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Review: Nexus 5

Arguably, the two heaviest hitters in the smartphone market are Samsung and Apple. Both occupy headlines in their seemingly-eternal patent battle, and both produce devices with similar hardware. But times are changing. Take the HTC One, for example; it’s sleek, it runs Android, and it’s just as heavy a hitter as the S4.

The Nexus One, a precursor to the Nexus 5, was widely regarded as a failure; it was under-marketed and released at a time before Android had got a real foothold in the market. But times are changing, and so is Google’s approach to their flagship smartphones: enter the Nexus 5, arguably the most impressive Android handset on the market. It’s clear that the Nexus 5 wouldn’t draw a second glance if it didn’t have the branding it did – its design is a little mediocre, and is manufactured by LG, who are better known for their television than their mobile prowess – but don’t let that put you off. The Nexus 5 is absolutely worth your time.

Out of the box, the Nexus 5 is exceptionally simple to set up, requiring little from the end-user; indeed, if you have a Gmail or a Google+ account, then the hardest part is out of the way before you turn the phone on. Once you find yourself on the home screen, you’ll find yourself struck by how far Google have come in terms of user interface design.

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It’s quite a large phone, but no bigger than an S4 or iPhone 5. The Nexus 5 has a 1080p AMOLED screen, so if you’re desperate to watch blu-ray quality video on the go, the phone does a great impression of a modern television. You won’t find anything in the box aside from a USB cable, a plug and the phone itself – so no headphones – but chances are, you won’t require anything anyway. There isn’t much in the way of customizability when compared to, say, a Nokia Lumia; the back cover is replaceable, but is only available in black and white at present.

In terms of hardware, the Nexus comes with basically everything one might expect from a premium smartphone. The handset is LTE enabled, so if you have a contract that either offers 4G, or will do so in the new year, the Nexus 5 is prepared for the switch. The back camera – which we’ll come to later – is excellent, and the front camera and microphone array are both exceptionally clear. (The microphone array is especially noteworthy, as everybody I’ve spoken to using the phone has noted how clear my voice is compared to my previous handset, the iPhone 4).

Worth noting, however, is that the Nexus doesn’t have a card slot – it comes in 16GB and 32GB flavours, but you won’t be able to expand that, so bear that in mind before purchase.

In terms of processing power, the Nexus boasts a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800; with four cores clocked to 2.4 ghz, it can handle basically any task you throw at it. This is supported by 2GB of ram, basically putting its specs on a similar level to a low level laptop. As such, I’ve noticed basically no slowdown using the device, and there’s probably very little available on Google Play that could genuinely stress it out, so if you’re looking for a phone that’s quick (Blackberry users, I’m looking at you), the Nexus will tick that box.

That’s partly because of how well put together the Nexus is in terms of software. Android KitKat, the newest version of the operating system, comes pre-loaded onto the phone without any bloatware or ‘helpful’ manufacturer apps. For power users, this is a dream come true, as it allows you to basically fully customise the phone out of the box, without having to uninstall / hide apps inferior to equivalents you can find on Google Play for free (I have never met anybody who uses S Note over, say, Evernote). It’s been described by Google as the leanest version of Android ever, and that’s true in terms of software optimisation as well as interface design.

Indeed, I’m not a massive fan of iOS 7 (although, saying that, I used it on the iPhone 4, which isn’t really designed to handle it) and the hyper minimalistic design philosophy that Apple have come to espouse. It seems at odds with the App Store, which, at this point, feels bloated and lost, especially if you have the misfortune of accessing it via iTunes (which limps closer to obsoletion by the day). KitKat is a really, really nice vacation from that. It’s simple, but nuanced; the typography is fantastic, and icon distribution is smart and user friendly.

It’s hard to review the Nexus 5 without reviewing KitKat at the same time, which is something you might have noticed if you’ve read other reviews of the handset; that’s because the Nexus 5 is the first handset to come with it pre-installed, and the hardware feels married to it – creating an experience that previously only Apple offered.

Google and LG are particularly enthusiastic to market the Nexus 5 by the strength of its camera, and that’s not much of a surprise; it produces some really beautiful photos. Particular regard should be paid to its HDR feature, which produces exceptional photos in situations where lighting could be better. It comfortably records 1080p video at 30fps, easily competing with consumer video cameras.

As such, if you love Instagram, Vine, and other photo and video sharing applications, the Nexus is a fantastic partner in crime. The handset feels as though it’s built around the camera (to be honest, the way it juts out of the back is a little ugly), and the result is extraordinarily high quality photo and video. Indeed, for hobby photographers, the Nexus 5 might represent a step up from your compact camera.

In terms of flaws, the Nexus is ahead of the curve in such a way that you might feel part of some ‘grand experiment.’ Some apps are a little unstable because developers haven’t optimised their software for 4.4, such as Vine, which occasionally refuses to post videos without a fight. Indeed, NatWest’s Android app flat out refuses to install, despite the fact that there’s no reason it should be incompatible.

Sure, there’s no bloatware, but that doesn’t mean Google hasn’t included their own weird additions. The face recognition software offered by the Nexus 4 returns, and still doesn’t really work if you’ve got a particularly round / shiny face, even if you try and train the device. The Nexus 5 feels like it’s come straight out of the lab, and that might put some people off who’d rather adopt something a little more user friendly. For those people, the iPhone 5S might be a more appropriate choice. It’s also a little plasticky – both the front and back are made of the stuff, but it doesn’t feel cheap.

However, the Nexus 5 simply cannot be beaten on cost. For £299 sim free, it’s an absolute steal. It fights the iPhone 5S in all categories despite its modest price point, and despite punching above its weight, often wins over its brushed aluminium cousin.

In summary, the Nexus 5 is an extremely well-priced smartphone that doesn’t cut corners, with particular regard to its camera. A fantastic offering for £299, the Nexus 5 represents just how far Google have come since entering the smartphone market, posing genuine threat to both Samsung and Apple in its simple approach to hardware and software. If you want to upgrade your phone, or in the market for new hardware, then look no further than the Nexus 5.

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