Editor’s note: This review is part of our series on the top 10 smartphones released this year. The series was designed to explore how business users can be productive with these devices, and how they can take advantage of the devices’ features during the workday. 

The Nexus 5 is the latest in Google’s Nexus series of phones that are sold both directly by Google and by carriers. Other OEMs make the devices for Google, and Nexus phones always feature powerful hardware sold at a very reasonable price. The Nexus 5 (made by LG) is no exception — it starts at $350, half the price of other current Android flagship phones.The Nexus devices always run the most current version of Android and are the first to be updated — for example the Nexus 5 will be the first phone to receive Android L when it comes out later this fall.

Also, the Nexus 5 is sold carrier-unlocked and supports a wide range of WCDMA & LTE cellular bands, allowing it to be used on any Canadian carrier contract-free. It is also a great phone for frequent travellers who can use a foreign SIM card in it without having to worry about network compatibility.

All of these features make the Nexus 5 an excellent choice for business users, and it is also an ITBusiness.ca staff favourite. You read more about the personal Nexus 5 setups of editor Brian Jackson and web developer Jeff Radecki.

Nexus_5_three_way

GOOGLE NEXUS 5 SPECIFICATIONS
Screen 4.95” IPS LCD @ 1920 x 1080 (445 PPI)
SoC2.26 GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800 (MSM 8974AA)
RAM2 GB
Storage16 GB/32 GB, not expandable,
Battery2,300 mAh (non-removable) with Qi wireless charging
SpeakersMono
Rear Camera8 MP Sony IMX179 sensor, f/2.4, 30.4 mm, OIS, LED flash, 1080p video
Front Camera1.3 MP, 720p HD video
LTE Bands700/800/850/900/1700/1900/2100/2500 MHz  (up to 75 Mbps)
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, microUSB 2.0
Build Materials & ColourPlastic, available in black, white and red.
Element Protection None
Dimensions & Weight137.84 x 69.17 x 8.59 mm (5.43 x 2.72 x 0.34 in), 130 g (4.6 oz)
OSStock Android 4.4.4

Hardware

The Nexus 5 is an attractive looking phone, but is a little plain, especially the black model, which is the only one currently available from Canadian carriers. If you buy it directly from Google, you also have a choice of two other colours, white and red, which stand out a lot more — the red one especially, that is almost fluorescent. It is an all-plastic phone, but is well made and has a good fit and finish. It is quite compact when compared to current Android flagships that all have screens larger than 5-inches, but is still a bigger device that previous Nexus phones and the iPhone. The Nexus 5 has a gentle curve to its lower edges and has a nice soft-touch finish on the back, making it very comfortable to hold. It is also very light, even lighter than the smaller Moto G LTE we recently looked at.

If you look at the three-paned image above, you can see that the button layout is pretty standard for an Android phone, with power on the right and volume on the left. The headphone jack is on the top, the USB port is at the bottom, and that’s it — the Nexus 5 doesn’t have any additional features like an infrared port or a fingerprint sensor. This is, of course, to help bring the cost down, but also Google realizing that these features are not important to many people. There are no physical Android navigation buttons — the Nexus uses onscreen controls, standard for most Android phones nowadays.

Nexus_5_front-1At almost 5-inches, the screen is not small when compared to the iPhone 5S and Android smartphones from previous years, but it is smaller than current flagships like the LG G3 and Xperia Z2, which have screens up to 5.5-inches in size. The narrow bezels around the Nexus’s screen and the lack of physical Android controls below it help make the Nexus 5 very compact for a current generation Android phone.

As for the screen’s quality, the Nexus 5 uses an IPS LCD panel, so has excellent viewing angles and good colour reproduction. When you compare it to the screens in phones like the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8, everything looks a little more flat and natural, and things do not pop out at as much, which I prefer. Since it is a 5-inch 1080p screen, its pixel density (PPI) is a little higher than other phones’ bigger displays, so it looks a little crisper. Its maximum brightness is around 400 nits, which is pretty good, and allows you to use the Nexus comfortably outdoors, but it is not quite as bright as the class-leading screens found on the iPhone 5S and Galaxy S5.

