What is the Google Nexus 5?
The Google Nexus 5 is the one new Google-branded phone for 2013. It takes over from the Google Nexus 4. And like that phone, it guns for its big-name Android rivals with a super-aggressive price. Offerring excellent performance, a smart design and great value, the Nexus 5 is undoubtedly one of the best phones of the year. Read on to find out why.
Google Nexus 5 tips, tricks and hidden features
Google Nexus 5 – Design
The Google Nexus 5 is made by LG. You probably wouldn't know it unless you spot the little LG logo on the back, though. It has none of the quirky design elements of the LG G2.
This is a deeply pragmatic phone in many respects, in that Google was clearly out to make a mobile that looks and feels great, without any of the flashy, budget-busting bits of a £600 phone like the iPhone 5S. The Google Nexus 5 is arguably much more conservative, design-wise, than the Nexus 4 it replaces.
The Nexus 5 is made of soft touch matt black plastic. It doesn't sound as impressive as the aluminium of the HTC One, but the response from the TrustedReviews team was unanimous – it feels great.
Its back is lightly curved, adding to the hand-friendliness of the silky smooth finish. The Nexus 5 looks good, too. Every part of the phone bar the LED flash is black (a white version is also available), and the lack of any recognisable flashy extras beyond the oversized camera lens housing make it quite a 'pure' design.
It comes across as a much more confident phone than the Nexus 4, with its 'jazz hands' spangly finish and glass rear.
The one issue of such a simple-looking phone is that front-on, it's not that easy to casually tell which way around it is. All navigation keys are part of the screen, so the only indicators are the deeply low-key earpiece speaker and front camera. It's a bit of a phone ninja.
The lack of any flashiness is clear in its construction, too. Although the Nexus 5 does not have a removable back – there's no battery access and no hidden memory card slot – this is not a unibody phone. The back plate and the plastic sides of the phone are two different bits, and there's a clear seam between them.
We imagine this makes the phone easier to construct, and easier to fix. But to pedantic eyes, it's something that shows this phone hasn't been constructed on a limitless budget.
However, handling-wise it's one the nicest phones in its class – beaten only by the slightly smaller HTC One. LG has put a lot of effort into making the Nexus 5 as narrow as possible, making it less of a handful, and it's slim too.
The Nexus 5 is 69mm wide and 8.6mm thick. That's 0.5mm narrower, and 0.7mm thicker than, the Samsung Galaxy S4. Being a budget-conscious phone hasn't resulted in a remotely chunky body, and in-use it leaves the impression of being almost 'all screen' thanks to its super-slim screen bezel. LG has done a fantastic job as manufacturing partner here.
Like any 5-inch phone, though, reaching from one end of the screen to the other with a thumb is a bit of a stretch. If you have small hands, we recommend getting your hands on a phone this large before buying any mobile this size.
In common with many phones with non-removable rear panels, the Google Nexus 5 uses a pop-out SIM tray. It takes microSIM cards – now the most commonly used type in high-end phones.
One other hardware feature worth a nod is the well-executed notification LED. It's a multi-colour LED whose light is diffracted slightly to give it a 'glow' effect, and it sits dead centre below the screen. Its low-key style fits in perfectly with the phone's self-assured low-key design. Like so many elements of this phone, it's simple, and it's good.
This isn't a phone that panders to all the demands of the hardcore tech geek brigade, though. There's no dedicated video output (extremely rare these days) and no way to expand upon the 16GB or 32GB of internal memory. We don't think these are significant downsides unless you're looking for a video jukebox phone, though.
Google Nexus 5 – Screen
As the phone's name suggests, the Google Nexus 5's screen is 5-inches (4.95 inches to be exact), up from the 4.7-inches of the Google Nexus 4. It is one of the most pleasant mobile screens around at present, and almost certainly the best you can get for £300.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, the Google Nexus 5 has a Full HD screen of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. Spread across the phone's 5-inches that gets you pixel density of 445 ppi.
