Google Nexus 5 User Review

Warning : Lengthy review post coming up!

A friend of mine had one of the earliest set of Google Nexus 5 in Malaysia. He got someone to order and ship it from the US, pretty much days after it was available. After feeling it in my hands, and playing around with it for a bit to experience the “buttery” smoothness of the latest Android “Kit Kat” 4.4 OS, I made a decision that I want one.

Google Nexus 5

You see, the Google Nexus 5 is a pure Google’s Android smartphone. It comes in “vanilla” Android OS,  which means it was devoid of any phone manufacturer skin or themes. No Samsung TouchWiz, no HTC Sense, no custom softwares of any kind. What was originally a Google smartphone built for Android developers to tinker with, is now a pure Android smartphone that has captured the interest of enthusiastic consumers.  And this is the 5th generation of Google’s Nexus phone.

Being an Android fandroid, I’m embarrassed to admit that I have yet to purchase any Nexus devices in the past. Just not excited enough to brave the (somewhat) lengthy process of ordering and shipping it from US, or purchase a highly marked up grey imported version from local Low Yat resellers.

Thankfully, IPMart.com.my had the Nexus 5 listed on their site, for pre-order last month. My beloved Hubby placed his order just before Christmas, hoping that it wouldn’t become too much of a belated Christmas gift for me.

Unfortunately, because it was a pre-order item, it had to go through the process of IP Mart ordering it on my behalf, shipping to US, then freight forwarded to their Malaysian office, then delivered to my home. A lengthy process indeed, which had the Nexus 5 arriving at my doorsteps about a month later, in mid January. *sigh*

I could’ve made the purchase and ship it myself using a freight forwarder (I use vPost to shop from abroad) and the process would’ve taken half the time in 2 weeks. Nevertheless, I was excited to finally get my hands on my first Google device – Nexus 5, manufactured by LG.

Note : Here’s the evolution of Google Nexus smartphones – Nexus One (by HTC) (Jan 2010), Nexus S (by Samsung) (Dec 2010), Galaxy Nexus (by Samsung again) (Nov 2011), Nexus 4 (by LG) (Nov 2012) and now Nexus 5 (by LG again) (Oct 2013). There were also Google Nexus tablets – Nexus 7 2012 (by Asus) (Jul 2012), Nexus 7 2013 (by Asus again) (Jul 2013) and Nexus 10 (by Samsung) (Nov 2012).

Every year, Google introduced a refreshed version of their pure Google Nexus device, consisting of a smartphone and a tablet. While the Nexus 10 tablet is refreshed and on sale here, the Nexus 5 smartphone is the hero device. Unfortunately though, it’s only available in selected countries.

First, check out the below official video of the Google Nexus 5, unveiled in October 2013.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ0XTJqFLIE

First, let’s go through a quick hardware specification of the Google Nexus 5:-

  • 4.95″ Full HD IPS3 display (1920 X 1080)(445 ppi) with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 2.26 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
  • 16 / 32 GB internal storage + 2 GB RAM
  • Powered by Android 4.4 “Kit Kat” OS
  • 8 megapixel rear camera (HDR+), 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • 8.59 mm thin, weighing only 130 grams
  • 2,300 mAh non-removable battery (up to 17 hours 4G LTE talktime)
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE / 3G HSPA+, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
  • Available in 3 colours : Black, White and NEW Bright Red

For more info on features and specs, check out the official Google Nexus 5 website at http://www.google.com.my/nexus/5/

 

Unboxing the Nexus 5 and Wireless Charger

Google Nexus 5 & Wireless Charger

My smart husband bought the Nexus 5 along with the wireless charger for me. How thoughtful!

Google Nexus 5 - Unboxing
Unboxing the Google Nexus 5

The box packaging is a rather standard cardboard box, but I got tingles while unboxing this. Maybe it’s because it’s a Google branded box packaging? Anyhoo – inside the box, you’ll see the Google Nexus 5 device itself, 3-pin adapter charger, USB to microUSB sync / charge cable and user manual. No  warranty cards here.

Google Nexus 5 Wireless Charger

The Wireless Charger for the Nexus 5, on the other hand, comes in a simple square box.

Nexus 5 Wireless Charger - Unboxing

The only thing you find inside the box is the Wireless Charger (I got my favourite RED coloured one), a USB to microUSB charging cable and a simple instruction manual.

