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Nexus 5 hands-on: Looks like an impressive Google Android flagship

Google(s goog) launched both the Nexus 5 smartphone and Android 4.4, aka: KitKat, on Thursday morning, and after just a short bit of hands on time with the phone, I’m impressed. Unlike prior Nexus phones, which were often a feature or two away from competing with flagship phones, the Nexus 5 isn’t really lacking on paper. Nor is it — at least so far — in my very limited usage this morning.

Of course, using a phone for an hour is far different from using a phone for a week, so I’ll have a proper review after spending more time with the Nexus 5. For now, here are some first thoughts and impressions on Google’s latest phone.

  • For a phone with 5-inch display, the Nexus 5 is very light. My other go-to phones are an iPhone 5s and Moto X; both of which have smaller screens. The iPhone 5 is 18 grams lighter than the Nexus 5 but Google’s new phone doesn’t feel heavier. When I picked it up, I almost thought it was hollow. Here’s a size comparison shot of the iPhone 5s(s aapl), Moto X, Nexus 5 and Nexus 7:
    Nexus 5 size compare
  • The backing has a similar feel to the Nexus 7 tablet, which is slightly rubberized. That makes it easy to hold but also shows lots of smudges from finger oils.
  • The display is brilliant: Very bright and colorful, easy to see from all angles. It’s definitely readable outdoors. Colors don’t appear over-saturated to my eye. I also like the new font Google is using under all icons; letters are thinner — still crisp, though — so you can see more words on the home screen and app launcher.
    Nexus 5 apps
  • Google Now, if enabled, is now a dedicated screen. Swipe your home screen to the right and there’s Google Now. You can still get to Google Now by swiping up from the Home software button.
  • I’m happy to see an “always listening” feature as I use it on my Moto X many times a day. It’s not quite “always” though: The Nexus 5 has to be awake and not in an app. If it is, just say “OK Google” for a voice search or query.
  • Cameras are often the Achilles Heel of Nexus devices. I don’t think that’s the case this time. I’ve only taken a few images and one short video, but this is leaps and bounds better at image capture than any prior Nexus. The 8-megapixel sensor is quite good and you can zoom in for clear detail after the snap. Here are three quick images I took: One outdoors (it’s a dreary day), one inside close up and one inside low light. Open the outdoor image on another tab to zoom and you’ll see the camera maintains a good level of detail.
    Nexus 5 pic outdoorsNexus 5 pic closeNexus 5 low light indoors
  • In terms of performance, the Nexus 5 should hold its own with the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. I’m not seeing any lag when multitasking or doing typical activities. Video playback on YouTube is smooth. Sound comes from a pair of speakers; watching a movie trailer, the sound is pretty good although not quite as loud as I’d expect.
  • I did have the chance to run two quick benchmarks for Chrome browser performance: SunSpider 1.0.2 yielded a score of 724.6 milliseconds, while the Octane benchmark turned in a score of 3907.
  • The Nexus 5 supports wireless charging and works just fine with my Qi charging pad I use for the Nexus 7 tablet.
  • As you’d expect, SMS is part of Google Hangouts on the Nexus 5; this feature actually became available for other Android devices earlier this week.
  • I see a new Tap to Pay option in the Device Settings. That’s separate from Google Wallet, which is pre-installed and is likely for NFC usage.

I haven’t yet used the phone as an actual phone for a simple reason. The Nexus 5 uses a micro SIM card and my current devices share a nano SIM card. I’ll have to rustle up a small adapter to use the phone for voice calls and when out and about for review purposes. And of course, I can’t speak to battery life at this time.

Regardless of that, the Nexus 5 shows promise; more so than any other Nexus in my opinion, and I’ve either owned or used them all. That’s to be expected, of course — new tech cycles typically improve the hardware. But this Nexus is a little different because I see no glaring feature omission on the hardware cycle. At least not yet. Stay tuned for my full review.

Update: This post was updated at 12:56pm PT to correct the weight difference between the iPhone 5s and the Nexus 5

67 Responses to “Nexus 5 hands-on: Looks like an impressive Google Android flagship”

  1. Good review Kev…..and I enjoyed especially enjoyed reading your response to comments….. I don’t think the camera photos look all that great. (Photos from LG G2 are the same I would assume and I saw examples of them also).

  2. This phone certainly beats out most other flagships for that price (S4, H1, G2), but I can’t shake the feeling the Moto X would still be a better fit to me (nearly the same size screen, much easier to use one handed, AMOLED for Active Display). As an owner of the X, would love to hear your thoughts comparing the 2 in the future. Maybe the N5’s size is close? Hard to tell from pictures. The OIS on the N5 seems like a huge step up over other cameras too.

