Nexus 5 review: the best phone $350 can buy
When you’re shopping for a smartphone, what do you expect to get for less than $400 without a contract? Certainly not a top-of-the-line device, right? Until recently, that kind of price has been reserved for devices that were mid-range at best, or entry-level at worst. Ever since the gorgeous and powerful Nexus 4 came out last year for $300 on the Play Store, however, it’s been clear Google is trying to give the high-end, $600-plus Android flagships a run for their money. Now the company’s back with the Nexus 5, a power user’s dream that sells for $350 and features some of the same specs you’d expect to see in a top-shelf device.
That is, if you can even get your hands on one. The device sold out in less than two hours, and new orders won’t get fulfilled for at least a few weeks. But what’s so intriguing about the Nexus 5 that it’s causing such a ruckus on the Play Store? It’s a $350 flagship phone with the serenity of a pure Android experience and all the trimmings, that’s what. The question is, can you survive the estimated three to five week waiting time?
Nexus 5 review
The Nexus 4 swept us off of our feet when it arrived last year. And for good reason: It was an aggressively priced smartphone with an elegant design and specs that were, at the time, quite high-end specs. It delivered great performance, a beautiful display and the best of what Android 4.2 had to offer, but it also had a few shortcomings, including subpar battery life and no LTE. Also, it only launched in black, with a white version not arriving until mid-2013. Moreover, its baseline model was quite limited in storage capacity. For all of its perks, there was still plenty of room for improvement.
Fortunately, the Nexus 5 improves upon last year’s model in nearly every possible way: It features the best display, the best processor, a respectable amount of storage space and it also launched in both black and white, so customers are getting a choice from the very beginning. Oh, and it includes LTE, although there’s a catch, as we’ll explain momentarily.
After taking a design risk on the N4, LG opted to play it safe this time around. The end result is a solid phone constructed with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and polycarbonate plastic on the back. The texture of the phone’s back is slightly different with each color; the black has a matte, soft-touch finish that looks and feels great (as long as you don’t touch it with greasy hands, that is). The white version, meanwhile, is more in line with Google’s description of “silky,” offering a smooth texture that isn’t at all glossy or shiny. Of course, that makes it a little tougher to grip, so you’ll want to go with black if accidental drops are a concern.
Regardless of which you choose, the Nexus 5 is much more minimalistic than last year’s model, but with its more simplistic design, it just doesn’t come with eye-catching elements like other flagship smartphones we’ve played with recently, thanks in part to the absence of a glittery pattern on the back (like the Nexus 4). Still, it’s not without some visual flourishes. Look closely and you’ll notice a porthole-shaped earpiece on the front that matches the device’s overall color. Meanwhile, the camera lens on the back is raised ever so slightly above the rest of the phone’s body, and the Nexus logo — which is etched into the back — stretches from bottom to top. The device isn’t ugly, but there isn’t much about it that’s striking, either.
We can’t say how well it’s going to hold up in extreme durability tests — we expect to see plenty of drop tests show up on YouTube as early adopters receive their shipments from the Play Store — but suffice to say the Nexus 5 is sturdily built. Moreover, it offers plenty of points of friction, reducing the chances it’ll slip out of your hand. The screen has even been redesigned so that the glass is slightly recessed, allowing a small amount of protection from drops at certain angles. In contrast, the glass on the Nexus 4 was raised above the sides and was therefore more vulnerable — regardless of how you dropped it.
The new Nexus measures 137.9mm (5.43 inch) tall, 69.2mm (2.72 inch) wide and 8.6mm (0.34 inch) thin. It’s imperceptibly wider than the Nexus 4 due to the larger screen, but LG’s also trimmed down the bezels a bit, so the extra width shouldn’t make it any less comfortable to hold. What you might notice, however, is that the flat edges extend outward at an angle to meet the gently curved back plate. That new shape makes this phone easier to grip than the Nexus 4, but the potentially awkward angle at which the sides and back meet make the phone a little less comfortable.