Nexus_5_back-1

The Nexus 5 runs on what was the most powerful SoC (system on a chip) available when it came to market last year, the quad-core 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800. While it is no longer the most powerful mobile CPU, being superseded by the Snapdragon 801, the 800 is still a very fast chip, and only a handful of the latest Android flagships perform better than the Nexus 5.

It comes with either 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage, and since this is disappointingly not expandable, we recommend that you buy a 32 GB model. Another unfortunate aspect of the Nexus 5 is its battery. Obviously LG had to cut a few corners in order to be able to offer the Nexus 5 at an aggressive price, and one of those corners was its battery. It is only 2,300 mAh, which is comparatively small, and as you will see in the benchmark results below, the Nexus 5’s battery-life is one of its main weaknesses.

The Nexus 5 has a mono speaker, and the sound quality is OK — not particularly loud, but still good enough to use as a speakerphone. The phone’s call quality was good during the time that we used it on the Telus network, and it is capable of LTE speeds of up to 75 Mbps, though in real-world conditions it never went beyond half of that figure.

Performance

 

 Benchmark Results
 Nexus 5Galaxy S5Moto GGalaxy S4iPhone 5S
Overall System: AnTuTu X30076349181716527340N/A
CPU: Geekbench 3 Pro Multi-Core28632942113220952570
GPU: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited164041818845901040314965
BatteryXPRT 201413.5 hours18.1 hoursN/A13.6 hoursN/A

The Snapdragon 800 SoC in the Nexus 5 gives it excellent performance. As can be seen from the chart above it handily outperforms other budget phones like the Moto G and is faster than the iPhone 5S, and faster than a flagship phone from last year, the Galaxy S4 (which is still being sold at a much higher price than the Nexus). While the Galaxy S5 that uses the newer Snapdragon 801 SoC is a more powerful device, it is not by much.

As mentioned previously, the Nexus 5’s battery life is its biggest letdown. The 2,300 mAh cell simply is not big enough to be able to give you a full day of use. The results generated by using BatteryXPRT, which runs a variety of tests that simulate real-world use, show that while you can get a business day of use out of the Nexus 5 under normal conditions, you will not get much more. We found that if you pushed it harder, by, say, using the camera frequently or watching a lot of videos, the battery-life dropped substantially. Since the Nexus 5’s battery is not removable, it is probably a good idea to top up it up half way through the day if you know you are going to be using it a lot. 

The Nexus advantage

Android_LFor both personal and business users there are some distinct advantages to buying a Google Nexus phone. Because it comes straight from Google, you’ll always be running the latest version of Android — the Nexus devices get Android updates first, so you do not have to wait months for your OEM and/or carrier to push one out. The next versions of Android, L, shown in the picture above, will be coming to the Nexus 5 in the fall and adds a lot of additional business-friendly security features, licensed from Samsung’s Knox suite of Android security and management tools.

SEND TO BRIAN - Samsung Knox in Android LThese new business features include being able to separate work and personal data into different user accounts on the phone and support for a wider set of IT administrator policies as compared to what Android KitKat currently supports. You can read more about Knox integration into Android L on Google’s developer blog and Samsung’s Knox site.

The Nexus phones also run pure unadulterated Android, so there are never any superfluous applications and carrier bloatware taking up storage space. Also, whenever Google pushes out a new application or service, it is guaranteed to be compatible with Nexus devices first.

The Nexus 5, like all the Nexus devices, is also incredibly well priced. It is only $350 for the 16 GB model and $400 for the 32 GB model. An equivalent phone with similar specifications from another Android OEM would be at least $600, if not more, and would be locked to a specific cellular carrier. On the other hand, all Nexus phones are unlocked so you can use the Nexus 5 contract free on a carrier of choice, which gives business users a lot of flexibility.