      • Sudsington

        Thanks for the hands on Kevin. In your opinion, which phone had the better camera overall? The Moto X or the Nexus 5? I’m torn between the two for several reasons, that being one of them

        • I’d say the Nexus 5 is better out of the box. HDR+ is a nice, well done feature and I seem to get greater detail when zooming, even though the sensor has fewer pixels.

          There’s still room for improvement though: The camera is a bit slow IMO, given the hardware inside.

  3. Android users unite! Did you know what Dieter Bohn commented about Android Nexus 5 at The Verge Youtube channel?! WHAT AN ASSHOLE! WHAT A JERK!!!! I wrote to The Verge to ask them to fire this guy! I would respect his opinion if it’s a total review but to snarky comments like that ON A HANDS-ON and generalizing all Androids?! Totally shameful!! Just UNFORGIVABLE!

  4. Help me!

    I just saw a Nexus 4.

    I went to Google Play via a desktop web browser. I was one of the early ones immediately after the Nexus 5 was announced.

    The Nexus 4 was listed under the Nexus 5, on the same page. It said the Nexus 4 was two-hundred-and-something dollars. When I refreshed the page, it was gone.

    Oh well. I guess everyone will think I imagined it, as I seem to be the only person on the planet to have seen it. Or maybe the Nexus 4 really is making a return. Anyway, I ordered the Nexus 5.

    I look forward to the Nexus 5 HDR photo feature. We have enough megapixels. We don’t need more. My biggest gripe about phone cameras (or any cheap camera) is that they bleach out the highlights. Bright objects go completely white with no detail. The HDR feature will get around that. I expect Nexus 5 owners will be able to create stunning professional looking photos, provided they run the HDR photo through an app that can adjust HDR photos (such as Photoshop and others).

  5. This is a nice phone, but will this phone convince many to get it rather than and iPhone or a Samsung….. maybe a few, but not enough that either Apple or Samsung will even blink an eye.

  6. Small battery is the glaring fault here.
    Especially with the always on functionality, big bright LCD 1080p screen, and google now stuff.

    I bought one, but Im preparing myself to be majorly let down

    • Same here. I bought one so I could see for myself. If I had waited until reviews were in I’d probably half to wait several weeks to get one. If the battery is bad enough I’ll return it or sell it.

    • It comes down to how well KitKat manages battery and apps, as well as how much power the screen uses battery to determine overall how well the battery will perform. If you have 10 apps running in the background always, you cant expect it to last as long as it could. Lets put things into perspective rather than worrying about how big the number is for the battery mAh.

  7. beenyweenies

    From the various early leaks, it sounds as though the camera might be the weakest attribute of this device and I know a lot of people are eager to learn more about it and see sample images.

    Any chance you can fire off a few more pictures in a variety of conditions, including using the flash?

    • If you ask me.. Google has done hardly anything that is ground-breaking except web search. All their new innovations have been average. Android was not their own it was bought.
      chrome OS is a biggest failure of the decade followed by hhmmmm none.
      All the nexus phones are low standard cheap imitations of itself. Apple is by far the standard a benchmark for google and it always be like that

      • rjohnson69

        Troll me Sam I Am. Apple has all their issues on their ecosystem failure and the terms used in “purchases” of all content. Back in the early days I had purchased many audio tracks from iTunes only to find out that if you don’t have a backup of those purchases locally, you are SOL to get them back. One hard drive failure and all money was lost. Much more has been done on the Android side that Apple too has simply copied or added on after the fact. Bottom line… If you are buying a Nexus, you are largely looking at that pure Google experience.

      • Gmail, Google Now, Docs, Drive, Google Reader, Self Driving Cars, Street View, Adsense. Youtube, Google Voice etc etc

        if it were not for google and left to the likes of apple/microsoft we would be paying an arm and a leg for all of their versions of the above (apart from adsense ofcourse, they would be happy to give that to you for free).

        Learn to give credit where its due. Apple has done a fanstastic job but so has Google.

        • All you apple fan boys need to shut it. He wasn’t hating on iphone in this video at all. Do you people not understand if android phones never existead your iphones would cost triple what they cost now because they would be a monopoly. Maybe you should learn a little more about what you can do with an android phone and what you can’t do with an iphone before you all talk smack. You look like idiots insulting what you know nothing about. And the phone cost half of what an iphone costs for a bigger display, better processing power, voicless control and double the ram thats in an iphone 5s. And as for comparing a nexus to an iphone. You can’t, some people like androids open source os with the ability to costumize every aspect of it, and some people like apples simple but boring os which gives you no control over your own device what so ever.