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Google Nexus 5 - Android 4.4, Apps and Performance

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



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Google Nexus 5


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Google Nexus 5 – Android 4.4 KitKat Software

The Google Nexus 5 is the first phone to launch with Android 4.4 KitKat. It's also one of just a few devices that will offer the software as Google intended. Almost every other phone these days has custom interface that adds a bunch of features and alters, in a handful of small ways, what the phone feels like to use.

It's a real pity, because in its pure form, Android 4.4 is a very coherent, easy-to-use system. These days it doesn't really have many more potentially-confusing dangling bits than the latest version of the iPhone software, iOS 7.

Like iOS 7, Android 4.4 KitKat makes the system look slightly more friendly and, at a push, cartoony. Some of the last remnants of visual stuffiness – unnecessary borders and rigid lines that aren't really effective visual punctuation – have gone. More menus are hidden until you need them, making Android feel less cluttered than ever.

SEE ALSO: Nexus 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S4

Nexus 5 pics 9

New-look Android 4.4 KitKat

These are similar changes HTC made in its own Sense 5.0 UI, introduced in the excellent HTC One.

There's not as much customisation as you get with some other Android phones, though. For example, you can't choose between different screen transitions, or how long these animations take. Is that an unnecessary extra? Probably.

Google has fine-tuned the options it makes available, including only those that are truly worthwhile in the Nexus 5. A good example is font size – You can pick five sizes between 'small' and 'huge', and it affects fonts throughout the phone's UI – in some phones it only affects the menus, not the home screen.

Android 4.4 is a refreshing, pared-back approach to Android. And we think it is the right approach.

The way you interact with Android hasn't changed either, meaning you can add in plenty of the missing customisation with third-party apps if you feel the need.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S5 release date, news and rumours round-up

Nexus 5 pics 10

Google Nexus 5 – Apps and Games

Other than a slightly new look, the Nexus 5's Android 4.4 software also sees Google start to squish together some of its mobile and desktop services/apps. The most obvious of these is Hangouts.

Google Hangouts is a chat interface for Google Plus on a computer, but in the Nexus 5 it's also where all your SMS messages end up. Good old fashioned text messages and mobile internet-powered web chats are virtually the same thing in the Nexus 5.

It's Google's way to try and make people use its own services all the more – but it's executed simply enough to stop it being confusing, beyond the new name. You can also change the default SMS app in the Settings menu (more are available from Google Play) if you really don't get on with Hangouts.

Most of Google's other core Android apps are likely familiar to you – Maps, Mail, Calendar and Drive are all well-established bits of software that will fit like well-worn shoes if you've used Android in the past.

SEE ALSO: 10 best smartphones you can buy

Nexus 5 pics 11

Home screen folders and QuickOffice

There are a a few much newer additions, though. Google Keep was introduced in March 2013, and is a simple note-taking tool that stashes all your post-its on your Drive account. It lets you attach audio clips and pictures too, and its interface is beautifully simple. It's designed for the everyday user, not the hardcore note-taking obsessive, but makes a good Evernote-replacer for most people.

What's more interesting is the inclusion of QuickOffice, a definite stab at Microsoft and its inclusion of Office in Windows Phone. It's an office suite that lets you create and edit text documents, spreadsheets and presentations directly from the Nexus 5 – and save them directly to Google Drive, or the internal memory. Google is offering a direct rival for the mobile versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint here. And while still a tiny bit fiddly on a phone, they are – like much of Android 4.4 – pretty intuitive.

The Nexus 5's Android 4.4 also tries to push Google Now. It's a service that pre-empts information you might ask for, such as weather where you live, and the routes back home from where you are.

This is the only phone that lets you zoom straight to Google Now just by saying 'Ok Google' from the home screen. However, it's not a feature we could get to work, despite having offline recognition installed. Oh well.

New optimisations aside, the Nexus 5 offers all the apps and games scope of any other Android phone. You get full access to the Google Play app store, and both the 16GB and 32GB models give you space for loads content. However, this will soon get eaten up if you install lots of data-heavy 3D games, or fill the phone up with movies. Unlike a Samsung Galaxy S4, you can't increase internal memory here.

SEE ALSO: 10 best Android phones you can buy right now

Google Nexus 5 – Performance and Benchmarks

General performance of the Nexus 5 is excellent. Navigation is super-quick, with lag-free transitions thanks to both the optimisations of Android 4.4 and the power of the Nexus 5. We did experience a few little glitches in our testing, but these related mostly to third-party apps (unavoidable) and the camera app (likely to be ironed out in sequential updates).

The Google Nexus 5 uses a Snapdragon 800 CPU, on par with the top new Android phones of late 2013, and notably faster than the Galaxy S4.

The Snapdragon 800 used here is a quad-core 2.27GHz processor with 2GB of RAM. Given the £300 asking price of the Nexus 5, that's a cracking spec, matching the Sony Xperia Z1 and LG G2.

