Google upgraded their flagship Nexus 4 mobile phone this past week to the long awaited Nexus 5 (also known as the LG D820.) This new Android phone sports a gorgeous 5 inch high resolution screen, LTE and a startling low price ($349) for an unlocked cell phone. I was unable to find many glaring weaknesses with the Nexus 5, which runs Google’s new Android operating system called “Kit Kat.” In this comprehensive review, I’ll explain the strengths and weaknesses of the phone and whether the Google Nexus 5 is recommended, especially for attorneys and law school students.
Specifications – Google Nexus 5 (LG D820) Phone
While the 5″ size of the Nexus 5 sounds extremely large, it is only slightly larger than last year’s Nexus 4 model. By comparison, it is significantly smaller than a “phablet” (phone-tablet) such as the Samsung Note and it’s even noticeably smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S4. From my perspective, this is the perfect size phone – not too big for a pocket and not too small so that documents are impossible to read on a small screen. Taking away the beautiful glass back from the Google Nexus 4 also results in a slightly lighter phone.
- Size: 137.9 x 69.2 x 8.6 mm (5.43 x 2.72 x 0.34 in)
- Weight: 130 g (4.59 oz)
The Nexus 5 phone sports a headphone jack and microphone at the top of the phone as well as another microphone on the bottom of the phone (which I originally thought were stereo speakers.) Google Nexus 5 manuals are hard to find. I did find an Android 4.4 Kit Kat Operating System manual as well as an online manual for the Nexus 5, where I learned about the microphone placements.
Here are some critical specifications, which I’ll go through briefly separately with my review:
- Network: Quad Band GSM (CDMA – Sprint), HSDPA, LTE
- Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels (445ppi)
- Protection: Gorilla Glass 3
- RAM / Storage: RAM 2GB / 16GB or 32GB Storage
- Connectivity / WiFi: Dual band, WiFi 802.11 a//b/g/n/ac with Bluethooth 4.0 A2DP
- Camera: 8MP, autofocus, optical image stabilization, video at 1080p 30FPS
- Front Camera: 1.3MP
- Chipset, CPU: Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800, Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400
- Extras: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
- Battery / Battery Life: Non-removable Li-Po 2300 mAh battery / Up to 17 hours talk time (3G)
- Operating System: Android OS, v4.4 (KitKat)
Google Nexus 5 Battery Life
Perhaps the most important characteristic of any phone is the phone’s battery life. This is especially the case when the phone features a non-replaceable battery. It is an annoyance which irks me, especially at towards the end of the 1 year warranty period. It’s why I still have a preference for the perfectly slim Samsung models that sacrifice just the slightest of heft.
When my Nexus 5 powers up, the estimated remaining time at full power using the “Battery Doctor” app is closer to an estimated 12 hours and 38 minutes. That’s very impressive, even though it’s nowhere near the 17 hours that the phone is supposedly rated at top operating conditions. After using the phone for a week, I’m glad to report that the phone lasted through a full day’s use, with multiple email accounts being checked, several phone calls and about an hour of web browsing. I can conservatively estimate at least 8-10 hours of talk time with the Nexus 5. A 2 hour conference call (along with all the other background processes running) reduced my remaining talk time roughly 18%. While a 2,300 mAh battery seems adequate, I would have been glad to sacrifice some of the sleek for power such as in the 3,000 mAh G2.
An important note – use of LTE will reduce the battery life. I have 5 email accounts (one checks every 10 minutes, two every 30 minutes and two every 3 hours.) I also have 5 gmail accounts. With this, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and Google Voice running in the background I am getting a full day’s charge with light usage. My original numbers were taken primarily using WiFi. Unless you need LTE, you can turn it off with a new and convenient control panel that sets the preferred network mode. Since I mostly use email, I’ve turned off LTE for most daily use.
Nexus 5 Screen – A Beautiful, Crisp Display
A nice upgrade over the Nexus 4 is the beautiful, crisp display on the Nexus 5. While Nexus 4 owners certainly don’t need this razor sharp screen, the 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution at an insanely great 445ppi (pixels per inch) makes even tiny text a crystal clear experience. For attorneys who read briefs while traveling (perhaps on a New York City subway trip to work), this added resolution will help immensely. I hate having to scroll repeatedly in landscape mode. Even with my middle-aged vision, I can still make out the words easily in vertical display, although I would find reading such tiny text uncomfortable for long stretches of time.