 

Hardware : Design and Build Quality

Google Nexus 5 - White (Back)
Matte, rubbery, white coloured back with indent Nexus branding

One of the first thing that made me fall in love with my friend’s Black coloured Nexus 5 was the matte back with the subtle Nexus branding. Because it’s been awhile since I have a white coloured smartphone, I went for this dirt prone colour.

The back is reminiscent of a Nokia Lumia series Windows Phone with matte polycarbonate back. It provides some  sort of rubbery feel that gives you a good grip in your bare hands, sans phone case. It really does feel nice in your hand, although I need to be careful with getting my dirty, greasy hands on the naked white back.

Google Nexus 5 - Hardware (front, back)
Front and back of the Nexus 5

Unfortunately, the white colour doesn’t translate all over the device. The front is all black, with a single sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 without any hardware buttons on the bottom face. Which means you’ll be getting soft, capacitive, on-screen buttons instead. In fact, the front and side of the device is all black, the only “White” is the back.

The headphone speaker for answering calls is up top in the centre, in a small round grill. While I like the minimalistic front face, this teeny round speaker grill is a weird design choice. Multiple times, I had to readjust the placement of this “dot” when I place it on my ear for a call. Rubbing the screen on my cheeks until I find the perfect alignment of speaker to ear. Not the cleverest design here.

The back, as I mentioned, I love. The nice, matte, rubbery feel in your palm with the groove of the Nexus logo and the round lens at the top with a small LED flash underneath. Design wise of the back, one of my favourites of Android smartphones in the market today.

It’s not all metal unibody like the HTC One, of course. Eventhough it’s  polycarbonate (read: plastic) the Nexus 5 doesn’t look or feel cheap and toy-like.

See Also : HTC One User Review

Nexus 5 - Hardware (side, ports)
Side buttons and ports on the Nexus 5

Measuring at a slim 8.59 mm at it’s profile, weighing a mere 130 grams, the Nexus 5 has a nice, sleek, dark black side housing minimal buttons and ports. 3.5 mm headphone audio jack at the top left, Power On/Off button at top right with a flushed microSIM tray (accessible with pin provided in the box), Volume rocker on the top left and little holes on both sides of the microUSB port.

Nexus 5 - SIM slot
Pin provided in the box (the black, round one)

Surprisingly the pin provided in the box is smaller than the normal pins I have for other smartphones. As you see in the picture above, the Nexus 5 is the black, round one. The pin (and hole) is smaller, which is why it didn’t work with my standard metal one I have by my table.

Using the black, round headed pin, the microSIM tray pops out easily to hold your microSIM and sits flush when you push it back.

Minimal and elegant. Nicely done, LG.

Google Nexus 5 - in hands
5 inch Full HD IPS3 display

Holding the Nexus 5 in my hands, the 5″ display screen smartphone doesn’t feel bulky or big. My sweet spot for Android smartphones is around 4.7″ but this Nexus 5 didn’t feel or look silly big in my hands. Thanks to the matte back, it feels and sits nicely for single handed use, to be honest.

 

Wireless Charging

Nexus 5 Wireless Charger - in hand

Nexus 5 Wireless Charger - microUSB port

It’s as simple a device as it can get. It’s simply a round and flat device with the wireless charging surface on the top, a light indicator on one side, with the microUSB port on the side.

Nexus 5 & Wireless Charger

Once plugged in, you’re supposed to place the Nexus 5 smartphone on top of the Wireless Charger and it’s supposed to automatically charge your smartphone without the need to plug in the cable on the microUSB port at the bottom of the phone.

Wireless Charger - Lights
(Left) Red light means it’s not charging any device (Right) Green light means it’s charging your Nexus 5

There’s a simple drawing diagram instruction, which you really didn’t need, shows you how to place your Nexus 5 on the Wireless Charger. When not charging, the indicator light shows a steady red colour. Once you place your smartphone on it, the light turns green and you’ll likely hear a bleep on your phone (and “Charging” notification on screen) that your phone is now being charged wirelessly!!!

Ah-ma-zing!

Every device should be wirelessly charged like this. How are we not making this a possibility for every electronic gadget we own? No docking, no plugging in cables, just place the phone on this flat, rounded thing and it’s charging!!! Genius!

 

Software : Pure Google

Nexus 5 in hand - Winnie
Charged and ready to go

I have been using the Nexus 5 as my primary phone for about 2 weeks+ now. The biggest selling point is using Android 4.4 OS which is the latest Android OS, that comes in its purest form in the Nexus 5. No skin. No themes. No bloatware of pre-installed apps from phone manufacturer.