We tried a host of high-end 3D action games to see if the Nexus 5 would trip up, but it did not. Real Racing 3, Dead Trigger 2 and Epic Citadel all ran perfectly. If a current game doesn't run well, it's because of poor optimisation on the developer's part, not a failing of the Nexus 5.

Benchmarks once again prove that the new Nexus offers stellar value for money. With 17,757 in the 3D Mark Unlimited test, 2,715 in Geekbench (907 single-core), 803ms in Sunspider and 801 in the Peacekeeper test, the Nexus 5 offers performance very close to the Xperia Z1 - a phone that costs £200 more.

It's not as powerful as an iPhone 5S, but for the time being you can't get a more powerful Android phone with good game developer support. The latest Intel Atom mobile processors are a good deal faster, but as they're hardly used in any phones, developers don't tend to optimise for them specifically.

In short, the Nexus 5 rules for gaming.

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November 4, 2013, 12:00 pm

Whilst I like Android, I am no fan of Gmail, Google+ and the rest. I have a Gmail address so that I can use the Play store, and that's as far as it goes. Is this phone integrated into Google's services in such a way that you are forced to use them? You mention the Hangouts/SMS link, but I think you said you can use other SMS Apps instead? Can you store contacts on the phone only, or are they automatically hoovered up by Google? Likewise the diary. In fact, other than using the Play store, is a Google account required at all on this phone?


November 4, 2013, 1:02 pm

Nice phone. Just got one. Voice to text is faster than my Nexus 7. Camera is good enough. Feels light, but solid. Not sure about Google+ yet... Worth a serious look if your considering an Android device.


November 4, 2013, 1:04 pm

The home screen is entirely Google Now and Google Search, similar to Facebook Home. That's why you can speak to Google Now from the home screen.

That said, you can replace all of Google's apps, including the home screen. And you can disable automatic background synchronisation on your Google account.


November 4, 2013, 2:12 pm

Reading the comparisons in this review you wouldn't even know the LG G2 exists. Its only £100 or so more in 32Gb form, larger battery and higher res, OIS camera. Plus mkv support out of the box, which is pretty useful if you want to make use of the full HD screen.


November 4, 2013, 2:20 pm

You can turn most if not all of it off.

Geoff Richards

November 4, 2013, 2:43 pm

Not sure about some of those: the 16GB is £439 so it's about £150 more than the Nexus 5. I guess you're comparing 32GB Nexus 5 (£339) with the 16GB G2 (£439). Neither phone has an SD slot so choose wisely.

Yes, the G2 has 3000mAh battery 2300mAh on the Nexus. Given they run the same internals you'd expect the G2 to have a longer battery life for sure.

The screens are the same resolution; the Nexus has slightly higher PPI because the display is slightly smaller. The LG camera is higher resolution: 13MP vs 8MP, though both feature OIS.

I can't comment on the MKV support, but clearly it will be a little while before KitKat is available for the G2, if that's important to you.

I like the G2. It also happens to have ac wifi (if you care) and a 2.1MP front-facing camera vs 1.3MP on the Nexus. Again, if you care.

I have suggested to the boys that we should consider a full head-to-head to see how they compare in the real world :)


November 4, 2013, 2:55 pm

Well it looks great, but possibly not great enough to upgrade straight away from my much loved Nexus 4. I'm wondering whether the slightly larger size might leave consumers deciding between Nexus 5 and Nexus 7.

What I'd really like to know is

1) Have they fixed it so you can send a contact card by text message? You can't seem to do this in jelly bean on the Nexus 4.

2) Is there now a fix for "all day events" on google calendar not appearing on my nexus 4?

3) Does it still occasionally randomly delete contacts?

William Judd

November 4, 2013, 3:14 pm

lol, why didn't you remove the back sticker? :D


November 4, 2013, 3:57 pm

RE: 3) I had this on my S2 at one point. Seems to be a non-issue on my Note II, which I am selling once my N5 arrives :$


November 4, 2013, 4:01 pm

Excellent reply and comparison - the G2 seems fantastic overall, but I think nothing will top the Nexus experience for me.

As a guy who only got the Note II because the N4 wouldn't support LTE, I am delighted to be going N5 this time around.

My father's Galaxy Nexus still zips around at great speeds for the age of the device and he uses a fair few widgets and apps; my Note II is fine in most scenarios but I don't like that the browser options, all of them, lag on start up very heavily, and other such annoyances that I never notice on native Android.

I will miss the large battery of the Note II, but the S-Pen went underused as did Multi-Window.

EDIT: One last win for the N5 for me is the form factor. Narrower is good, slim bezels are tasty, the phone should slip less than the glorious glass back of the N4 - overall I'm excited for it.


November 4, 2013, 4:52 pm

I've never had your issue in #3 with my Nexus 4, and so far with my Nexus 5.


November 4, 2013, 5:04 pm

It's disappointing that this phone was given a battery rating based on it's features but no actual data. I'm interested to see how sensor batching will improve things in 4.4, as my SGS4 is kept away for about 90 minutes a day by Google Services, which is basically the location wakelock on behalf of other apps. Hopefully GSM Arena will sort out their battery test in the near future!

