• Nexus 5 Review



    The Nexus 5 is the newest iteration of the Pure Google Experience smartphones. Like the Nexus 4 before it, this one is manufactured by LG (and it has their logo on it lest you forget). Itís roughly based on the new LG G2, but the two phones differ in a number of ways. The most obvious is that the G2 has a 13-megapixel camera and a 5.2-inch display, while the Nexus 5 has an 8-megapixel shooter and a 5.0-inch display.

    This time around Google has decided to officially support LTE. While there was a working LTE radio in the Nexus 4, it could only be made to work on Band 4 which virtually limited it to use in Canada, plus you had to make a change to the settings each time you booted the phone to get it to work.

    RF Performance


    To test LTE performance I could use my own basement, as there were enough places down there where I could reduce the LTE signal on Rogers to gain an appreciation for the phoneís ability to pull in a signal. To make sure that the phone didnít ďfall offĒ of LTE and drop to HSPA when the phone felt the signal had become too weak, I forced both the Nexus 5 and my Samsung Galaxy GS4 to stay on LTE all the time. Now that the phones hang onto LTE even when the signal become very weak, but LTE is remarkably good at retaining exceptionally useful data rates and surprisingly low latency at horrendously low signal levels.

    One of my test locations was my cloths dryer, as that created a Faraday cage that would block most of the signal (expect for a tiny bit that made it through the open door). To ensure that I still had a usable data connection I ran Google Maps in satellite mode and I moved the map over to areas where it hadn't yet downloaded the map squares. If there was data service, the map squares would load.

    I didnít have to worry about the phones selecting Band 7, simply because it wasn't strong enough down there and the phone always chose Band 4. I could force the Nexus 5 onto LTE-only, but I couldn't specify which band, and so the penchant for the phone to prefer Band 4 was useful. I could force my GS4 onto Band 4 explicitly.

    In dryer test the RF performance of the Nexus 5 and my Samsung Galaxy GS4 were approximately equal, but the GS4 hung on to the signal just a little bit longer, but not by enough to be statistically significant. The next test involved placing the phone on a piece of cardboard (to protect it) directly on the concrete floor in a corner of the basement. In this test the GS4 won by enough to consistently provide a sluggish, though usable, data connection while the Nexus 5 lost service.

    So while the GS4 wins by a tiny amount over Nexus 5 in its ability to hang on to a weak LTE signal, it is unlikely that it would be detectable in real-world use. More importantly, when the phones were tested in locations where the signal was strong enough to be borderline, but perfectly usable otherwise (approximately -118 to -121 dBm with an RSRQ of between 12 and 16 dB) both phones provided almost identical transfer rates and ping times.

    WiFi Performance



    This aspect of the Nexus 5 performance also tied with the GS4. Both phones pull in the same signal levels and they both provide approximately the same transfer rates (up and down) for a given WiFi signal. There really isnít much to say about this.

    Audio Performance



    During incoming calls the audio quality through the native earpieces of the Nexus 5 and the GS4 are virtually identical. They have approximately the same volume and almost identical tonal balance. The nod has to go to the GS4 however, because it includes a volume boost option in the phone app that allows it to get much louder in situations where it is necessary (such as when it a noisy environment or when speaking with a very faint caller).

    The speakerphone mode of the Nexus 5 doesn't fair so well however. The speaker on the GS4 is definitely louder and it has a nicer tone than the one in the Nexus 5. Once you factor in the volume boost option of the GS4, the Nexus 5 doesnít even come close in speakerphone performance.

    Multimedia Audio



    While not quite as bad as the speaker on the Sony Xperia Z1, the native loudspeaker in the Nexus 5 is fairly poor when compared to the GS4. When I played the same MP3 file on both phones the GS4 was louder, cleaner, crisper, and had more depth. The Nexus 5 sounded like a cheap piezo speaker from days of yore.