Nexus 5 - Homescreen, Navigation
Home screen, navigation and menu

Swipe to unlock when you start your phone for the first time and you’ll see a quick tutorial on how to navigate around your new Nexus 5. Swipe all the way to the left, you’ll get the persistent Google Now. Google Now is Android version of your personal digital assistant. It shows you “cards” of weather, your frequently visited website updated posts, reminders of your travel to and from work (where you can immediately launch Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation), flight info (pulled from your email Booking Confirmations) and more.

The home screen is just as your usual Android devices. One that allows you to add widgets with updates and info at a glance. You can place shortcuts to your frequently used apps. Click on the middle circle with dots and launch your App Drawer, sorting all the apps installed on your phone alphabetically.

Swipe down from the top of the screen reveals the Notification Shade, of all your latest notifications and alerts, where you can one-click to clear all alerts, or tap of quick shortcuts to reply or archive emails, share screenshots and more, without having to open the app. Click on the top right square dots to launch a quick toggle menu for screen brightness, WiFi, Bluetooth, Alarm or Settings menu.

In lieu of physical hardware buttons, you have on-screen buttons for “Back”, “Home” and “Multi-tasking”. Not major difference from other Android devices today.

The big difference here is “Project Butter”, Google’s revamp of the ease of use of the navigation to be more consumer friendly, and the speed of browsing and navigating between apps, swipes and general gestures. It is indeed butter smooth and fast, even after I installed tens of apps and customise the phone with multiple personalised UI like live wallpaper, multiple push notifications and live apps updating in the background, running on Maxis’ LTE connection.

Smooth… Fast…

Nexus 5 - Keyboard
Google’s default on screen keyboard

Personally, I always prefer immediately installing my default SwiftKey keyboard on Android devices. However, in the interest of giving the Nexus 5 a thorough review, I stuck to the default Google keyboard throughout the last 2 weeks. Auto correct and word prediction has improved. Mistakes were minimal with my speed typing, which is always welcomed.

The interesting thing is that Google has included several tabs of emojis, while not forgetting the standard symbol based emoticons.

Nexus 5 - Google Hangout, SMS
Your SMS is integrated with Google Hangouts

Instead of dedicated “Messaging” app, Nexus 5 integrates your SMS and MMS with Google Hangouts, their own messaging app tied to your Google ID (Gmail), which allows multiple Gmail IDs. Hangouts (previously Google Talk) was an evolved IM client, which you can message friends and family using your Google ID on your mobile and continue the conversation on your Chrome browser on your desktop.

Nexus 5 - Google's Apps
Google’s apps all over the phone

Being a pure Google Android OS smartphone, the Nexus 5 works best when you already use a lot of Google’s services. Login to your Google ID at setup and you see how everything falls into place, syncing your settings and files accordingly.

For example, your files stored in the cloud on Google Drive is automatically populated. With the new Android OS, Nexus 5 comes with QuickOffice to create, view and edit Microsoft Office files like Word, Excel and PowerPoint or their Google Docs equivalent format. In case you don’t like that, you also have the option of Kingsoft Office for MS Office formats.

Your Google ID also activates Google Keep, Google’s version of a simple note-taking app. Default browser is Chrome (of course) which syncs your bookmarks, desktop browsing history and other data, making it a seamless desktop to mobile browsing experience.

Everything living under the giant Google umbrella of services. I personally already live my life on Google’s cloud and web-app services, so this vanilla OS gives me the best Google experience that’s seamless from my desktop.

Nexus 5 - Play Store
Google Play Store, Play Books, Play Games, Play Music and Play Newsstand

When you want to download more apps and games, you can always visit the Google Play Store, with the additional standalone app icons now for Google Play Books, Play Games, Play Music and Play Newsstand (digital magazine subscription). Again, all synced to your Google ID so it all comes with you when you switch devices. Just login with your Google ID, everything comes back up – apps installed, subscriptions updated, purchases ready to be downloaded to your new device.

If you’re all Google-d like me, there is no device that gives you a better, cleaner, synced experience than a Nexus device.

All this, on top of a smooth, fast and speedy interface that shows no lag, jitters or slowdown. Android 4.4 OS FTW!

 

Camera and Image Quality

Nexus 5 - 8 megapixel rear camera
8 megapixel rear camera, with LED flash and HDR+

Until today, I still kept the clear sticker on the lens of the 8 megapixel rear camera on the Nexus 5. I was afraid I would scratch the lens. I am paranoid like that. So I vow to keep that tiny round sticker on as long as I can.

