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Google Nexus 5 Review, Premium Android Experience
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Date: Nov 18, 2013
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications
It almost goes without saying that the Google Nexus 5 is one of the most anticipated Android phones to launch in 2013, save perhaps for Samsung's Galaxy S 4. Previous generation Nexus devices from Google, whether phone or tablet, have proven to offer a lot of bang for the buck, excellent design and build quality and a pure representation of the Android OS. Not to mention Google regularly rolls out the most recent version of Android as well with these devices, sometimes well before it's available on products from other brands.

The previous generation Nexus 4, like the Nexus 5, was manufactured by LG, though the Nexus 4 didn't hit the mark like Google hoped it would.  With their latest Nexus device, Google is hoping to rise above the noise in the now crowded 5-inch superphone space.  The Google-LG design team has stiff competition this time around, though.  The Samsung Galaxy S 4, the HTC One, Nokia's Lumia 1020 and even LG's own G2 are very impressive larger screen devices. And let's not forget, Google has the iPhone 5s to contend with this holiday shopping season as well.
Google's Nexus 5
So you might say Google has their work cut out for them with the Nexus 5.  They have the pressure of better execution with the device versus their previous generation, as well as a wealth of other very competent options from virtually all the major ecosystems in Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8.  Then again, Google has all the tools they need at their disposal to deliver a truly great smartphone and they showed they were more than capable with the recent release of ASUS-built Nexus 7 tablet.

With a shiny new version of Android 4.4 Kit Kat to lure consumers in and a Qualcomm's smoking-hot Snapdragon 800 quad-core SoC, did Google and LG tee up Android greatness?  Let's take a look.


HotHardware Hands-On Nexus 5 Video Review and Demo

Google Nexus 5 Android 4.4 Kit Kat Driven Smartphone
Specifications & Features
Screen

    4.95” 1920x1080 display (445 ppi)
    Full HD IPS
    Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3

Processing

    CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 800, 2.26GHz
    GPU: Adreno 330, 450MHz

Memory

    16GB or 32GB internal storage
    2GB RAM

Cameras

    1.3MP front-facing
    8MP rear-facing with image stabilization

Wireless

    Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
    NFC (Android Beam)
    Bluetooth 4.0

Networks

    2G/3G/4G LTE
    North America:
    GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
    CDMA: Band Class: 0/1/10
    WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
    LTE: Bands: 1/2/4/5/17/19/25/26/41
    Rest of World:
    GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
    WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/6/8
    LTE: Bands: 1/3/5/7/8/20
Ports and Connectors

    microUSB
    SlimPort™ enabled
    3.5mm stereo audio jack
    Dual microphones
    Ceramic power and volume buttons

Battery

    2300 mAh
    Talk time up to 17 hours*
    Standby time up to 300 hours†
    Internet up to 8.5 hours Wi-Fi
    Up to 7 hours on LTE
    Wireless Charging built-in

Sensors

    GPS
    Gyroscope
    Accelerometer
    Compass
    Proximity/Ambient Light
    Pressure
    Hall

Audio

    Built-in speaker
    3.5mm stereo audio connector

Dimensions

    69.17 x 137.84 x 8.59 mm
    4.59 ounces (130g)

Price
$350 Unlocked (16GB, $399 32GB);
as low as $49 on contract

In terms of high level specs, the Nexus 5 pretty much has it all.  The aforementioned Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor with Adreno 330 graphics makes for one of the fastest smartphone platforms on the market right now, as you'll see in our benchmark runs later. Then there's Google's choice of a 4.95-inch display at 1920x1080 resolution and a super tight 445ppi pixel density. It's gorgeous by the way.

Beyond that you also get NFC communication with Android Beam, Bluetooth 4.0 and the latest 802.11ac wireless standard is supported as well, with theoretical single link throughput of 500Mb/s on compatible WiFi networks.  The Nexus 5 also has an 8MP HD camera with image stabilization and LED flash, as well as a 1.3MP front facing camera.
Google Nexus 5 Package Bundle

Google Nexus 5 Package Bundle - Just The Basics
 

As for the total kit Google and LG deliver, it's pretty standard fare.  Regardless, this is no superficial 'unboxing" showcase, so let's dig a bit further into the particulars with a closer look at the Nexus 5 and its sweet-toothed OS, Android 4.4 Kit Kat.
 