Increases in pixel density figures become a case of diminishing returns in most cases once you get above the 326ppi 'Retina' standard Apple popularised with the iPhone 4 back in 2010. But nevertheless, the Nexus 5 display is immaculately sharp. Of course, the main benefit of a screen like this is not really sharpness, but smoothness – the curves of small characters are not remotely jagged, making them much easier on the eyes.
People often think high-res screens are useful for gaming and movie-watching foremost, but they are actually just as important for web browsing.
The Nexus 5 uses an IPS display, the same type seen in the iPhone 5S. Viewing angles are perfect, and there's an immediacy to the display that marks it out as a true top-end screen. Lower-end screens tend to appear a little 'recessed', featuring more discrete screen layers, reducing contrast and image pop.
What we're most glad about, though, is how much better colour reproduction is in the Nexus 5, compared to the Nexus 4. LG has clearly been working on its screen calibration skills since that phone, because colours are better-saturated, and without any of the oversaturated reds that are often apparent in AMOLED-type screens.
Outdoors visibility is solid, too. The same high-end screen architecture that makes images look super-lively indoors makes them avoid becoming too washed out outdoors. Top brightness is good rather than truly remarkable, but in actual use we had no complaints with what the screen is capable of. It's a corker.
There's just one slight complaint. the Nexus 5's screen doesn't have insanely fast refresh rates. Moving quickly up and down Android 4.4's menus does leave a tiny trail. The effect is very minor, though.
Google Nexus 5 – Android 4.4 KitKat Software
The Google Nexus 5 is the first phone to launch with Android 4.4 KitKat. It's also one of just a few devices that will offer the software as Google intended. Almost every other phone these days has custom interface that adds a bunch of features and alters, in a handful of small ways, what the phone feels like to use.
It's a real pity, because in its pure form, Android 4.4 is a very coherent, easy-to-use system. These days it doesn't really have many more potentially-confusing dangling bits than the latest version of the iPhone software, iOS 7.
Like iOS 7, Android 4.4 KitKat makes the system look slightly more friendly and, at a push, cartoony. Some of the last remnants of visual stuffiness – unnecessary borders and rigid lines that aren't really effective visual punctuation – have gone. More menus are hidden until you need them, making Android feel less cluttered than ever.
These are similar changes HTC made in its own Sense 5.0 UI, introduced in the excellent HTC One.
There's not as much customisation as you get with some other Android phones, though. For example, you can't choose between different screen transitions, or how long these animations take. Is that an unnecessary extra? Probably.
Google has fine-tuned the options it makes available, including only those that are truly worthwhile in the Nexus 5. A good example is font size – You can pick five sizes between 'small' and 'huge', and it affects fonts throughout the phone's UI – in some phones it only affects the menus, not the home screen.
Android 4.4 is a refreshing, pared-back approach to Android. And we think it is the right approach.
The way you interact with Android hasn't changed either, meaning you can add in plenty of the missing customisation with third-party apps if you feel the need.
Google Nexus 5 – Apps and Games
Other than a slightly new look, the Nexus 5's Android 4.4 software also sees Google start to squish together some of its mobile and desktop services/apps. The most obvious of these is Hangouts.
Google Hangouts is a chat interface for Google Plus on a computer, but in the Nexus 5 it's also where all your SMS messages end up. Good old fashioned text messages and mobile internet-powered web chats are virtually the same thing in the Nexus 5.
It's Google's way to try and make people use its own services all the more – but it's executed simply enough to stop it being confusing, beyond the new name. You can also change the default SMS app in the Settings menu (more are available from Google Play) if you really don't get on with Hangouts.
Most of Google's other core Android apps are likely familiar to you – Maps, Mail, Calendar and Drive are all well-established bits of software that will fit like well-worn shoes if you've used Android in the past.
There are a a few much newer additions, though. Google Keep was introduced in March 2013, and is a simple note-taking tool that stashes all your post-its on your Drive account. It lets you attach audio clips and pictures too, and its interface is beautifully simple. It's designed for the everyday user, not the hardcore note-taking obsessive, but makes a good Evernote-replacer for most people.
