Google Nexus 5 Android phone

Despite a few flaws, the Nexus 5 offers impressive value for money and comes highly recommended

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Google Nexus 5
  • Google Nexus 5
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  • Google Nexus 5

Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Powerful internals and performance
  • Android 4.4 is a nice update

Cons

  • Mediocre battery life
  • Some camera quirks
  • No expandable memory

Bottom Line

The Nexus 5 boasts an excellent screen, powerful internals and runs the latest version of Android, but is slightly let down by poor battery life, and a camera that can't quite match its flagship competitors. Despite a few flaws, it offers impressive value for money and comes highly recommended.

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After months of leaks, Google's worst kept secret is finally here. The LG manufactured Nexus 5 is the company's fourth generation Nexus device and the follow up to last year's excellent Nexus 4. The Nexus 5 boasts an excellent screen, powerful internals and runs the latest version of Android, but is slightly let down by poor battery life, and a camera that can't quite match its flagship competitors. Despite a few flaws, the Nexus 5 offers impressive value for money and comes highly recommended.

Unassuming design, excellent screen

The Nexus 5 actually does its best not to stand out.

The Nexus 5 may be wrapped in a colourful box with Google's bright branding printed all over it, but the phone itself is a stark contrast to its packaging. The device is immediately striking, but it's an odd kind of strike and very unassuming. 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, which does make sense given the real star of the Nexus show has always been its software.

The unassuming design of the Nexus 5 may be unremarkable when compared to the likes of the Apple iPhone 5s, the HTC One and Nokia's Lumia 1020, but it still manages to look and feel impressive. We particularly like the soft, almost rubber-like feel on the back, the ceramic power button and volume rocker, and the earpiece above the screen. The white model uses a slightly different glossy finish but remains black on the front and sides — we prefer the understated, black look.

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The cut-out, circular earpiece above the Nexus 5's screen seems to have been transformed into a design feature. It's sunken slightly into the front of the phone and has a number of tiny holes on its surface. The Nexus 5's soft, curved corners are also a highlight, and combined with the rubber-like finish on the back, make the phone comfortable to hold and use despite its relatively large frame. The Nexus 5 feels extremely light and weighs only 130g.

The large protruding camera lens on the back is probably the most distinctive design feature. However, it means the Nexus 5 doesn't sit completely flat when resting on a desk or table. Further, the rubber-like finish on the back is not the kindest surface for hiding fingerprints, and the power button on our review unit was loose, even if it still provided a reassuring, clicky feel.

We particularly like the Nexus 5's soft, almost rubber-like feel on the back.
We particularly like the Nexus 5's soft, almost rubber-like feel on the back.

The single speaker is one of the Nexus 5's real weak points.

While the Nexus 5's volume rocker is perfectly positioned, the power button is a little high. Users with smaller hands may find themselves having to uncomfortably stretch for it when holding the phone in one hand. The micro-USB port on the bottom is sandwiched in between two speaker grills, but only one of them houses a speaker — the other is a microphone. The single speaker is one of the Nexus 5's real weak points. It's relatively clear, but the overall volume could use a significant boost and sound distorts at higher volume levels. We missed a number of calls on the Nexus 5 when in noisy environments.

The Nexus 5 has a 4.95in, full HD display with a resolution of 1920x1080. The colour tones it produces are slightly more neutral when compared directly with the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, but the screen 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.

The screen is bright, clear, and displays crisp text.
The screen is bright, clear, and displays crisp text.

A new Android Kit Kat treat

Most of the changes to the software are pretty significant.

The Nexus 5 is obviously 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.

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, though that means the screen left of the main home page can't be used for any app shortcuts or widgets. Google Now provides weather, transport, and search information based on your Web and location history, can display sports results from selected teams, and can also show stocks information. While it's not a new feature, placing it in this position on the home screen gives it more prominence, and makes it easily accessible.

Android 4.4 has a number of new UI features, headed by larger icons.
Android 4.4 has a number of new UI features, headed by larger icons.

Like all voice recognition software, the results can be hit and miss.