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Nexus 5 Design and Android Kit Kat

High Quality Industrial Design

The Nexus 5's build, materials and worksmanship are top-notch. The front of the phone is strapped in Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is pretty common these day.  The backside of the new Nexus is sheathed in a matte finish, soft touch, high density plastic that feels decidedly more premium in the hand versus rival devices like the Samsung Galaxy S 4, for example.
Google Nexus 5 back view
The Nexus 5's casing does attract fingerprints, as do most designs these days, though the device is a little tougher to wipe down, as it seemingly absorbs the smudges, making them appear to collect a bit more between wipe-downs. Button placement on the device is pretty standard with a volume rocker and microSIM slot on one edge and power button on the other.  Speaker placement is on the bottom of the Nexus 5, leaving the ports open mostly when the device is cradled in your hand.  Sound quality, on the other hand, is, as is typical with most smartphones, not great. 


On the bottom edge is the standard placement of the USB synch/charge port as well.  And of course there's the Nexus 5's 8MP rear-facing camera here on the back, with an LED flash.  The etched Nexus logo also offers a nice premium style to the backing of the Nexus 5, but other than that it's a fairly minimalistic approach and we don't mind that at all, actually.

Though the back casing of the Nexus 5 isn't necessarily a work of engineering magnificence, its 5-inch 1080p display may just be one of the best we've laid eyes on in a long while. We've always been fans of LG displays and the Google-LG team did a great job of balancing the Nexus 5's color and contrast.  It's technically a 4.95-inch display at 445ppi pixel density, which does look super crisp with nice wide viewing angles as well. The Nexus 5's display is really easy on the eyes.  If only those on-screen menu buttons were translucent on every screen and not just the home screen and Google Now.

Android Kit Kat - How Sweet It Is

Android 4.4 Kit Kat is a nice upgrade to Google's handset OS and though some are criticizing it for being a little more plain or drab, to us it just feels cleaner and better organized.




Google is taking better advantage of larger screen devices with Kit Kat and app icons are just a touch larger and easier to pick out of a crowded cluster of apps.  There's also a tighter version of Google's Roboto font in Kit Kat and again, the new UI just cleans things up for easier reading and navigation.



Instead of black or dark gray menu backgrounds, Kit Kat has a lighter gray palette that helps with contrast.  Again, these aren't glaring changes.  Android 4.4 isn't a jarring transition for the user, but rather subtle tweaks and optimizations that add up to a refreshing, iterative kicker.

Kit Kat is also now equipped with a native printing feature that allows you to discover available printers nearby, change paper sizes etc., and print from any print-enabled app.  Google has rolled out an API to allow developers to add print services to apps as well.

And let's not forget QuickOffice.  Google recently started bundling the light-duty office tools suite in with Android 4.4 and it's a great way to get some quick work done on the fly.  Let's face it, you're not going to pen the follow-up to War and Peace, banging away on your 5-inch display, but QuickOffice allows you to open Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and the like, make some quick edits and send something on its way.  Nice.

Underneath the UI, Google has trimmed Kit Kat down in terms of resource utilization as well.  Overall, it has a lighter memory footprint and better memory management than previous versions.  The new OS is designed to run on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM, so the Nexus 5 clips along nicely with headroom to spare.  We only wish Google gave us an easier more elegant way to quit an app, rather than leaving it running in the background as most users likely will. Regardless, in combination with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 SoC, the entire experience with the Nexus 5 is snappy and satisfying.
 
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Nexus 5 Camera and Battery Life
Kit Kat's new camera app is very well appointed with a number of settings to play with, from standard features like exposure and white balance, to scene modes like action, night, sunset and party, which were also available in the previous rev of the OS.







In addition to standard still and video shot modes, you also get Panorama and a new 360-degree Photosphere mode that allows you to stitch together a wide field of view for a virtual still that you can then pan around within.  The feature works pretty well but you have to be careful to line up snaps precisely.  It could be a nice feature to have if you're on vacation and you want to capture some extra special scene or place, like the Grand Canyon or some other awe-inspiring venue.




