Google Nexus 5 Review

First Impressions

Once more this is a cast the mind back somewhat as my initial unboxing was, err, quite some time ago. The box opening was very much like that of the Nexus 4. If the box here was black rather than the mostly white, it would be almost identical. Though the box is white, the charger and charging / data cable are both thankfully, black. Honestly why Apple can’t do a black cable or charger, Christ knows. Anyway, the box is like all modern phone boxes, a pretty Spartan affair.

The phone itself too is like most phones, a black slab. Though unlike its predecessor the 5 has a plastic back and feels much lighter. Also despite it technically having a larger screen it feels much more hand friendly. With a 16:9 display it’s narrower to hold and I prefer it. The 4 always just felt so wide, too wide for my little thumb. The 5 feels infinitely more thumb friendly. Not that I’d have minded if it was a little bit smaller, maybe a 4.7 rather than a 5 inch display.

Hardware

The specs on launch were excellent. In every way it was a flagship device, clear and simple. If there was anything that it could have been said to be lacking, it would be the lack of an SD card slot. Google like to say it’s because they don’t want to include the proprietary licence for FAT32 or exFAT but given they could use ext4 if they wanted I’m sure it’s to push you to using the “cloud” for everything. Personally I still see no SD card slot as a massive downer but the trade-off is that you get everything else flagship but for a pretty bargain price.

Starting with the screen, it’s a 4.95 inch LCD with 1920 x 1080 pixels. That’s a whopping 445PPI. That means that this phone has the same number of pixels as your 40+ inch HD TV. It’s a razor sharp display and it’s a clear step up on its predecessor. I know I like AMOLED screens more but the one here is first class for an LCD. The CPU is a Snapdragon 800, quad core running at 2.3GHz, the GPU an Adreno 330 and it has 2GB of RAM. Storage can be either 16 or 32GB. The only remaining curiosity is that it, like the 4, uses Slimport rather than the more widely supported MHL for getting an HDMI signal out of its micro USB socket. In theory I care about this and want to be miffed but….. in actual use I really never use the feature other than to test and go “ooh that’s cool.” 

I almost forgot, it’s got Qi wireless charging too. That, unlike the Slimport, is something I do care about. Once you start using it you begin to wonder how you ever managed to get by with the trauma of having to plug in a cable. Honestly, plugging in a cable seems like such a massive chore to me now. Love Qi charging.

Audio Software

If you have at all used an Android phone is you are in some way familiar with the primary musical source in my opinion. That is of course Google’s Play Music. A stupid sounding name it may be but it’s a good service. You have the streaming option, where you can subscribe and stream whatever you want, much like Spotify. The other option though, the one I like, is free. Not just because it’s free but because it allows me to stream my own music to each and every device and I don’t have to manage it, or have it auto select what can fit on to the phones storage, eating all of the phones available space. You have the ability to upload up to fifty thousand tracks to Google, for free, that you can then stream back as you wish. The quality is pretty decent too, 320kbit mp3’s so for coming out of your phone it’s good enough.

If you fancy another option you have pretty much every other streaming service in the world available on Android. If none of those tickle your fancy you also have the option of more local players than you can shake a stick at. They cover every imaginable music file format too though if I was you I’d look to streaming. If you want local storage then the fact is I’d skip a Nexus because at either 16 or 32GB if you start putting music on there, especially lossless music, it’ll be eaten in no time. Not that I’m trying to tell you you can’t use local storage on a Nexus but personally I think if that’s what you’re going to do, get something with an SDcard slot instead.

Audio Hardware

In side we apparently have a WCD9320 DAC, which is some Qualcomm thing. The internet has some people saying it’s rather good and others saying it’s terrible. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone making a point of saying they have a Qualcomm DAC inside which I take to mean, no one thinks highly enough of them to want to crow about the fact.

Lows

Reasonable: The DAC inside is comparatively clean and distinct so bass feels tonally clean. Depth is a touch of an issue, it hasn’t the power to drive things down low so you do miss out a bit. However otherwise, for mainstream bass, a blend of expansion and punch it’s a fairly credible balance of the two. As phones go it’s not too bad at all, god I’m actually enjoying it. Its bouncy and lively enough that I’m liking listening to it (IE7’s atm) having come directly from the Iphone 5 the bass here feels so much more dynamically expressive. There is tone and flavour, it has texture, it’s tangible. The scale is there that the 7 has to offer. I’m pleased. Sure if start to look outside phones then things get less rosy. The N5 cannot really grip and punch with the vigour a really good DAP can. It’s a phone so I’m willing to cut it a lot of slack, just steer away from hard to drive things and you’ll be fine.

Mids

A touch on the open side. You get a fairly competent balance of open clarity and detail. There is a layer of veil to vocals that I do find a bit frustrating. The DAC inside seems to not be that bad, it feels like it’s the amp that’s powering the hp out, it feels like it cannot cope. There just isn’t the oomph to give you the clarity it should. Its vocal dynamics suffer and you get a slightly washed out rendition. Yeah it’s a phone so I don’t expect magic but I get the impression if the amp was less rubbish that the DAC would have more to show. It’s frustrating. Still, a bit on the dry tends to give the impression of greater clarity. Assuming that the typical pairing of a phone will be to something very warm and very heavy it’s not an unreasonable way to go. Just try to stay away from light, bright or hard to drive things and you’ll be fine. You won’t get blown away, but you won’t hate it either.

