Reviews
Nexus 5

By Seán O'Sullivan - December 11th, 2013

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I’m a “Google guy”. I’m about as bought into the ecosystem as you can be: I use Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Music, and Google Plus every day to ensure that everything I need for leisure and productivity is in the cloud and accessible from almost any device. 90% of the things I do on my computer involve the Google Chrome browser, so it makes sense that when it comes to choosing a phone, the only options I’ll seriously consider run Android.

With the Nexus range of devices, Google have been showcasing the power of ‘pure’ Android, and last year’s excellent Nexus 4 made one of the strongest arguments yet for vendors to stick to vanilla Android. The Nexus 4 empowered consumers with an unlocked, powerful phone compatible with most networks worldwide for a reasonable price, with the only major tradeoff being that it didn’t support high-speed LTE. A year later, and Google have again teamed up with LG to create the Nexus 5 – and rather than just add LTE support and call it a day, it’s clear that almost every facet of the phone has been critically examined and enhanced.

Even before the screen has come to life, the Nexus 5 makes a good impression. While the form factor is unremarkable (it looks like any other black slab smartphone), in hand it feels like a premium product. It’s perfectly balanced and surprisingly light, and the grippy texture around the back and sides makes it easy to hold onto. The boast of ceramic buttons before release furrowed brows in confusion, but in practice they provide a much more satisfying tactile feeling than the spongy plastic buttons on the Nexus 4. Unlike the LG G2 that it shares many components with, the Nexus 5’s buttons are placed in the “traditional” layout – with volume on the left, and power on the right.

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Why not buy one for almost each appendage that you own?

Once the 5″ IPS LCD screen lights up, that’s where the “wow” factor kicks in. Even casual observers have remarked at the impeccable clarity that the 1920 x 1080 screen offers, and at 445 pixels per inch, it’s noticeably better than the iPhone 5S’ 326 PPI (which for most users is the gold standard). The difference is particularly pronounced when viewing webpages that haven’t been optimized for mobile, as the higher pixel density makes reading while zoomed out a breeze.

The phone has ample horsepower to throw around, so the most intense 3D games like Dead Trigger 2 look sharp and run with smooth frame rates, and the overall system responsiveness is the best I have had on any Android device. Apps launch, suspend and resume with little lag, and the Chrome browser renders media-rich webpages faster than my attempts to trip it up could manage.

The Nexus 5 runs 4.4 out of the box, and other than some smart visual tweaks to make better use of screen real-estate, and some ingenious dialer functionality to pull in internet results as you search your contacts, there’s little that will surprise experienced Android users. The Nexus 5 does have an exclusive launcher, which gives Google Now premier placement on the homescreen. I adore Google Now – it keeps me focused on upcoming tasks, advises me when to leave to make it to events across town, and prompts me to wish my loved ones a happy birthday. The more you use Google Now, the more useful it becomes, so having it a left-swipe away on the homescreen is a stroke of genius. The voice dictation has never been better, and I have used it to belt out text messages while my hands are preoccupied with a game controller (and considering how confounded Siri is by my Irish accent, it’s refreshing to be understood by my robotic assistant).

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Not quite a selfie. Perhaps a suggestion to Google as to what to purchase next?

Compared with other high-end smartphones, the camera does fall short (particularly when compared with the excellent shooter on its cousin, the LG G2), and when shooting in poorly-lit environments, any amount of movement would result in a blurry mess. That said, in brightly lit scenes, it takes sharp, vibrant pictures, with accurate colours, so it’s not a total write-off. An update has already been released that’s said to address a lot of these issues (it has yet to make its way to my device, but early reports are very promising).

The inclusion of LTE should be enough to satisfy those who skipped the Nexus 4, and throughout downtown Toronto I was getting excellent speeds of 40Mbps+ down, and 15Mbps+ up on Rogers. Testing Wind Mobile’s HSPA+ network turned up speeds reaching 8Mbps down, and 3.5Mbps up. My initial concerns about the extra strain of LTE on the battery life were allayed after a few days of use. I typically rely on mobile networks for a few hours a day while commuting between home and work (where I use Wi-Fi), and I found my battery life better on average than what I was accustomed to from my Nexus 4. On days when I’m out and about and carrying around a charger isn’t an option, I’d feel confident about getting a full day of use by keeping to the 3G spectrum.

The Nexus 5 is the best phone I have ever used. Even though it’s just an evolution of everything that the Nexus 4 did, in terms of sheer ambition over the course of a year, Google and LG have over-delivered on this vessel for “pure” Android. If you’re a fan of the Google ecosystem, or if you want to avoid committing to a two year contract, but still want to own one of the best phones on the market, the Nexus 5 might be the only option worth considering.

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