But by far, the most valuable feature in the Nexus 5's camera app, we feel is its HDR+ setting.  HDR+ takes a series of shots when you press the shutter button and then samples them together for better dynamic range, lighting and color vibrancy. The down side is HDR+ has a bit of shutter lag that comes with it as well, since it's taking multiple shots at once.


No HDR On left, HDR On right


No HDR On left, HDR On right

With just a quick glimpse at shots taken in standard mode and HDR+, you can see the difference the setting makes and how much better overall fidelity is offered shooting in this mode.  To be honest, taking stills in the Nexus 5's standard setting we experienced much less shutter lag but colors were muted and the image just wasn't nearly as sharp.  The Nexus 5's camera can't compete with the likes of what you can pull from a Nokia Lumia 1020, 925 or the iPhone 5S but its still image performance is acceptable.  It's not great but decent for a phone camera, and even better if you don't mind the shutter lag in HDR+ mode.

Nexus 5 Battery Testing
Experiential and with AnTuTu

Determining battery life for the Nexus 5 can be a bit tricky if you don't stop to think about what you're working with in terms of horsepower for the Snapdragon 800 quad-core that's on board the device. Again, the Snapdragon 800 is a 2.26GHz quad-core chip, so if you push the phone to its limits, like the following AnTuTu battery drain test does, you're going to eat through the Nexus 5's battery quicker than most phones.



At the top of the stack, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 2600mAh battery and a lower-end 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC, the Moto X has a dual core Snapdragon chip and the Nexus 5's next of kin, the LG G2, sports the same Snapdragon 800 but since the device is markedly larger, it's able to tote around a 3000mAh battery though it's a heavier device.

So this is the worst case scenario we're looking at for the Nexus 5 and Google's new flagship brings up the rear.  However, that's not necessarily because it's less efficient, but more so because of its more powerful on board processing engine and platform that is pushed to 100% utilization in this test.

Battery Life Expectancy In The Real World, Neo -

In real-world usage, we got by fairly easily on a single charge for a full day's use.  When the phone is set to sleep with the screen off, it hibernates and holds a charge well. We saw on the order of up to 12 hours of battery life in standard usage of calling, light email and web browsing. 

Ramping things up a bit and looping an HD video we realized up to a little under 7 hours of up-time. One tip to optimize Nexus 5 battery life would be to turn of WiFi scanning.  Google has it on by default in Android 4.3 and also in 4.4 Kit Kat, in order to determine location via WiFi, even if WiFi is off.  Disable this feature in the WiFi Advanced Settings area of Kit Kat and you'll save some battery life. Beyond that, we can't really say we're that impressed with Nexus 5 battery life. It's not bad, but it's not the best either. If you're a heavy user, you'll likely find yourself regularly plugging the device in at the end of the day.

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Benchmarks: SunSpider and BrowserMark
Our first two benchmarks are what you can consider "general purpose" compute performance as well as web browsing metics.  SunSpider is a JavaScript based test and Rightware's Browsermark measures a browser’s performance in JavaScript and HTML rendering in APIs like WebGL, HTML5 and CSS3/3D. 

BrowserMark 2.0 and SunSpider
General Performance Testing





Google's Nexus 5 drops into the number 2 and 3 positions amongst all of the top smartphones we've tested recently. One thing to note is that both the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and LG's G2 are also powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC, with the Note 3 sporting a larger 3GB RAM system memory config.  The Note 3 and G2 are running Android 4.3 and 4.2.2, respectively, while the Nexus 5 is driving Android 4.4 Kit Kat.  Apple's iPhone 5S is still top dog in both of these tests but the Nexus 5 is not far behind and offers the fastest overall web browsing performance of all Android phones we've tested to date.

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Benchmarks: 3DMark, GLBenchmark, Basemark X
For testing graphics performance we've pulled together numbers from three different mainstream benchmark suites, GLBenchmark, Basemark X and 3DMark Ice Storm.  Between the three test suites, we should get a very good picture of how the Nexus 5 performs versus its peers in gaming and graphics rendering.

