You can’t help but feel a little hard done by in Ireland when it comes to the Nexus 5. If you want one you’ll have to jump through unnecessary hoops as Google still prevents access to the device end of the the Play Store from our shores. The frustration with this is amplified when you realise that if you order one from the Play Store in the UK, it is shipped by Google from an address in Dublin!
None of the Networks are selling the device either so your options are limited for purchasing one. We put together an article to highlight some of the best ways of getting your hands on one which you can check out here.
The Nexus 5 continues with the same design theory that we first saw with the Nexus S. The front of the device is an uninterrupted black slab with no manufacturer branding to be seen. While that is a pretty small design cue, it adds a uniqueness to the device that is only seen within the Nexus line up. It fits in with the whole idea that this device is to showcase what Google believes Android should be rather than just adding another device to the specs race.
The rear of the device is soft touch plastic which gives the phone a nice feel in hand and at 130g it is pretty light for its size.
Another thing that obviously hasn’t changed is that the device runs a completely stock version of Android with the updates looked after by Google, rather than by the manufacturer and then the networks. From that point of view alone, the phone is worth every penny. Support forums for mobile networks have become a joke in recent years with customers constantly asking when their devices are going to be updated to the latest version of Android. Even when you have a manufacturer who is releasing updates quite quickly, the networks always add months to the waiting time, often adding nothing to the update other than bloat-ware. When you turn on the Nexus 5 for the first time, it updates to the latest version of Android, which in this case is Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
As with all the Nexus devices before it, you have to make some sacrifices with the Nexus 5. To keep the price down you don’t get best in class specs in all areas. The phone comes with 16GB of, non expandable, storage but there is a 32GB version available for an extra cost. Whether that is an issue for you will depend on how you usually use your device. Google originally said that people didn’t need expandable storage anymore as they were using cloud storage and streaming services so the on board storage would be sufficient. That may have been the case in Mountain View but it certainly wasn’t the case for people in Ireland when the first Nexus devices were being released. Time has moved on now. There are endless cloud storage options and streaming services available. Personally I use Bticasa for cloud storage. All my photos and videos are uploaded to it from my phone and every other file I have is stored there and available on any of my devices. I use Spotify for music and a number of services for movies so I usually only ever have about 2 or 3GB of space used on my devices. So while I was angered when Google took this path, it turns out they were somewhat right, it just took 3 years to catch up with their vision of how people use their device’s storage. If you do need more storage the Nexus 5 supports USB OTG which means you can connect a standard USB flash drive to the phone and mount it as external storage via a small connecting cable which you can pick up on eBay for about two Euro.
The LG G2, which the Nexus 5 is based on, has a 13MP camera with optical image stabilisation. Again to save costs, the Nexus 5 doesn’t inherit this camera but instead gets an 8MP version of it. I’ve never been a fan of the images that are produced using the stock Android camera. If you take a phone such as the Galaxy S4 which produces some pretty decent images and install stock Android on the device, the image quality instantly drops noticeably. The obvious reason for this is that the stock Android camera software is a one size fits all effort but the camera Apps written by device manufactures and the post processing that comes with it are completely optimised just for that hardware. They can test the hardware, see the weak points and try to compensate for it in the software.
Out of the box the Nexus 5 is little different. Images are OK but that’s about it. With the 4.4.2 update autofocus and face recognition reaction time have been improved but they are still sluggish to the point where it becomes an annoyance if you are trying to snap a picture in a hurry.
There is one simple setting you can turn on though that changes everything and that is HDR+.
This is a feature Google have added to the camera in KitKat and once you turn it on, the difference in the images produced is like night and day.
HDR+ takes multiple shots at different exposures and then fuses them together into one image. The down side to this is that the time taken to get one shot increases substantially so this isn’t going to be of use in every circumstance.
When you can use it though images go from average to pretty impressive. In full light the camera takes great images without the need for HDR+. In lower light situations images are full of grain and this is exactly what HDR+ removes. It basically means that you have a camera that will work across a wide range of lighting scenarios.
The optical image stabilisation is mainly noticeable when taking video clips. The results are less jerky when panning and it does a much better job than software ever will. Sadly video suffers from the same grain in low light situations and there is no HDR+ available to save the day here. 1080p clips as always take up an insane amount of storage. A five minute test clip I took consumed 1.2GB of space so as always I recommend changing the settings to 720p. You’ll still get perfectly acceptable videos and only use half the space.
That’s where the trade offs with buying this Nexus device end though. The rest of the Nexus 5 is sitting at the bleeding edge of what’s available (for now!)
LG have fitted a 1080p True HD IPS Plus display and as you’d expect from the company, it’s excellent. Before we got our hands on the Nexus 5 I had read several reports that the display was subpar. I’ve compared it side by side with the HTC One, Xperia Z1, Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5S and in every circumstance except colour saturation, I’ve found it to be the best. It is a crystal clear, bright display with great viewing angles and while it lacks the “pop” of the S4 for colours, it offers one of the best all round packages available. It is also protected by Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass 3 to keep the device scratch free.
