The first Nexus smartphone, the HTC-built Nexus One, was launched in 2010 as a developer-centric device. Back then Google was wary of competing with its hardware partners and had limited the phone’s supply and availability. The trend continued for the following two successors – the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus – both made by Samsung. The turning point, however, was last year’s LG-made Nexus 4 that proved to be immensely popular with consumers and also helped LG revive its smartphone fortunes.
While previous Nexus smartphones provided the pure Android experience, they were not the best daily workhorse smartphones. The Nexus 4, for instance, had a terrible battery and could barely see through half-a-day on a single charge. And the lesser said about the camera, the better. But Google managed to get away with the hardware shortcomings of the earlier Nexus smartphones by claiming it was aimed mostly at developers and enthusiasts. That certainly isn’t the case with the Nexus 5, which has seen a more aggressive roll-out, hitting India within weeks of its US launch. Can the Nexus 5 take on this year’s flagship smartphones like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and the LG G2? Let’s find out.
The Nexus 5 is a different beast than earlier Nexus smartphones. For a change, it has the latest hardware, which even some of this year’s flagship smartphones don’t have – the Snapdragon 800 SoC, for instance that is absent from both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. The Nexus 5 also has a brilliant 4.95-inch 1080p IPS display with Gorilla Glass 3 protection. It has very thin bezels on the sides, which make the phone look smaller and the display much bigger. It feels just right to hold with the rubbery back and weighing just 130grams. It almost seems as if the Nexus 5 is Google’s idea of the perfect Android smartphone, but this time not only in terms of software but also hardware.
Unlike the Nexus 4 that had a fragile glass back, Google has gone for a very understated look with the Nexus 5, which not only looks boring but also turned out to be a nightmare to shoot for this review. The front, like most smartphones these days, is dominated the glass but there are no menu buttons on the bottom. The top edges curve symmetrically that at times can make it difficult to figure out which is the top side while picking the phone. The back is now made of plastic with a rubber finish to it, which provides a good grip and negates the chances of the phone slipping through one’s hands. The back is also where the Nexus branding is etched, which is the only element on the phone that would make someone sit up and take notice.
The almost 5-inch display is a treat for the eyes – sharp, vivid and great viewing angles. I was fairly impressed with its legibility under sunlight, which is something not many smartphone displays can master. Another thing I’d like to point out here is the ambient light sensor, which worked perfectly most of the time, unlike some of the other phones where the display brightness keeps fluctuating in challenging lighting conditions. This was something LG had nailed in the G2 as well, which I had pointed in my review.
A Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC with four Krait cores clocked at 2.27GHz hums under the hood, with 2GB of RAM and Adreno 330 GPU. This ensures things run at a fairly fast clip. The 2,300mAh battery, however is a little underwhelming. During my fortnight of using the Nexus 5 as my primary smartphone, there was not a single day where I could push the battery to last me a day. My typical usage included about two hours of calls; two email ids, two Twitter accounts and one Facebook account set to push and about four hours of web browsing on 3G. With this usage, a single charge lasted me about 15 hours, which is a huge letdown from what I could achieve on the LG G2. Having said that, the Snapdragon 800 SoC does well in conserving battery when the phone is in standby mode and I noticed just about 5 percent of battery drain overnight.
One of the things I really hoped would improve with the Nexus 5 was the camera. I bought the Nexus 4 when it was launched in India and quickly realized it would never be the phone I’d carry while traveling as the camera was completely useless. Alas, things haven’t improved much with the Nexus 5. The 8-megapixel camera has trouble getting an auto-focus fix and I ended up missing most of the shots. However, when the camera did manage to get a fix, I could manage some good shots with decent contrast and color reproduction. Google is rolling out an upgrade, Android 4.4.1, which reportedly improves the camera performance but I had not received it at the time of filing this review. The onboard speakers are disappointing as well for listening to music or while watching videos. They are tiny and a pair of earphones should be kept handy. If multimedia is your thing, the Nexus 5 isn’t the best smartphone out there.
However, Nexus buyers are typically attracted by the promise of getting the latest version of Android first and the Nexus 5 is no different in that matter. It runs on Android 4.4 KitKat, which adds a few subtle UI changes but beyond cosmetics it is essentially a major under-the-hood stuff that regular users won’t realize. The top notification bar is now almost transparent, which means apps can now fill up more space. Google Now can be accessed by swiping from the left to right from the homescreen.
The Nexus 5 also supports the ‘OK Google’ command but it works only when the display is turned on and the user is on the homescreen, unlike the Moto X where it can be used to wake up the phone as well. The great thing about voice commands is it understands Indian accents almost flawlessly in most situations and one can speak naturally rather than having to talk slowly.
Despite its camera shortcomings (which are getting fixed with an update), the Nexus 5 is without any doubt the best value for money smartphone. Priced at Rs 28,999 for the 16GB version on the Google Play Store, it is the most affordable smartphone with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 SoC and a 1080p display. Even the 32GB variant priced at Rs 32,999 is an unparalleled deal. Add to it the promise of guaranteed Android updates, it gets even more difficult to recommend any other smartphone at this price.
Camera Courtesy: All photos were shot using the Nokia Lumia 1020.