Nexus 5 Review: Still A Viable Option In 2017?

Google has pulled the Nexus 5 from Google Play, meaning if you still want to pick one up you’re going to have to go through “other” channels. 

The handset, arguably one of the most popular Nexus phones of all time, was a brilliant piece of kit. But is it still a viable option in 2017? 

Yes and no, depending on what you’re going to use it for. 

On top of this, hardware never really stops being available even if it is no-longer stocked by official vendors; a quick look around the internet will show you can still get hold of those old reliable and tank-like Nokia brick feature phones, and I was in a shop the other day stuffed full of old Sega and Nintendo consoles from the 90s.

In other words you will probably still be able to get a Nexus 5 ten years from now if you have a good look around, so they’ll almost certainly still be available in the short-term too.

Android M Update DOUBLES Standby Times

Google’s Nexus 5 will always hold a dear spot in our heart. The handset wasn’t perfect, but it had so much character and very decent hardware and specs. Best of all, though, it was extremely cost effective, a point that made it infinitely more popular than its bigger, more costly successor, the Nexus 6. 

The Nexus 5 WILL get Android M once it arrives later this year and one of our biggest complaints about the Nexus 5 –– its battery life –– looks to benefit HUGELY from the update. Android M features a new mode called Doze, whereby the phone, once selected, descends into a deeper sleep and, therefore, uses less power. Another is Standby which kills applications no longer in use when your phone is inactive or unplugged from a power source. 

Here’s an extract from Phone Arena’s report on the new features, detailing just what Nexus 5 users can expect from Android M once it lands:

“To see how Doze and App Standby might work in real life, a Nexus 5 was loaded with the Android M Developer Preview and measured against the same model loaded with Android 5.1.1. The result? After 8 hours in standby, the Nexus 5 with Android 5.1.1 consumed 4% of its battery life as opposed to 1.5% with the Nexus 5 running Android M. After 24 hours, the Lollipopped version of the stock Android phone had burned through 12% of its battery life while on standby. The Android M powered handset had used just 4.5% of its juice during the same amount of time. After 48 hours, the Nexus 5 with Android 5.1.1 inside had devoured 24% of its battery power compared to the 9% used on the Android M powered version of the phone.”

So, if you fancy picking yourself up a Nexus 5, NOW is the time to do it. Even more so if you A) don’t like the idea of a Nexus with a 6in display or B) paying £499 for the latest model. You can read more about the two handsets and how they compare inside our Nexus 5x vs Nexus 6p comparison. 

Nexus 5: Why I’d Still Buy One In 2017 

The Nexus 5 is now pretty old. This goes without saying. But is there a case for still buying one in 2017? I’d argue, yes, and if you bare with me for a moment I will lay out my case.

The main reason why the Nexus 5 is still a decent option is price – these handsets are now selling for next to nothing online, making them an ideal choice for those looking for bargains or to make savings.

The second is custom ROMs – and this is a big one. Basically, a custom ROM lets you install the latest version of Android – in this respect, Nougat – onto a Nexus 5 handset, effectively making it relevant all over again.

The Nexus 5 bootloader is unlocked, meaning you can install a custom ROM very easily. Your best bet for a custom ROM is Cyanogen Mod, which is also the OS used by OnePlus on its first couple of releases. Cyanogen Mod has a vibrant developer base and is very feature-rich.

I still have my Nexus 5 and have installed Cyanogen Mod on it. I now use my Nexus 5 as my car’s central media hub. The phone itself is great, has all the features I need, and with Android Auto installed it is the perfect media hub for my motor.

Nexus 5 Review: Design & Build

Dull, unassuming and slab-like. These are just some of the words used to describe the Nexus 5 in some of the reviews I’ve come across online, and for the most part I think they’re a tad unfair. The Nexus 5 is not a bold device by any means, nor could it be described as eye-catching, but it is certainly not dull. Tidy is perhaps a better word. Tidy and clean.

The overall design and finish reminds me of Google’s Nexus 7 (2013 edition). The shape, build materials and gait of the handset are very similar, and this of course was most likely deliberate – uniformity across products is attractive. And Google is all about uniformity and everything looking just so. Exact measurements are 137.9 x 69.2 x 8.6 mm and the handset weighs in at 130g, making it 9g lighter than its predecessor despite the Nexus 5’s longer and wider chassis. Impressive stuff.

