preview Google’s Nexus smartphone line has been gradually improving to the point where it can be taken very seriously as a competitor to big name models from rival brands such as Samsung, HTC and Apple. Will the new model, the Nexus 5, finally vault the company out in front? Read on to find out.
Note: This article represents an advanced look at the design, features and likely performance of this product, but we haven’t actually tested or played with it extensively ourselves it yet. A follow-up full review will be published when we have.
Your writer hasn’t had a chance to play with the Google Nexus 5 for any extended period, but I did fondle a friend’s review unit device for a few minutes at a party last week, and it’s safe to say that I found the unit’s design to be fantastic.
The Nexus 5 is very reminiscent of the Nexus 4. You get a similar flat black (or white, if that’s your poison) rectangle, with rounded corners. It’s a little thinner (at 8.59mm versus 9.1mm), and it’s a little larger at 69.17mm by 137.84mm compared with 68.7mm by 133.9mm. All of the normal buttons and connectors are in the usual places. But overall this is very clearly an evolution of the Nexus 4. At 130g, it weighs a little less than the Nexus 4 (139g).
However, in the design of the Nexus 5 Google also appears to have taken a little from the design ethos of both Apple and HTC. From Apple you get the flat sides of the iPhone 5/5s line (the Nexus 4 had gently sloping sides), and from HTC you get a lovely curved back composed of high-quality plastic. As good as it is, gone is the Nexus 4’s holographic glass back, which was prone to breaking when dropped.
Overall the phone feels fantastic in the hand: Similar enough to the Nexus 4 that it’s familiar and very comfortable, as that handset is, but also different enough that it takes the smartphone design evolution over the past year into account. Trust me: The moment you pick up the Nexus 5, you’ll want to keep it. I don’t know how I handed the review model back to my friend. I was only one second away from bolting for the door.
And all this isn’t taking into account the Nexus 5’s beautiful screen.
The Nexus 4 had a solid screen — 4.7″ at a resolution of 1280×768 (pixel density of 320ppi). The Nexus 5’s screen is larger, at 4.95″, and its resolution has been bumped to full HD (1920×1080), to ensure it competes with similar models such as the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4. To put it mildly, the Nexus 5’s screen is gorgeous — one of the best we’ve seen in the very crowded smartphone market. At this point, you can’t really see individual pixels anymore, colours are bright and everything is very clear.
The Nexus 5’s featureset is similarly pretty high-end, although it doesn’t match the likes of the Galaxy S4, especially when it comes to add-on software features.
You get an eight megapixel main camera with a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU clocked at 2.26GHz, an Adreno 330 graphics chip at 450MHz, 2GB of RAM, either 16GB or 32GB of on-board storage, support for 4G speeds in Australia (although not on Optus’ TD-LTE network), as well as Wi-Fi up to the emerging 802.11ac standard. NFC is is also on-board, and the battery is a hefty 2,300mAH model, and there are on-board speakers.
Perhaps one of the most visible features of the Nexus 5 is that it’s the first smartphone to feature version 4.4 (KitKat) of Google’s Android operating system. KitKat will be deploying to other smartphones shortly, including the Nexus 4, but if you want it now on a really high-end model, the best bet is to buy a Nexus 5.
KitKat brings a number of improvements to Android, such as better integration with Google voice search, a more polished design, faster multi-tasking, smarter caller ID, unified SMS/MMS/IM messaging with Google Hangouts, better printing from your phone, a redesigned Quickoffice office suite and more. We think it’ll be a solid upgrade.
So what features is the Nexus 5 missing? Well, it’s camera doesn’t appear to offer anything over already industry-leading models from the likes of Apple and Nokia — it hasn’t been redesigned from the ground up like Apple’s and Nokia’s have, it doesn’t feature a higher megapixel rating as Samsung’s does, and it doesn’t offer better low-light shots, which HTC’s ‘Ultrapixel’ delivers. Secondly, there’s no microSD card slot.
In addition, although a lot of people don’t like the extra included software, seeing as ‘bloatware’, there is no doubt that Samsung’s version of Android contains a heap more features than the versions shipped by its rivals at the moment. Features like better dual camera integration, Air View, TV integration, motion detection and more are all built into Samsung’s new models, such as the Galaxy S4 and the Note 3. The Nexus 5 offers just stock Android.
However, from a personal perspective, your writer vastly prefers the simplicity of Google’s ‘stock Android’ Nexus experience to the overly complicated features offered by vendors such as Samsung and HTC. There is an elegance to stock Android which you don’t get with models from other brands, with their software feature and UI add-ons. This is why there is demand for ‘Nexus experience’ versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, and why the Nexus 4 was such a unique model for its time.
In general, the Nexus 5’s featureset is excellent and brings it up to par with top of the line competing models. 4G support, which was missing from the Nexus 4, is particularly welcome.
In general we expect the Nexus 5 to perform excellently on almost all counts. However, it’s important to note that buyers should be careful about the camera and better performance on the Nexus 5, which have been flagged by several review sites as being a little questionable. For example, The Verge wrote with regard to the phone’s camera:
“The 8-megapixel camera on the back of the Nexus 5 is certainly capable of taking rather beautiful photos in the perfect setting. Unfortunately for us, life is not filled with perfect settings — and when you’re faced with real-world picture taking, the camera underperforms constantly and consistently.”
Engadget adds: “… shots taken in regular mode are a little too inconsistent for our tastes. The quality of our sample shots ultimately came down to factors like the direction we were facing and what time of day it was.”
When it comes to battery life, the Nexus 5’s large screen, with its high resolution, makes it a likely contender to only offer a satisfactory — not exemplary — battery life. It’ll be interesting testing out its behaviour in practice.
There is one other aspect of the Nexus 5′s performance which we need to mention here: Its price. At AU$399 for the 16GB model, or AU$449 for the 32GB model, Google’s selling this baby at an incredible price; frankly, one that’s hard to believe, given how much quality is packed in here and how much more expensive the competition is. We just find it hard to believe that you can buy something this good for $399. It’s good times for Australian smartphone buyers indeed.
(Just don’t buy the Nexus 5 from Telstra or another retailer, which are charging significantly more.)
Ladies and gents, the Google Nexus 5 looking to be the best smartphone of any stripe in Australia for the year of 2013.
It offers most of the hardware features of similar high-end models such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, does so in a form factor which is indisputably as elegant, and comes with the latest, highly refined version of the elegant stock Android experience. Unlike its predecessor, the Nexus 4, it supports 4G speeds.
Plus there’s the price. $399 is a ridiculously cheap price to pay for a smartphone this great — especially when it’s easy to fork out close to $1k for one of Apple’s latest or a few hundred dollars less than that for competing models like the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4. Even if you go through an el cheapo retailer like Kogan, which has recently cut both the One and the S4 down to $579, you’re still saving money with the Nexus 5.
The only things you’re missing out on, if you buy a Nexus 5, are Samsung’s extensive list of software features, or perhaps a better camera through Apple or Nokia. Android’s software library and overall compatibility also still isn’t up to scratch compared with iOS, but we consider that more and more a minor issue for almost all consumer, and most business buyers.
As we noted above, Delimiter hasn’t tested the Nexus 5 for more than a few minutes. We’ll publish a full review when we have. But for now, we’re confident in saying that the Nexus 5 is very much in contention for the best smartphone of 2013. This is looking like a very, very good purchase indeed. That is, if you can get one. Google’s online Play Store is likely to be continually sold out — for a reason.
Image credit: Google