Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Google Nexus 5: Android smartphone showdown

Which is the better Android phone, Samsung's Galaxy S4 or the Google Nexus 5?

Whether you're a smartphone fan or you're coming off contract and need a new phone, Samsung's Galaxy S4 and the Google's Nexus 5 are two of the best Android phones on the market right now. Which one is right for you?

Read our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S4
Read our full review of the Google Nexus 5

The Samsung Galaxy S4 retains a similar look and feel to its predecessor but includes a 4.99in full HD display, comes with a 13-megapixel camera and features a number of Samsung-exclusive software features, while the Google Nexus 5 runs the latest version of Android, 4.4 Kit Kat, which offers a "pure Google" experience.

Let's find out how these flagship Android smartphones compare.

For a more detailed specifications comparison, click here to use the compare function on Good Gear Guide.

Google Nexus 5

Google Nexus 5

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4 Android phone

Verdict

?
Operating system
Google Android 4.4 (Kit Kat)
Google Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)
Google Nexus 5
Screen size
4.95in
4.99in
Samsung Galaxy S4
Display resolution
1920x1080
1920x1080
Draw
Display technology
IPS+
Super AMOLED
Draw
Pixel density
445ppi
441ppi
Google Nexus 5
Front camera
1.3-megapixels
2 megapixels
Samsung Galaxy S4
Rear camera
8-megapixels, single LED flash
13-megapixels, single LED flash
Samsung Galaxy S4
Camera features
Autofocus, tap to focus, face detection, optical image stabilisation, HDR+, photo sphere
Autofocus, tap to focus, face & smile detection detection, image stabilisation, HDR, Dual Shot
Draw
Video recording
1080p HD @ 30fps
1080p HD @ 30fps (with HDR)
Samsung Galaxy S4
Internal memory
16GB/32GB
16GB (32GB/64GB models not sold in Australia)
Google Nexus 5
Expandable memory
No
Yes, microSD
Samsung Galaxy S4
Thickness
8.6mm
7.9mm
Samsung Galaxy S4
Weight
130g
130g
Draw
RAM
2GB
2GB
Draw
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.3Ghz Krait (quad-core)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 1.9Ghz Krait (quad-core)
Google Nexus 5
Australian 3G networks
HSDPA 850/900/2100
HSDPA 850/900/2100
Draw
Australian 4G networks
LTE 1800MHz
LTE 1800MHz
Draw
Wi-Fi
802.11a/b/g/n/ac
802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Draw
Bluetooth
4.0 with A2DP
4.0 with A2DP
Draw
HDMI-out
No (Yes via SlimPort adapter)
No (Yes via MHL adapter)
Draw
Quoted battery life (talk time)
Up to 17 hours
Up to 17 hours
Draw
Battery size
2300mAh
2600mAh
Samsung Galaxy S4
Connector
Standard Micro USB
Standard Micro USB
Draw
SIM card
Micro-SIM
Micro-SIM
Draw

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Google Nexus 5: Design

The Galaxy S4 has kept a very similar design to the Galaxy S III. Samsung was criticised for sticking with a glossy, plastic finish but plastic is more durable than glass and this type of design means the battery is removable. There's also room for a microSD card slot, a feature you won't find on the Nexus 5.

The Galaxy S4 is thinner and lighter than the Galaxy S III despite a larger screen, so Samsung definitely deserves credit for managing to slim down the case.

The Nexus 5 is also constructed from plastic but it does away with glossy plastic and instead uses a soft, almost rubber-like finish on the back. It's a large, black slab with minimal highlights and it actually does its best not to stand out. It appears as if Google simply wanted the Nexus 5's hardware to blend into the background.

The Nexus 5 uses a soft, almost rubber-like finish on the back.
The Nexus 5 uses a soft, almost rubber-like finish on the back.

The unassuming design of the Nexus 5 may be unremarkable but it still manages to look and feel impressive. We particularly like the, the ceramic power button and volume rocker, and the earpiece above the screen.

Whichever design you prefer is ultimately a personal preference, so our advice would be to try and see these two devices in the flesh before making your decision.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Google Nexus 5: Display

Both of these smatphones have fantastic screens. The biggest hardware upgrade on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the display. It's a 4.99in, Super AMOLED screen with a full HD 1080p resolution of 1920x1080, an increase on the Galaxy S III's 4.8in screen with 720p resolution. The pixel density of 441 ppi is among the highest on the market right now, and the screen will even work when used with gloves.

The Galaxy S4 has a 4.99in, Super AMOLED screen with a full HD 1080p resolution of 1920x1080.
The Galaxy S4 has a 4.99in, Super AMOLED screen with a full HD 1080p resolution of 1920x1080.

The Nexus 5 on the other hand has an ever so slightly smaller 4.95in, full HD screen, with the same 1920x1080 full HD resolution. The colour tones it produces are slightly more neutral when compared directly with the Galaxy S4, but the display remains one of the best on the market. It's bright, clear, displays super crisp text, and is particularly excellent for reading books or watching video content.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Google Nexus 5: Software

The main aspect you'll need to factor into your purchasing decision when deciding between the Galaxy S4 and the Nexus 5 is the software overlay that sits on top of Google's Android platform. The Galaxy S4 uses Samsung's TouchWIZ UI, while the Nexus 5 doesn't have one at all: it runs a stock version of Android, often referred to as "vanilla".

