Nexus 5 Review: The Best Android Can Offer (Especially For the Price)

What Is It?

It’s the new Nexus, baby. It’s a smartphone from Google (built by LG) designed to showcase the newest version of Android (4.4, a.k.a. KitKat) in its purest form. It has a 5-inch, 1080p IPS Plus screen (445 pixels per inch), Qualcomm’s current flagship in the quad-core 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB RAM, 2300mAh battery, and a 8MP camera on the back. And yes, unlikelast year’s Nexus 4, the Nexus 5 supports LTE with no hacking required.

Perhaps most significantly, you can buy it, unlocked, and without any carrier subsidies for $350 (16GB version) or $400 (32GB version) straight from Google. Most major US carriers will be selling it as well at significantly reduced on-contract prices, though you have to promise your first born or something. Sadly, Verizon customers are being left out in the cold on this one.

Why It Matters

The Nexus 5 matters because it’s Google’s pure, unadulterated vision for what an Android phone should be. And its predecessors have always been among the best phones of any kind you can buy.

The most important feature of a Nexus phone is that it offers a vanilla Android experience. Hardware manufacturers can’t help but pollute their offerings with skins, which almost without exception degrade your overall experience. Some of them are okay, and some of them make you want to feed your hands to an alligator, but none of them are 100-percent pure Google.

It’s not just software, though; Nexus hardware has—in theory, at least—been dialed in by Google to show off the full potential of its platform. As with last year’s Nexus 4, Google has tapped LG to produce the body to pair with its KitKat soul. Ultimately, it’s the closest thing in the Android ecosystem to what Apple is able to offer with its iPhone, where Google has full control of the software and the hardware. Oh, and because the Nexus program essentially exists outside of wireless carrier control, OS updates come much, much faster.

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On the outside, the Nexus 5 is unremarkable. That doesn’t mean bad, just that nothing really stands out. It’s a slightly rounded rectangle, most reminiscent of a Galaxy S4except a bit taller (5.43 vs 5.38 inches), a bit thicker (0.34 vs 0.31 inches), and just a hair narrower (2.72 vs 2.75 inches). The back is a brushed plastic that strikes a nice balance between smooth and grippy. The only physical buttons on it (the power button and the volume rocker) are both placed just prominently enough, and offer a satisfying click.

Really the Nexus 5’s only distinguishing features are an extra-large camera lens (which is necessary for the built-in and fantastic optical image stabilization), and its big bright screen. Speaking of the latter: that IPS Plus display is sharp and plenty bright, even in direct sunlight. When compared to an AMOLED display, you can see a bit of rosiness in the whites (whereas AMOLEDs tend to skew a bit greenish) which we find pleasing, but no IPS display can come anywhere near an AMOLED when it comes to blacks. The Nexus 5 manages a respectable very dark gray, but it can’t touch that vacuum-of-space blackness that the AMOLEDs have.

There is no removable battery, expandable memory, or IR blaster on the Nexus 5. There is, however, wireless charging, which actually comes in pretty handy.