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Device Review: Google Nexus 5

nexus52pm Eastern time, October 31st, 2013 — Google flips the switch, and the Nexus 5 goes live on the Google Play store. Within minutes, all of the available variants (16 and 32 GB models, in both black and white) are backordered, with ship dates weeks or months out. Somehow, I managed to get my order in. I can’t recall whether it was someone posting about it on Google+ or a passing comment on Twitter that alerted me to the sale, but at 2:12pm I placed my order. Just a few days later, the Nexus 5 arrived, bringing some delicious Android 4.4 KitKat with it to my door.

It’s been just over two weeks since I received the device and, for the most part, I’ve been using it as my daily driver. I’ve taken it on a family vacation, used it for photography, navigation, and work-related reading, and I feel that it’s time to share my impressions of the device.


Hardware

The Nexus 5 isn’t exactly the leader of the smartphone pack when it comes to specs, but it’s pretty close. Here’s the hardware breakdown,  just in case you weren’t already familiar.

  • 4.95” 1920×1080 Full HD IPS display (445 ppi) with Gorilla Glass 3

  • 2.26 GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Processor

  • 2 GB RAM

  • 4G/LTE and Dualband Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

  • NFC

  • Bluetooth 4.0

  • Android 4.4 KitKat

  • Qi Wireless Charging

  • 1.3 MP Front-Facing Camera, 8MP Rear-Facing with Optical Image Stabilization

  • 2300 mAh Battery

  • 16 or 32 GB of Storage

Performance

Benchmarks

While I realize benchmarks are hardly something one should rely upon when critiquing a device, it’s always nice to have some baseline from which to compare against other devices. With that in mind, I put the Nexus 5 through the usual gamut of tests, and here’s how it did:

Antutu3dMark

One interesting point of note here is the difference in benchmarks Quadrant returned when the device was switched from Dalvik to ART compiler. It’s not necessarily indicative of a drastic performance improvement, but perhaps an improvement in something specifically addressed by Quadrant, as other benchmark scores were not affected by the switch from Dalvik to ART (or vice versa).

Quadrant_DalvikQuadrant_ART

(Left: Quadrant on Dalvik, Right: Quadrant on ART)

Everyday Use

As you would expect, for simple, traditional, everyday use (Internet browsing, Email, messaging, etc.) the Nexus 5 works admirably. If it didn’t, there would be an awful lot of angry people out there.

Gaming

I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well the Nexus 5 handled the games that I threw at it. Be it simple 2D side scrollers or 3D racing simulators, everything played smoothly and had admirable load times. On occasion, I noticed that the device would get moderately warm, but nowhere near the heat I used to feel out of the Galaxy Nexus.

Audio

The speaker on the bottom of the Nexus 5 (yes, there’s just one, even though there are two grilles) is not terribly powerful, and the sound just isn’t impressive. As you’ve seen from another article here on the XDA Portal, it’s possible to remedy some of the issue with a hardware modification. But according to some other sites, Google is aware of the issue and is planning a software update to assist. That said, if software can fix a weak speaker, I’ll be thoroughly surprised.

Camera

Sadly, this is one area where the Nexus 5 didn’t quite measure up. The rear-facing camera was quite capable of producing nice, crisp images—occasionally.

 IMG_20131109_134951IMG_20131110_151810IMG_20131118_154812

However, the software took so long to capture in most instances that it was difficult to actually capture the intended shot, leaving me with a multitude of blurry photos of nothing.

IMG_20131119_213021 IMG_20131107_174030

Additionally, when the flash would fire in lower light situations, it was completely overexposed.

 IMG_20131119_220730IMG_20131119_220641

Luckily, the low light performance without a flash wasn’t completely terrible. It was grainy, lightly blurred, but still light enough to tell what’s going on in the photo.

 IMG_20131109_142657 IMG_20131107_174005

In an odd twist, an option called “HDR+” was included with the stock camera as well. I was quite pleased with the results!

 Before After

(Left: Normal, Right: HDR+)

Battery Life

Battery life was another area where the Nexus 5 really didn’t stack up well to other devices in the same spec range. 2300 mAh, while it works decently for some other devices like the HTC One, just doesn’t keep up on the Nexus 5. Perhaps it’s the slightly more powerful processor, perhaps it is software that isn’t optimized for the hardware, but one thing’s certain: Battery life on the Nexus 5 just isn’t stellar.

That said, I never really had an issue making it through the day. Most days, I’d be at ~20% battery life remaining as the end of the day after casual usage (regular Email and web browsing, ~1 hour of YouTube video over LTE, ~30 minutes of phone calls). With lighter usage (just checking Email throughout the day, very limited web browsing, and not much else), the battery can last a bit longer, but at that point you’re barely touching your device. Under heavy load, from what I understand, you’ll be lucky if it lasts 8-10 hours.

Software

And, of course, a Nexus device isn’t a Nexus device unless it’s sporting the latest-and-greatest version of Android. In this respect, the Nexus 5 does not disappoint. It comes running Android 4.4 KitKat (KRT16M). As of the writing of this article, updates have been released for all of the other Nexus devices, taking them up to KRT16S. But for some reason, the Nexus 5 has not been updated.

The good thing about being a Nexus device, however, is that it should receive the latest-and-greatest version of Android for at least 18 months—or until the SoC manufacturer decides to exit the market.

Unfortunately, the software seemed almost incomplete upon release. As mentioned earlier, the camera software is sluggish and caused the device to expose improperly when the flash was used. And according to Google, the software is causing the audio to be weak. Not good.

Development

What device review on XDA would be complete without mentioning the development going on for the device? As expected, the device was rooted almost immediately, thanks to Chainfire’s CF-Auto-Root, and we made a video demonstrating it:


In addition to rooting, there are a slew of kernels, software mods, recoveries, and complete ROMs can be found over in the Google Nexus 5 Forum.

Conclusion

The Nexus 5 is, as expected, another “Nexus” experience. Not a terrible device, but also not an amazing one. It features very decent specs, with some definite hiccups and flaws that will hopefully be ironed out, at least in some part, when the software is updated. For the price ($350-$400 USD through the Play Store), it’s nearly impossible to find anything else that compares without locking yourself into a 1-2 year contract to pay off a $600-700 device. So even with those issues in mind, it’s definitely a device worth buying.

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