Smartphones grew from being this abstract form of communication into being a materialised attachment of our lives. Most of the phones you'll see at a carrier store are vastly distinctive due to their given characteristics, so where does the 'character' part fit in with Google's latest device? A week with the Nexus 5 answered this and many other questions.
Design & Hardware
If you're a minimalist, this is porn. The polycarbonate exterior and glass front give the phone a simple and sleek personality. The ceramic buttons found on the side of the phone feel great and blend in with the rest of the device, giving it a consistent feel. The Nexus 5 is 133 grams, making it 10 grams lighter than the HTC One and LG G2.
The bottom of the phone convinced me that it would have stereo speakers between the micro-usb, but I soon found out that they were mono - Loud enough to hear a ringtone from 20 feet away, but leaves a lot to be desired when listening to music and videos. In the end, the Nexus 5 cushions itself perfectly in my hand with it's curved edges and sharp angles.
The textured rubber bumper case is extremely sturdy. I applied a lot of force into bending the case, but after many failed attempts it held it's same structure. The phone simply slides into the case and can be taken out by pushing the phone outward from the corners. The case protects the front of the phone if placed on a flat surface. The grey version of the case didn't seem to get dirty when I placed it on various surfaces, and I've yet to find any wear-and-tear on the outer shell. The openings are cut really well, giving room for the phones hardware components. My only annoyance with the case is the power button. I found that I'd have to add force in unlocking and locking the phone. Other than that, this case is well worth the $35 USD for being reliable and premium made.
The screen is illuminated with a 4.95 inch 1080p IPS panel. While looking at the screen in a low angle, I found colours to be washed out with low contrast. When I noticed that I could see the LCD backlight from a tilted angle I thought that it was due to my unit, but after Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) mentioned it I knew that this must be a general conscious. The DPI in the Nexus 5 is noticeably bigger when I placed it side-to-side with an Galaxy S4, but I wish it could be set to a smaller value to fit more content into the screen. Besides this, the display is really crisp and clear in most lighting conditions.
The Nexus line-up is notoriously known for having an undesirable camera, so does the Nexus 5 exile that and focus (no pun intended) on making a consumer friendly camera? The 8-megapixel camera has OIS - Optical Image Stabilization - which factors into producing an image at slow shutter-speeds and accommodating more low-light shooting situations. Here's a video taken at a Full-HD resolution in windy settings.
Opening the camera app is one thing, but taking pictures is another. I primarily shoot with DSLR's, but I'm not going to lug around my gear everywhere with me, so I occasionally fill my Instagram Feed with pictures from my smartphone. Years ago you'd see a plethora of people use their point-and-shoot cameras to capture memories, but now we use our smartphones for taking pictures. Most people don't want to put a lot of effort in producing a perfectly exposed, in-focus image, so do I find myself working hard to get the right shot with the Nexus 5? Focusing on a subject would usually take me 3 seconds, but the fact is, within those 3 seconds of playing tug o' war with the phone, I've lost the perfect opportunity for a picture. In addition to that, colours are a hit-or-miss scenario. Sometimes the cameras algorithms would produce vibrant and accurate colours and sometimes they'd be desaturated.
Here's a few camera comparisons between the Nexus 5 and HTC One without any editing.
The Nexus 5 decided to capture an underexposed image, while the One took a properly exposed image. The shadows on the Nexus 5 are darker while the One displays an opposite result. The colours from the Nexus 5's picture have more contrast than the One.
The One shows more accurate and vibrant colours. The highlights in the Nexus 5's image are more blown out than the One (see the surface of the table). It's best to note that the One has a ƒ/2.0 aperture size, while the Nexus 5 has an ƒ/2.4 aperture size - this means that the One will have a shallower depth-of-field and let more light into the sensor.
The Nexus 5 has 8-megapixels while the One has 4-megapixels. Megapixels shouldn't be the main factor for choosing a camera, but it helps when you're looking for a large size to print your images on. The Nexus 5 seems to get more detail out of the text. The Nexus 5 can save shadows in dim-light, but will struggle with the right colour balance.
Nexus 5 sample photos
Although the camera experience is better in the Nexus 5 than the Nexus 4, there's still a lot to be desired. It seems like Google had to cut corners yet again in their Nexus line-up to maintain it's affordable off-contract price, but it has to be marginally better than the iPhone 5c, Galaxy S4, and Lumia 920 that are offered at a relatively low price on contract if they want people to consider the Nexus 5 - majority of consumers in the states opt to purchase a subsidized phone over the off-contract price tag. The Android Team is reportedly launching a software fix in the upcoming weeks that's meant to improve the camera, so we'll have to see how that churns out. Nevertheless, the Nexus 5 doesn't have a crippling camera experience compared to other phones, but it can always be better.