What's more interesting is the inclusion of QuickOffice, a definite stab at Microsoft and its inclusion of Office in Windows Phone. It's an office suite that lets you create and edit text documents, spreadsheets and presentations directly from the Nexus 5 – and save them directly to Google Drive, or the internal memory. Google is offering a direct rival for the mobile versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint here. And while still a tiny bit fiddly on a phone, they are – like much of Android 4.4 – pretty intuitive.
The Nexus 5's Android 4.4 also tries to push Google Now. It's a service that pre-empts information you might ask for, such as weather where you live, and the routes back home from where you are.
This is the only phone that lets you zoom straight to Google Now just by saying 'Ok Google' from the home screen. However, it's not a feature we could get to work, despite having offline recognition installed. Oh well.
New optimisations aside, the Nexus 5 offers all the apps and games scope of any other Android phone. You get full access to the Google Play app store, and both the 16GB and 32GB models give you space for loads content. However, this will soon get eaten up if you install lots of data-heavy 3D games, or fill the phone up with movies. Unlike a Samsung Galaxy S4, you can't increase internal memory here.
Google Nexus 5 – Performance and Benchmarks
General performance of the Nexus 5 is excellent. Navigation is super-quick, with lag-free transitions thanks to both the optimisations of Android 4.4 and the power of the Nexus 5. We did experience a few little glitches in our testing, but these related mostly to third-party apps (unavoidable) and the camera app (likely to be ironed out in sequential updates).
The Google Nexus 5 uses a Snapdragon 800 CPU, on par with the top new Android phones of late 2013, and notably faster than the Galaxy S4.
The Snapdragon 800 used here is a quad-core 2.27GHz processor with 2GB of RAM. Given the £300 asking price of the Nexus 5, that's a cracking spec, matching the Sony Xperia Z1 and LG G2.
We tried a host of high-end 3D action games to see if the Nexus 5 would trip up, but it did not. Real Racing 3, Dead Trigger 2 and Epic Citadel all ran perfectly. If a current game doesn't run well, it's because of poor optimisation on the developer's part, not a failing of the Nexus 5.
Benchmarks once again prove that the new Nexus offers stellar value for money. With 17,757 in the 3D Mark Unlimited test, 2,715 in Geekbench (907 single-core), 803ms in Sunspider and 801 in the Peacekeeper test, the Nexus 5 offers performance very close to the Xperia Z1 - a phone that costs £200 more.
It's not as powerful as an iPhone 5S, but for the time being you can't get a more powerful Android phone with good game developer support. The latest Intel Atom mobile processors are a good deal faster, but as they're hardly used in any phones, developers don't tend to optimise for them specifically.
In short, the Nexus 5 rules for gaming.
Google Nexus 5 – Music and Video
As already mentioned, the Nexus 5 is not a perfect music or video jukebox – especially not the 16GB version – because there's just not enough storage potential. Unless you go down the streaming route with a Spotify, Netflix or similar subscription, you're going to be limited to the internal storage. And with a 16GB phone, only 12.5GB is accessible.
Still determined to make your Nexus 5 a media powerhouse? Transferring files is simple, as the internal memory shows up as a drive when connected to a computer.
As with the rest of the Nexus 5, the phone comes with the bog-standard Google media apps only – Play Music and Play Movies.
Both apps try and get you to sign up for, or buy, Google's own content. They're not pure media player apps, but the music interface in particular is strong. It looks good, it runs fast.
The Nexus 5 doesn't offer as strong codec support as a Samsung Galaxy S4, though. You're restricted to the native support offered by Android 4.4 unless you use a good third-party player. Our usual test app, MxPlayer, isn't currently available for Android 4.4 devices (this is likely to be sorted within days/weeks).
Google Nexus 5 – Sound Quality
One element of the Google Nexus 5 that hasn't been given a good deal of attention is the internal speaker. It's a pretty standard mono affair that doesn't get close to matching the HTC One in terms of sound quality, sound dispersal or volume. It is not terrible either, with solid enough output to make the back of the phone vibrate (a not entirely positive side effect). At top volume, the speaker does start to crackle with some content, though.