Since it is unlocked, the Nexus 5 is an excellent phone for frequent business travellers. Instead of having to pay costly roaming fees, you can simply pick up a pre-paid SIM card (or use a service like Roam Mobility) once you arrive at your destination and use it to provide service at a much lower price. The only catch, of course, is that your phone number will be different, but you can simply set you primary Canadian number to forward any calls you get to your temporary number.  There is one caveat about using the Nexus 5 overseas — it does not support every single LTE band across the globe, so you will still need to check the LTE frequency of the country you are travelling to if you want LTE connectivity. Keep in mind, though that if you cannot use LTE, you can still fall back to a WCDMA connection.

Camera

Nexus_5_camera-1Unlike some of the latest Android smartphones, the Nexus 5’s camera is only 8 MP, with a 1.4 μ pixel Sony IMX179 sensor with an aperture of f/2.4. Of course, megapixels are not everything, and the wider aperture and bigger pixels help the Nexus 5’s camera perform better in low-light. It is also one of the few smartphone cameras to have OIS (optical image stabilization). One thing that would have been nice is if its focal length was a few millimeters wider so as to capture more of what you see. Still, the camera specifications are pretty good for a phone for this price — most other Android phones in the Nexus 5’s price range have substantially lower-speciation cameras.

Google has wisely decoupled some of its key applications, such as the camera app, from the main OS, so updates to them do not need to wait for a major Android software update. The camera app can now be downloaded from the Play Store. The benefit of this is that, for example, the camera app that shipped with the Nexus 5 was not particularly good (it was slow and very basic), but Google has updated it a number of times and improved it substantially. However, the UI is still pretty simple when compared to other smartphones and does not have as many features and modes. Though for business users who just want to take a picture quickly with minimal fuss, this can also be seen as a good thing.

The current version of the camera app allows you to choose between shooting in a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, and has four shooting modes – Camera (which is an automatic mode), Photo Sphere, Panorama (self-explanatory) and Lens Blur. Photo Sphere stitches together multiple images to create a 360-degree image, and Lens Blur is for shooting images with a DSLR-like blurred background, a mode nearly every smartphone camera seems to have this year. Other than those modes there are not many other adjustments you can make. There is an HDR+ setting that does produce pleasing results, but it does take a few seconds to apply the effect after you shoot the picture. You can also adjust the exposure manually.

As for overall camera usability, when the Nexus 5 launched it did suffer from some serious speed and focusing issues. However, since it is a Nexus device that gets frequent updates direct from Google, this performance issue was soon addressed. Now the Nexus 5 focuses and takes shots pretty quickly. However, it certainly is not as fast as some of the latest phones like the LG G3.

Nexus_5_Sample_Image_1

As you can see from the image above, when shooting in good light with HDR+ on you can take some superb pictures with the Nexus 5. So even though specification-wise there are other smartphones that beat it, when it comes down to it, for most business users the Nexus 5’s camera is more than capable.

SEND TO BRIAN - Nexus_5_Sample_Image_3

The image above shows the camera’s low-light performance, and as can be seen it is pretty good too. Impressively there is not as much noise as would be found in the same picture taken with another phone, since the OIS allows the Nexus 5 to take a picture at a lower ISO, resulting in a cleaner image. So despite the fact that its aperture is not as wide as that of some of the latest phones like the Galaxy S5, the OIS on the Nexus 5 really does help it perform well in low-light.

The Nexus 5 can shoot 1080p video at 30 fps. Its video quality is good, and the OIS helps stabilize the image when shooting handheld video. However, it does not have any of the more advanced video features newer phones have, like 4K, HDR or slow-motion. 

User interface & general software

Nexus_5_screenshot_1The Nexus 5 runs pure unadulterated Android KitKat. For better or worse, it is Google’s vision of Android, before OEMs get their hands on it and customize it by adding their own applications and features. This means that out of the box, the Nexus 5 feels a little stripped down on the software side when compared to flagship phones from Samsung and LG. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The Nexus 5 does not have any superfluous apps installed — just the core programs needed to get your job done. Of course, if you need more apps, they are only a Play Store visit away. Also the core Google apps like Gmail, Calendar and Camera are separated from the core OS and updated through the Play Store, so you will always have the latest version of them. Lastly since this is pure Android, unencumbered by OEM modifications, it runs very fast and smooth, with nary a hiccup in sight.