The Nexus 4 – or the Bobby Dazzler, as it’s known in the KYM offices – featured a glittery sequin pattern on its backpanel that reacts under different light. A lot of people quite liked this touch but there were also the haters. In the spirit of uniformity Google has ditched the jazzy back panel and replaced it with a soft-touch matte backing similar to what you’ll find on the Nexus 10 and 2013 Nexus 7.

It might not look as flashy but the new matte backing aids grip and, importantly, won’t shatter should you drop the handset all of 6-inches as the Nexus 4 did. One downside to the new matte backpanel, however, is its love of fingerprints and smudges – it hoards them like a crazy cat lady hoards feline companions. And once the back panel is smudged, which happens almost as soon as you take the Nexus out of its box, it’s difficult to get it back to its original pristine state. Whether this bothers you is entirely personal. Me? I couldn’t care less. But if this is the type of thing that’d irk you then you’ll probably need to invest in a case.

Nexus 5

With size and weight though the Nexus 5 is perfectly proportioned. I began using it immediately after testing the iPhone 5s and found the transition not only easy but also rewarding. The display itself is 0.3-inches bigger than the one aboard the Nexus 4 (and a whole inch bigger than the iPhone 5s’) but you’ll hardly notice thanks to its lightweight nature and super-thin bezels. For me it’s the ideal size for a handset – the Goldilocks proportion, if you will.

Nexus 5 Review: Display

The display aboard the Nexus 5 is stunning. It’s a 4.95-inch True HD+ IPS panel (1080 x 1920 pixels) setup with a pixel density of 445ppi. It beats Apple’s iPhone 5s (326ppi) hands down, and is perfectly proportioned for gaming, video and one-handed use.

Google could have gone big but instead it was clever and kept things manageable, a wise move given the fact it is now increasingly difficult to pick up a decent Android blower that isn’t gigantic. If you’re coming from an iPhone, the Nexus 5 might feel large but compared to handsets like the Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra it’s a decidedly friendlier iOS-to-Android conduit. 

Viewing angles are excellent and 3D games look gorgeous on its expansive – but perfectly manageable – 1080p display. The IPS panel is also very bright when turned up full whack, although for the sake of your battery, you should probably use it with caution – it uses up plenty of juice, especially if you do a lot of gaming or media on the move.

Shittin' Zombies!

I played A LOT of Dead Trigger 2 while testing the Nexus 5. And by a lot, I mean hours and hours and hours. I also did a fair bit of Asphalt 8, and the more I played the more I became convinced that 4.99-inches is the perfect size for a smartphone. It just feels ideally suited to gaming, for consuming media, browsing the web, and making calls as well as other more traditional phone functions like texting and carrying around in your trouser pocket.

Nexus 5 Review: Performance

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 CPU is all but ubiquitous inside top-flight handsets nowadays, and the Nexus 5 is no different. Inside you’ll find a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. Beastly specs usually mean high prices but the Nexus 5 retails from £299, making it one of the most affordable high-end smartphones ever produced. 

In years gone by Android was something of a stutterer. It was prone to crashing and could at times be downright buggy. Nowadays – depending on what iteration of Android you’re running – these are problems of the past. Ice Cream Sandwich tidied up the visual elements of Android and Jelly Bean refined its guts, making it smoother and more stable. 

Couple these software refinements with a ridiculous dollop of hardware and processing power, not to mention na ultra-low price tag, and you’re left with one hell of a proposition that is the equal of any smartphone on market. So whether you’re gaming with ultra-high-end titles like Dead Trigger 2 or Asphalt 8: Airborne, or editing photos and video, you’re fully catered for – the Nexus 5 can handle anything you throw it at. And best of all there’s no hang, no lag and no stutter. Performance is just off the charts.  

For additional evidence of performance see our Nexus 5 benchmark tests below:

If you’ve been paying attention of late, you’ll know there’s a new big dog in the Android kingdom – a handset with insane specs and an ultra-low price tag. It’s called the OnePlus One and will be available for either £229 or £269, depending on whether you opt for the 16GB or 64GB version, inside of Q2 2014. Is it better than the Nexus 5 though?

Interesting question. We haven’t had any hands-on time with the handset as yet; our handset is hopefully on its way as you read this. Still, plenty of other people have and the initial reactions seem to be very positive. But that’s not really surprising: the OnePlus One features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 chipset, 2GB or RAM and runs on a CyanogenMod-customized version of Android KitKat.

Here’s a video of the OnePlus One in action next to the Google Nexus 5. Enjoy. 

