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Nexus 5 review (Lifesperience Blog)


Once a phone that was mostly meant for developers to get familiar with Android, the Nexus  line has become focused on the every day consumer.  For the last few weeks, the Nexus 5 has been my daily driver and  now that I have a clear picture of how the phone performs, these are my thoughts split into categories such as display, audio, camera, etc.  Certain items such as the spec sheet and additional camera snapshots are linked throughout the article. This phone was tested on Sprints LTE network in NYC.

Display

The Nexus 5 comes with a five inch 1080p IPS LCD display.  For those counting pixels, that is a remarkable 445PPI (pixels per inch) which means that text is razor sharp when reading web pages, texts, weather reports, or anything else that happens on your screen.  The LCD panel displays colors accurately with a high contrast rate which makes it easy to read outdoors on a bright day.  The viewing angles aren't the widest but still very usable for multiple people to view at once. After all, the phone will be facing you 99% of the time and I doubt that anyone is having marathon gaming sessions with a group of friends on a five inch screen.

The display is clear, crisp and bright even under daylight.

Colors "pop" on screen.

Viewing angles are adequate.


Call Quality

This being a phone, the next item on the agenda is call quality.  Callers come in loud and clear on Sprints network even with  low bars on screen.  The microphone is sensitive and the second mic on the top of the phone does a great job at filtering out extraneous sound so that callers can focus on your voice. I have rarely needed to repeat myself or ask anyone to repeat themselves.  The speaker phone works great.  It's really loud and clear and most callers have not noticed that they were on speaker phone when I switched them back and forth between different speaker modes.

Audio 

I fired up Google music on many occasions and have easily paired with my bluetooth headphones for wireless listening on the go.  I have also connected standard headphones to the Nexus 5 in a pinch when needed.  The audio quality on the phone will more than suffice for most people who are not audiophiles.  Music sounds loud and clear through the headphone jack or through bluetooth and this phone can easily replace an old MP3 player.  Device convergence can be a wonderful thing.  As for the on board speaker (yes, even though there are two speaker grills, there is only one speaker on this phone) the mono sound is loud and reasonably clear but it is really best suited for speaker phone calls.  The phone is usable as a basic office radio if needed but if you are going to listen to music at the beach then it's best to bring along a bluetooth speaker for listening.

Camera

Cameras on phones have really become a game changer in the last few years.  They have all but replaced the venerable point and shoot disposable camera for most people in this day and age.   There are so many terms and technologies from different manufacturers that it would take multiple articles to cover them all.  The Nexus 5 comes equipped with a 8 megapixel camera with built in image stabilization.  With the recent update to Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat, the camera has become workable and what used to be a very slow to focus camera has been sped up significantly.  Compared to my Galaxy Note 2 or Galaxy S4, the low light performance on this phone is much better in comparison capturing more detail with less noise.  In well lit conditions, the Nexus does a fine job capturing details that should suffice for most point and shoot aficionados.  On this phone, it makes sense to keep your phone on HDR+ mode since that gives the best picture quality and now works fast enough for point and shoot sessions. As a camcorder, the phone is capable of up to 1080p video recording at 30fps.  Videos are clear with crisp sound and again, should suffice for vacation shoots.  The only real weaknesses to the camera overall are the megapixel count compared to the Galaxy or Lumia flagships that capture far more detail.  Also, even with the update, capturing fast moving objects is not this phones strong point.  You're better off taking video and extracting photos from that.  Colors are also a bit on the yellow/brownish hue as lighting gets worse.

The front facing camera is a basic 1.3mp camera with a narrow field of vision and not the greatest in low light.  It works just fine for Hangouts or Skype calls but be warned that you won't be looking like a supermodel on it under most lighting situations.  It's serviceable and not much more beyond that.

For a gallery of random shots taken with the Nexus 5, check my article here.


Low light night shots look pretty good.

Performance

In daily use, I will state that this is the fastest Android phone that I've ever used.  It could be due to all the under the hood tweaking that Android Kit Kat did or it could be the Snapdragon 800 processor in there but the performance on this phone is beastly.  Multitasking is fast and smooth.  Webpages load fast and scroll smoothly.  Multi-touch is quick and responsive with pinch to zoom , swiping, scrolling, etc.  With ART mode enabled, apps load extremely fast and games are responsive.  The on board Adreno 330 graphics gpu easily handles any current game thrown at it.  As a matter of fact, this chip is so fast that it maxed out the 3D Mark benchmark at normal settings.  It's quite the achievement.  WiFi works with both the 2.4GHZ and 5GHZ bands and connects quickly and efficiently.

Look and Feel

This is a major thing for a lot of smartphone owners so I will include it in this review.  For a $400 unlocked device with great specs, Google and LG did not skimp out on the build quality of this phone.  The black Nexus 5 has a solid, premium feel to it when you hold it.  The gorilla glass front is slick to the touch so that your fingers glide smoothly and the edges of the phone feel strong and solid.  The back of the phone has a soft touch coating that feels great in your hand and gives you an easy grip on the phone.  It feels much better built than my Galaxy phones and even the HTC one in my opinion.  It has a different feel than the aluminum iPhones but does not feel like a less expensive phone in comparison.  Overall, this is an impressive feat considering the price of this phone.  The power button is on the right side of the phone with the volume buttons (both made of ceramic, a nice touch!) on the left hand side and both felt responsive and "clicky". This Nexus also includes a slimport for physical connection to a TV. It also supports USB OTG that allows connecting of peripherals such as game controllers, keyboards, mice, thumb drives, and hard drives.  Many of these things can also be done wirelessly through miracast, bluetooth, or WiFi direct accessories if you have them but options are always a great thing to have.