While we’re taking a tour of the sides, there’s an interesting detail about the Nexus 5 lock button and volume rocker: They’re ceramic, a material we don’t often see used in phones. Granted, this choice of build material may not affect the device’s overall durability, but it’s a nice touch — buttons are usually one area where manufacturers cut corners, so we’re happy to see LG and Google throw in a little extra TLC where we normally wouldn’t expect it.
Continuing around the edges, the speaker grille is now on the bottom next to the micro-USB port, not that this is much of a surprise. If you recall, the Nexus 4’s grille was poorly placed on the lower-right section of the back, which led to muffled sound until LG quietly updated the handset with a tiny piece of plastic that protruded from the back of the device, enabling the sound to get out. This design choice is also featured on LG’s flagship G2, as well as a few other phones (such as the iPhone 5 and 5s). The only drawback now is that you have to make sure your finger doesn’t block the grille when you’re holding the phone in landscape mode. Finally, there’s a micro-SIM slot next to the lock button on the right, a headphone jack and microphone on top and a volume rocker on the left.
Over on the front, there’s a notification indicator at the bottom. It normally glows white, although you can install third-party apps like Light Flow to change the color. Up top you’ll see the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, sensors and that porthole-shaped earpiece we mentioned earlier. It’s barely noticeable on the black model, but it definitely stands out on the white one. We would’ve liked to see all-white bezels match the rest of the device; the company’s done it a few times before, but we’ve been told by people close to the situation that the Nexus was created with Google’s design philosophy in mind while being based on LG’s hardware platform.
The Nexus 5 supports the Qi wireless charging standard, just like last year’s model. There doesn’t appear to be any weird compatibility issues this time around; we were easily able to charge the phone using both Energizer and Samsung pads, as well as the Nokia Fatboy. Google’s also coming out with a separate charging pad that we’re told will be available in the Play Store soon (pricing hasn’t been announced). As for connectivity, the Nexus 5 includes dual-band 802.11ac WiFi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, NFC (for Google Wallet and Android Beam), SlimPort, DLNA and USB OTG for accessing flash drives and using keyboards.
Now, about that catch we mentioned earlier. We’re pleased that Google and LG included LTE this time around, but we’re not satisfied with the implementation here. The N5 comes in two different configurations. There’s the D820 for North America with nine-band LTE (bands 1/2/4/5/17/19/25/26/41, which offers support for Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T, as well as Canada and a few random networks in Asia, Africa and South America). It also offers quad-band GSM/EDGE, CDMA 800/1900 and seven-band DC-HSPA+ (bands 1/2/4/5/6/8/19, which essentially cover a majority of networks outside North America).
Then there’s the second model, the D821, which comes with six-band LTE (bands 1/3/5/7/8/20), quad-band GSM/EDGE and six-band DC-HSPA+ (bands 1/2/4/5/6/8). While most of your data needs can be addressed by one or the other, anyone hoping to take advantage of LTE while traveling abroad will find that neither version works everywhere.
