Apple iPhone 5S or Google Nexus 5: Which should I buy?

The recently launched Nexus 5 and the flagship iPhone 5S are two smartphones that are very clearly at the top of their game. On the one hand, the Nexus 5 brings you all of the latest and greatest technology, a huge 5in screen, and costs just £299 sim-free. On the other, the iPhone 5S is a sleek, light, beautifully designed phone with class-leading performance and battery life – but in true Apple fashion, it misses some newer technologies, such as NFC and 802.11ac. If you’re trying to decide between the iPhone 5S and Nexus 5, read on for our full breakdown of the two devices.

iPhone 5S versus Nexus 5: Hardware

The Nexus 5 has a 4.95in 1920 x 1080 IPS display (445 ppi), bonded to some Gorilla Glass 3. The body is 8.59mm thick, and it weighs 130 grams. Inside, there’s a Snapdragon 800 SoC, with the four Krait CPU cores clocked at 2.3GHz, and an Adreno 330 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage (not expandable), and a 2300mAh battery. On the back there’s an 8-megapixel camera with optical image stabilisation – but reviews suggest that you shouldn’t get your hopes up about the Nexus 5’s camera quality.

The iPhone 5S has a relatively tiny 4in 1136 x 640 IPS display (326 ppi), but it does manage to be both thinner and lighter than the Nexus 5 (it’s 7.6mm thick and weighs 112 grams). Of course, once you put that big, ugly case on your iPhone, those physical measurements will change considerably. Inside, there’s the 64-bit A7 SoC (dual Cyclone CPU cores clocked at 1.3GHz and probably the new PowerVR G6430 GPU) and M7 coprocessor. There’s 1GB of on-package RAM, up to 64GB of internal storage (not expandable), and a 1570mAh battery. The rear camera is the same 8-megapixels as the Nexus 5, but the photo quality of the 5S seems to be far superior.

On the wireless connectivity front, both the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5S support 4G LTE (but band support will vary between phones and models, so be sure to check the small print). Both phones also support Bluetooth 4.0, but the iPhone 5S draws the line at 802.11n, while the Nexus 5 supports the oh-so-fast-and-sexy 802.11ac. Both phones have all of the usual gyros, accelerometers, sensors, GPS, and so on. The Nexus 5 supports NFC, while Apple still stubbornly refuses to bring NFC to its smartphones.

Apple has never been one to compete in terms of raw figures, and that stance has never been more clear than with the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5S. On paper, the Nexus 5 blows the iPhone 5S away. In practice, the 5S’ hardware spec is just fine – after all, it ultimately comes down to how the hardware interacts with the software. Synthetic benchmarks mean very little if both phones feel snappy.

iPhone 5S versus Nexus 5: Software

As with all modern computers, by far the biggest factor affecting day-to-day usage is software, not hardware. The Nexus 5 ships with the newest version of Android 4.4 – KitKat – and the iPhone 5S ships with iOS 7. Both mobile operating systems are wildly different, as you probably know. See this article for an in-depth look at KitKat, and our full review of iOS 7 is here.

In short, Android 4.4 is more powerful – more capable and feature-rich – while iOS 7 is generally slicker, faster, and more integrated. It’s generally easier to get things done on the iPhone 5S with iOS 7 – but only if Apple has deigned to allow you. If you have less conventional use-cases, the Nexus 5 with Android 4.4 is probably a better bet. The app ecosystem for Android and iOS is pretty comparable, but iOS probably still has the edge if you’re looking to use the latest and greatest apps.

iPhone 5S versus Nexus 5: Pricing

Beyond the software, the next big differentiator is price. As we’ve already mentioned, the Nexus 5 with 16GB of storage is £299 sim-free, and the 32GB model is £339. The iPhone 5S is considerably more expensive, starting at £549 for the 16GB model.

Verdict

When it comes down to it, unless you’re a power user, there are just three factors you need to consider when buying a Nexus 5 or iPhone 5S: The camera, the size of the device (and your hands), and pricing.

If you’re a power user – i.e. someone who knows that they will use NFC, 802.11ac, or other features that fit certain specific use-cases – then the Nexus 5 is a very fine choice indeed.

For more Nexus 5 comparisons, check out our battle between the Nexus 5 and Galaxy S4, and if you want to see a detailed breakdown of how Google has upgraded the handset from its predecessor, have a gander at our Nexus 4 versus Nexus 5 spec showdown. You might also want to peruse our iPhone 5S review (we'll have a review of the Nexus 5 up very shortly).