    And as I noted in the Z1 review however, keep in mind that the GS4 pales in comparison to the Boom Sound output of the HTC One. This should give you some idea of how poor the sound quality is on the Nexus 5 built-in speaker. As with the Z1, it gets the job done, but thatís about the only good thing I can say about it. I rather imagined that the HTC One would have set a new standard for the industry, but seems some manufacturers (in this case LG) just donít get it.

    Display



    The Nexus 5 comes with a 5.0-inch LCD panel that at first glance looks really nice. However, after I made numerous comparisons to other displays, including the Super AMOLED panel on the Galaxy GS4 and a number of LCD monitors on my various computers, I couldn't escape the fact that the colors are rather inaccurate. For the most part they are a tiny bit washed out, especially the blues and grays. Other colors, such as reds, are rather dark. I doubt this is a function of the LCD panel and more a case of the ďtuningĒ of color provided by the firmware.

    As the viewing angle increased the brightness of the screen decreases at a much steeper rate than you see with the GS4. However, unlike many other LCD panels I've recently tested, including the very disappointing one on the Sony Xperia Z1, the screen doesn't suffer from any wash-out or color shift as the angle increases. Except for the noticeable drop in brightness, the overall color balance and contrast remains the same no matter how you view the screen.

    Black levels, while not quite as jet black as an AMOLED display, are actually pretty decent for an LCD panel. In fact, I felt the blacks were about AS BLACK as Iíd ever seen before on an LCD panel.

    When it comes to screen brightness however, the Nexus 5 has it all over the GS4. The maximum light output of the Nexus 5 screen is noticeably brighter than the GS4 and this makes for easier viewing in direct sunlight. Itís about on par with the HTC One.

    Camera



    The Nexus 5 comes with an 8-megapixel shooter that is remarkably similar in its overall performance to the 13-megapixel camera in the GS4, but with a little less detail. They both do about equally in low light, though the Nexus 5 handles noise a bit better. They both produce approximately equal quality pictures under most circumstances (with a slight nod to the GS4 for having more pixels, and to the Nexus 5 for having slightly less noise). However, where the GS4 shines is in its Samsung camera software, which is just light years better than the rather vanilla software that comes with virgin KitKat.

    The Nexus 5 does include an HDR mode, which works quite well in brightly-lit outdoor conditions, but seems to have little effect used indoors. Itís not quite as good as the HDR on the GS4, but it still manages to do a nice job of balancing bright and dark area in sunlit photographs.

    So the camera on the Nexus 5 is pretty good, but hardly top-of-the-line. However, compared to the cameras that have come on some of the previous-generation Nexus models, this one is certainly a step in the right direction.

    GPS

    As I usually do, I ran numerous side-by-side comparisons of the GPS accuracy by using Sportstracker Pro to record various drives. I sat in the passenger seat and I held both the GS4 and Nexus 5 in my hands so that they had the same clear view of the satellites though my carís front windshield. To cancel any possible bias that having the Nexus 5 in one hand or the other might have caused I switched hands frequently throughout the drives.

    The accuracy of the GPS in the Nexus 5 is quite good and it almost matches that of the GS4. However, it produces more oddball errors and the paths are less straight when the car was travelling in a straight line. However, the small magnitude of error and the low frequency of their occurrence was enough to declare the Nexus 5 GPS as one of the better ones out there.

    However, overall GPS sensitivity seems to be slightly lower in the Nexus 5 than the GS4. When I took the phones into my basement I got faster locks on the GS4, with higher accuracy, and more satellites involved.

    Processor and Chipset

    Like the Z1 the Nexus 5 comes with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, which includes the Adreno 330 GPU. This chipset is noticeably faster than the Snapdragon 600 in the GS4, especially if you test it using graphics-intensive apps. Aside from games, one such app is Google Maps when it displays a plethora a 3D buildings viewed at a severe angle. As the map is moved you can see that the Nexus 5 generates a higher frame rate than the GS4, but the difference isn't huge.

