didn’t enunciate perfectly, but that’s just the nature of voice command, I think.


Core Functionality

A number of reviews I read said the Nexus 5 camera was underwhelming, so I wanted to put it to the test. A lot of people were sad to hear the Nexus 5 camera was sub-par – myself included – because the Nexus 4 also fell short on its camera. Everybody expected Google/LG to get the camera right this time.

The Nexus 5 camera reviewed poorly but in our tests, it did just fine.

In my testing, the camera did well overall. The pictures were good and the settings were easy to figure out. Just a few things I should point out:  
  • There was sometimes a bit of a shutter delay when taking pictures.

  • The camera app is slow to open, especially from the lock screen (I found the latter to be a little flaky).

  • Some of the photos, although sharp, lacked some of the colourful punch and vibrancy you expect from high-end smartphone cameras (see above lunch photo).

  • However, in my test shots (above and below) the Nexus 5 held up just fine against the iPhone 5s.

Performance and Battery Life
As previously mentioned, the Nexus 5 is LTE-capable so it leaves the Nexus 4 in its dust from a performance standpoint. In addition, its Snapdragon 800 processor performed brilliantly in our testing.

Just as the iPhone 5s is the best way to experience iOS 7, the Nexus 5 is the best way to experience Android 4.4 KitKat – the device is fast, smooth and optimized for the new OS. I was able to multitask, open and close apps and activate "OK, Google” without any hiccups at all.

Battery life was a bit disappointing.

Battery life was a bit disappointing. During our testing, we had to stop and charge the phone (which took a long time to charge, I might add) and although we were operating a number of apps simultaneously, I felt like our battery power was dropping unusually quickly. I’d also read a number of reviews saying the Nexus 5 battery life was unpredictable, depending on what you’re using the phone for at a given time. This kind of thing is usually fixed in future updates in other phones with similar problems but it’s something to be aware of.

OS and Available Apps

KitKat was made for the Nexus 5 and vice-versa; with the growing breadth of Google Services available (see "Google Services at Your Fingertips,” above), built-in integrations become more and more handy. For heavy users of Google Services, the Nexus 5 is probably the best phone available.

All the content and apps you could ever want, of course, are available via Google Play. It’s important to note, however, Google Play Music cloud streaming is not available in Canada. If it’s any consolation, neither are iTunes Radio, Pandora nor Spotify.

Recommended for

As mentioned, if you’re an Android fan or a heavy user of Google Services, the Nexus 5 might be the best phone on the market. It is a premium smartphone, however it is not as impressive as its high-end Android cousins (the HTC One or the Samsung Galaxy S4) or the iPhone 5s for that matter. But with its rock bottom price and unlocked carrier flexibility, it doesn’t have to be.

The Bottom Line

The Nexus 5 is a high-quality phone and the KitKat interface is impressive, but the camera and battery are its weaknesses. With an incredibly low price point, however, its value is unmatched.

Compare Cellular Editor's Rating
**** (out of 5 stars)
Posted in: Google/Android, LG, Product Reviews