Andy Whitmore

November 4, 2013, 5:19 pm

Why when anyone not just Trusted Reviews reviews a phone without an SD card slot they say it is an issue except for the iphone which has never had expandable memory but reviewers never seem to mention this? Just a thought. I can't wait to get my Nexus 5 will blow iphone 5s out of the water!! Wait for the isheep to comment


November 4, 2013, 5:27 pm

If I recall correctly we have/did mention it in the most recent iPhone reviews. There's a slightly cultural difference, too, which you ably demonstrate. Android buyers, as a general rule, a more 'pro SD' than iPhone buyers. That said, I think our review points our this isn't a major issue (for us at least), it's more of a 'something to consider' issue. For some people it's reason enough to buy a more expensive phone, but not for others.


November 4, 2013, 5:31 pm

We're working on our battery life testing, but as you probably appreciate it's an incredibly difficult thing to test in a genuinely scientific/psuedo-scientific manner given the number of variables you have to control.

Until we can come up with a test that satisfies us we prefer to rely on 'natural use' in a day, rather than run a bunch a tests that sound comparable but don't really stand up to scrutiny. I appreciate your point, however, as it's something we're keenly aware of. Our basic judgement, at present, is to provide a judgement similar to that of an ordinary user, which is typically "I use my phone in x way and at the end of the day I'm either running out of juice/have just enough left/have a comfortable amount left".

Since we're on the topic, we're open to suggestions (for everyone) about what you would find useful in a battery life test. Our main aim/preference is something repeatable but not totally exhaustive. The time/benefit trade-off for us tricky - we don't have infinite resources (man hours or money) to throw at this kind of thing at present, but our aim is always to improve our reviews as much as we can.

We don't aim to be Anandtech or GSM Arena. We want to provide enough technical insight while remaining accessible to less tech-savvy readers. It's a broad church who read tech reviews and we aim to bridge the gap between the casual and hardcore.


November 4, 2013, 5:50 pm

I ordered an hour after release and received my n5 yesterday. amazingly quick shipping. Purchase Friday received Monday.

I agree with all on this review the phone is very nice to hold. What always surprises me when I pickup the phone is just how light the phone feels. I have a mate with the samsung s4 and in comparison the n5 feels almost too light almost as if its a display model or its missing a battery. Super light and comfortable to hold

My only concern is that the soft touch rubber surrounding the phone might wear off after a year or so. I have a first gen nexus 7 which also has rubber on the back and its had no problem but the n7 uses what seems to be more durable rubber. Only time will tell I guess.

Screen is very clear, it's very fast compared to my n7 or old galaxy nexus. Camera seems decent low light handling is amazing for a phone. HDR photo feature works well. Battery life seems great so far. No removable battery a bit of a shame though I had two for my galaxy nexus.

Not sure that else I can say


November 4, 2013, 5:55 pm

Yeah no need for upgrade from n4. You'll get 4.4 soon enough anyway which Is a nice upgrade. A nice change to 4.4 is the removal of the black bar from top of the screen on desktop. This gives the illusion of a longer screen because the top bar no longer blends with the black top bevel.


November 4, 2013, 6:52 pm

The LG G2 is slippery as a soap and the edges are so narrow as to be positively unergonomic. I got one last week but I'm returning it.

LG has also screwed up the Android UI with a bunch of crap apps and constant annoying popups of LG user agreements that I'm not interested in agreeing to.


November 4, 2013, 8:31 pm

That is a fair point. Except from the very crucial fact that the Nexus line from the Nexus One to the Nexus 10 has never had an SD card slot either.

Erin Henneberry

November 4, 2013, 8:32 pm

Just wondering if you guys had any thoughts on durability of the phone. I bought a Nexus 4 and then dropped it three feet from my lap onto carpet, and the front glass shattered and the touch screen completely stopped functioning. Is the Nexus 5 any hardier?


November 4, 2013, 8:48 pm

Thanks for the reply (and StankyChikin).

Edgar Robert

November 4, 2013, 8:51 pm

I have heard there's a charger pad for the Nexus 5 but can't find it when carrying out a web search. Does anyone know when this will be available and expected price?


November 4, 2013, 9:43 pm

Please stop saying that 4.4 is like iOS7. It's false. iOS7 is like Jelly Bean.

Hope I'm missing something...

November 4, 2013, 10:58 pm

I finally got a chance to start setting up my Nexus 5 this evening and so far I have to say I am feeling very disappointed indeed compared to my Nexus 4. The previous SMS app which was fine as far as I am concerned appears to be gone entirely and all we have is the nastiness of "Hangouts". Looks like I may be forced to install a third party SMS app that I do not want. The phone dialer (which again was excellent on the Nexus 4) appears to have been comprehensively ruined. Even the contacts list displays LESS contacts on screen at one than before despite the larger screen. I am hoping I can find ways to rectify these but it isn't looking good so far.

Jacob Nørgaard

November 5, 2013, 6:21 am

But it's an Android phone if there ever was one, and they have a history of being user expandable via SD cards. iDevices don't.

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