    Apps consistently open a tiny bit faster on the Nexus 5, but itís difficult to know for certain how much of the performance difference is a result of the CPU/GPU and how much is KitKat version of Android. A number of reviews of KitKat have suggested that itís faster and smoother than Jellybean 4.2.2, which means some of the increase in performance can be attributed to it.

    Battery Life

    When the screen is off and the phone is idling (even with the WiFi off and the phone is on LTE) the battery life is quite good. However, the moment you turn on the screen and start to use the phone the batteryís charge drops like a rock. The phone comes with a 2,300 mAh battery, which is 300 mAh smaller than the one in the GS4, but running a more power-hungry processor and GPU.

    To get a feel for the battery drain I installed one of my favorite apps, namely Battery Monitor Widget. Once you ensure it has the battery capacity right (which it usually does, because it gets it from the O/S) and give it a little time to track the performance of your battery, it can estimate how long the battery will last under a variety of different scenarios. The one weíre interested in is real-time drain, in which it projects how long the battery will last at the current drain rate. Compared to the GS4 this rate of decline is shockingly steep. These figures are born out by a seat-of-the-pants feel based purely upon noting the battery percentage from time to time.

    The Pure Google Experience

    If you like to be on the bleeding edge of Android releases, then the Nexus line is the way to go. However, one of the prices you pay for being right out front is that you get all the bugs in your teeth (pun intended). While most apps will run just fine under KitKat, I observed a number of problems as I played with the phone. For example, few of apps display an ugly pixilated outline font instead of nice filled-in font they show on older versions of Android. Iím sure the list of problems goes on and on, and Iím equally sure they will all eventually be fixed as the developers of these apps release versions that work correctly under Android 4.4. Unlike that time you get the pleasure of putting up with these bugs.

    Conclusions



    The Nexus 5 is a pretty decent Android phone at a pretty decent price. While nothing really stands out, nothings really disappoints, plus the price-to-performance ratio is about the best youíll find anyway. One aspect of the Nexus line as a rule can be both a curse and a blessing, depending upon your point-of-view. Running pure Android means you get snappier performance and no bloat, but you also loose many of the really great tweaks that manufacturers usually include in their versions of the O/S. In the case of the GS4, you get a first-rate camera app that makes the one in the Nexus seem amateurish by comparison.

    I wouldn't recommend a Nexus 5 to people who arenít explicitly interested in the pure Google experience, but the price is hard to ignore. If you are interested in getting that experience however, the best phones to compare the Nexus 5 to would be the special editions of the GS4 and the HTC One which come with pure Android in them. However, you still have to wait for Samsung or HTC to update the O/S, whereas the Nexus 5 gets its versions of Android directly from Google. In addition, the Nexus 5 is now ahead of the GS4 and HTC One in the processor/GPU department and they both cost markedly more.

    I generally enjoyed the time I spent with the Nexus 5, but I found plain-Jane Android to be a little bit disappointing in a number of ways. I guess Iíve just gotten used to the tweaks that Samsung puts in their versions of Android.

    Pros:


    • Fast processor
    • Pretty good LCD screen
    • Pure Android (Makes both lists)
    • Excellent GPS accuracy


    Cons:


    • Poor battery life
    • Poor multimedia speaker
    • Pure Android (Makes both lists)
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Nexus 5 Review started by Steve Punter View original post
    Comments 23 Comments
    1. lvlagnum's Avatar
      lvlagnum -
      That was a very well written and informative review, Steve. Thank you for posting it. It's nice to read a review which is based on real world testing and experiences rather than just a technical specification list. And it's good you compared the Nexus 5 to a few other phones in some categories. But I for one would like to see a review such as this one but including as many of the main contenders as possible. Phones not only such as you have mentioned but the Moto X and other newer and common phones which consumers can find in electronics shoppes today. And perhaps even a retest when those devices get the 4.4 KitKat update. That might eliminate any differences between phones which have the 4.4 update and those which don't. Thanks again for your efforts. :-)
    1. Steve Punter's Avatar
      Steve Punter -
      It would be nice to compare each phone reviewed with tons of others, but I rarely ever get that opportunity. However, as I do always compare whatever I'm reviewing with my current phone (which has been the GS4 since June) you need only read my review for whatever phone you want to compare the current review phone to and see how it stacked up against the GS4, then compare that with how the current review phone stacked up. Granted, I've only just started to post on HoFo, but I always post my reviews on my own web page at www.arcx.com/sites.

