My very subjective Nexus 5 Review (Update 2: Battery life has improved)

Being one of the few lucky people who got his Nexus 5 on day one, I feel the urge to give you guys a little review and share my thoughts on the latest google device with you. I’ve been using the device for almost two days by now, and so far I’m very happy with it. But first….

A little bit of context:

Before jumping on the Nexus train with the Nexus 4 at the beginning of 2013, I was quite happy with my Galaxy S2, and before that I had the pleasure of using an iPhone 3gs for a few months. However, both these devices had it’s flaws: The Galaxy S2 frustrated me with delayed updates and an (IMO) ugly Samsung skin, and the iPhone 3gs just began to show its age. I really liked stock Android and I was/am a heavy google user, so getting a Nexus 4 seemed like the right choice in January. And it was. However, after all the hype surrounding the new Nexus 5, I just thought I’d give it a try. "It has to better than the Nexus 4 in every aspect" was my hope, and luckily I wasn’t disappointed.

By the way please forgive me if my English isn’t that great, I’m from Austria.

Build quality/ the outside:

Just to be clear, I’m not going to rate the size of the device. A lot of people don’t want big phones, and some people want even bigger phones. What I will say is this: The nexus 5 fits well in my hands, and I have no issues using it with one hand.

The back is very comfortable to hold and the phone won’t slide out of your hands or off a table (unlike the Nexus 4, which slid of quite a few surfaces in the past months). The hardware buttons are where they should be. The build quality in general is very good, there’s no creaking and no loose stuff anywhere. "Unapologetically plastic" comes to my mind, and that’s a good description. The N5 is another phone which shows that plastic phones can both look and feel well-made.

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via i.imgur.com

The ceramic volume and power buttons feel good, even though their edges are almost a tad too sharp for my taste.

The Display:

The display is fine. It’s bright, colorful, the resolution is incredible and I can’t spot individual pixels even if I’m trying. I haven’t made any scientific tests in terms of color accuracy and whether it’s calibrated perfectly, but it looks a lot better than any screen I’ve used so far. Viewing angles are very good, and opening a purely black/white/red/blue/yellow image revealed no sorts of irregularities.

Wifi/LTE/Bluetooth/NFC

Everything’s onboard, and it’s working very well so far. I haven’t made any speedtests and my region still doesn’t have good LTE coverage, but with or without LTE, any network-related tasks were done blazingly fast. I had no connection problems on the two Wifi-routers I’ve been using, and connecting devices via Bluetooth works as you’d expect.

I haven’t tried NFC so far, I’ll give it a try a little later and update this review.

Speaker, Headphones & Calling Someone

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via i.imgur.com

The speaker is placed on the bottom of the phone and it’s nothing to brag about. The placement is definitely better than on the nexus 4, and you’ll always hear calls or notification (= loudness is alright) It’s still just one mono speaker though. I imagine the HTC one speakers will be miles ahead of this one.

Music over the headphones sounded good to me, definitely better than on the Nexus 4 and the Galaxy S2. It also seems louder to me: Whereas I had to listen to most music with volume 15 on my nexus 4, I’m now fine with 12/13.

Calls sound crisp and clear on both ends (that’s what I was told by the people I talked to), so that should be fine.

Camera:

Here it is, the one you’ve been looking for. So what about the camera? Well, it’s good. I have posted quite a few pictures I took on flickr, so head over to the album and see for yourself. The first pictures are comparions shots Nexus 4/Nexus 5. Just hover over the pictures to see how&with which device they were shot. All the photos were taken in rather difficult condition with rather dim lighting. I can add some bright daylight pictures if requested

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via i.imgur.com

The improvements over the Nexus 4 should be apparent to anyone who looks at the album, and as a general verdict, you should be able to take fine pictures whenever the camera software lets you.

And that’s the only problem I have with the camera: The software. First of all, it’s pretty the same software that’s also running on the nexus 4, but somehow it’s even slower. Focusing is fast enough imo, but you cannot shoot"burst" pictures because the software is slow at saving the image. You have to wait quite a bit if you switch to HDR+ mode or back, and using the flash takes a lot more time than it should. And one thing that’s really fucked up is taking close-up portrait photos of people.

The camera is generally good at focusing, but when you take a close up of a face/head, the software sometimes goes berserk. I don’t know what happens precisely, but when it does, the focus will be anywhere but on the face, no matter how perfectly placed it is. I think it has something to do with the automatic face detection of the camera software, and it should be an easy fix. It doesn’t change the fact, though, that google should start from scratch with the camera software. Samsung, HTC, Sony … have shown that you can do better.

Kitkat:

I have mentioned at the very beginning of this article that I’m a heavy google user, and I really like most of the stuff Google did with Android.

At the start, you're being greeted by a new boot animation. After that, the device setup has been pretty much unchanged from previous versions, but they have added a prompt for whether or not you want to use google now right at the end of the setup procedure. This is a helpful change and shows Google’s commitment to make Android even more ‘googley’.

