PROS / The Nexus 5 is an understated yet attractive smartphone with great looks and a better screen than its predecessor.
CONS / Without a decent camera or a competitive battery, it lags far behind the competition.
VERDICT / The latest Android version may be fun to play with, but the Nexus 5 disappoints in other ways. Unless you're really itching to try out KitKat, spend your money on one of our higher-ranked phones.
Google's new Nexus 5 offers the purest Android experience you can buy. Where phones from Samsung or Motorola sport older, modified versions of the Android operating system, the Nexus 5 runs Android 4.4, also known as KitKat – the latest iteration of Google's dominant OS. It offers some nifty new features, and die-hard fans of Android phones may jump at the opportunity to try it out. Unfortunately, from its poor camera to its abysmal battery life, the phone itself is a disappointment. Next to the other devices we reviewed, it doesn't measure up.
One of the phone's strong points is its display, a 1080p IPS screen measuring 4.95 inches from corner to corner. Packing such a high resolution into 5 inches of real estate nets the device an astonishingly high 445ppi pixel density, so you can forget about pixels; you'll never see them. Likewise, the display's IPS technology gives it great visibility from any angle and under direct sunlight.
With that screen, you get a window into KitKat, Google's most advanced version of Android. Along with a slightly flatter, crisper and generally cleaner user interface, it brings easy access to voice control through Google Now. Instead of having to press a button, you need simply say "OK, Google" from any home screen, ask a question or make a request, and the Nexus 5 will obey.
Android 4.4 is a fun operating system to play around with, especially if you're a longtime fan of the platform. Sadly, it's been installed on a phone that, screen aside, isn't particularly impressive. The device's rear-facing camera, for instance – a major feature of any smartphone – takes poor 8-megapixel photos through its astonishingly small ƒ/2.5 aperture. The average smartphone camera has an ƒ/2.2 aperture, and the best offer ƒ/2.0 openings. The Nexus 5's camera allows in less light than any other Android phone we reviewed, and its pictures reflect that. They're dull and are prone to blurriness, especially in low-light conditions.
The battery in the Nexus 5 is as disappointing as its camera. Beautiful though the screen may be, it rapidly drains power whenever you use it. Any activity involving the display, from browsing the web to watching video, will draw three times as much energy as talking on the phone. Expect to use the screen for about five hours at a stretch before your fully charged battery falls empty.
When picking out a new Android phone, you probably find yourself looking for two things: great battery life and a great camera. With neither to offer, the Nexus 5 is ultimately underwhelming. If you're looking for a modern phone that's affordable off-contract, it's worth considering. If you're willing to buy on-contract, however, look to the bigger names from other brands. They might offer older versions of Android, but their hardware far outpaces what Google is offering here.