      Anyway, say you wanted to see how the RF performance of the Nexus 5 stacked up against the Moto X. Well, in my review of the Moto X I said that it had virtually identical RF performance to the GS4. I said the same of the Nexus 5, and so by extension the Nexus 5 would have virtually identical RF to the Moto X.
    1. lvlagnum's Avatar
      lvlagnum -
      Will do. Thanks again, Steve. I just tried clicking on your link but it loads as "Service Unavailable".
    1. Steve Punter's Avatar
      Steve Punter -
      I first noticed that earlier this afternoon, and I sent a message to my friend who runs the server. I haven't heard back from yet.

      Sent from my Samsung Galaxy S4
    1. lvlagnum's Avatar
      lvlagnum -
      Not a problem. I'll check it again later tonight or tomorrow. Thanks again. :-)
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      I couldn't escape the fact that the colors are rather inaccurate. For the most part they are a tiny bit washed out, especially the blues and grays.
      Though it's very much a matter of personal preference, I would counter with my own opinion that whites on the Nexus 5 ó and 4 ó and HTC One ó are more natural-looking than a Samsung AMOLED screen. Yeah, I went there.

      Anyone with 16 minutes to spare can check out this excellent video by Erica Griffin:



      TL;DW Displays are deliberately calibrated with more saturated colours so that they look better in a store display. Who knew?
    1. HC - NO "i"'s Avatar
      HC - NO "i" -
      Steve,

      Any significant observations after switching from Dalvik runtime to Android runtime?

      Acurrie,

      It sounds like you would prefer the "warmer" color tone like me Side by side with the LG G2 and Nexus 5, I also notice the G2 is relatively "cooler" than the Nexus 5. To some who preference the "whiter" white, G2 may fit the bill better than Nexus 5. (Yet, I am more than happy with the colour accuracy demonstrated by the Samsung Galaxy S4. To counter the effect, I always choose the "warmer" Movie screen mode.)
    1. Steve Punter's Avatar
      Steve Punter -
      As I said in the review of the Xperia Z1, if it's just a matter of white balance, there is no such thing as "pure white". What we perceive as white is subject to white balance performed by our brains. This is why can tolerate the red of incandescent lighting and blue/green of fluorescent lighting. Sitting around in rooms lit by incandescent light and staring at a white piece of paper, we still say it is white. The same is true of the same white piece of paper seen under fluorescent lights.

      The only time we perceive one screen to be "warmer" or "cooler" than another is when we compare them side-by-side. Many LCD computer monitors (and old CRT monitors) have a provision for adjusting the color temperature of the display to suit the environment in which the device is viewed. Smartphones should come with a sensor that determines the color temperature of the ambient light and adjusts the color temperature of the screen accordingly.

      It is pointless comparing one phone to another and harping on which one looks whiter. When you look at only one screen, the whiteness of it is largely determined by the ambient light around you, and subsequently your brain's own "white balance" at the time.

      I do however take issue with a screen for having color that is inaccurate. This isn't a matter of color temperature, but rather case where different colors of the spectrum are shifted or modified in some way that is different from other colors in the spectrum. In cases such as these it isn't possible for your brain to fully compensate for the differences.

      If you've ever worked with Photoshop and tried to fix a photograph in which there is uneven color distortions you'll know that it can't really be done (for example, trying to fix photographs taken under high-pressure sodium lighting, as this type of light doesn't have easily mapped differences in color output at various wavelengths in visible light).
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Punter View Post
      I do however take issue with a screen for having color that is inaccurate. This isn't a matter of color temperature, but rather case where different colors of the spectrum are shifted or modified in some way that is different from other colors in the spectrum. In cases such as these it isn't possible for your brain to fully compensate for the differences.
      So with respect, how exactly did you come to the conclusion that the Nexus 5's colours are "inaccurate", then? Not trying to provoke, just want to understand.