|Nexus 5||Nexus 4|
|Pricing||$349 (16GB), $399 (32GB)||$299 (8GB), $349 (16GB)|
|Dimensions||137.9 x 69.2 x 8.6 mm (5.43 x 2.72 x 0.34 in)||133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm (5.27 x 2.70 x 0.36 in)|
|Weight||4.59 oz. (130g)||4.9 oz. (139g)|
|Screen size||4.95 inches||4.7 inches|
|Screen resolution||1,920 x 1,080 pixels (445 ppi)||1,280 x 768 pixels (318 ppi)|
|Rear camera||8MP, OIS, AF, LED flash, 3.97mm focal length, aperture f/2.5 (average)||8MP, AF, LED flash, 4.5mm focal length|
D820 (North America): GSM 850/900/1800/1900; CDMA 800/1900; DC-HSPA+ (42 Mbps) bands 1/2/4/5/6/8/19, LTE Cat 3 bands 1/2/4/5/17/19/25/26/41
D821 (rest of the world): GSM 850/900/1800/1900; DC-HSPA+ (42 Mbps) 850/900/1700/1900/2100; LTE Cat 3, Bands 1/3/5/7/8/20
|DC-HSPA+ (42Mbps)/UMTS: 850/900/1700/1900/2100; GSM/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900|
|Bluetooth||version 4.0||version 4.0|
|SoC||2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974), Adreno 330 GPU||1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064), Adreno 320 GPU|
|Entertainment||DLNA, SlimPort, USB OTG||DLNA, SlimPort|
|WiFi||dual-band 802.11a/ac/b/g/n||dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n|
|Operating system||Android 4.4 KitKat||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (originally 4.2)|
It’s difficult to find many major beefs with a 1080p display, especially when it comes on a 5-inch phone and offers a stunning pixel density of 445 pixels per inch. And so it is with the Nexus 5’s IPS panel, which represents a significant improvement over the Nexus 4 in both resolution and quality. All told, it delivers fantastic viewing angles and above-average outdoor visibility. It’s incredibly sharp, and the new Roboto font on Android 4.4 is a great fit for high-res displays. The panel really is quite beautiful, but if you were to set it next to an LG G2 or Samsung Galaxy S 4, you’d notice that the colors aren’t quite as rich on the Nexus; the whites aren’t as white, the blacks aren’t as black and colors generally aren’t as vibrant. That said, if you think saturated colors are overrated anyway, you’re going to love the display here.
In true Google fashion, the latest Nexus device predictably comes preloaded with brand new Android firmware: version 4.4, or KitKat if you prefer calling it by its dessert-themed codename. Make no mistake, this is the most significant update we’ve seen to Google’s mobile OS since Project Butter was released a year and a half ago. Like most huge refreshes, there’s a rather lengthy laundry list of enhancements, new features and APIs. Even though we’d love to discuss every single one at length, we’re going to stick with the features that we think will be the most impactful.
Android 4.4 KitKat screenshots
Google refers to KitKat internally as Project Svelte, and for good reason: Performance optimization is the name of the game, and indeed, the operating system and preloaded apps have been trimmed down substantially in size. Android is leaner and meaner, and performance is quicker, making Android 4.4 more efficient for lower-end devices that don’t have the same powerful internals as flagship devices. In particular, KitKat is meant for devices with at least 512MB of RAM onboard.
Developers can tweak their apps with a few lines of code to detect when a low-powered device is being used; when this happens, the app can be programmed to use fewer graphics and cut down on animations, transitions and other aspects that tend to drag down the app’s performance. This is all part of Google’s mission to bring Android to the “next billion devices” — i.e., users in emerging markets.
Curiously, this newfound focus on the low-end part of the market only seems to serve manufacturers who are working on new phones that have yet to be released; most existing devices with 512MB of RAM aren’t getting listed as candidates for receiving Android 4.4. We’d love to see how some older (and now irrelevant) devices would fare on the new OS, but we’ll simply have to wait for someone to find a way to make it happen.
After booting up KitKat for the first time, you’ll find the home screen still feels like the same old Android we know and love. But it isn’t completely identical. The icons have been made a little larger to accommodate the additional screen real estate on bigger smartphones (although we noticed that many third-party app icons are a little fuzzy as a result). Google has also chosen to use a condensed version of Roboto for the home screen and app menu fonts. It fits in quite well here, but we doubt it would look as good integrated into other parts of the user experience.
You start off with only one home panel, but it can be expanded to include as many panels as you want — we made it to 22 before giving up. Go into the app menu and you’ll notice a couple drastic differences: There’s wallpaper underneath the grid of icons now, rather than a pure black background, and the widget section is completely MIA. You’ll find the latter by doing a long-press of the home screen, which now takes you to a screen where you can rearrange panels and change wallpaper in addition to satisfying your need for widgets.
