Skip to main content

5 of the best new features of Google’s Nexus 5

Demand for the Nexus 5 was heavy when it was suddenly announced last week, despite the lack of a big press conference. That’s not much of a shock, though. The Nexus 5 is a very well kitted out piece of hardware which runs Android 4.4 KitKat – the most significant update to the platform in years – and it’s priced very reasonably at £299.

Let’s see what makes this phone such a hot ticket by checking out the five top features that Nexus 5 owners will benefit from.

1. Adding and rearranging home screen panels

Android 4.4 has changed the way home screen panels are managed and edited quite a bit. Out of the box, the device comes with only two screens of icons, but you can add more to accommodate your apps and widgets. To manage your home screen pages, long-press in an open area to get an overview of the home screen. In this interface you can add widgets, change wallpaper, and rearrange your home screens.

Dropping a widget into a new panel on the far right is one way to make a new page, but the same can be done with an app shortcut from the drawer. If you decide you no longer want one of those home screen panels, simply clear it off and the device will remove it (see the video at the end of this article for a visual demonstration of how all this works).

This system lets you have page after page of widgets, or a single screen of your most important things. There’s no wasted space in the KitKat launcher.

2. Google Now cards on the home screen

Google Now has been upgraded from an app to a fully-integrated home screen component. The main home screen panel is now on the far left of all the other regular screens, and immediately to the left of the main panel is Google Now’s card view.

This is the full Google Now app right there on the home screen. If you launch Now from the navigation gesture, you’ll end up on that same far left screen. This is Google bringing its predictive search technology to the forefront. Some users might never have looked at Google Now before, but it’s much more accessible in KitKat.

3. Always-accessible notifications

Android’s notification system is spectacular, at least when you can see the status bar. If you’re in a full-screen app, there’s no way to see what notifications have come in without leaving the app. Android 4.4 adds a simple feature to solve the problem, but it’s not an entirely new idea – Samsung has been using the same trick in its TouchWiz overlay.

When you’re in a full-screen app, just swipe down from the top of the screen and a semi-transparent status bar will slide down. You can see the icons and clock from there, but another swipe down will open the full notification shade like normal. The app/game freezes behind the scenes when the shade is pulled down, then resumes when it is closed. Neat.

4. Tap and pay NFC

With Android 4.4, Google no longer needs a secure element embedded in NFC chips to process contactless payments. The Nexus 5 is the first device to show this off with Google Wallet support out of the box in the US. It only takes a few seconds to authorise Wallet with the operating system’s card emulation framework.

The main settings page now has a Tap & Pay item that will list all the payment apps installed on your device, letting you switch between them easily.

5. Expanded voice control hot word detection

The Nexus 5 is showing off all of Google’s latest and greatest search features, and that ties deeply into the home screen experience. In fact, the search app controls a lot of what’s going on with the launcher interface. One of the handy bonuses that integration brings is hot word detection any place on the home screen.

Previously, the Google Search hot word would only kick you into voice search when the search app was already open. Now you can say, “Okay, Google,” from the home screen and the phone will immediately fire up a voice search.

Check out the video above to see these features in action. You might also want to read our closer look at Android 4.4 article, which discusses why KitKat is the most important Android update in a long time.

We also have spec comparisons of the Nexus 5 against the Nexus 4, the Nexus 5 versus the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the Nexus 5 pitted against the iPhone 5S.