Now for those Apple pundits who insist that iPhone 5 has the best display, I’d have to disagree mightily. The Nexus 5’s 445ppi is more crisp than the still impressive iPhone 5C Retina display. By comparison, the iPhone 5 sports only a 326ppi display at a 640 x 1136 pixel resolution. The extra 1 inch of screen real estate makes a tremendous difference when it comes to reading documents. The Nexus 4 with a 4.7″ screen is larger than the iPhone. It’s probably the smallest screen I’d want to use portrait for viewing PDF documents zoomed “edge to edge” so that the edges of the text area are against the sides of the screen. I still think that the Samsung Galaxy 4S is the screen to beat, sporting ultra rich colors that make images pop from the screen. Outdoors I found the Nexus 5 to be extremely usable, displaying good contrast and using the auto-brightness setting.
Solid Build Quality
The build of the Nexus 5 is solid, seamless and oozes quality. It looks only slightly larger than the Nexus 4 phone but much lighter and less fragile since it lacks the glass back. If you’re not a fan of using a case, the plastic back with rounded corners is surprisingly easy to grip and has a soft yet firm characteristic. It’s a solid, seamless device that oozes quality. The marks you see on the soft back side of the Nexus 5 are the impressions left on my screen from the Spigen SGP Neo Hybrid Case, which disappear after time. The camera is recessed within a black protective area and is well protected from scratching when placed on a table.
Camera – Photographs and Video
The 8MP camera on the Nexus 5 represents a minor upgrade over the Nexus 4 and includes built-in image stabilization. While I’m not a huge fan of the Android interface, this phone camera takes excellent photos. Low light and flash photos are very good although don’t expect too much from the small, single flash. The photographs are extremely crisp with realistic colors. Indoors with reasonable lighting, I’ve found the pictures to sport excellent for a camera phone. For flash photography the iPhone 5S does a better job, although that phone too pales when compared to a good point and shoot camera. Overall, I found the Samsung Galaxy 4S to provide the best camera phone pictures.
I have noticed that while the camera takes very sharp pictures to at the focal point, there seem to be moments where there is a slight dropoff in sharpness in the peripheral areas around the focal point.
If you hold the phone perfectly still, the video recording on the Nexus 5 is so clear you’d think that you could walk through the screen and into a 3D interior. The video zoom is remarkable at 4x magnification and I was amazed to be able to capture such vivid video. I’ve noticed some slight distortion with video taken indoors in low light areas but it’s nothing fatal. I’m guessing that Google will fix this with an upcoming quick release and I will update this review when the answers become available.
Call Quality and Data Transmission
Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) features a great new phone dialer. T9 dailing has finally made it into the standard OS so that you can dial a contact’s name on the alphnumeric keypad and you’re presented with several choices that match the corresponding numeric pattern. I found the phone’s coverage to be slightly stronger than the good range of the Nexus 4, especially in areas of spotty coverage. Call quality was excellent on both ends of the call. I am using AT&T coverage in New York City (using the GSM band.)
With regard to data, coverage is also excellent and the LTE speed boost is certainly noticeable. I surfed the web effortlessly and found that the battery performed better than expected. I can see the battery easily lasting 5 or more hours of LTE surfing with average talk time. I think that any speed test regarding LTE is irrelevant since, for virtually all purposes, the speed is more than necessary even for streaming. The phone performed well over LTE and using the impressive dual band WiFi capability which supports the rocket fast wireless IEEE 802.11ac protocol. Using my Asus RT-AC66U wireless router, the Google Nexus 5 phone handled wireless IEEE 802.11ac flawlessly. For those of you who use bluetooth frequently, the Nexus 5 also supports Bluethooth 4.0, A2DP.