It may be so subtle that you don’t even realize it at first, but the status bar and navigation bar are no longer solid black on the home screen and app menu — they’re translucent, clearly showing off the wallpaper underneath. This is part of Google’s new firmware design strategy: KitKat enables developers to completely hide these two bars, so that users can take full advantage of the extra screen space. We believe this will be incredibly useful in games and e-book apps, but this is only a small number of possible use cases.
The lock screen is largely the same as Android 4.3, but there are a few enhancements to the lock screen widgets. Most notable, however, is the new camera button on the lower-right corner of the screen; drag this up and to the left, and you’re immediately into your camera app. We can’t say that this is an improvement over the last version, since all we have to do on 4.3 is swipe to the left of the lock screen to access the viewfinder. Strangely, the button is placed in the same location as it is on iOS. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Google Now was introduced with the first Jelly Bean update as part of Project Butter, and it’s grown considerably ever since. There’s a lot of momentum pushing it forward, and Android 4.4 only serves to increase its usefulness exponentially. One of those areas in which it’s become more helpful is its integration into the Google Experience Launcher. Turn the Google Now feature on and you’ll be whisked into the standard Google Now panel as soon as you swipe to the right from the main home panel.
Even though Google insists that Motorola still acts as its own company, it clearly didn’t have any qualms about using the flagship Moto X for inspiration. In particular, the Nexus 5 has been bestowed with touchless controls: From the home screen or Google Now launcher, say “OK Google” and you’re prompted to speak voice commands, ranging from making phone calls to sending messages to setting your alarm, among other options. (We highly recommend that you tell Google to make you a sandwich.) This won’t be showing up on every Android 4.4 device, so it’s only available on the Nexus 5 for now. There’s also one other significant problem with it — you can’t activate it when the screen is locked or turned off. Or when you’re in the middle of another app. For what it’s worth, Google has claimed a huge improvement to its voice-recognition software. Indeed, we had very few problems with the system transcribing our commands.
Hangouts, phone and Email
A few apps received much-needed overhauls with KitKat. The biggest one is arguably Hangouts, which finally integrates SMS and MMS messages into the app. It’s great to be able to have all of your conversations finally showing up in one place, but it’s still not possible to merge text messages and Hangout conversations together into one thread, so it was too commonplace for us to accidentally send what was intended to be a text message to a Hangout associated with the same person’s email address. This is a crucial feature that will likely show up in a future version of Android, but at least Google seems to have full convergence as an end goal. Fortunately, if this isn’t quite your thing, or if you’re waiting for Hangouts to mature a bit, Google’s added the option to change your default messaging app to a third-party service.
Google also revamped the phone app. The dialer is essentially the same, but the main screen also features a list of those people you talk to the most (regardless of who is making the calls and who is receiving them). The phone app also offers new search capabilities that let you look up businesses, contacts and other people within your Google Apps domains. It even includes Caller ID, which shows the name of businesses when they call you.
The standard Email client has also received a facelift — so much so that if you’re not looking closely you might mistake it for the Gmail app. The two now look strikingly similar, right down to the avatar boxes and slide-to-delete gestures. And that’s not all: You can now delete or archive an email directly from the notification menu, rather than being forced to go into the app. Overall, this is a huge improvement — we couldn’t stand the user experience in this app prior to KitKat.
Slip an AT&T SIM in the Nexus 5 and fire up the preloaded Google Wallet app when you get the chance. Surprise — Wallet actually works. With Android 4.4, Google’s ready to go over the heads of carriers that insist on only supporting specific mobile payment partners (AT&T, for instance, is tied to Isis), by simply adding software features that eliminate the need for any carrier involvement.
