Android 4.4 KitKat software
As one of Google's Nexus line, the Nexus 5 is designed to showcase the latest version of Android, known as 4.4 KitKat. Visually, KitKat won't immediately wow you with its changes. It still keeps the usual multiple homescreens, four app icons in the quick-access tray on the bottom and a grid of apps.
Operating KitKat is done in exactly the same way as previous versions of Android, so there'll be no surprises here if you've spent much time with Android. New smart phone users will find it fairly easy to get to grips with, although there are a couple of issues I wasn't keen on. For one, there's no button to add an extra homescreen. Instead, it will automatically create one when you add a widget. While this might seem quite obvious -- and it only takes doing it one time to learn -- it might not be easy for new users to figure out how to do it.
The app list is a bigger problem though. It automatically lists all new icons alphabetically and, unlike nearly every other phone I've used, I couldn't find a way to rearrange the icons into a custom order. I quickly found it frustrating having to swipe through multiple pages to find WhatsApp -- which of course was towards the end of the icons -- rather than being able to move it to the first page for quick access.
There are a few neat additions though. The phone dialler now lets you search for nearby businesses and call them without having to Google details. Be careful though, tapping on a search result automatically dials it (sorry, Tate Modern). Google says you're also able to activate voice search by saying "Okay Google" when on the homescreen before giving it a command, but no matter how many times I repeated the words to the phone, the only thing that happened was that I felt embarrassed and died a little inside.
There's no dedicated messaging app anymore. Instead, Hangouts shows your Google hangouts and your SMS messages in one place. It's easy to switch between sending a text or sending a Hangout message by tapping the recipient's name and I found it particularly helpful to see all messages in one place. If WhatsApp messages showed up too, it would be a brilliant one-stop-shop for all my messaging needs.
Content like ebooks can be displayed at full screen, removing the status bar and navigation buttons from view. This is particularly useful on smaller phones as it will make better use of every bit of the display. KitKat will also show full screen album art for any currently playing music, videos or podcasts in the lockscreen. It's not a major feature by any means, but I thought it looked pretty cool.
Many of the improvements to Android are behind the scenes, however. Google reckons that the new software uses 16 per cent less memory than Jelly Bean. Not only will that help with juggling multiple processes at once, it'll apparently make it run much more smoothly on less powerful devices. In theory, this could help address Android's fragmentation problem, as it will be easier for manufacturers of budget mobiles to slap on the new software.
With new software comes a fresh set of bugs though. I found some compatibility issues with a couple of my favourite apps, Vine and Flickr. The Flickr app refused to open, no matter how many times I reinstalled it, while Vine wouldn't let me publish and share my videos. They almost certainly won't be the only apps affected on the Play Store either. It should only take a software update to fix them, but updates will need to be rolled out by the app developers, not by Google, so it might take a while to arrive.
Processor and performance
Stuffed into the rubberised black body is the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. It's a 2.3GHz quad-core beast backed up by 2GB of RAM. Those are the same specs seen inside the Galaxy Note 3, which I found to be monstrously powerful, so I wasn't surprised to see a similar performance from the Nexus 5.
To start, I booted up some benchmarks to see how it stacks up against the competition. On the Geekbench 3 tool, it racked up a score of 2,828 (multi-core), edging out the iPhone 5S's 2,567 from its 64-bit chip and the Sony Xperia Z1's 2,623. On Geekbench 2, it scored 3,864, again edging out the Z1's 3,702.
In benchmark terms then, the Nexus 5 holds its own extremely well. Benchmarks don't necessarily mean you'll have a better experience with a phone though, so I went in for some real-world testing. I'm pleased to say that it put up a strong fight here too.
There was zero lag of any kind when navigating around the KitKat interface, nor was there any delay when dragging down settings bars or opening menus. The responsive touchscreen also helps the phone feel extremely nippy.
Gaming was handled very well too. Real Racing 3 played with very high frame-rates for smooth gameplay, as did N.O.V.A 3, Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2. Importantly however, these demanding titles were able to play smoothly when the phone was also performing background tasks like downloading apps and playing music. Flicking between currently running apps in the multitasking panel was very swift.
There was very little I could find to throw at the phone to really slow it down. All of the most demanding current-generation apps and games are handled beautifully by the phone and it's in a brilliant position to tackle the next wave of high-intensity, graphically-demanding tasks.
On the back of the phone is an 8-megapixel camera. That's the same resolution as you'd find on the Nexus 4, so it's a shame that there's been no increase in order to keep up with the 13-megapixel Galaxy S4 or 20-megapixel Sony Xperia Z1. Megapixels aren't everything though -- the iPhone 5S also packs an 8-megapixel sensor but manages to capture some incredible images.
The Nexus 5, however, doesn't produce similarly impressive shots. On my first shot of St Paul's Cathedral, it achieved a decent overall exposure with good colours. The clarity on St Paul's itself isn't bad, but the detail isn't as good on the buildings towards the left.
My second shot of the cathedral, taken from Millennium Bridge, is less impressive, with some of the details being lost on St Paul's due it being overexposed.
My second shot at Borough Market didn't blow me away either. Most of the scene is well exposed, but the sky in the top left is completely washed out. It's fine for a quick Facebook snap, but it offers little competition to phones like the S4 or Nokia Lumia 1020, both of which produce some superb photos.
In low-light the phone impressed even less. I popped into a bar -- purely to test the phone, of course -- and found that the low light resulted in noisy photos lacking in sharpness. More annoyingly though, the camera really struggled to focus on faces, regularly needing to take multiple shots to get it right.
The Nexus 5 has some of the fun tricks of its predecessor though. It's able to shoot the 360-degree 'Photo Sphere', that then lets you turn the scene into a bizarre 'mini planet' picture, which seemed to still work quite well -- although the colours seemed a little muted -- and there are built-in editing options too.
The camera isn't exactly terrible, but it falls short of what you can find on some of the other top-end smart phones. Of course, the Nexus is much cheaper and if you're not particularly fussed about mobile photography then the extra cash in your bank will probably make up for the lesser performance.
With a supercharged processor under the hood and a bright, high-resolution display on top, you'd imagine the battery would take a battering. To stop it conking out after five minutes, LG has whacked a fairly capacious 2,300mAh battery inside and reckons it lasts for around 17 hours of talk time from a single charge.
That's a respectable figure, and I'd say it's not too ambitious, based on my own use. From taking the phone off charge at 8am, I was able to use the phone fairly heavily -- playing music, sending emails, tweeting, texting and playing an hour or so of various games in total -- and it wasn't until around 8 in the evening that I had to charge it again.
If you're careful about how you use the phone, there's no reason you shouldn't get a day of use out of it. If want to have battery remaining for the evening, avoid demanding tasks like video streaming and gaming and make sure to keep the screen brightness down. As a general rule with all smart phones, you'll probably need to charge the phone every night, after a day of standard use.
Like its predecessor, the Nexus 5 packs some of the best technology available for smart phones, pairs it with the latest Android software and still wants less money than any other top-end phone.
It's let down by its camera, which didn't impress, some Android software quirks and the lack of expandable storage. If you can cope with those then the Nexus 5 is not only an excellent budget phone, but a great phone regardless of how much cash you've got spend.