So, yeah – the Nexus 5 comes with an 8 megapixel shooter. Only 8 megapixel, when other Android flagships have been giving their customers 12 megapixel, 20 megapixel or more, and packing it with great camera feature and technologies for better mobile photography.

Since the launch of the Nexus 5, Google’s pushed a software update for the Android 4.4 OS that includes some improvement to the camera. Apparently, prior to the update, the camera was abysmal. It takes forever for the autofocus to lock on the subject before you can snap your picture.

Nexus 5 - Camera

I did the software update as soon as I powered on the device, which supposedly has the fix for this camera autofocus and shutter lag concern. Unfortunately though, the Camera app was not great for me.

In bright condition, for example daytime outdoor, or brightly lit indoor, the camera shutter is fast enough. Not zero shutter lag like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, but slight millisecond delay.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy S4 User Review

In dark or low light condition, the camera struggles…. Badly. It takes forever and sometimes, when it’s dark enough, it simply refuse to focus. With an unsteady hand, the Optical Image Stabilisation should come into play to reduce motion blur, but sadly, it didn’t quite work as well as advertised for me.

Perhaps I am spoilt with great camera tech from the Samsungs and HTCs, so Google (or perhaps manufacturer, LG) should have done some improvement with the camera here – hardware and software wise.

Also, launching the Camera app for the first time, I got a little lost with the settings and menu. It took me some taps and swipes to figure out how to summon up the settings for Flash, front camera, etc. FYI – you should click on the top “Flash” icon to access other settings for ISO, scene (mode) selection and more. The bottom “Camera” icon launches functions like Still photo, video camera, panorama and Photo Sphere.

Lost on what Photo Sphere is?

Well, Google Nexus 5 comes with some exclusive camera features, which you can check out in the videos below.

Nexus 5 with Photo Sphere

 

Nexus 5 with HDR+

 

Nexus 5 with Auto Awesome

 

Here’s a gallery of some sample pictures I took with the Nexus 5 in the last 2 weeks. The images are not edited or resized, so mouse over for info on the lighting condition and click to view enlarged photo.

That last picture is a panorama picture.

I experimented with taking my first Panorama shot, in a recent weekend trip to Langkawi, of a sweeping garden, pool and (slight) beach view from my hotel room balcony at Westin Langkawi. Picture took me less than a minute to take and the Nexus 5 to stitch together. The result… was amazing. I can’t believe I have not been taking more panoramic shots with my phone all these while.

I was impressed with the Panorama function.

Nexus 5 - Gallery vs Google Photos
(Top) Gallery app (Bottom) Google Photos

In the App Drawer, you’ll see the standard “Gallery” app to browse your photos and videos taken on the Nexus 5, as well as some synced pictures from Picasa, Flickr and Google Photos.

As you scroll, you’ll also come across a “Google Photos” app. Some of you might be confused about the existence of both these apps, that seems to be a photo browser and viewer.

Well – basically, the “Google Photos” app is an app that allows you to browse images taken with the Nexus 5, allows photo edits and more, for easy upload and sharing on your Google+ profile. This can be handy, if you activate the function, for automatic backup of all pictures taken with the Nexus 5 to be backed up to your Google Photos account, without you having to interfere or manually select and upload.

Personally, I’d advise you to just stick to the default “Gallery” app. I use Dropbox’s “Camera Upload” to backup my pictures instead.

 

Battery Life

The Nexus 5 comes with a non-removable 2,3300 mAH battery, which LG said boasts up to 17 hours of talktime on 4G LTE. I am  skeptical on this claim, to be honest. Based on past experience reviewing other phones, 17 hours on LTE seems rather … far fetched.

Nexus 5 - Battery Life

In my 2 weeks using the Nexus 5 as my primary device, I managed a healthy 16 to 20+ hours of battery life, in light to moderate to heavy usage.

This with 4G LTE active, Bluetooth periodically on and off (I was also reviewing some speakers), web browsing (quite a lot of Google-ing, actually) and social network browsing and photo uploading.

I think Google did a great job optimising the performance in the latest Androiod 4.4 “Kit Kat” OS that includes improving the battery usage and performance in general. It also helps that this Nexus 5 runs a clean Android install, minus the battery hogging themes and skins that other phone manufacturer slap on top of their smartphones.

Well done, Google and LG for making the 2,300 mAH battery last so well.

 

Pricing and Availability

The Nexus 5 is a powerful phone, powered by pure Android Kit Kat 4.4 OS, it is the first device to receive any future firmware upgrades straight from Google. Also because these Nexus devices will be sold directly from Google to the customers in US and other countries (except Malaysia), it is made to be affordable at an outright purchase price.