How is this possible? Google has added something called Host Card Emulation, which allows any app on any device to emulate an NFC smart card, with no carrier-provisioned secure element required (though you can still use them if you prefer). In other words, all of your tap-to-pay transactions can go through whichever service you choose, regardless of which mobile operator you’re using. The only thing your phone needs to make this happen is an NFC controller.
Google is also heavily emphasizing document sharing and expanded connectivity options. KitKat marks the debut of QuickOffice as a pre-loaded app (we’ve seen it show up on other Android devices before, but just not on phones running the stock version of Android). In addition, KitKat ushers in new connectivity features like built-in wireless printing capabilities. The downloads app is also redesigned. We do have to wonder, though, what purpose QuickOffice serves on a platform that already comes with Google Drive, which offers a similar feature set. Perhaps we’ll eventually see a convergence between the two apps, but for now this is at least a welcome addition to the list of standard apps.
Screen recording is another new feature made possible through KitKat, but it’s not for the everyday user; the phone (in our case, the Nexus 5) needs to be connected to your computer. We won’t outline the specific steps here, but we’ll link to a post that talks you through the process. What’s more, the full clip (which is limited to three minute segments, at least for now) is stored on your phone as an MP4 file until you’re ready to share it or transfer it back to your computer. The ability to make videos based on what is being displayed on the screen is a huge win for YouTubers and developers interested in doing a walkthrough of their app or game.
KitKat also includes a technique called sensor batching, which is similar to a few of the features offered by Apple’s M7 motion-tracking coprocessor. The idea behind sensor batching is to reduce the amount of power taken up by activities that are constantly using sensor data, such as location tracking, fitness and other apps. One particular use case is step detection and step counting; yes, your Android smartphone can now become a glorified pedometer. This appears to be exclusive to the Nexus 5 for now, since it’s conditional upon having the necessary hardware, but Google promises that it’s working with chip makers to ensure the feature is offered in more phones going forward.
Finally, Android 4.4 brings other incredibly specific features to your phone, such as Closed Captioning, IR blaster support, two new Bluetooth profiles (HOGP and MAP), a new Location Settings tile in the Quick Settings pull-down menu and a built-in Device Manager.
Smartphone cameras have evolved quite a bit even in the year since the Nexus 4 came out, and so have our expectations about what makes a good imaging experience. We already felt last year’s Nexus camera was mediocre, so how will this year’s version hold up against the ever-improving competition? The Nexus 5 comes with a camera that offers the same 8-megapixel resolution as its predecessor, and while we acknowledge that there’s much more to imaging quality than raw pixel count, it’s still an indicator of the direction LG and Google have taken since the last model came out. In this case, we’re not off to a good start.
Fortunately, the Nexus 5 is a little better than it sounds, but it also has its fair share of quirks — some of which carry over from the last Nexus. For instance, the viewfinder is once again in 16:9 aspect ratio, while the actual image itself is 4:3. Worse things could happen, but it’s difficult to properly frame a picture the way you want when it comes out with a lot more vertical space than you’d originally planned. We might be a little more forgiving if the viewfinder were intended to take advantage of the full screen à la KitKat, but the black bar still remains at the very bottom.
The stock camera user interface remains the same as Android 4.3, with the only visible change being the addition of a “+” symbol at the end of the HDR option. Yes, the Nexus 5 camera now comes with a feature called HDR+, which according to Google involves taking burst shots and using special algorithms to put them together into one shot. After comparing images taken in automatic mode with those taken in HDR+, we much prefer the latter and default to it in almost every case. The dynamic range is far too short in normal mode — most darker areas, such as shade, appear way too dark, while areas with higher exposure are simply blown out more often than not — and this is where HDR+ really shines. Colors pop out a little more; those darker parts of the photos are easier to see and more detailed; and we can actually make out most highlighted areas. With the new HDR, we’re able to see objects through bright windows and even the sky is a more realistic shade of blue. Pro tip: Autumn is an incredible time of year for taking HDR photos.