Nexus 5 Review: Nexus 5 Camera

On paper the Nexus 5’s imaging setup looks decent. It uses an 8-megapixel sensor, features optical image stabilisation (OIS) and has auto focus as well as an LED flash, making it about par for the course in today’s mid-to-high-end smartphone bracket. We’ve already seen some very impressive imaging prowess from handsets rocking similar setups, notably the iPhone 5s, however, the same quality results cannot, unfortunately, be found with the Nexus 5, which is fraught with issues –– issues Google has now officially commented on is apparently working around the clock to fix.

So what exactly is wrong? For starters auto-focus is shot to hell, and by that we mean it either doesn’t work at all or it takes so long to focus on the object you’re attempting to shoot that you’ll either a) give up or b) have nothing left to shoot because the subject wit have either biodegraded or walked off in desperation. This is obviously very frustrating. Worse still is that when you do manage to capture an image the colours appear drab, almost lifeless, and contrast is noticeably squiffy which is obviously not an attribute anyone looks for in a phone’s camera capabilities.

In perfect conditions – good lighting, minimal movement – the camera isn’t too bad at all (see below image samples), and can produce results ideal for sharing on Facebook and Twitter. Take it outside its comfort zone, however, and it’s a very different story. Imaging is important nowadays and what’s frustrating about the Nexus 5 is that, on paper, is should be good – it’s got all the right hardware. And that’s definitely a good thing because it means it can be fixed, or at least improved. Also, if it is just a software issue – as Google says it is – then why wasn’t it addressed prior to launch?

Nexus 5 Review: Connectivity

Android handsets are some of the best connected devices on the planet, offering NFC, Bluetooth, DLNA, Miracast – the works, basically – and Google’s Nexus 5 is no exception. Bluetooth, NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, DLNA and wireless charging are all included out the box, meaning you can pretty much connect the handset to any peripheral on the market.

So that’s great. But what’s even better is that Google’s Nexus 5 now supports LTE (bands: LTE 800 / 850 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600), which was something sorely missing from its predecessor. And because 4G is now here in the UK and the Nexus 5 is so cheap, getting an LTE handset with top-end spec up and running has never been cheaper. O2, Vodafone and EE all offer very decent SIM-only rolling LTE packages, and because they’re rolling agreements you’re not tied to a contract and can switch and change your plan depending on which network has the best offer. 

Nexus 5 Review: Battery

The battery on the Nexus 4 wasn’t great. It started out life as average and then six months down the line took a turn for the worse and became irritably bad, requiring constant charging and attention throughout the day. I’d like to say the Nexus 5 is different. I hoped and prayed it would be different. But after spending around a month with the handset, using it every day, I can now say it’s not all that different – something I find infinitely worse than its sub-par camera. 

It wasn’t always bad; the Nexus 5 took a while to show its true colours, but now that it has, I can safely say battery performance isn’t great – not compared to handsets like the Galaxy Note 3 and Lumia 1020 anyway. You cannot game, make calls, IM, send and receive email and text and expect it to survive much past 7pm. The Nexus 5 can do a full working day (9 till 6pm), but it’ll be on its last legs post 7pm, so if you’re off out after work you’ll need to remember to charge it prior to leaving or else you’ll end up high and dry – something that’s happened to me way too frequently during testing.

Chief offenders are the Nexus 5’s display, Spotify and IM apps like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. You can squeeze some more juice out of the battery by ensuring auto-brightness is on (or just keeping the brightness at 50%) and turning off things like data, Wi-Fi and NFC when you’re not using them. Do this and the Nexus 5 does go for a little longer. Thing is… I don’t want to have to do this: what’s the point of having all these awesome features, if you can’t use them? It’s got a full HD 1080p display, for one, and I want to see that display in all its glory, not 50% of its glory.

Nexus 5 Review: Conclusion

Battery isn’t great and neither is the camera but aside from these two things the Nexus 5 is a true force to be reckoned with. Android 4.4 is a massive update, adding in tons of new features, tweaks and refinements, which when combined with the Nexus 5’s astounding hardware makes for one of the best Android experiences money can buy. 

If you love Android and want to experience it as Google intended, free from bloatware and custom skins, then this is certainly the handset for you. It’s not perfect by any means, but one of its downsides – the camera – can be fixed, which just leaves the battery, but as we all already know: poor battery life isn’t exclusive to the Nexus 5 – it affects almost all top-flight handsets (excluding a very select few devices).