Bottom speaker grill and charging micro usb/slimport

Right side power button and sim card door.


The top of the phone shows a headphone jack and secondary mic hole.

Left side of the phone has the volume buttons.

The back features the large camera fixture and "Nexus" branding.


Battery life

I have never been a fan of phones with sealed batteries.  If there is one thing that Samsung has done consistently right, it is having replaceable batteries and SD card slots on their phones.  This being a Nexus device, you should know that those options are not available on Google's hardware.  That being said, the battery life on this phone is great for a Non-removable Li-Po 2300 mAh battery.  Under normal to heavy use, I have had no issue making it though an entire work day with some charge left when I get home.  On light use this phone can easily last 2 days or more since the phone sips battery on stand by.  This is with Google now, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Gmail, Instagram, and location services all turned on while on Sprints LTE service.  I am definitely impressed with how far Android has come in terms of battery life since the days of my Epic 4G on Wimax.



Battery life with moderate use is great.


Android

This being a Nexus phone, we all know to expect quick updates to Google's latest and greatest version of Android.  At the time of this article, the latest version of Android is 4.4.2 Kit Kat which mostly tweaked the speed of the Nexus 5 camera and fixed bugs.  For a complete review of Kit Kat, you can read my review of it here.  To add to that review (that was done on a Nexus 7 tablet) I will add that the phone app on the Nexus 5 just works and allows easy access to all of your contacts with features such as Caller ID and Quick responses.  You also have three of your favorites visibly pinned to the top of your screen at all times along with your last call.  Holding down on a contact lets you move them around the screen to whatever location you choose.

Hangouts is the default SMS client on the Nexus and while it works fine for things like group messaging and MMS, it still needs some work with its lack of organization.  It automatically lumps together your Google+ contacts with your phone contacts with no easy way to hide them.  For those with many contacts this can be a major headache to deal with.  In fact, while I like Google+, I had to turn off  linking with my contacts or this became an issue with the phone app as well.  Can you imagine all of your IM contacts mixed in with your phone contacts which may include business contacts as well as family with almost no way to tidy it up?  It can get messy and frustrating and is an area that Google definitely needs to work on.  Another strange thing about Hangouts is that even for combined contacts it keeps separate threads for SMS and Hangout messaging.  This is a boon for some and a detriment for others.  I would prefer a toggle to let me choose either combined imessage style messaging or the current option of keeping everything separate.  In another bizarre twist, the iOS version of hangouts allows for internet calling through your Google voice number (if you have one) and the Android version does not yet have this feature.  Luckily, this version of Android allows for easy switching of the default SMS app.  I would suggest that you turn off Google+ integration until they get it fixed to hide entire circles so that they don't clutter up your phone and SMS apps. You have been warned.

Google Experience Launcher

Exclusive to the Nexus 5 is the "Google Experience Launcher" which is exactly what it sounds like.  Google has taken Google Now, and has welded it to the vanilla Android launcher.  Swiping to the right on your home screen brings you to a full screen Google Now screen complete with its built in widgets and personalized information.  Swiping to the left of your home screen will bring you to any additional screens that you may have set up.  The Google Search widget is now integrated on your home screen is always listening for the "OK Google" command and works great and is highly accurate in daily use.  The app drawer now has a translucent background that allows you to see your home screen while using it and has removed the widgets tab.  To access widgets, you now simply long press on any empty part of your home screen which will also allow you to change your wallpapers and search settings.

The updated Widget selection screen.

The app drawer now features a translucent background.

My home screen layout.


Overall

Google has done some amazing things considering the price of this phone.  The build quality is great, you get a decent amount of storage (16GB and 32GB versions) for the price, all day battery life, and the specs are great.  Although, I wish that there were more options in terms of additional storage at higher prices, most people should be content with the 32GB versions offered.  I also have to commend that this phone is as close to universal as it can be with it being available unlocked for use with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint.  The fact that it can be bought directly from Google and allowed on Sprints network is a great achievement.  It can be painful for some to get the phone activated since getting a SIM card from Sprint can be an ordeal (as in my article here) but luckily not everyone has had my issues in obtaining a micro sim card in the case of Sprint.  Your mileage may vary.  Smaller GSM carriers like MetroPCS, Straight talk, Solavei, etc also work just fine with the Nexus and if you don't need full LTE coverage, this is also a world phone outside of the USA.  Unfortunately, Verizon users are not allowed to the Nexus party due to that companies draconian policies towards choice and openess on their network.  Sadly, they continue to keep their devices locked down and it's obvious that after the debacle that was the Galaxy Nexus, Google and Verizon policies do not mix.

If you want a world phone that runs stock android, does almost everything well with top of the line specs, is priced aggressively, and don't mind the compromises in removable storage and battery then the Nexus 5 may be the phone for you.  Otherwise, if you need a removable battery and Micro SD card then you may want to look into the Galaxy S4 Google Play edition.

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