As you’ve probably discerned by now, shots taken in regular mode are a little too inconsistent for our tastes. The quality of our sample shots ultimately came down to factors like the direction we were facing and what time of day it was. Whenever the sun was behind us, we generally got great images with a solid amount of detail and accurate color. When it was in front of us — even if not directly — the picture typically was washed out and/or completely overexposed. We were also completely robbed of a perfect sunset photo opp, thanks to prevailing lens flare.
Nexus 5 sample shots
In addition to HDR+, the camera’s other sweet spot is low-light performance, and the inclusion of optical image stabilization (OIS) helps a great deal. It wasn’t able to capture quite as much light as powerhouses like the HTC One (especially in places that were almost pitch black), but the Nexus actually outperformed it in some aspects, such as overall detail and the ability to focus on closer objects. It was also a huge improvement over the Nexus 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S 4 in nearly every way, and we were especially intrigued by the relatively minimal amount of noise we got in most of our shots. As a sidenote, the ISO remained at around 250-300 for most night images, though we occasionally saw it bump up to 1620 for extremely dark pictures.
Unfortunately, we also noticed that the Nexus struggles with shutter lag, at times taking two to three seconds to fire off the shot (even when we already focused in on an object). Because of this, we found it difficult to take pictures of moving objects, like sugar-filled children. As you might expect, it’s not quite as bad in direct sunlight, but it’s exponentially worse indoors or anytime after the late afternoon.
The Nexus 5 can record 1080p video footage at an average bit rate of 17 Mbps, and we liked most of what we saw. Even though the camcorder had a tendency to pick up the same kind of lens flare effect when facing toward the sun, it worked quite well for us; we enjoyed the color accuracy and smooth motion in most of our videos, but it predictably became choppier and noisier in lower-light scenarios. The mics picked up my voice, as well as the voice of family members close to the phone, with crystal-clear clarity; as a word of warning, however, it also does an excellent job of picking up the breeze in the background.
Performance and battery life
The Nexus 5 joins a rapidly growing exploding list of high-end smartphones that use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 chipset, which consists of four 2.26GHz Krait 400 cores and a quad-core Adreno 330 GPU clocked at 450MHz. It also comes with 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM clocked at 800MHz. Needless to say, the Nexus packs as much power as you can possibly get on a smartphone these days, and Google has an advantage over other manufacturers by being the first to optimize its own device on KitKat, which means this thing absolutely flies on Android 4.4.
Switching between tasks that are open in the background takes mere nanoseconds, and we had no trouble multitasking otherwise. Gaming is also fantastic, although the Nexus isn’t immune to the occasional frame skip on more intense games like Riptide GP 2 and Asphalt 8. While it doesn’t notch the best benchmark scores of any Snapdragon 800 device (see the table below), our in-hand experience has been nothing short of top-notch — especially given the price point.
|Nexus 5||Nexus 4||LG G2|
|3DMark IS Ultimate||17,880||11,167||16,619|
|SunSpider 1.0 (ms)||696||660||880|
|GFXBench 2.7 Offscreen (fps)||23||15||20|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better. Nexus 4 scores taken on Android 4.3.|
Battery life was one of our biggest concerns on the Nexus 4, which featured a 2,100mAh power cell, and so we were especially worried about how the Nexus 5 would fare given its smaller 2,300mAh battery. And what about the increased strain on battery due to the phone’s 1080p display and high-end chipset? That was worrisome, too. We’re happy to report, however, that there is indeed an improvement, though the runtime is naturally not as long as on other flagship phones with larger batteries. In our standard video loop test, we ran an HD movie through an endless cycle until the battery finally died after seven hours and 20 minutes.
In terms of normal usage (checking email and social media, taking a few pictures and videos, watching Netflix for an hour and reading several long-form articles on Chrome), we were able to eke out 12 hours of battery life. This isn’t fantastic, especially since heavier usage would likely mean you’ll barely make it home from an average eight-hour workday before needing to plug the phone in. We’ll be taking it around for a full day in the city this week and will update our review with some additional findings.