The Nexus 5 uses the excellent Google Now Launcher, and initially, this launcher was only available on the Nexus (but now can be downloaded to any phone running KitKat). It features the ability to access Google Now by swiping to the right from the home screen. Google Now is a context-aware information and reminder tool that displays stock prices, weather, upcoming flight info, and more on a series of dismissible ‘cards’ that you can scroll through. The Google Now Launcher also allows you to activate voice control and search from the home screen by just saying ‘OK Google.’ One of the only negatives about this launcher is that there are not many customization options as to how things are laid out, and there are features missing found on other phone’s launchers, such as being able to create folders in the application drawer.

As mentioned before, with Nexus devices you are always guaranteed to be running the latest version of Android. The fall release, Android L, is adding a lot of business-friendly features (as detailed earlier in this review), so owning a Nexus 5 means you will have access to it as soon as it is released.

Security and business software features

Nexus_5_screenshot_2From a productivity standpoint, the Nexus 5 is the ideal phone to use with Google’s suite of business productivity apps – Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, which all connect to Google Drive for document storage in the cloud. However, while Google’s apps can work with Office documents too, if you are heavily tied into Microsoft’s ecosystem you can always install Office Mobile and OneDrive onto the Nexus 5. Just keep in mind that you will need an Office 365 subscription to edit documents on the phone.

Since the Nexus 5 runs Android KitKat, it is a reasonably secure device. However, it is not as locked down as Samsung’s phones that run their Knox security suite. That is why Google has licenced Knox to be used in the next version of Android. Out of the box, Android KitKat does have some security features that do make it more robust than previous versions of Android, such as SE (Security Enhanced) Android than improves protection against malicious application downloads. However, business users would still be advised to install a third-party security application on the Nexus 5 for an extra layer of protection.

From a management standpoint, small business users who do not have any kind of MDM (mobile device management) tool can install the Android Device Manager app on the phone, so it can be tracked and remote locked and wiped from a web portal if it is lost or stolen. For more sophisticated management for larger organizations implementing a BYOD (bring your own device) or COPE (corporate-owned, personally enabled) policy, one can either use ActiveSync policies or an MDM tool like AirWatch or Mobile Iron to manage the Nexus 5. Just keep in mind that until the release of Android L, the management options are fairly limited when compared to what you can do on a Samsung Knox or LG Gate enabled phone.

Conclusion

Nexus_5_top-1

The Nexus 5 is one of the best values in mobile today. While the Moto G LTE that we looked at previously is cheaper and does run almost stock Android KitKat, it still lacks in a few areas, making the Nexus 5 a much better overall buy (the first being that the LTE version of the G is not available to buy unlocked in Canada). The Nexus 5 is a powerful mobile device for business and runs one of the fastest mobile processors, the Snapdragon 800, and it is available unlocked starting at incredibly reasonable price of $350. It has an excellent screen, good camera, is well-made and very compact for a 5-inch smartphone.

As a Nexus device, it runs the latest version of stock Android, considered by many to be the best version of Android, free from OEM changes and customizations that slow it down. Also, it will get the latest version of Android, L, from Google as soon as it is released, instead of a few months later, which will be the case for most other phones. The only negative aspect of the Nexus 5 is its battery-life, which is a little short when you compare it to the other current Android flagship phones.

The best way to buy a Nexus 5 is directly from Google, and it is available in black, red or white with 16 GB of storage for $350 or 32 GB of storage for $400. If you would rather buy it from a retailer, instead of having it shipped it from the US, you can buy it in black only starting at $0 on a 2-year term from Fido, Koodo, Rogers, Telus and Virgin Mobile.

Its outright price from those carriers, however, is much higher than getting it directly from Google. Most of them list the 16 GB model for $500 outright, $150 more than going directly to Google, so if you or your company is not going to sign a contract, buying it from Google is probably the wisest choice.

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