Android Software and other Intangibles
With the Android operating system, users are given the ability to customize nearly every nuance of the phone. There are an abundance of apps which greatly extend the stock apps and capabilities of the phone. The Kit Kat operating system provides for larger icons and a much more condensed and readable font. Watching movies and reading books are now full screen and the status bar automatically hides itself to maximize screen space. As in the past, you can still ask the phone questions and get useful information back such as “what is the weather in New York City?” But with Kit Kat you can now activate “Google Now” by simply saying “OK Google” – the phone will beep and you will have immediate access to voice commands without touching the phone. You can also search your business and personal contacts using voice as well.
What I did not like is the inclusion of SMS into the poorly titled “Hangouts” application rather than the stock Messages app that comes with the Android OS. It’s as if someone at Google is bent on having all communications use an oddly named app called “Hangouts” – which I’ve never used to “hang out.” To new users I simply call it “Skype” or “IM+” since that does a better job of explaining what the app does. I was able to eventually switch the SMS operation to Google Voice, where it should be, although it was not straightforward. Also note that Google has Hangouts in an always on state, draining the battery, unless you sign out of the app.
An interesting related new feature is a slick swiping interface to quickly move into messaging and contact applications. And if you’re a Facebook fan, receiving a message message will place a Facebook icon as an overlay on top of your existing screen. It will stick on the screen until dismissed by the user. I’m unsure as to the battery drain from these apps running in the background but I can’t imagine it’s going to improve battery life.
I had a difficult time trying to use Google Voice as the standard app to handle SMS messages. If there is an area where Google needs improvement, this is it. Kit Kat is still not yet “idiot proof” and Google’s attempts to force users to use the apps on their Agenda is not a benefit. Fortunately for the media player, this can be easily avoided by downloading any of dozens of high quality media player apps in Google Play.
Another related peeve I had with the Nexus 4 is not having an SD card and a limited 16 GB of storage (roughly 12GB usable memory.) The Nexus 5 does come in a 16 GB version for $349. But $50 more is well spent for the long awaited 32 GB model, which provides adequate storage for business and most other personal uses. Having extra RAM means not having to resort to Google Drive, another Google App initiative that Google seems to be pressing very hard for user adoption.
Not all of my Android 3.3 apps worked with Kit Kat, so be prepared to have to substitute for others while developers upgrade their applications. However, I am glad to report that our Law Guide and Law Dictionary app for Android (and the iPhone), works perfectly in Kit Kat. However that law app will be getting a sleek upgrade and will be released within the next few weeks. And with regard to the hardware, the Google Nexus 5 speed and performance from it’s upgraded processor and RAM makes the phone a joy to use.
Verizon Users are Out of Luck
Sprint has begun selling the Google Nexus 5 using the phone’s CDMA capabilities. Purchasing straight from Google allows users to use a SIM from AT&T or T-Mobile in their unlocked Nexus 5 phone. For reasons undisclosed, the Nexus 5 will not be available on Verizon. There was some speculation that this was the result of Verizon preference for exclusivity (which results in 2 year wireless contracts) or the carrier’s refusal to activate Google Nexus 7 tablets which were compatible with the Verizon network but “unsupported.” There is a rumor of a compatible device being available in 2014.
Does the Google Nexus 5 Satisfy?
When purchasing any new hardware, the most important question that I feel needs to be answered is “does it do the job adequately?” With regard to the Nexus 4, I found very few weaknesses, such as being limited by 16GB of internal memory, slightly blurred tiny text when non-flowed PDF documents were open edge to edge, and a non-user replaceable battery. While I was very satisfied with the Nexus 4 phone for almost one year, the Nexus 5 takes care of virtually all of these concerns.
At a retail price of $349 – $399, it is a value that is absolutely unmatched at this level, especially for an unlocked phone which has features which could easily add $200 to the retail cost. While I do think that the Samsung Galaxy S4 sports the best overall features, the Nexus 5 comes very close but at less than 2/3 the price and a better build quality. With the iPhone 5S weighing in at $849 (plus tax), it’s literally more than twice the price than the Nexus 5 with ostensibly lesser features. As a result, the iPhone 5 seems to be best suited for those who are happily married to the Apple hardware and ecosystem and willing to pay a heavy premium. Even with some very slight misses, the Google Nexus 5 gets a five star review being an unbeatable value for an unlocked phone at this price point. Whether you’re an attorney or a law school student, at $349 – 399, it’s an affordable price point that handles any challenge with aplomb.