Highs

Have a guess. Yep, that amp it just can’t power things out like I want it to. I get the idea it’s capable of better clarity but the amp causes them to go only so far then it trails off. When it does try to go all dazzling it is a bit on the hard side. Those edge impacts can be hard on the ear. Again assuming it’s going to paired to bassy fart cannons you’ll want that edge to stand out but…. Well you go with bright and easy to drive, not so much. It’s not terrible, it’s not great it’s just a bit, well, you know. To me it’s pretty fair for a phone so I don’t feel it’s right bash it but I can’t exactly shower praise on it either.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation

Soundstage on the whole isn’t bad. Things have a fair amount of scale, helps if you crank the volume a bit mind. Instrument separation is similar. Its pretty reasonable. You can tell its not got the power to make things their best but it’s a has a go anyway.

Battery Life: With Android so much of the battery life is dependent on how much you have running in the background all the time. Ios and WP heavily restrict this to conserve battery but Android will let you do whatever the hell you want. That means if you pile it up with lots of data sucking apps, that data sucking will suck the life out of your battery too. The N5 battery isn’t the biggest to begin with so in short, the battery life is pretty rubbish. If you’re actually using it then you are going to want to try giving it a top up change whenever you get the chance to.

Build Quality

I like it. Yes it’s plastic so it’s fairly light but its snuggly put together and feels like a perfectly reasonably, solid, upper end device.

UI

Woo hoo! It’s android so you can pretty much change the UI to whatever you want. There are launchers to suit every imaginable taste and theme packs, custom icons, you think of it, it can be changed and tweaked to suit you. You can create a completely unique design and set up. Granted that you have an infinite number of options isn’t to everyone’s tastes, some just want to be handed a layout / style and be told to get on with it. I like to make things just so, for me. So I slap on Nova launcher and I do so. With my favourite live wallpaper running in the background, my phone look is pretty much unique to me.

In The Hand

Mostly I like the device. I do find that the flat and flush edges disappoint me though. I got used to the glass gently curving away on the N4 but the back, well the back feels great. The back is soft touch plastic with a gentle curve to it so fits my hands very well. Additionally that the screen is relatively narrow compared with the N4, it makes it that bit easier for my thumb to reach across it too. It’s nice.

Format Support

You name it, the will be an app that can play it. I tend to stick to the standard Play Music app to stream rather than eat up precious on board storage, but if you want to use ogg or FLAC then you can.

Volume

It’s pretty good. I mean yes you’re probably going to be using it in the upper ranges of its output but aside from the quietest of tracks and the hardest to drive headphones it was fine. Though it has a bit of a rep for being quiet when it launched but seems they have bumped its output now.

Accessories

Well you only get a charger and a USB cable in the box (plus sim tray ejector.) for some reason the official accessories for Nexus devices are insanely expensive. Like the official Qi charger was £60!!!!!! Just what kind of crack are you people smoking???? Otherwise since it a media known device you can hit up eBay for all sorts of compatible and much cheaper bits. However there isn’t the same level of device compatibility as you get with Apple’s devices.

Speaker

It is, well its okay. At launch it was widely claimed to be much too quiet but a software tweak bumped that up. It’s adequate for the odd speaker phone call and such. You could get away with watching on-board video with MX players speaker over drive ability but Netflix, err it’s really too quiet to use.

Camera

It’s an 8MP camera but true to form, all Nexus past cameras have been poo and so is the Nexus 5 one. I still think that device makers do it deliberately to differentiate their own flagships from the Nexus but hey. For me it’s good enough for anything I’m likely to be taking an unplanned snap of so I’m fine with it. Photo buffs though I’d suspect won’t be so okay with it. The front is a 1.3MP and its fine really. It can’t compete with the new wave of “selfie” cameras but for skype it’s perfectly good.

The Good

The main “good” things about this device are twofold. First of all, it was dirt cheap when it launched. Naff camera and smallish battery aside it was top of the range, flagship hardware for mid-range money. The second boon is that it’s a Nexus. That means you get software from Google directly so when new versions of Android ship, you get them sharpish. You also get the side benefit of its being highly supported so new apps will work with it and new ROM’s are going to favour the easily unlockable Nexus. They get lots of developer attention as the anointed dev device from Google. Maybe updates and support don’t matter to you but to those they do, you just cannot beat a Nexus.

The Bad

The camera is meh and the battery is a bit small. It also doesn’t have a micro SD card slot which is an annoyance. Otherwise, well there isn’t much “bad” about the handset. For the money it’s a really decent offering.

Value

Excellent. Flagship hardware for midrange money. Sure it’s not a perfect device but costing half the price of its equivalent alternatives earns it a boat load of leeway and grace on those matters.

Conclusion

The Nexus 5 is, on the whole, an excellent device. The hardware is mostly great just for substantially less money than anything else near its spec. It’s that simple. If it was twice its price then I could be more critical. I mean its camera is meh, I don’t like its sealed and not very big battery, not to mention the no SD card slot. But……. it is just so cheap that how can you not cut it a massive amount of slack?

In audio terms, well it’s no audiophile DAP but you know, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to use it every day but in a pinch it is listenable. I wouldn’t be super happy about it but it wouldn’t kill my soul like having to use the Nexus 4 would. Plus if you really, really want to use it as your DAP you can always hook up an external DAC/amp. Why you wouldn’t just then use a proper DAP I don’t know but hey, the option is there.

All in all, I really like the Nexus 5. Its hardware is mostly excellent, its audio abilities are passible but mostly what really does it for the device is that it was half the price of its competition. You be that much cheaper than the alternatives and it gives you a humongous advantage in terms of value and willingness for me to be kind to it in the areas where it does fall down a bit. The fact it’s such a bargain how can you not like it.

About Mark Ramos

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