Powering everything is a Snapdragon 800 processor and an Adreno 330 GPU. That combination of hardware coupled with KitKat makes things fly. Android has gone through some major changes recently. Jelly Bean introduced “Project Butter” which concentrated on removing lags in the UI and adding a visual smoothness only seen in iOS before. Under Sundar Pichai, Android is aggressively being reworked into an OS that consumes less memory and less processing power. Coupling these changes with hardware that is the most powerful ever available on a mobile phone, Google have produced a user experience on the Nexus 5 that is getting pretty close to perfect.
For now the customised launcher on the Nexus 5 is exclusive to it while Google tests the waters but I don’t think it will be long before this is the default. It adds new features such as Google Now being accessed by swiping to the left on the home screen, but it also has the feel of a launcher that has been simplified and optimised to offer an effortless experience. There is zero lag and zero stutter and I’ve found it impossible to slow this phone down in any way. iOS had always been streets ahead when it came to this but with iOS 7, Apple have almost started again and have introduced many teething problems that are common with new firmware. Android on the other hand is now at its most mature and issues that have dogged it in the past are now gone. The last remaining issue is of course fragmentation but with KitKat, the removal of most of the core features from being system specific to APK independent and updated via the Play Store, this too should become a thing of the past.
The Nexus 5 has a 2300mAh battery which isn’t the biggest available on a device like this but should be enough to get you through the working day, just. Stock Android was always excellent for delivering long battery life but the simple fact is now that 1080p displays consume a huge amount of power and as we grow to expect more and more services from our smartphones, the increased horsepower on tap now also consumes more power when pushed.
At the weekends I’d usually have about three hours screen on time per day. With that type of screen usage, the Nexus 5 was lasting about 22 to 24 hours from full charge to just about dead.
During the week I usually have 6 to 7 hours screen on time which involves plenty of streaming music, YouTube, email, social media, browsing and feed reading with everything updating in the background. Under those circumstances I’ve been getting between 12 and 16 hours battery life which means I have to top it up at some point during the day. That’s not great. The HTC One with the same battery size usually got me to about 10pm before battery warnings started and with the Xperia Z1 I wouldn’t be charging the device until the next day sometime.
I think this will be solved in future updates though. The phone already has a very aggressive kernel that throttles the CPU performance based on thermal load so I think the issues lie within the software that Google has the most control over and can easily update. The battery life is by no means bad, I just think it can be a whole load better and at minimum, I expect to be able to get to evening time at least without needing to charge.
Benchmarks have got to the stage now that it is hard to believe the scores that they produce. Many manufacturers have been caught out for manipulating the results, implementing specific code that allows the phone to perform at its peak just for these tests. People still like to see the scores though and complain if they are not included in a review. Maybe devices like the Nexus 5 will start putting an end to that though.
If I take a device like the LG G2 or the Xperia Z1 which are both based on identical processing hardware, they will both return much higher scores overall than the Nexus 5. Quadrant on the Z1 returns a score about 11,000 higher with pretty much the same margin on AnTuTu. The one benchmark test that has actively tried to prevent cheating its 3D Mark. On this test the Nexus 5 returns a score of 17775 which is one of the highest achieved in its class. As I mentioned above though, there is a lot of thermal throttling going on with the Nexus 5. You could root the phone and install a custom kernel and then destroy all of the benchmarks but that would have no impact on how the phone feels in every day use. Quite simply, how it feels in everyday use is blazing.
If you are considering buying a Nexus 5 you need to keep in mind that there are two versions available. One is aimed at the European market and one at the North American market. The major difference here is that the North American model has antennas for LTE bands that are not used in Ireland or most of Europe, so if you buy one you won’t be able to use LTE here unless more bands are auctioned off by ComReg which looks fairly unlikely in the short term. I’ve read countless posts on forums where people were asking can they flash new firmware to the radio and get an American version to work over here. The simple answer to that is no as it is the lack of antennas that is the issue rather than software. The firmware on the radio is actually the same for both models already. The European model will work on all of the Irish networks LTE bands and is capable of a theoretic 150Mbps download speed. In addition to that the phone has pretty much every other connectivity base covered. Dual Channel HSPA+, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot broadcasting, Bluetooth v4.0 with A2DP are all included as is Assisted GPS and GLONASS support. Another handy feature included is wireless charging so there’s no need to buy additional cases or covers to get things going.
As it’s a Nexus device there is very little in the way of bundled Apps (other than Google’s own) but thankfully with over a million Apps available in the Play Store now it’s easy to get completely sorted with little or no outlay. You’ll need to install an application such as VLC or MX Player for movies, an equaliser for fine tuning audio output and a third party SMS App if you are not convinced by Hangouts.
So in conclusion, where does that leave the Nexus 5? There are more factors to consider here than normal. You can’t just walk into a shop and buy the device so if you are the type of person that is interested in it, you’re probably someone who’s well aware of what the Nexus devices are about and they appeal to you. If that’s you, you’re going to love the Nexus 5. For me, as someone who has owned every Nexus phone, I think it’s an absolutely fantastic device and showcases just how mature Android has become. Pure Android married to excellent hardware.
On the other hand, if you like the endless customisations and features that companies such as LG and Samsung usually include in their software, the Nexus 5 is going to seem a little feature light and probably won’t be the phone for you.
What people’s preference is from those two points of view will ultimately determine whether this is the device for them but at its price point and with what’s on offer, it can’t be overlooked as one of the Android phones of the year.