      The 5's colour accuracy seems perfectly fine to me, at least until I put it next to my girlfriend's Galaxy Nexus. Then it looks washed out ó or the Samsung looks over-saturated and excessively blue. Take your pick.
    1. Steve Punter's Avatar
      Steve Punter -
      I started by taking a photograph of various-colored items in my home. I then downloaded the image onto my computer and displayed it on various monitors and phones at my disposal. None of these monitors or other phones is likely to be perfect, but they can be used as a comparison. The colors on the Nexus 5 were as I described them in the review, which was SLIGHTLY washed out in the case of blue (or gray) and SLIGHTLY dark in the case of reds. Greens looked about right.

      I never said in the review that these were MAJOR concerns, but they were nonetheless detectable.

      You are free to ignore any parts of the review that upset you.
    1. cloneman's Avatar
      cloneman -
      Thanks for the review, Steve.

      I wonder if you had any feedback on the microphone quality from callers on the other end? There were some rumblings on the internet that this phone makes you sound tinny.

      For me, the N4's washed out screen was an issue (well solved by custom kernels like Francisco), and the somewhat mediocre volume was well solved by the xlouder patch. (Paranoid android includes both these fixes, or similarly effective ones, with no fuss)
    1. cloneman's Avatar
      cloneman -
      Thanks for the review, Steve.

      I wonder if you had any feedback on the microphone quality from callers on the other end? There were some rumblings on the internet that this phone makes you sound tinny.

      For me, the N4's washed out screen was an issue (well solved by custom kernels like Francisco), and the somewhat mediocre volume was well solved by the xlouder patch. (Paranoid android includes both these fixes, or similarly effective ones, with no fuss). Time will tell for the N5 if such issues can be resolved with software
    1. Steve Punter's Avatar
      Steve Punter -
      I didn't notice a problem with the microphone. The quality was about par for most smartphones, no better, no worse. I didn't mention it simply because of this. I don't know what might have prompted some of these "rumblings" you've heard. Perhaps there were a few Nexus 5 units out there with faulty microphones.
    1. besweeet's Avatar
      besweeet -
      How would you compare the network performance (ie. signal retention) of the Nexus 5 to an iPhone 5? I'm wondering because, when I switched from AT$T to T-Mobile, general compatibility with the higher frequencies seems rather poor (it'll sometimes get stuck on 1 bar, despite moving to areas I know has a good signal, lose LTE when it's not supposed to, tower hop too much, etc.), which also results in disgusting battery life.
    1. Steve Punter's Avatar
      Steve Punter -
      I haven't tested an iPhone 5s, and so I can't make any comparisons. Sorry.

      Sent from my Samsung Galaxy S4
    1. ijcy's Avatar
      ijcy -
      I must say that after switching to ART battery life has improved immensely, anyone else try notice this?
    1. HC - NO "i"'s Avatar
      HC - NO "i" -
      ijcy,

      This is the significant observation I am trying to figure out... intriguing.
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Fwiw, here's The Verge Mobile Show on ART ó you'll have to scrub ahead to the 20-minute mark:



      I'll flip the switch on my Nexus 5 today and see what happens...
    1. Mr Mystery's Avatar
      Mr Mystery -
      Quote Originally Posted by ijcy View Post
      I must say that after switching to ART battery life has improved immensely, anyone else try notice this?
      Made no difference for me, battery still licks ****'s
    1. besweeet's Avatar
      besweeet -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr Mystery View Post
      Made no difference for me, battery still licks ****'s
      That bothers me, since I'm considering switching from an iPhone 5 on T-Mobile where battery life DRAINSSSSSSS when Wi-Fi is off. Would be lucky to get 3 hours of usage from the thing.