First impressions: Google Nexus 5

We've managed to hit up Google for a review unit, so here's our first impressions.

Google's Nexus 5 has generated quite the buzz since its release last week. While it's currently for sale in the Australian Google Play Store, you'll be waiting up to five weeks for it, unless you quickly pressed that purchase button in the last few days. We've managed to hit up Google for a review unit, so low and behold, here's our first impressions.

The Google Nexus 5.
The Google Nexus 5.

Unassuming design

From the moment you take it out of that colourful box the Nexus 5 is striking, but it's an odd kind of strike. Where many competing devices immediately stand out, the Nexus 5 is 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 hardware to blend into the background, which makes sense given the real star of the Nexus show is software.

The design may be unremarkable but it still manages to look and feel impressive. We particularly like the soft, almost rubber-like feel on the back. It's not the kindest surface for hiding fingerprints, but it provides great grip and gives the Nexus 5 a comforting feel.

There are a few other nice touches. The ceramic power button and volume rocker provide great tactility and have a reassuring, clicky feel. The large, protruding camera lens on the back is probably the most distinctive feature, even if it means the Nexus 5 doesn't sit completely flat when resting on a desk or table. We also like the earpiece above the screen. The cut-out, circular component is sunken slightly into the front of the phone and has a number of tiny holes on its surface.

The large, protruding camera lens on the back is the Nexus 5's most distinctive design feature.
The large, protruding camera lens on the back is the Nexus 5's most distinctive design feature.

Unfortunately, while the volume rocker is perfectly positioned, the power button is a little high. Users with smaller hands will find themselves having to uncomfortably stretch for it when holding the phone in one hand, a common occurrence. The single speaker on the bottom is also a downside: it's relatively clear but the overall volume could use a boost. We suspect many users may miss calls on the Nexus 5 when in noisy environments.

A Kit Kat treat

The first thing you'll have to do when you turn your Nexus 5 on is download a software update. The 139.3MB update only takes a couple of minutes to download and install over Wi-Fi, but it requires a restart and you won't be able to use the phone until you've installed it.

You'll need to download and install a system update before you can use the Nexus 5.
You'll need to download and install a system update before you can use the Nexus 5.

The changes in Kit Kat are immediately noticeable. Icons are much larger than previous versions of Android 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 a 5x4 grid of icons, though we feel Google could easily have squeezed in a 5x5 grid in order to minimise pages you'll need to scroll through.

Speaking of the app drawer, Google has also removed the ability to add widgets from it. 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. The latter forms a permanent part of the Nexus 5's home screen and is accessible by swiping to the right, so it's the screen to the left of the first home screen Initial impressions are that it's smooth and fast.

From L to R: The Android 4.4 home screen, the wallpaper and widget selection screen, and the widget screen.
From L to R: The Android 4.4 home screen, the wallpaper and widget selection screen, and the widget screen.

We haven't had a chance to extensively use the camera yet. 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. Below you can see a quick HDR+ shot we captured with the Nexus 5. You can click the image to enlarge it and then zoom in to see more detail.

A photo we captured with the Google Nexus 5 in HDR+ mode (click to enlarge).
A photo we captured with the Google Nexus 5 in HDR+ mode (click to enlarge).

We'll be publishing a full review of the Nexus 5 in the coming week, once we've had a chance to extensively put it through its paces. In the meantime, if you have any questions, queries or comments about the device or any of its features, drop us a line in the comments below! We'll publish and answer the best questions in a feature article in the next few days.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

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