Graphics and Gaming Performance
Qualcomm's Adreno 330 Graphics Shows Its Strength




GLBenchmark's Fillrate test always showcases the power of Apple's GPU architecture in terms of raw bandwidth but throughput availability doesn't always equate to faster rendering, as is evident in the Egypt HD Off Screen test.  Egypt HD Off Screen renders workloads such that screen resolution doesn't affect frame rate measurement.  Here the Nexus 5 scores really well, actually besting the power iPhone 5S but trailing the Galaxy Note 3.  To be fair, the Note 3 is a different class of device, a 6-inch tweener tablet-phone (there, we didn't say the "ph" word), that has more board real estate for its extra 1GB of system memory.  In this test, that extra memory allows a bit more graphics headroom.



The metric to focus on with Basemark X, again, is the off-screen number, where resolution isn't limiting frame rate.  We've added NVIDIA's SHIELD Android gaming device to the mix here but its display is only a 1280X720 capable panel; hence, in the on-screen tests, along with Apple's iPhone 5S which also runs a lower resolution display (1136X640), these two devices appear to come out on top. However, when screen resolution isn't a limiting factor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-powered Nexus 5, Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2 rise to the top. The Nexus 5 isn't quite able to overtake the iPhone 5S but it's the fastest Android device drafting in just behind Samsung's Galaxy Note 3.





In 3DMark Ice Storm, the Nexus 5 skips past the iPhone 5S in the total score, due mainly to its sizable performance edge in the physics test. This is likely due to the fact that Ice Storm has yet to be optimized for Apple's 64-bit architecture.  Regardless, even in the graphics test, the Nexus 5 offers a very strong showing.  Comparatively, it blows the Moto X and Samsung Galaxy S4, two very popular Android flagship phones, right out of the water.

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The Wrap-Up

Performance and Experiential Analysis:

Working with the Nexus 5 over the past few weeks has been a pleasure. Performance with Google's new Android showpiece always felt speedy and responsive.  Google's Kit Kat UI tweaks also offered a cleaner representation more often than not, though we did have to fumble for speech-to-text input in the Language and Input Settings menu, since Google disables Voice Typing in Kit Kat by default. Regardless, all told, the Nexus 5 scored top marks for us in the benchmarks as well as in quality of general usage and experience.
Google Nexus 5
Google's Nexus 5 Is A Solid Option Amongst Android Superphones
$350 Unlocked, as low as $49 on contract

The shortfalls we experienced with the Nexus 5 were in minor areas, some of which can likely be resolved with future firmware and OS updates.  The Nexus 5's camera performance was just so-so, out of the box battery life performance was also mediocre, and we'd love to have those translucent on-screen menu buttons throughout the entire OS and in any app that's running.  Again, these quips feel relatively minor when you consider all that the Nexus 5 offers in terms of performance and capability for its price tag.

The Google Nexus 5 is a very powerful 5-inch device that offers a premium Android experience from just about every angle, especially if you're a power user that wants a more performance for gaming, HD video and multitasking. The Nexus 5's build quality is also top-shelf and its display is one of the nicest among the 5-inch devices currently on the market. For the money, you get a lot of value in the Nexus 5 and its price/performance ratio is sound. Which leads us to that all important buying decision question. 

In short, if you're looking for a solid, well-equipped and powerful Android phone, the Google Nexus 5 hits all the major selling points for the most part and does so with a highly polished version of Google's latest mobile OS.  It's also one of the fastest smartphones money can buy right now. The only significant downside is that Verizon customers can't currently get in on the Nexus 5, unless you're willing to move to AT&T or another network.  Beyond that, with the Nexus 5 on contract for as low as $49, if you're adding a line, $119 or so for an upgrade, or direct from Google unlocked for $350 (16GB version, 32GB version is $399), this is easily the best Nexus smartphone yet and one of the best devices on the market now among premium, full-featured smartphones.

 
  • Super fast
  • Gorgeous display
  • Excellent build quality
  • Kit Kat refinements a nice touch
  • Adreno 330 graphics are beastly good
 
  • Menu buttons encroach on display
  • Modest battery life
  • So-so camera



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