This is my personal review of Google’s new Nexus 5 smartphone. It is not intended to be a general review of the phone (there are plenty out there on the web) – just from my personal experience (mostly) and point of view.
I’d had a HTC Desire (which I blogged about) for about three years now – it was my first smartphone and was an excellent workhorse for most of that time – towards the end it started having some battery charging problems and eventually died. So my lovely wife suggested that she get me a new phone of my choice for Christmas. Perfect!
For a long time I’d been looking at the Samsung Galaxy S4 as a replacement. It had all the specs and the goodies that I wanted. The only problem was the price – at least $650, up to $720. I was thinking about getting it on a MRO with Telstra but still that would be over $1400 over 24 months. Then I started hearing more and more about Google’s Nexus 5.
Started reading and viewing comparative reviews between the N5 and the S4. They seemed to indicate that the phones were very similar in specs and quality. The downsides of the N5 that mattered to me was the fact that you can’t put a bigger SD card in it, and that the battery is not replaceable. The upside of the N5 that mattered to me was the price – just $399 plus shipping for the 16GB. Just for laughs I checked with Telstra to see how much they’d sell it to me for. Their cheapest deal would see me paying an extra $720 over 24 months – yeah right.
The N5 comes in a white or black body – I considered the white one, thinking it might be a little more stylish, but then I read about the little white speaker dot on the front, which has annoyed some owners as it detracts from the otherwise all-black face of the phone. So I opted for the all-black model and I haven’t regretted that decision.
So on Sunday 1 December, in goes my order to Google Play. $399 plus $19.95 shipping = $418.95. Not a bad deal for such a high-spec smartphone, in my opinion. Got the tracking number by email soon after, and watched my phone travel from Hong Kong to China to Singapore to Belmont. I was a bit nervous because somehow the suburb name was entered incorrectly – the postcode was correct but the suburb was a locality in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in far north WA. As it happened, it got onto a Fedex truck and was soon after rejected as “incorrect address”. I called the local Fedex office and arranged a pickup on Thursday 5th. Not everyone has been so lucky, unfortunately.
I actually waited until I’d left the Fedex office before unboxing my new shiny. As soon as you open the package, slide the blue cover off the white box, and remove the box lid, the beautifully all-black Nexus 5 greets you with the plastic film to peel off. There’s also a little circular bit of plastic to peel off the camera on the back – but I left it on for a little while, and it didn’t affect the camera at all.
The body is very light to hold, feels solid, no bits rattling around. The power button is on the right-hand side which is ok for my right hand but a little awkward for my left hand to press. The volume toggles are on the left-hand side. The audio and USB jacks are in the expected locations. I pressed the power button for a few seconds and a big battery icon displayed in the middle of the screen, indicating about 80% or so. I was in the car at the time so I charged it to 100% using my old car charger – took about 10 minutes or so to get it to full charge while I drove to a friend’s house. It took a few minutes to boot up the first time (subsequent reboots take very little time). I was going to transfer my SIM across but then realised my HTC Desire uses an ordinary size SIM, but the Nexus requires a Micro SIM. So I used an old HTC Desire I’d borrowed from a friend as a wifi hotspot while I entered my details into the phone.
