9 / 10

Google Nexus 5 review: The best smartphone for Android lovers?

Google Nexus 5 review: The best smartphone for Android lovers?

Company

Google

Price

£299

A year ago, we reviewed the Nexus 4 and it got four stars out of five and a coveted Best Buy award. This time around, I’ve found enough that irks me to deny the new Nexus that coveted fifth star again – but even so, this is undoubtedly a great smartphone, and it picks up our Best Buy stamp of approval once more. Google and its hardware partner LG have done a fantastic job here, and ensured that this handset packs a real punch.

Value for money is the name of the game with the Nexus 5, and you get some stonking specifications here that I’ll discuss in due course. What I will mention at this point is that there are two models available – one of which has 16GB of built in storage for £299, and a 32GB Nexus 5 which retails at £339.

You also get pure, unadulterated Android, unskinned and in its native format – and the latest version too, Android 4.4. I’m sure you’ve read the stories about how this latest incarnation of Google’s OS came to be named after a popular chocolate bar. You won’t find KitKat anywhere else at present, and if you become a Nexus 5 owner you can rest assured that when Android gets upgraded again, you’ll have it first. This is a key draw of Google’s Nexus range.

In a way, after saying that, it feels a bit churlish to have a pop at the Nexus 5 for its physical design, but it has to be said that the chassis is boxy and far blander than rivals from the likes of Samsung with its Galaxy S4 or even Google’s partner LG with its somewhat idiosyncratic G2. The Nexus 5’s design is boring and functional, and moreover, the backplate is clearly a separate section to the edges, despite being non-removable.

That’s not to say nice touches are absent. There’s a grip-friendly soft-touch finish to the back, and the tell-tale Nexus and (much smaller) LG branding catches the light nicely when the phone is held at certain angles. The right side mounted power button and left side volume rocker both sit proud of the chassis so they are very easy to find by touch, and they too have a very slight reflective sheen that helps them stand out against the matte edges of the phone.

There’s a very slight curving of the top and bottom long edges so the appearance isn’t too blocky. The headset and microUSB connectors are where they should be, top and bottom respectively, and there are two speaker grilles on the bottom edge. They look nicely symmetrical but don’t let them fool you into thinking the Nexus 5 has stereo speakers. It doesn’t – and when listening closely, it seemed to me that only one grille actually delivers sound. The volume isn’t the loudest I’ve ever heard, either, but quality is good.

When you look at the design and dimensions of the Nexus 5 you may wonder whether Google paid enough attention to the competition. At 8.59mm thick this handset is certainly not breaking any records – remember that Huawei’s Ascend P6 still holds the title of the thinnest handset at 6.18mm.

That said, Google has equipped the Nexus 5 with a 2,300mAh battery (which, incidentally, supports wireless charging), and a thinner frame would likely have meant less battery room. With a large power-hungry screen and top notch processor, the design team no doubt weighed thinness against power to reach the balance of the final design.

In doing so they’ve not been able to meet the 3,000mAh battery standard of the larger Sony Xperia Z1, which measures 73.9 x 8.5 x 144.4mm (WxDxH) compared to the Nexus 5’s dimensions of 69.2 x 8.59 x 137.8mm (WxDxH). The result is that I found the Nexus 5 tended to need battery boosting during a day of heavy usage, though on lighter days it did see me from morning to evening.

You might think that the Nexus 5 has a 5in screen, but actually it’s 4.95in – a shade more than the Nexus 4’s 4.7in. With a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, this IPS screen is 445ppi and it’s an absolute pleasure to look at. The use of Gorilla Glass 3 should please the clumsier among us, too. One of my early installs was the Kindle app, because I wanted to test the “Immersive Mode” in KitKat, which hides everything except what you are looking at in some apps. All I can say is that e-reading was a pleasure, as was web browsing, video viewing, gaming, and, well everything really.

I’m not going to run through all the features that are new to KitKat here – you can check out our primer for more detailed info on the new OS – but it is certainly worth noting a couple. By default, Hangouts and SMS are joined together. That’s not really my bag, and if it isn’t yours either you can set any app as the default for SMS, but you’ll have to download something from the Play store first. Meanwhile Google Now can allegedly be accessed simply by saying “Okay Google” when you are on the home screen. Well, I say that, but it didn’t work for me. Tapping the microphone icon and asking a question in ordinary speech did result in useful responses, though.

I like the fact that Keep makes an appearance here. This is a neat notes app that saves stuff into Google Drive – you’ll never be short of somewhere to write your shopping list now. And, for those of us who like to do serious work while out and about, the addition of QuickOffice is a big plus point. You can create Microsoft Word compatible documents and save them to Drive.

The camera is an 8-megapixel shooter that sports an HDR mode which does a good job of rescuing what might otherwise be dark and unusable photos. I’d like more time to test the camera in a wide variety of conditions, but on the basis of what I’ve seen it can produce some good snaps. I also appreciate the ease with which you get to the controls, simply by long pressing the screen and then sweeping around an arc of options that overlay the image you are framing. It’s a clever and intuitive system.

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Google has given the Nexus 5 a top of the range 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, and provided it with 2GB of RAM in support. It’s a lightning fast mover and I never saw this handset stumble. I was sent the 32GB version to review and there was 26GB of accessible storage for my apps and data. That’s a generous amount of storage, though you do need to bear in mind that there’s no microSD card support here.

Verdict

The Nexus 5 isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It has plenty of higher-end features like Wi-Fi support for 802.11ac, NFC, LTE, and extras like wireless charging and video out via the SlimPort microUSB connector. However, it also has a somewhat underpowered battery and a design some might call bland along with, most irritatingly of all, no microSD support. Still, even with these irritations it’s very hard not to be impressed with the overall value for money the Nexus 5 offers, packing a superb display and top notch processor for just £299.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Google Nexus 5

Network

GSM multiband; HSPA multiband; 4G LTE multiband

Processor

2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

Ram

2GB

Memory

32GB

Memory expansion

None

Display

4.95in, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Main camera

8.0-megapixel

Front camera

1.3-megapixel

NFC

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

No

Battery

2,300mAh

Size

137.84 x 69.17 x 8.59 mm

Weight

130g

OS

Android 4.4

Pros

  • Superb screen
  • Fast processor
  • Has Android 4.4 on board
  • Excellent value for money

Cons

  • Relatively small battery
  • No microSD slot

Company

Google

Price

£299

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