A lot of the early reactions to the new Nexus 5 from Google have been of the “solid performer, good value for money” variety.
I actually feel more enthusiastic than that. The best praise I can give the new Nexus 5 smartphone from Google is simply this: Within hours after first turning it on, I put all of my other Android phones away in a drawer.
I tend to use a few different phones at any given time. Lately the rotation has included an HTC One Google Edition (it was my favorite), a Samsung Galaxy S3, and a Nexus 4. Mostly it’s been the HTC One. It runs pure Android, works well and is really nice-looking, with an aluminum body; people would notice it and ask about it.
But they’re all packed away now. Maybe I’ll pull them back out at some point, but for now I’m committed to the Nexus 5.
Before I go on I should stop and offer a few caveats.
1. I’m an Android fan, and have used only Android phones for the past few years. I like Android. I prefer it. Not everyone does. Let’s not argue.
2. There is no point comparing the Nexus 5 to the iPhone 5s. If you’re an Apple fan, you’re not going to consider an Android phone, and that’s fine. Your iPhone 5s is a beautiful device. I know because my wife has one. I recommended it to her, and bought it for her. Same for Windows Phone. If you like that ecosystem, you’ll find some great phones.
But this post is aimed at people who like Android phones.
On to the Nexus 5
The Nexus 5 is the new flagship phone from Google, successor to the Nexus 4. The main reason to buy a Nexus phone is that you want to live in Google-Land, relying on Google services — Gmail, Maps, Google Drive, Google Calendar, and so on. Really what you’re buying into is the Google Cloud.
The phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a nice big 5-inch screen with a mind-blowing 445-ppi pixel density, and the new version of Android, version 4.4, code-named KitKat.
It costs $349, unlocked, off contract. That’s a lot of phone for not much money. That’s for the 16-GB version. If want 32-GB it’s $399.
You can buy it on the Google Play store and pop in your SIM card. I took the AT&T pre-paid SIM out of my HTC One and just stuck it into the Nexus 5. Easy.
You can also buy the Nexus 5 through carriers, subsidized on a plan. But with a list price of $349, who needs a subsidy? It’s not worth getting locked in.
At $349, you can use the Nexus 5 for a while, and if next year you get bored or something better comes along, ditch this phone (or sell it) and get the next one.
The other benefit, of course, is that if you stop liking your carrier, you can get a SIM card from someone else, and use that network instead. You choose the phone you like and the carrier you like.
So in a way this is about the “free as in freedom” thing, which some people care about and some people don’t.
Google makes Nexus phones to show off new versions of Android. Nexus models run pure Android, without a skin from a handset maker. You’re always using the latest and greatest version of the OS.
The Nexus 5 is made by LG and has a lot in common with LG’s flagship phone, the G2, except the Nexus 5 has a smaller battery (23000 mAh v. 3000 mAh) and an 8-MP camera instead of 13-MP on the LG phone.
It’s too soon to tell if the smaller battery will be a problem. So far it’s been good.
As for the camera, I’m not fussed by having fewer megapixels. The shots I’ve taken with the Nexus 5 look good. I’m not intending to blow them up to poster size, so I think the camera will do. The Nexus 5 camera has optical image stabilization, which is nice. The thing is, when I’m shooting snaps with my phone I’m not really trying to create fine art. I’m taking snapshots that I’m going to put on Facebook or email to a friend. If I really want to make good-looking photos, I use a recently purchased Sony NEX-6, a MILC with a 16-megapixel sensor and nice lenses.
The Nexus 5 is lighter than the HTC One, and feels really light in the hand. It’s thin, and sleek, but it’s not an eye-catcher like the HTC One. It’s just a black rectangle with a glass front. People aren’t going to notice it and ask you about it.
Google has employed the “OK Google” voice command that is used on the Moto X. The difference is that on the Moto X the command works from the lock screen, but on the Nexus 5 you need to be on the home screen. You just say “OK Google” and Search pops up and is ready to make a call, get directions, or search for something on the Web.
Basically, it’s all Google, all the time. Google Search is on every screen, and Google Now, the predictive search feature, takes up the far-left pane of the home screen. Google doesn’t go a great job of advertising how brilliant Google Now actually is, but it should. Same goes for the voice recognition, which in KitKat has been improved by 25 percent, Google says.
My sense is Google’s culture is still built around engineers, and they figure if you put a good product out into the world, people will find their way to it.
The UI on KitKat is fresh and clean. New icons. A different typeface. It works. Web browsing is fast and smooth.
The Nexus 5 has wireless charging and works on the charger that I bought last year for my Nexus 4. That was a pleasant surprise. When I come home I just pop the phone onto the charger in the kitchen, and grab it when I’m heading out.
Mat Honan in Wired says the Nexus 5 “feels an awfully lot like the early stage of a new revolution.” I think it’s just the latest step in a revolution that began 10 years ago when Andy Rubin, Rich Miner and the others set out to create a new kind of smart mobile device that would understand its owner’s preferences, that would know where it was at any given moment, that would have a sense of context.
What first excited me about Android was that Google was taking the power of the open-source model and applying it to mobile devices. It all seemed like a grand experiment, one where hundreds or thousands of different models could be created, both cheap and expensive, big and small, good and bad — it was the big frothy chaotic bazaar rather than the cathedral, where a frenzy of competition and creativity would lead to innovation.
Three years ago I wrote a cover story for Newsweek about Android. At the time the predictions were that by 2014 Android would have 25% market share in smartphones. Instead, in 2013, Android hit 80%.
Android is exciting because it has the potential to radically drive down the cost of mobile computing. Here now is a really well built world-class smartphone, with all the latest and greatest bells and whistles plus a slew of compelling Google services, selling for $349.
If you’d like you can also buy a world-class Nexus 7 tablet, for $229.
That’s a phone and a tablet for less than $600. That alone is pretty amazing. But the ultimate goal is for Android to usher in a new world of context-aware computing. That’s why Google is selling these things at such low prices. And that’s why, if you’re an Android fan, you should get one.