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Once you’re done with the setup, the new lockscreen takes over. Lockscreen widgets are gone, and i doubt a lot of people will miss them. If you do, you can reactivate those widgets in Settings/Security. The lock screen also features a new hint that shows you how to quickly access the camera.

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Google has changed the launcher experience quite a bit: Google Now is implemented directly into the very left home screen, and the number of homescreens can now go from just 1 (it’s that way after setup) to as many as you want. I’ve added 5 home screens with 1-2 widgets each, and performance is still flawlessly snappy.

This can be said about the OS in general. Everything is fast, VERY smooth and straightforward. Everything? Well, there’s the little android stuttering when scrolling in some third-party apps and Chrome, but there’s no lag (delayed input) that would be of any concern.

The new transparent status and navigation bars look great, but work just like they did in 4.3. That’s positive, in my opinion.

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Hangouts is now the official SMS client, and there’s a new Photos app from Google+ next to the old gallery app. I guess the old app will be gone soon, the entire Camera&Photo experience is still rather buggy and has some loose ends. The camera app in particular is just awfully slow. The LG G2 camera software, which uses a similar OIS camera etc., is sooo much better. I hope Google fixes this ASAP.

To make a long story short: KitKat is great update to android and delivers a great experience on the nexus 5 with a heavy focus on making the phone googlier.

The one concern I have is that you won’t get that much google out of the Nexus 5 without having a charger with you.

Battery Life:

A lot of people – including me – were disappointed when the leaks revealed that the Nexus 5 wouldn’t carry the amazing 3000+ mAh battery of it’s brother, the LG G2.

Joshua Topolsky said in his review that battery life is inconsistent, and that sums it up pretty well. I have now spent 3 days with the device, and i couldn’t get a feel for how it performs in terms of draining the battery. Sometimes it’s great and you are astonished that you’re only dropping 2-3% of battery after 15 minutes of browsing, but other times the word "piss-poor" seems more adequate.

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I unplugged the device 3 hours and 39 minutes ago, and here’s what I’ve been doing since then:

- I watched a 5 minute video on youtube.

- I listened to music for about 25 minutes

- I took about 15 pictures and had them auto-uploaded to G+

- I sent a few Whatsapp Messages and read a few things in Falcon Pro and Google+.

- The screen was on for basically an hour.

I’m now at 71%. For me, that’s a less than what i would expect to have, and it’s probably even less than what I had on my Nexus 4.

On the other hand, i remember my Nexus 4 being terrible in terms of battery life during the first few days. Once the battery was calibrated correctly after a few charges, it tended to be a lot better. I hope the same thing will happen with the Nexus 5. In fact, battery performance seems to have improved with every full charge so far. Keep in mind that my usage pattern is probably a bit different (new device!) and there might be some sort of bug in KitKat or one of my apps that harms battery life. Usually, I’d take a look at betterbatterystats, but that doesn’t work on KitKat yet.

For the moment, consider me unimpressed and a little disappointed.

Update 2:

Okay, seems like my theory about battery calibration might have been right. One charge later, the battery lasts a lot longer than it did yesterday!

I have it unplugged now for 6 hours and 54 minutes, and here's what i did:

  • Listened to music via headphones for 30 minutes, and streamed music via play music to bluetooth speakers for another 30 minutes.
  • Took a few pictures, auto upload turned on.
  • Whatsapp, Falcon, Google+, Hangouts
  • Brightness set to automatic, which seems too agressively bright to me
  • Screen was on for 2 hours and 8 minutes
And I'm still at 57% capacity. While this is not great, it's definitely a huge improvement over yesterday if you compare the numbers. If this trend continues, battery life on this device - while not great - is certainly okay for me, and who knows, maybe it'll be even better tomorrow?!

Performance:

There’s nothing the phone can’t handle. Performance is as good as it gets on Android. I’d also say that touch input is noticeably faster than on the nexus 4 (feels like less than 100ms), but maybe that’s just my perception. Scrolling through lists or especially the Facebook feed will still stutter a little at times, but there’s no lag (as in: delayed input) of any kind.


Wrap-Up:

Upgrading to the Nexus 5 was a good decision for me. It definitely wasn’t a necessary upgrade since the Nexus 4 was still perfectly fine, but the new Nexus 5 just took many things that its predecessor didn’t do that well and improved them. The camera is a LOT better, the screen is a lot more colorful and performance has noticeably improved. Build quality is good, although the phone's 'only' got a plastic back. Battery life might have improved a bit, and I’m really enjoying KitKat so far. The speaker is now positioned somewhere where it will always be heard (Hint: Nexus 4 + Pillow)and sound output over the headphone jack has improved in volume and quality.

For me, a worthy upgrade. I will update this review tomorrow

So, this is it for the time being. What do you think? Have you gotten your Nexus 5 yet? Has my review encouraged you to do so? Or has it increased your doubts about buying it?