With the shortcomings of the camera so far, can the software make up for it? The short answer: Yes. The long answer: Bloody hell, this thing is fast. KitKat brings a consistent look and feel to Android which is aesthetically pleasing to use and look at. Imagine Android 4.2 being a Porsche 997 - noticeable and sleek, and now you have Android 4.4 - a Porsche 997 Turbo, the same fundamentals as the base model, but with a pinch of agility and an added spice of POWERRR. Android 4.4 brings the user an abundance of sweets and treats. The home screen is now named the "Google Experience". Before the stock Android home-screen would just be a hub for your apps, but now it's a part of Google's personal assistant called "Google Now". This means that when you're at the home-screen you can prompt the Google Now to open up by saying a few keywords such as "OK Google, Hey Google, or OK Jarvis,"
The typography now has a subtle change by using a condensed version of "Roboto" throughout the home-screen and toast notifications. I currently can't tell if Android 4.4 is fast due to the Snapdragon 800 processor in the Nexus 5, or if it'll be nearly as fast other Nexus and Google Play Edition devices. The UI in Android 4.4, however, is cleaner and polished. The app drawer is now, well, the app drawer. Widgets will be found by holding down on the home-screen along with the options to add a new page and change the wallpaper.
Your messages are now front and center in the Hangouts app, which now lets you switch from SMS to a video/text chat. This is a step forward for Google to integrate its services within your phone, but can get a little frustrating. Unfortunately Hangouts won't notify you if the recipient read the instant message - something offered in iMessage and Kik - and it will separate your texts and hangouts into different threads. In addition to Google integrating its services into your phone, the dialer now gives you the opportunity to search for local businesses and will prompt you their name and picture within the Caller ID. I'm just curious as to why the 'People' app isn't joined with the 'Dialer'. When the device is locked, your musics album art is now full screen. Another addition to the lockscreen is being able to hold and drag the camera icon to the right to instantly access the camera.
With the phone having a subtle design, Google wants you to be fully immersed in the content shown on the screen. So now in Android 4.4 you have an "Immersive Mode". This means that apps can enable content to be shown on the device without the status-bar or navigation bar distracting you. If you want to access either or, you can swipe from the bezel and viola, you have your navigation and status-bar at your full disposal. Although Android 4.4 is a cleaner change to Google's mobile platform, there's still a bit of inconsistent elements that remind you of the reminiscent "Holo" (#33b5e5) design colour.
With the Nexus 5 being a "performance monster" can the battery balance along with the phones quad-core GPU? My weekdays would consist of having my mobile data - mainly 4G LTE - on for 5 hours and WiFi for a duration of 2 hours. Within this 8 hour ordeal I listen to music for 50 minutes while browsing through Feedly. The rest of the time is dedicated to occasional Snapchats, viewing my email, texting, and browsing Reddit. By the time school ends, I find myself with about 35% of the battery to be spared.
On my One the battery would be around 42% (both phones have a 2300mAH battery). The phone would take approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes to be fully charged from 20%. Usually, I would have 3.7 hours of screen time in a 15 hour span of usage. Many people use their phones differently, so it's always a safe cause to view multiple reviews to get an accurate measurement of battery life.
So how does KitKat taste like?
Well, it has a smooth surface and the core of it is in the middle, they also come in different flavours too! Oh wait, we're still talking about the Nexus 5 here, right?
Many people notice how Apple has full control of it's OS and hardware, but Google shows that the same effect can be achieved with Android. Before, In my iPhone 5s review I noted that having the iPhone 5s was like having a sports car, but only being able to go 50 mph. The Nexus 5 is in a different ballpark. It's like having a sports car, but the least you can go is 100 mph. The Nexus 5 is remarkable and intuitive which makes $350 a really reasonable off-contract price tag. Many of us have this idealistic vision of how Google can make the Nexus 5 the perfect phone for the price, but there's a problem. The problem is us. Yes us. We have these high expectations for a device that will have all the proper bolts screwed in, but frankly there's still a few bolts missing. The Nexus 5 is filling in the cracks that other Android manufacturers have left open. It's all about providing an experience that will work intuitively out of the box, cause that's what the average consumer care about - a device that's there to accompany their daily needs with minimal amounts of effort. Until the camera is improved on the Nexus 5, I can't highly recommend this to piers, but there's a lot that this phone can offer that will keep their minds on it.
The Nexus 5 is a good phone for a good price with software that shows a promising future for Android. Once the camera is fixed, it will have the potential to captivate the mindsets of consumers looking for a new phone.
Editors note: This review was written by professional photographer Mahmoud Mfinanga, who runs his own photo blog, Emmazed Photog.