Set up went smoothly, connected to my Google Apps for Domains account, etc. I didn’t bother doing any restore from backup. Going from the Gingerbread to KitKat was a big transition, and it was immediately evident that a lot of the apps that I was using on my HTC Desire were no longer required. For example, I used to use an app to watch my 3G data usage and stop if I was going to go over my monthly allowance – but KitKat has a builtin setting for this. The stock home screen is a joy to use, easy to learn. I set it to recognise my Australian accent, and so far it’s been mostly flawless except in noisy conditions. The only thing that doesn’t work is the “OK Google” thing which only works if you have an American accent, apparently. I’d prefer to do without that feature, thank you very much :)
Picked up a micro SIM from a Telstra shop the next day, only took about 10 minutes. Google sent a little pin (attached to a circular handle) with the phone that you can use to poke in a hole in the right-hand side, which ejects the SIM card tray. 20 minutes later my old phone was an ex-Telstra phone and the Nexus 5 was now fully armed and operational. Of course I had to do some speed tests – I use Ookla’s Speedtest app for this purpose (numbers below are Mb/s):
- WiFi, at home (via ADSL1): 6.14 down, 1.41 up, 32ms ping
- WiFi, at work: 50.32 down, 0.47 up, 6ms ping
- Telstra 4G, at work: 24.98 down, 4.13 up, 36ms ping
- Telstra 4G, at home*: 15.73 down, 10.75 up, 38ms ping
Needless to say I was greatly impressed. My phone is now faster on Telstra than on my home Wifi. My download limits at home are much greater, however, so I still use Wifi most of the time when I’m home.
* by comparison, I often had trouble getting any 3G signal on my Desire at home – so to get these speeds at home, when Telstra’s maps show very limited coverage for my area, is very impressive
The best of the best thing about this phone for me, is the Chrome browser. It is FAST – and so smooth, virtually no lagging when scrolling and zooming. I’ve got it logged into my Google Apps account, so my bookmarks, etc., are all synced across all my devices – if I’m looking at a page on my phone, when I get to my computer at home or at work, I can just go to my “Other Devices” list and bring up that tab on the PC, and vice versa. Did I say it was fast? Pages are rendered so quickly it’s a pleasure to use.
Google Now is interesting. It’s accessed from the home screen by swiping from the left. It tries to guess what info I might be interested in, which apparently is always the weather forecast for my current location, and how long it will take to get home (if I’m at work) or to get to work (if I’m at home). It shows my appointments, and if I’m not at the location it shows me the quickest route to get there, an estimate of the time required, and how bad the traffic is. It also watches my search history – for example, after I searched for LH2 (was interested in the propellant used for the Apollo missions), Google Now showed me details of some flight from Luxembourg to somewhere, probably because LH2 happens to be its flight number. I think Google Now needs a bit of work, or maybe it just needs more time to learn what info I want. Yesterday there was a bad accident on Roe Highway, and Google Now correctly worked out that that’s the way I usually go home – it warned me about the blockage, and suggested several alternative routes which would be quicker. I used the first suggestion and got home without any fuss.
Voice search is amazing. I say “what is the time in Sydney” and it tells me. I then say “what’s the weather like” and it tells me the forecast for Sydney – so its interpretation of questions are context-sensitive. I can see this being useful because I can’t type on the little screen as well as I can type on a PC.
Photos are super clear and high resolution, compared to my old Desire. It seems quicker to take a photo as well. If the subjects are moving, however, they are very blurry. So far I haven’t been able to get a clear shot of my son, who never stays still for more than a microsecond. It seems that the impending update to KitKat 4.4.1 solves this (and a few other) issues, so maybe if I can tie him down I might be able to get a photo of him then.
The camera has a large array of options that are accessed by swiping from the bottom, and waiting for the relevant icon to appear in this semi-circle menu thing. Takes a bit of getting used to. You can view your photo gallery by swiping from the right. If you swipe a photo down, it is deleted. I recommend setting up either Dropbox or Google Drive to automatically upload your photos as a backup.
From the lock screen, the camera can be quickly accessed by swiping from the right-hand side of the screen – this is a handy feature.
As it only has a little speaker at the bottom, the sound quality isn’t all that great – but with headphones it’s perfect for listening to my music collection. Talking on the phone works fine.
I’ve noticed similar battery life comparing my HTC Desire (in the first few years of ownership) with the Nexus 5. I can run heavy apps (like maps or games) for about 3 hours on a charge, and it’ll last at least half a day or so in sleep mode, but I need to keep it on charge most of the time including overnight.