Its design is also a bit misleading. There are two grilles on the bottom edge of the phone, but like iPhone 5S the sound only comes out of one of them. The, we assume, contains the microphone, either that or it's there just for symmetry's sake. Unfortunately, also like the iPhone, this means the sound is easy to block off when playing a game.
Google Nexus 5 – Connectivity
Like almost all top-end phones these days, the Google Nexus 5 offers 4G support. There are two different versions of the phone, designed for different markets, meaning you don't get 100 per cent worldwide coverage, but that should not bother most people.
Other wireless connectivity is pretty advanced, too. You get Wi-Fi that supports the ac standard – which has only recently become common in routers – as well as NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 (aka Bluetooth Smart), Miracast and all the Android standards such as GPS and HSPA 3G mobile internet.
We miss out on some of the usefulness of NFC in the UK, as Google Wallet has not launched here yet, but the Nexus 5 is undeniably fully-featured.
Looking back to hardware connectivity, the microUSB port on the bottom of the Nexus 5 is actually a SlimPort – also seen in the Nexus 4. It's a rival to MHL, and lets you output video from the phone using the right adapter. As usual, you don't get one in the box, but you can find one online for around £20.
Google Nexus 5 – Camera
The Google Nexus 5 has a camera that mostly matches the Nexus 4 in terms of pure specs. It has an 8-megapixel 1/3.2-inch sensor and an f/2.5 lens. When the Nexus 4 camera was nothing to shout about, we were preparing ourselves for disappointment. But the Nexus 5 offers some pretty good results in practice.
Detail capture and exposure
The Nexus 5's most serious image quality issue is exposure metering. It tends to blow out bright areas, something that rival iPhones simply don't do (generally speaking).
Detail capture is roughly on-par with the iPhone 5S, as you would hope given the use of similar-resolution sensors, but the exposure issue leads to much more problematic images in scenes with strong light sources. There's also significant purple fringing around light sources in these sorts of trickier scenes, to the extent that it's visible without significant zooming into shots, when viewed on a computer.
We were left with both under- and overexposed shots during testing, suggesting that whatever imaging brain is powering the Nexus 5 could do with an update or two. Dynamic range in normal photos is pretty poor too.
However, these exposure issues can mostly be solved using the generally excellent HDR mode of the Nexus 5. It's a demonstration of what mobile phone HDR should be about – i.e. compensating for the technical limitations of a phone camera, not producing shots that look like they're inspired by Disney's Fantasia, with every object glowing as if the viewer had just dropped a tab of acid.
The results of the HDR mode do vary depending on the scene, but generally they significantly increase detail in shadow areas, reduce overexposure and even improve white balance/colour reproduction noticeably.
We would suggest using the HDR mode 24/7 when not shooting action, but speed is a significant issue. At the best of times, the Nexus 5 is not the fastest camera around.
Upon pressing the shutter button, the phone both focuses and takes a shot, and there's about a two second pause between standard shots – longer if you're shooting in poor lighting. With the HDR mode engaged, this gap is increased to 3.5-4 seconds – about as bad as the Lumia 1020, which has to cram a 41-megapixel image down to a 5-megapixel file. It has a pretty good excuse, the Nexus 5 doesn't.
With an iPhone you're looking at about a quarter of a second between standard shots and 1.5-2 seconds between HDR shots. There are reasons beyond image quality why iPhones are fun to shoot with.
Low-light and Optical image stabilisation
The Nexus 5 never claimed to be a photo speed king, but it does claim to be good for low-light shooting thanks to its use of optical image stabilisation.
It works. What OIS lets the Nexus 5 do is to increase exposure time without resulting in blurred images caused by the natural judder of your hand. Longer exposure time equals more light, which equals less noise.
The Nexus 5 drops down to earth a bit with its single-LED flash. It's nothing special, and has the usual sort of image-skewing effects that make us want to turn it off whenever possible, given the phone's use of OIS.
