Google Nexus 5 Review
Google Nexus 5 Review

Key Features:

  • 4.95in display (1080 x 1920 pixels)
  • Snapdragon 800 Chip
  • Android 4.4
  • HDR+
  • Optical Image Stabilisation
  • Price as Reviewed: £299

Google Nexus 5 Review

Google has been working with hardware manufacturers to produce smartphones under its Nexus programme since 2009. Initially it was HTC, then Samsung for the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, but last year Google decided to go with LG to produce the Nexus 4.

While sales figures may not have challenged the likes of Samsung or Apple, it was widely praised and seen as the first Nexus to really challenge the flagship smartphones from major manufacturers - I even dubbed it the best smartphone in the world.

It was a great combination of excellent hardware and more importantly, software which was finally beginning to feel like it could challenge the experience of iOS on Apple devices.

And of course that low price.

A year on and Google has unsurprisingly stuck with LG for its latest Nexus smartphone, the Nexus 5, which will showcase the company's latest version of its operating system, Android 4.4 (KitKat).

The question is, can Google retain its title of having the best smartphone in the world?

Nexus 5: Design

I gave the Nexus 5 to someone who is completely uninterested in smartphones, as I wanted to get their reaction to the design and feel of the phone. Their reaction was one of indifference, shrugging and saying: "So it's just like any other smartphone out there."

Google Nexus 5 Review
Google Nexus 5 Review

Now I admit the Nexus 5 is basically a rectangular lump of black plastic and glass which is how 90% of the smartphones on sale could be described. It doesn't even have the shiny rear cover of the Nexus 4 to set it apart.

But if first impressions are less than awe-inspiring, spend a week or more with the Nexus 5 and you will find a phone which is perfectly weighted, slim and light.

While the iPhone 5s almost disappeared in my pocket with its svelte, lightweight profile, the same cannot be said for the Nexus 5. However with a screen a full inch larger that is not surprising.

LG's engineers need to be congratulated on increasing the screen size from 4.7in while making the phone lighter (130g compared to 139g) and thinner (8.6mm compared to 9.1mm).

The phone doesn't use metal in its construction like the iPhone or HTC One but for me this doesn't detract from the design and feel of the phone. The matte black plastic finish feels great in the hand, and keeping the power and volume buttons black as well adds to the sleek look of the phone.

The only problem I have with the design is the protruding camera lens on the rear which makes you worry every time you put your phone down, worrying you will scratch the lens cover.

Nexus 5: Screen

The screen is 4.95in when measured diagonally and has a Full HD resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels giving it a pixel density of 445 pixels per inch (ppi). This compares very favourably with the 4.7in screen on the Nexus 4 which had a resolution of 768 x 1280 and a pixel density of 318ppi.

Google Nexus 5 Review
Google Nexus 5 Review

The IPS panel is superb. It is crisp, clear and has excellent, accurate colour reproduction. It is hard to say this is a better display than the HTC One or Galaxy S4, but considering both cost a lot more, it is a success to be just on a par with these excellent screens.

Nexus 5: Performance

Two things make this phone one of the fastest smartphones out there.

First the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 800 chip from Qualcomm which features a quad-core processor running at 2.3GHz which is paired with 2GB of RAM.

The second is the fact the Nexus 5 is running a pure version of Android 4.4 (KitKat). It is not encumbered with the skins seen on other Android powerhouses such as Samsung's TouchWiz and HTC's Sense.

It means navigation and multitasking is virtually flawless. Android has also become a much more robust OS. Gone are the days when it regularly crashed and forced you to restart you phone. KitKat is a much more complete piece of software and helps make the experience one which is a pleasure rather than a fight.

Google Nexus 5 Review
Google Nexus 5 Review

Gaming, HD video streaming, multi-tabbed web-browsing and uploading and downloading files all happened without making the phone break a sweat.

KitKat also puts Google voice search front and centre. While the phone isn't always listening for the OK Google command in the same way the Moto X is (even when the screen is off), with the Nexus 5 you can initiate voice searches just by saying "Ok Google" when you are on the home screen.

Google is pushing to make vocie search as natural as possible and this is a big step towards that. To get this feature to work, you will need to change the default vocie search language to US English, as the feature doesn't work with UK English for some reason. To do this go: Settings > Language & Input > Voice Search

I did however encounter a problem with the camera app on my review unit. It kept crashing, and at times even when it was working it would only show a black screen despite nothing blocking the lens. Not ideal when you need you phone to be a reliable way of capturing images.

Nexus 5: Connectivity, Storage and Battery

As you would expect, you get Bluetooth and NFC included as well as support for the faster Wi-Fi ac standard.

The phone supports the full range of 3G and 4G networks in the UK, though is currently not on sale directly through some networks such as Vodafone.

Google Nexus 5 Review
Google Nexus 5 Review

The phone comes with either 16GB or 32GB of storage on board but sadly there is no way of increasing the storage through an SD card, something which is becoming a rarity in smartphones these days.

The battery on the phone is nothing to write home about. It will just about last you a day, but with heavy use you will need to charge it by 6pm, which is not exactly ideal if you are out and about.

Nexus 5: Camera

The camera was probably the biggest let down of the Nexus 5 for me. I'm not saying the camera is bad, it's not, it's just not at the level of the cameras in the iPhone and Galaxy S4, and certainly not near the level of imaging technology seen in the Lumia 1020.

However when compared to the rather poor camera on the Nexus 4, this is a major step up in class - so I guess it depends on where you are coming from.

While the number of megapixels remains the same at 8, LG has increased the size of the image sensor for better low light performance as well as adding optical image stabilisation.

Google Nexus 5 Review
Google Nexus 5 Review

While the level of detail was OK, there was noticeable softness at the edges of the images captured and white balance was consistently an issue. Low light image capture was better, but still not great.

The camera also has a new HDR+ mode which worked well, and the new camera app gives you quick access to a range of setting via a floating widget on screen. Close up macro image capture was also excellent.

Overall the camera is acceptable but was the one place the Nexus 5's budget price shone through.

Nexus 5: Value and Verdict

LG and Google need to be congratulated for once again producing a superb smartphone at a (relatively) low price.

The problem for Google is that it is now no longer the only decent smartphone available for a low price. Just last week Google itself undermined the Nexus 5' sposition as a budget champion with the launch of the Moto G smartphone, which costs less than half the price of a Nexus 5.

But price is not everything.

You could not place the Moto G in the same class as the flagship phones from Apple, Samsung, Sony or HTC - but the Nexus 5 is certainly at home in this company.

It means that the Nexus 5 is a premium smartphone but at a mid-range price.

The Nexus 5 is, for my money, the best phone on the market at the moment. It has a great design, superb screen and a really attractive price.


  • Screen 9/10 - As good as any smartphone screen out there and just about the perfect size
  • Camera 8/10 - A big improvement over last year's camera, but still not quite the quality of other premium smartphones
  • Operating System 9/10 - Android has grown-up a lot in the last 12 months, and Android 4.4 (KitKat) is a very slick piece of software
  • Design 10/10 - The design of the Nexus 5 is clean, simple and perfectly executed
  • Build quality 10/10 - Great attention to detail and no sign of flex anywhere on the phone
  • Overall 9/10 - Google has done it again, the Nexus 5 remains to my mind the best smartphone on the market today

The Good

  • Great design and build quality
  • Superb screen
  • Very powerful
  • (Relatively) cheap

The Bad

  • Camera quality is below its competitors