The Nexus 5 is on sale in US at USD$ 349 (~RM 1,168) for the 16 GB version; and USD$ 399 (~RM 1,335) for the 32 GB version, in Black or White colour.

Google Nexus 5 in Bright Red colour (*Image Source : TheVerge)

Because they only just announced the Bright Red colour early this week, the Google Nexus 5 website at http://www.google.com/nexus/5/ still doesn’t list the red colour availability yet (as of time of writing) – although US customers can already purchase this via Google Play Store.

In Malaysia, however, you will only be able to get your hands on grey import versions from resourceful online sites or in retail resellers like Low Yat Plaza. Grey import, meaning you don’t get a Google direct warranty, but it’s imported goods under the resellers’ warranty instead.

IPMart (where mine was purchased online from) is selling the Nexus 5 (16 GB) for RM 1,649 (~USD$ 493, which is USD$144 markup); and 32 GB version for RM 1,829 (~USD$ 547, which is USD$ 148 more)… EXCLUDING SHIPPING AND OTHER CHARGES.

With shipping and other “payment processing charges” included, my Google Nexus 5 with the Wireless Charger purchased from IP Mart came up to +/- RM 2,000+.

Yes, this is quite a significant mark up, I must say.

Even though, one of the biggest selling point of the Google Nexus device is it’s affordability and the best Android smartphone at an “affordable” price.

Well – I guess, with the “import” markup and additional charges, Malaysian end up paying a premium equivalent to a flagship, high end phone, than Google’s intention for it to be a mass consumer, everybody Android smartphone.

If you do further research, price watch, retailer bargaining and shop hunting though, you’d likely be able to get the Nexus 5 at a much cheaper price than what my Hubby paid at local retailers who imports in bigger bulk in a smaller markup.

Good luck in your hunt – and let me know if you got a good deal and where…

LG Nexus 5 D820 vs D821 version

REMEMBER : There are 2 versions of this phone, with serial number LG D820 and LG D821 version. Basically, D820 is US version, which means the LTE band supported is different than the band in Malaysia and most European and global countries. If you’re not living in US, please make sure you get the right version of Google (or LG) Nexus 5 D821 (Global) version, OK?

 

Conclusion

Nexus 5 & Wireless Charger

 

I thoroughly enjoyed using the Nexus 5 in the last 2 weeks. My personal HTC One is now sitting in my drawer, while I continue to use the Google Nexus 5. I can safely say that I don’t know if I will want to swap my microSIM back to the HTC One for awhile.

I truly like the Nexus 5 for multiple reasons, even though there are some areas where the phone does fall short. In combination with the Wireless Charger, there’s a lot more bonus points that I can add on to even out the score. Also for the < RM 2,000 price tag, it is a worthy competitor to the Samsung and HTC flagships in the market today.

Here’s a quick, personal opinion, Top 3 list of likes and dislikes of the Google Nexus 5…

Things I Like

  • Beautiful design – Clean lines, matte rubbery back with indented Nexus logo
  • Have a Kit Kat – Android 4.4 OS minus all the clutter, themes and skin is buttery smooth and should be the benchmark for all Android phones
  • Wireless Charger – this should be incorporated to every single device known to mankind that needs charging. It’s AWESOME!

 

Things I Dislike

  • Camera technology – There’s still much left to be improved here, hardware and software wise
  • Merging Google services – Google Hangouts and SMS in one app, duplicate Gallery and Google Photos, it can get confusing for newbies, Google
  • Global Availability – If it’s sold as outright purchase without telco plans, Google should easily make this available globally. We shouldn’t have to find workarounds to get our hands on this phone. At a crazy markup!

In conclusion, because the mobile telcos of the retail outlets or Google  Malaysia don’t officially sell the Google Nexus 5 in the Malaysian market, it’s hard to get the general public to know or get excited about this Nexus 5. Unless you’re an Android enthusiast like me, you probably never even heard of this phone.

If you’re one who already use a lot of Google services, like a no-nonsense OS that’s smooth and fast, and got a good price that’s close to the USD pricing equivalent of the Nexus 5 in US, then go ahead – I think you should consider buying this!

As I read through the rumours on tech sites that Google might not be making anymore Nexus devices next year, the more I am glad I got the Google Nexus 5 with the Wireless Charger. This is an Android smartphone that I intend to keep for a long time. Nope, not selling or trading this in in future. It’s staying in my collection.

 

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