However, it does at least use the LED as a focusing aid when the flash is engaged.
Macro and Depth of Field
The Nexus 5 is able to produce some half-decent macro-style shots thanks to its reasonable detail retrieval, but it has no special skills in this field. It'll focus at around 15cm distance, and the f/2.5 lens isn't capable of any particularly impressive depth of field effects.
Google Nexus 5 - Video Capture
A few mobile phone cameras, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, have started to offer 4K video capture, but the Nexus 5 is stuck with more conventional 1080p. However, it too uses the optical image stabilisation that had such a positive effect on low-light performance. Here it quite literally stabilises the image, doing a good job of making handheld footage look less juddery.
Other phones manage fairly well with software video stabilisation, though. You also miss out on HDR video recording and slow/fast motion here – all three are either useful or fun. The Nexus 5 does offer time lapse video recording, though, which shoots a frame at pre-set intervals – such as every half-second. We'd rather have slo-mo, but it's hardly a show-stopping issue.
Google Nexus 5 - Front Camera
The Nexus 5 has a much better front camera than the Nexus 4. It's a 1.3-megapixel camera. Once again that's the same resolution used in the Nexus 4, but the results are simply much better this time around – greater detail, and it is able to cope much better with in-frame light sources.
The camera also has a slightly longer focal length than most front cameras, meaning you don't need to hold it as close to get a good selfie angle. Of course, that may not help if you're trying to get a bunch of friends in the photo as well.
Google Nexus 5 - Camera App and Additional Modes
As with all of the Nexus 5's software elements, the phone uses the bog-standard Android 4.4 camera app. It's a slightly quirky, gesture-based affair that's one of the trickier parts of the system to get used to.
Navigation of the menu system isn't intuitive enough, especially as it doesn't give you control beyond that of any other phone.
You do get a few neat extra modes, though. Photosphere lets you take a 360-degree view of your surroundings – a fun extra to experiment with – and panorama is a more conventional (and more easily share-able) pan shot. The quality of the latter is nothing to get too excited about, though – it's not full-res like the iPhone panorama.
Google Nexus 5 – Battery Life
One of the slightly limiting parts of the Google Nexus 5 is its battery. The phone has a 2,300mAh power supply, which is a chunk smaller than the 2,600mAh battery of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the generous 3000mAh battery of the Sony Xperia Z1.
And this limitation shows. With regular use, and apps given free rein to grab mobile data when they like, the Google Nexus 5 will drain most of the way down – if not entirely – within a day.
This is not helped by the lack of a power saving mode. Google made a bunch of power-saving optimisations in Android 4.4, but there's no longer a dedicated power efficiency mode that limits mobile data use, screen brightness and so on.
We would really have liked to see a slightly larger battery used here, as it's one part where the Nexus 5 falls behind some of its rivals.
Google Nexus 5 – Call Quality
The call speaker of the phone doesn't lag behind in the same way – although there's only so much you can do with the call quality of 'normal' phone calls. The speaker is loud, clear and has some bulk to its sound. We also didn't experience any speaker 'crackle', which was a criticism some levelled at the Nexus 4.
The phone also uses active noise cancellation for calls, with a pinhole speaker on the top monitoring ambient noise.
Should I buy the Google Nexus 5?
If you want a top-spec phone but don't want to pay the premium that usually comes with it, there are no better options than the Google Nexus 5. Unlike some other low-cost, high-spec Android phones, its quad-core processor has all the power of the most popular high-end smartphones.
That the Nexus 5 is actually more powerful than the rival HTC One and Galaxy S4 speaks volumes about both its value, and how quickly things move on in the mobile game.
Battery life could be better and the camera isn't quite as reliable as the best out there – despite being great in some respects. However, these issues seem quite minor given the phone is £100-200 cheaper than the competition.
The Google Nexus 5 is the high-end Android phone bargain of the year. Aside from a slightly anaemic battery it offers everything phones costing £200 more do.
Google Nexus 5 tips, tricks and hidden features