After a week of playing with the phone, it now knows more about me than I do, so I wanted to lock it down so that a casual acquaintance can’t just pick it up and look everything up.
I used to use a pattern lock on my HTC Desire so decided to use that, as well as put a pin on my SIM. I put the pattern lock on first, then the SIM pin – but then when I tested it went into this lock screen showing the pattern dots, but with “Unlocking SIM…” showing. Can’t back out, can’t put in the pattern, nothing responding.
A reboot solved that issue – apparently a reboot is always required with a SIM pin change anyway. I’ve tried to see what to do if I forget the pattern, and it seems you’d have to do a full reset. However, I’ve used my pattern for years and will never forget it (touch wood).
I’ve also played with the face recognition option. It seems to work really well – I’ve recorded my face under a number of conditions (e.g. angled back like when the phone is resting on the desk; in a car with bright sunshine behind, with sunglasses on; in bed with my face against the pillow) and it seems 100% reliable so far, and much quicker than unlocking with a pattern. Tested it against other people, never unlocked for them. If I can’t get my face into the frame quick enough, it falls back to the pattern unlock so that’s ok.
There’s a rather paranoid “check that I’m still alive” feature that if you turn it on, the face recognition will only unlock if it detects a blink. So far in my testing I haven’t been able to get that to work – I’m going blink, blink, blink, but it still says “no blink detected”. So I’ve left that option turned off.
Whenever you change or improve the facial recognition, it always asks to reconfirm the pattern. This means that someone who doesn’t know my pattern can’t just add their face to the recognition thing.
Note: since the camera can be accessed directly from the lock screen (swipe from right), anyone can take a photo without needing me to unlock it. This may or may not be something you like. In my case, it’s not that big a deal. At least they cannot view my photos until I unlock the phone.
Tips & Tricks
These are things that are obvious to anyone experienced on a recent version of Android, but not to someone like me who came from Gingerbread:
- swipe from the top of the screen from anywhere to access the notification area (or to get out of full-screen apps)
- the top-right of the notification area has a button to access settings
- swipe from the top with two fingers to get immediate access to settings
- in many places where a list of things are shown vertically, to dismiss something you swipe it to the right
- in Chrome, swipe down from the address bar to see all your tabs
- when connected to a computer via USB, Windows should automatically download the drivers to make the phone’s internal storage available as a drive – but (at least in Win7) it won’t be assigned a drive letter, which means some applications won’t be able to access it (but it’s easy to use Windows Explorer to move files around)
- if you plug it in via USB, but Windows does nothing, you may have MTP turned off. This setting is hidden under “Settings”, “Storage”, click the three vertical dot icon in the top-right corner, click “USB computer connection”, and ensure that “Media device (MTP)” is turned on. I find this a bit anti-intuitive, and the first two times I forgot and had to Google the answer. It’s a bit annoying because with my HTC Desire it was easy to switch modes (at home I want it to connect as a media device, but not when I’m charging the phone on my PC at work)
- the internal storage (“16GB” in my model – you can opt for the 32GB model for an extra $50) is shared for all applications, photos, videos, music, ringtones, downloads, and cache. In the “Storage” page under Settings you get a summary of storage use. In mine so far I have used:
+ Audio: 6 GB
+ Apps: 1.6 GB (I’ve installed dozens of apps already! I was so accustomed to carefully managing my space usage on my old phone)
+ Other: 431 MB
+ Available: 4.4 GB
= Total formatted space: 12.4GB
Since I’m using Google Play, if I start running out of space later, I can start deleting the Audio files, and stream them when I want to play them.
- launcher – each page has the Google search bar at the top that you can’t remove, a 4 x 4 grid where you can put icons and widgets, and just above the “Back / Home / Running” buttons, a quick launch bar with space for 4 icons and the drawer icon in the middle (to access all your apps)
- whenever you install an app, it will put an icon for it on a page to the right of the home screen – and if it runs out of space it will create as many additional pages to the right as needed
- if you move an icon on top of another icon it will create a little folder for them, which you can name – I’ve found this a very handy feature. You can have a maximum of 16 icons in a folder.
