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Google Nexus 5 – Almost Spot On

There’s a new stealth device out from Google. It’s slim, it’s light, it’s sleek, it’s fast, it comes in two colours; and currently has a mediocre camera. Welcome, the Nexus 5.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Google finally released the highly anticipated and much hyped Nexus 5 – a low-cost but well spec’d phone built by LG. Rumours suggested the Nexus 5 would essentially be a Google version of the LG G2 and for the most part, they were right. Though there’s one main difference; the camera.

A high proportion of Android devices are equipped with notoriously bad cameras and Nexus devices have always followed that trend. While handsets from Google tend to have high specs, they also tend to feature poorly in the photography department. Despite most of the internals being carried over from the highly rated G2, the camera was not. And so, instead of a top-notch 13mp shooter, it’s lumbered with a not-so-top-notch 8 megapixels.

The Nexus 5 is, for me, at the upper limit of what size is acceptable.

The Nexus 5 is, for me, at the upper limit of what size is acceptable.

The incredibly sleek front, interrupted only by the white earpiece.

The incredibly sleek front, interrupted only by the white earpiece.

It’s something users have come to expect because for the low price of £299, what more can you ask for? Nexus’ are and always have been incredible value for money. You get the latest internals which equals a lightning fast experience, slightly lower quality build quality (when compared to an iPhone or the HTC One, for example) all for a price that is £250 less than the newest iPhone. Where Google choose to price-save is mostly in the camera department.

Click the images below see the full-size, original versions.

Camera Sample 1. Click for originals.

Camera Sample 1.

Camera Sample 2.

Camera Sample 2.

Camera Sample 3.

Camera Sample 3.

Camera Sample 4.

Camera Sample 4.

That’s not to say the camera is poor, however. Far from it. It’s no iPhone and it’s not a Nokia 1020 but it’s more than adequate. You won’t stumble across a shot where people ask, “wow, what camera do you use?”, but for general viewing on your phone, tablet, computer or TV, they are sufficiently good enough. In well lit conditions, there isn’t so much to choose between an iPhone 5S shot but where it currently falls behind is in how long it takes to snap an image. The shutter lag is horrendous, which means taking a picture of anything even slightly moving is nearly out of the question. There’s also a problem with focussing, where annoyingly it occasionally doesn’t lock on during the first couple of attempts.

It’s not all over yet though because it’s likely Google can fix these two issues in a software update. When that comes through, things will more than likely change dramatically, turning this sub-standard camera into something more than half decent.

The rear facing 8 megapixel camera with Optical Image Stabilisation.

The rear facing 8 megapixel camera with Optical Image Stabilisation.

The good news is that besides the camera, the Nexus 5 is a brilliant device. I sometimes have to remind myself of the sub £300 price point because the speed of it is second to nothing thanks to the Snapdragon 800 processor (quad-core at 2.26GHz) and 2GB of memory.

Crammed into the 8.59mm body is a 2300mAh battery, which, by the standards of most phones is a bit small. Frankly, they’d have been better fitting in a 3000mAh pack and adding the tiniest bit of thickness. Because of the 5″ display, it’s easy to eat the battery quickly on full brightness, but turning it down helps immensely. And not many people use their phone on full brightness, anyway. After the first couple of days, battery life became a concern due to it emptying quicker than a Formula One cars fuel tank. Thankfully, it settled down and after a couple of calibration cycles, I managed to get around four hours usage (screen on time) out of a charge, with well over a day on standby. I have to admit to having the brightness set to a minimum level and only turning it up when I was in bright sunlight. Happily, I’d still expect to get 3.5 hours usage on full brightness. And all of that using only a cellular signal. Google actually claims usage times of up to 8.5 hours on Wi-Fi but I can only dream of hitting such numbers.

No physical buttons here, aside from the volume and power switches.

No physical buttons here, aside from the volume and power switches.

So what about that expansive screen? It’s a full 1080p IPS display. No AMOLED here, so no super sumptuous blacks but what a beautiful panel this is. Pixel density is a gloriously high 445ppi and text is sharper than ever in even the smallest of font sizes. Images and HD video pop and web-browsing real estate is plentiful. Coming from a 4″ iPhone screen, it’s a pleasure to have that extra content immediately visible. Colours aren’t over the top but they’re not dull either and viewing angles seem pretty nice too. The best bit though, is how the display fades into the incredibly sleek front of the device. Just a sheet of pure, reflective black. Sort of.

The front of the white Nexus 5 is interrupted only by a bright white earpiece top and centre. It’s a different choice, if not slightly odd and it did take a little getting used to. Now I am, I like it. It’s almost glow in the dark and reflects sunlight like a mirror. It un-apologetically breaks the otherwise pristine front and it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.

The back cover of the Nexus 5 is a non-removable plastic that feels neither expensive – like the iPhone 5C – or cheap – like the Samsung Galaxy S4. Across the middle, written in landscape is ‘Nexus’ subtly embossed and coloured a light grey. It’s big but not in your face. The camera is positioned in the upper left corner along with the flash.

Glossy plastic edges work well on the white model.

Glossy plastic edges work well on the white model.

On the white model, Google went with glossy black plastic edges to separate the front from the back. I think they chose well because the matte finish used on the black model would’ve contrasted in a strange way with the reflective screen and opposing white back.

On the top right edge of the device is the power button and on the left sits the volume up and down rocker. All the buttons are made, unusually, out of ceramic. This is an area where most manufacturers skimp – it’s an easy place to cut corners – but Google, for whatever reason, chose to avoid this potential money saver.

For me at least, the device size is at the upper limit for what is acceptable as an every day phone. The Samsung Galaxy Note is simply too large and now, the iPhone feels a bit too small. The Nexus 5 sits in a place where it’s possible to reach the top corners in one handed use and easily type or tap without needing the hand that remains gloved and warm in my jacket pocket. At 130 grams, it’s also very light for a phone rocking a 5” display.

The Nexus 5 has a stunningly sharp 1080p IPS display.

The Nexus 5 has a stunningly sharp 1080p IPS display.

The plastic back is adorned with the device name.

The plastic back is adorned with the device name.

There’s one more negative.

The speaker. It’s truly the worst bit about the Nexus 5. When people suggest the camera is bad, they obviously haven’t tried using the speaker because their attention would quickly have changed. It’s quiet. So quiet in-fact that I’d suggest it’s half the volume it should be. It’s not a problem for notifications but for playing videos in anything but a quiet room, it’s terrible. We can certainly rule the Nexus 5 out as a device for our Grandparents. They have trouble hearing the television even when it’s set to a 9.5 magnitude earthquake inducing level so they’re never going to be able to hear a call coming in on a Nexus 5. Maybe this is something else Google can fix or adapt in a software update – I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Like the iPhone, only one side of the perforations are a speaker.

Like the iPhone, only one side of the perforations are a speaker.

On the whole it appears there’s a fairly neutral balance of positives and negatives and while that would be true in terms of numbers, the actual experience with the Nexus 5 is a great deal better. Every phone has its quirks or something you wish was better. Battery life on iPhones isn’t great, build quality on Samsung phones is below par and Google phones need a better camera.

You learn to live with each devices’ foibles and living with the Nexus 5 has been just as easy as living with an iPhone for the past five and a half years.


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