Samsung has skinned almost every part of the standard Android layout on the Galaxy S4. The software adds a lot of small and possibly useful features, like 'Smart Scroll', which allows users to scroll up and down with eye movement, 'Smart Pause', which will pause video when the user looks away from the screen, and 'Air Gesture' which allows you to swipe through photos or scroll without touching the phone. These are all big selling points for Samsung, so if you think they might be gimmicks and you won't use them often, keep that in mind.

The Nexus 5 is very different. It is the first device to come pre-loaded with the latest version of Android, now up to version 4.4 and called "Kit Kat". Most of the changes to the software are pretty significant, though the underlying structure and the way the operating system works hasn't changed too much.

The Nexus 5 runs the latest version of Android, 4.4 Kit Kat.
The Nexus 5 runs the latest version of Android, 4.4 Kit Kat.

Many new features are immediately visible on the Nexus 5's home screen. The biggest addition is the fact users can now swipe from left to right to immediately launch Google Now. There's also heavy integration with Google search (the Google search bar is permanently fixed to every available home screen), larger app icons, a translucent status bar, and white folder backgrounds. The default messaging app has also been replaced by Google Hangouts, which now handles SMS messages alongside regular hangout chats.

While Samsung's TouchWIZ UI offers more features, they can easily be classified as gimmicks. Some users will prefer the cleaner interface of stock Android, but at the same time, Samsung's extra features may appeal to those who aren't likely to tinker or modify their phone too much. One real advantage of Nexus devices is that the software is updated directly by Google, so there's no need to wait until the manufacturer or your mobile network provider releases and approves an update.

Once again, our advice would be to try these two devices before making your decision. Your local Telstra store should have working demonstration units of both devices.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Google Nexus 5: Camera

The Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, an upgrade from the Galaxy S III's 8-megapixel snapper. The most significant camera upgrades are all software related. 'Dual Shot' allows users to take a photo with the front and rear cameras simultaneously using selected templates, 'Drama Shot' takes 100 shots in four seconds and 'Cinema Photo' is similar to Nokia's Cinemagram feature picking one part of the photo to move while the others stay still — somewhat like an animated GIF.

There's also "Sound & Shot' which takes a picture and captures up to nine seconds of audio, and 'Story Album' which groups photos together somewhat like a timeline. Finally, an 'Eraser' mode takes a series of pictures, allowing you to remove unwanted people or objects in the background.

A photo we captured with the Samsung Galaxy S4.
A photo we captured with the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Overall, the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is outstanding. In our experience, it's the best camera on any Android phone we've ever reviewed. When used on the standard "auto mode" it produces excellent photos with outstanding levels of detail and good colour. You can see some images we've taken here.

The Nexus 5 has an 8-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilsation (OIS). It also introduces a new feature called HDR+, which uses a burst mode to take a number of photos and then stitch them together. The new mode aims to capture clear and sharp photos even with both dark and bright areas in the shot, such as light entering through a window, for example.

The results are mixed. While the Nexus 5 is certainly capable of capturing a quality photo, the camera's software is slower to focus than most of its competitors. This becomes an issue when trying to capture fast moving objects. In these cases, by the time the camera focuses and captures, the shot you want to capture is often lost.

Here's a comparison photo we took on the Nexus 5, without HDR+ (left) and with HDR+ (right). You can click the image to enlarge it.
Here's a comparison photo we took on the Nexus 5, without HDR+ (left) and with HDR+ (right). You can click the image to enlarge it.

The slow focus and capture of the Nexus 5's camera is also compounded by an interface that's not intuitive. The settings arc menu is easy to accidentally bump and isn't well positioned when using the phone single-handedly. There's also an annoying delay when switching to and from HDR+ mode.

For photos without any moving objects the Nexus 5 can certainly produce some impressive photos. It offers an excellent amount of detail, good colour reproduction and little image noise. Macro shots are the clear highlight: in almost every instance, we were able to capture an excellent close up shot with excellent colours and detail, and a blurred background.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Google Nexus 5: Internals

Both of these handsets boast impressive specifications. The Galaxy S4 is powered by a 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and has 2GB of RAM. The 16GB of internal memory is expandable by a microSD card slot located behind the rear battery cover. 32GB and 64GB models will be available in certain markets but are not sold in Australia. A 2600mAh battery and 4G capability rounds out the Galaxy S4's impressive specifications.

The Nexus 5 on the other hand is powered by a faster 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. It has either 16GB or 32GB of internal memory but there's no microSD card slot, which means you can't expand the memory. The battery is non-removable and the Nexus 5 also has a slightly smaller 2300mAh battery compared to the Galaxy S4. It works with 4G networks in Australia.

The Nexus 5 is one of the most powerful smartphones on the market.
The Nexus 5 is one of the most powerful smartphones on the market.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is available now through all major Australian telcos including Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile. The Nexus 5 will be available through Telstra from Tuesday, 26 November, while it can also be purchased outright directly through Google's Play Store. The 16GB model sells for $399, while the larger 32GB model is listed for $449.

What do you think about the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Google Nexus 5? Which smartphone would you buy and why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Related content

Samsung Galaxy S4 review
Where can you buy the Samsung Galaxy S4?
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. the rest: How does it stack up?
Google Nexus 5 review
Telstra selling Nexus 5 from 26 November
Google's Nexus 5 is officially sold out in Australia

Tags android phonesAndroid 4.4lgGooglemobile phonessmartphonesKit Katjelly beanAndroid 4.3samsung

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

Good Gear Guide

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