We were impressed by some aspects of the device’s audio and unsatisfied in others. Listening to music and watching movies with headphones plugged in was an absolute joy; sound was not only loud, but full as well, offering a good balance of bass and treble with the additional opportunity to tweak the EQ as necessary. Audio quality on calls was very clear, although we would have wanted the earpiece to be a little more powerful. Finally, the external speakers at the bottom of the device just left us wanting more. We constantly found ourselves trying to turn up the volume when watching movies, only to realize that it was already cranked to the max. To be clear, the speaker works great in quiet spaces, but we can’t say the same thing when outside or in noisy rooms.
Lastly, we tested the Nexus 5 with both a T-Mobile and AT&T SIM, and were able to consistently achieve download speeds of 25 Mbps or higher, while our upload speeds ranged from 5 to 10 Mbps. In an area of particularly solid LTE coverage, we were able to get as high as 65Mbps down and 20Mbps up.
Configuration options and the competition
The Nexus 5 is available in the Play Store for 10 countries at launch: US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Korea, Japan, Italy and Spain. India is said to be coming soon too. Other than that, it’s unclear when the N5 will arrive in other countries. As of this writing, both the 16GB and 32GB models are shipping anywhere between three to five weeks, depending on which unit you select. As we mentioned earlier, you can get the 16GB model for $350 (which is actually the same cost of the 16GB Nexus 4 when it debuted) and 32GB for $400. You’ll also be able to order it directly on Sprint ($150 on-contract, $450 off), T-Mobile (price and date still to be determined), Best Buy and online retailers in the US, as well as a large number of Canadian carriers (most quote a prepaid price of $500) and UK providers (most appear to be free on-contract, with varying pay-as-you-go options).
One network missing from that list is Verizon, making it the only major US network that isn’t compatible with the Nexus 5. This is a huge misstep for both Big Red and Google, which haven’t been on the friendliest of terms in the last couple years, most recently capped by the carrier’s decision not to let customers activate the Nexus 7 on its network. Neither company is willing to discuss why the new Nexus isn’t supported, but since Verizon is still working on deploying LTE using band 4 — a frequency supported on the Nexus 5 — we’re curious to see if users will find an unofficial workaround to make the phone work on the network in some capacity.
When it comes to the competition, the Nexus 5 rivals nearly every single Android flagship when it comes to specs — and price-wise, it beats them all, hands-down. The LG G2, for instance, comes with virtually the same features (though it offers a larger screen, several pieces of LG-specific software and that rear-button setup) for $575 off-contract; the Sony Xperia Z1 has wildly similar specs as well, and an imported version in the US will likely run you over $600. There’s also the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4, both of which actually use less-powerful processors with the same display resolution, and each will cost in this neighborhood as well. Spec for spec, there’s nothing that comes close in price to the Nexus 5.
A phone like the Nexus 5 would get our blessing even at a higher price, but the fact that you can buy it for as low as $350 makes it that much sweeter. We can’t point our finger at any one feature that was clearly the victim of cost-cutting, with battery life being the only possible exception. And even that’s somewhat of an improvement over last year’s Nexus 4. We love the high-res display, overall performance and the enhancements brought to us by Android KitKat. Most of the problems we saw in the Nexus 4 have been addressed here. All told, we can think of very few things we find fault with.
In addition, though, the Nexus 5 isn’t just a really nice phone; it’s also a welcome harbinger of where smartphones might be headed. That you can purchase a smartphone with such incredible specs for less than $400 — without being forced into a contract in the process — is a shot across the bow at manufacturers who sell similar devices for an additional $200 (at best). Whether or not it was the company’s intent, Google is sending a message to smartphone makers that it’s possible to make high-quality handsets without costing consumers the proverbial arm and leg. Now we just wait and see if that message will be warmly received.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.