Along with Google Now, Android 4.4 Kit Kat has heavy integration with Google search. The Google search bar is permanently fixed to every available home screen, while saying the voice command "OK, Google" when on any home screen will immediately open the Google voice search function and listen for a command. Unfortunately, this feature is only available when you have the voice search language set to US English. If you have it set to AU English, the feature is automatically disabled. It works well enough, but like all voice recognition software, the results can be hit and miss.

Icons are much larger than previous versions of Android in 4.4 Kit Kat and do look crisp, though this also highlights all the apps that have old, pixelated icons in desperate need of a revamp. (We're looking at you, Instagram and Facebook). The larger icons means the app drawer is now a 5x4 grid of icons, though we feel Google could easily have squeezed in a 5x5 grid in order to minimise the number of pages you'll need to scroll through. Other UI changes include a translucent status bar, while folder backgrounds are white rather than the dark colour Android has long been synonymous with.

Folder backgrounds are white rather than the dark colour Android has long been synonymous with.
Folder backgrounds are white rather than the dark colour Android has long been synonymous with.

Google has removed the ability to add widgets from the app draw on the Nexus 5. These are now accessible by holding down anywhere on the home screen. This new menu also allows you to change the wallpaper and access Google Now settings. It's more intuitive than previous versions, and it makes sense to move widgets out of the app drawer.

The other major change is the removal of the default messaging app, replaced by Google Hangouts. The latter now handles SMS messages alongside regular hangout chats. The Hangouts UI may be a little confusing to those used to a regular SMS app, and it's rather odd that the app separates Gmail hangout from SMS messages, even if the messages are coming from the same contact.

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The Nexus 5 is one of the fastest Android devices we've ever used.

The dialler app on Kit Kat 4.4 is also a little confusing. It immediately displays favourite contacts as well as your last dialled call, but you need to scroll down and tap the "all contacts" icon to view your whole phonebook. Further, the dark black background of the dialer itself is a stark contrast to the light colours in most other apps and looks out of place. One real handy feature is the ability to automatically have Google Maps business information appear as caller ID, even if you don't have the contact saved. The dialler also automatically suggests frequent contacts, and allows you to search for nearby places.

The Nexus 5 offers outstanding performance, and is one of the fastest Android devices we've ever used. The 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM keep things ticking over nicely, while the software itself is smooth and fast during general use. Gaming is a particular highlight and offers a nice glimpse into what the Nexus 5 is capable of. Graphically intense titles like FIFA 14, Real Racing 3 and Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour run smoothly and without any significant issues. The Nexus 5 comes with 16GB or 32GB of internal memory, but as with all Nexus devices, there is no removable storage.

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Solid camera with some quirks, poor battery life

The camera's software is slower to focus than most of its competitors.

While the camera interface remains largely the same as the previous version of Android, 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, such as a dog running around the backyard, a tree blowing in the wind, or a moving car. 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, without HDR+ (left) and with HDR+ (right). You can click the image to enlarge it.
Here's a comparison photo we took, 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. Video recording is smooth and fast, though detail isn't as crisp as some competing flagship models.

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

Unfortunately, the Nexus 5 is let down by battery life that's best described as ordinary. In almost two weeks of testing, we didn't manage to achieve any more than 11 hours of use per day. The screen is the biggest battery drainer, often accounting for close to 30 per cent of use. We couldn't manage more than three hours of screen on time before the battery completely drained, so while the device is actually quite efficient when in sleep mode, it's battery hungry as soon as the screen comes to life.

The Nexus 5 is available now in Australia online through Google's Play Store. The 16GB model sells for AU$399, while the larger 32GB model is listed for AU$449. The Nexus 5 is also sold on contract plans through Telstra.

In New Zealand, the 16GB Nexus 5 is available from 2degrees for NZ$699. Despite being significantly higher than the AU$399 price tag, this is one of the best prices currently available in New Zealand. The lowest we could find the Nexus 5 for was NZ$663. At the time of writing, most parallel importers had higher prices than the official 2degrees figure.

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