- if you want to move an icon to another spot, if there’s already something there, it will obligingly move that other icon out of the way for you – this fixes the old problem where you used to need a blank space if you wanted to swap the positions of any two icons
- when playing music, the lock screen shows the album picture as the background, which is nice – and also has one-click access to pause and go to the next track
- apps are allowed to go full screen and hide the “Back / Home / Running” buttons – but not all fullscreen apps take advantage of this, for some reason. What’s annoying, is a particular app that disables the Back button but still leaves it showing on the screen.
A lot of apps that I couldn’t run (or that were buggy) under Gingerbread (e.g. Facebook) now work beautifully under KitKat. A number of apps that used to run fine on Gingerbread don’t work as well (these are mostly apps that have been virtually abandoned by their developer) – but in all cases I’ve easily found a good (or even better) replacement to run in KitKat. Also, I can read PDFs out of the box without any additional app installed.
Killer apps that come pre-installed:
- Chrome (obviously)
- Google Drive
- Play Music
Out of the box, there are NO games wasting precious storage space. This is a VERY GOOD thing! (Before I rooted my Desire, all the stupid little games that came pre-installed and unable to be uninstalled or moved to the SD card used to annoy me – especially as its storage was so limited.)
Killer apps that I’ve installed:
- Astro File Manager (includes access to files on local network, Google Drive, Dropbox, Facebook, and others)
- Australia TV Time Pro
- Beautiful Widgets (I like having the time/date/weather on my home screen)
- Bible (from YouVersion)
- Dropbox (all my photos are immediately uploaded)
- Evernote (new for me, still getting used to it)
- Fuel Watch WA
- Keepass2Android (password manager)
- ING Direct
- X32 Mixing Station (used to remotely control the digital sound desk at church)
- Power Toggles (this allows me to add the toggles I want to the notifications area)
- Waves (this is the new version of the gStrings app – excellent for tuning instruments)
- Where’s My Droid
- Wifi Analyzer
You can buy the expensive rugged rubber case or a slimmer flip cover via Google Play (they cost around $40 – $50) or buy an ordinary case or whatnot from local shops – however I’m yet to find a shop that stocks them yet, or who haven’t immediately gone out of stock. Seems the Nexus 5 is quite popular ’round ‘ere. I ended up buying a belt pouch for $20 that is the right size for an S4 and that suits me perfectly, although it swims a bit.
It has been noted on the forums that the rubber case may restrict some audio jacks (with right-angled plugs) from plugging in properly.
I haven’t bothered with a screen protector – the phone features a gorilla glass face which is resistant to scratches, and most of the time when I’m moving it’s safe in my belt pouch.
Apparently, Google will soon sell a wireless charger, which looks interesting.
Overall, I’m very impressed with this phone. It was delivered without too much fuss in less than a week, it seems to have excellent build quality, and KitKat just works beautifully. Chrome is fast and smooth and a joy to use. Play Music is fun and turns the phone into the perfect music player. A colleague who owns a Nexus 4 is very jealous.
I recommend the following whirlpool thread, which has links to other relevant threads about buying the Nexus 5, accessories, issues, etc.: http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=2180771
UPDATE 23/01/2015: I forgot to update back a few months ago when my Nexus 5 was updated to Android Kit-Kat. Well, yesterday the OTA update came through for Android Lollipop (5.0.1)! No problems detected so far, and the new multi-user feature is excellent.
The only downside is that I expected that I’d be able to switch to Guest mode for my kids to use, so they don’t start making phone calls – but when you switch user, they only get the builtin Google apps – no games, defeating the purpose. You have to sign up separately to Google Play and download the apps you want, which makes no sense. It’s on the same device – I want to just select an app and say, “enable for user [x]” but it just doesn’t work that way.