Google’s value-packed Nexus 5 reviewed

Google’s Nexus 5 could well be the best value smartphone released all year, packing in one of the fastest chips of 2013, a 5 inch screen, and a price that makes it really hard to pass up.

Features

The fifth product in Google’s own series of smartphones, the Nexus 5 continues where the Nexus 4 left off and aims to improve the concept considerably, building a true Android smartphone the way that Google — the creator of Android — envisions it.

Like the last generation, this model has been built by LG, with the specs and some of the features lifted right out of a model that competes with it, though doesn’t incorporate all the same features.

In the Nexus 4, we saw Google change the LG Optimum G to match its own needs, and in the Nexus 5, it does so again with what is essentially the LG G2 smartphone sitting inside a shell that looks like an evolution of the Nexus 4, except with rubberised plastic and glass replacing the all-glass body of last year’s model.

Outside of the material change, very little of the design is different, but the specs have totally changed, and that’s where people will see the heart of LG’s G2 underneath.

That starts with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, a quad-core chip clocked at 2.3GHZ, paired with 2GB RAM, and working alongside the Adreno 330 graphics processor.

Storage on the Nexus 5 is locked to either 16 or 32GB, with no way of expanding the memory, just like on the previous Nexus model.

The screen is close to 5 inches, sitting at 4.95 inches, hence why we’ll mostly refer to it as a 5 inch display. It’s not the 5.2 inch display of the G2, but it is using the same technology, with IPS+ here, though there is a switch from Corning’s generation 2 scratch-resistant glass to the newer Gorilla Glass 3.

Connection options are all pretty up there, hardly surprising given the G2 was the template, and you’ll find 802.11 a/b/g/n and even ac WiFi here, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, Near-Field Communication (NFC), Miracast wireless display technology, GPS, and support for 4G over the Cat4 connection technology, capable of a maximum downlink of 150Mbps.

The camera side of things is a little different, with an 8 megapixel rear camera with autofocus and optical image stabilisation, and a 1.3 megapixel front camera.

One other thing makes it very different to the LG G2, and that’s the software, with Google opting to use the stock version of Android here.

There are no overlays and no special things thrown in from the company that made the hardware, as the Nexus 5 runs Android 4.4 “KitKat” the way Google intended, with an interface complete with colourful icons, a gesture keyboard, new drop down menus, multiple homescreens, lockscreen with widgets, and on-screen soft buttons.

With on-screen soft buttons, you can imagine how few hard physical buttons there are, with merely a power button on the right side, and a volume rocker on the left.

A speaker port sits at the top front above the screen, while the remaining speakers are below the phone at the bottom edge, flanking the micro USB port on the very bottom. A 3.5mm headset jack sits at the top.

The Nexus 5 takes a microSIM in the executable microSIM tray on the right edge, and the battery for the handset is rated at 2300mAh.

Performance

Built by LG, the Nexus 5 can more or less be interpreted as a slightly smaller LG G2 smartphone with a more obvious design.

We say “more obvious” because the G2 was the first time LG really broke out and changed the mould, shifting the power buttons and volume rocker from the regular position of the sides, and relocating it to the back. It took some getting used to, but some how it worked.

In the Nexus 5, LG has pushed the buttons back to the sides again, putting them in a position where anyone can use the phone easily, not just those who are getting used to LG’s unorthodox positioning.

This design is easier to get your head around, is quite comfortable, and together with the rubberised back, makes for an easy hold.

It’s still not a metal chassis like what we continually hope for, but the rubbery finish makes the Nexus 5 perfect for hands, without too much grip that pushing it into a pocket is impossible.

Even the edge where the screen is found isn’t remarkably sharp, with an obvious change from the sides to the screen occurring, but not sharp enough to hurt your hands at all.

Since we’re there, though, we’ll start with that, and the 4.95 inch screen is close enough to 5 inches to make that “Nexus 5” name more than about the fifth generation of Google’s own phone brand, but also about the screen size.

Like most flagship handsets this year, there’s a Full HD 1920×1080 panel at work here, which manages to pull in a pixel clarity of around 445 pixels per inch, well over 100 higher than Apple’s Retina-grade screen on the iPhone 5S and 5C.

In the flesh, the screen is bright and clear, with excellent viewing angles from all sides.

It’s also highly responsive as a touchscreen, which you’d definitely want because there are no soft buttons on the handset, or no printed ones anyway, as these are all built into the operating system and change location based on how you hold the phone (landscape or portrait), as well as functionality when they need to, such as disappearing while you’re watching a movie or viewing a photo.

Spec-wise, it’s like taking a page out of the G2’s book, because it’s more or less an identical area here.

Hardly a surprise, mind you, since LG built both handsets, but you’ll find the quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor lets you fly between apps quickly, with multitasking easily possible, and very little lag showing up.

Benchmarks don’t exactly prove that the Nexus 5 is the best of the bunch, which is interesting given how well the Snapdragon 800 normally performs, but benchmarks can also be synthetic and don’t necessarily give a real world example of what the handset is doing.

Despite this, our test of the handset in real-world situations found little to no slowdowns, and a speed working through the menus, web browsing, and app usage that made it just as good as everything else.

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