The Nexus 5 with Android 4.4 KitKat carries on the recent tradition of top-tier specs and relatively budget prices from Google, and in this review, we're going to take a look at whether the device hangs with the best of them.
We've come to expect Nexus devices to be developer-only handsets that never reach the type of hype or adoption that the HTC One or Galaxy S4 would get. Google doesn't really advertise Nexus devices to the masses the way that Samsung or Apple does, and Nexus devices are generally not on par with other flagship handsets in terms of build quality and performance.
When the Nexus 4 launched in late 2012, the most enticing thing was its initial $300 price point. For an unlocked device with decent hardware, it seemed like a steal. But we soon learned that its shortcomings were often too much to bear.
Now we're at the Nexus 5, a solid smartphone with a 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 chipset and 2GB RAM. It has a 2,300mAh battery and a 5-inch 1080p display. It also features the latest version of Android - 4.4 KitKat.
You'd think it would come with a hefty price tag, but for 16GB and 32GB versions, you're only looking at $349 and $399, respectively, in the U.S. That's unlocked.
If you're thinking it seems too good to be true, we can't blame you. What, if any, corners did LG and Google have to cut in order to bring the price down to affordable levels?
Let's skip the boring Nexus history lesson and dive right into what matters - the Nexus 5 itself.
First, let's talk hardware design. The Nexus 5 features a 5-inch 1080p IPS display - that's 1920 x 1080, giving us 445 PPI. If you can pick out the pixels on this display, please donate your eyes to science.
The display itself is crisp, although its colors are less saturated than what you'd find on the HTC One or iPhone 5s. The Nexus 5's display doesn't get as bright as those devices, either, but it's not a big deal.
If punchy colors and contrast is your thing, the Nexus 5 might only disappoint you if you consistently compare it to other devices. Otherwise, you won't notice it over time.
Being a 5-inch display device, the phone itself is pretty large, but not entirely unwieldy. It measures 5.43 x 2.72 x 0.34 inches. Because the bezel is so narrow, the device itself isn't pushed wider by its large display.
And because LG opted for plastic here, rather than a glass front and back like the Nexus 4, it's not too heavy.
Above the display, there is a round earpiece, and it gets surprisingly loud given its size. To the left of that is the front-facing camera, and down below the display is an LED notifier. You don't see anything down there unless you have notifications, and the glowing light seems to come from nowhere. Magic.
The base of the Nexus 5 has a microUSB port for charging and syncing, and two grills - one housing a speaker, and the other a microphone. The top of the device has a 3.5mm headset jack and a small hole for a microphone that may act as a noise cancellation feature.
Around the edges of the device, there are ceramic volume and power buttons. The left has a flat, almost sharp-edged volume button, and the power button is to the upper right side.
Some colleagues of ours say the ceramic buttons are a nice touch, although it feels weird given the sharp edges. It's nothing that bothers us, but something we noticed.
Flip the device over, exposing its backside, and you'll see the word "Nexus" emblazoned on the soft-touch cover. There is an 8MP camera in an unusually large module, and an LED flash just beneath it.
Because it's a Nexus device, you can't remove the cover to replace the battery, and there is most certainly no microSD card slot for those of you wondering. If you buy the 32GB version, which we would recommend over the 16GB version, you shouldn't have to worry too much about space.
In-hand feel and use
Now that you have a good idea for what the Nexus 5 looks like, let's talk about using the thing. Because it's still a 5-inch display smartphone, it will be large for many hands. We have some tall folks on our staff with bigger than average hands, and stretching up to the corners with our thumbs was still a little much.
One thing we noticed immediately when picking up the device was its weight. It's very light, thanks mostly to LG's use of plastics here. It certainly doesn't have the same premium feel that the HTC One or iPhone 5S has, but it's easy to forgive because of its price point.
The soft touch back can get pretty greasy even if you wash your hands frequently, but it's easily wiped away. We tend not to get so picky with these things anymore, but we know there are folks who like their devices looking pristine.
While we're going to dive deeper into the software, we will say this: it is fast. Given its lack of garbage apps and widgets from carriers, and perhaps buggy interfaces from manufacturers, the Nexus 5 flies.
We didn't have any real issues with software except for the occasional app crash, but that might have more to do with apps not being fully optimized for this new version of Android.
If you're buying the Nexus 5, chances are you already know what you're getting into. While we'd like to believe otherwise, most of the folks we know buying the Nexus 5 have known about its coming for some time.
For those of you who don't fall into that group, though, keep on reading.