Google's Nexus 5: Best smartphone bang for your buck. There, we said it
No wonder this one sold out in hours
Under the hood
In terms of grunt, the Nexus 5 has a lot going for it. The handset uses a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor running at 2.26GHz and uses a 450MHz Adreno 330 GPU, along with 2GB of RAM. This handled all our test functions quickly and without lag, and should provide a reasonable amount of future-proofing for the handset.
For connectivity the handset supports LTE, dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G), and spans 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, along with Bluetooth 4.0 and near-field communications. The Wi-Fi signal is excellent and the phone picked up signals my three-year old Droid couldn't even find, and worked well with T-Mobile's LTE network.
The Nexus 5 comes with a 2300mAh 3.8V battery that Google claims will give you 300 hours of standby time, 17 hours of talk time, 8.5 hours of Wi-Fi, and seven hours on LTE connectivity. Based on our testing that looks a little optimistic, and a larger battery would have been advisable, but it'll handle a day's medium usage so long as you're smart about it. The phone does have wireless charging and supports the Qi standard so that compatible non-Google accessories should work to power it up.
In terms of sound quality the main speaker gives decent output from its twin ports, with only a little distortion playing "Back in Black" at full volume. If you're the type of rude git that like to play music on public transport you'll be able to irritate other passengers to your heart's content. Just please don't, headphones work just fine with this phone.
There's also the now-standard collection of internal instrumentation, including gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, light sensor, and GPS. This latter function is particularly vital if you're a Google Now user, since the phone will be constantly aware of where you are so it can display information cards such as weather and your estimated time to and from work.
Keeping the location features running does come with a price in terms of battery life, but they are easy to switch on and off via the settings menu. You will get a noticeable extension in battery life with them off, and it's worth considering if you're going to be away from a charger for a while.
Have a KitKat
The Nexus 5 is the first handset to get Google's latest build of Android, version 4.4, aka KitKat. As operating systems go it's preferable to its immediate predecessor – a little faster and smoother with some nice features in the email client and messaging sphere – but there's nothing here that's a must-have feature.
The new operating system takes 20 seconds to boot up from cold and takes up 5.24GB of space on the handset, which leaves you a little over 10GB of storage to play with in the cheapest model. That's not too bad, but one annoying feature of the Nexus 5 is that there's no removable storage – everything either has to be stored on the handset or downloaded. If you're the kind of person who like to carry your media with you, this may be an issue.
That said, actually getting stuff onto the handset is simplicity itself. The phone ships with a charger that uses USB, which hurts recharge times compared to other chargers but does allow you to simply plug the phone into your computer's USB port and it will simply show itself as a removable drive.
As you'd expect, the integration with Google's various apps is very tight, and the mapping features are particularly good. For some reason, Google Play Music is very data-hungry, pulling down 10MB of data on the first day of use despite not being used. With mobile data so pricy these days, you should keep a regular eye on the settings menu so grabby aps can be locked down.
Voice recognition is a big feature of the Nexus 5, and the search function can be accessed simply by saying "OK Google" and speaking your search term. This works from around six to eight feet away, depending on how you have the phone positioned. It also works slightly better with an American accent asking the questions rather than a British one.
QuickOffice has been improved for the new release, with easier-to-use features, particularly on spreadsheets. When it comes to tapping in text, the keyboard and its predictive system is very good, but there are also a plethora of custom keyboards available from app stores.
Google claims that KitKat will run with only 512MB of RAM, making it suitable for much older handsets. This may be the case, but very few vendors will run it at the moment, just the Nexus 4, 7, and 10; the Samsung Galaxy S4; and the HTC One Google Play edition.
The Reg verdict
For the price, it's difficult to think of a phone that gives quite as much bang for your buck as the Nexus 5. It's not clearly ahead of the competition in areas such as screen size, hardware spec (excluding its processor) and camera range, but it's more than good enough.
The Nexus 5 shows off Google's Android as it would like it to be displayed, and it's very good indeed. We do wonder what other software carriers will stick on the system if you buy it from them, but at the moment there's no choice if you want a Nexus now, because Google has run out of units for sale from the Play Store and it'll be two to three weeks before more become available.
If you want an unlocked phone that gives you full access and control then the Nexus 5 can't be beaten on price. If, on the other hand, you're buying through a carrier on a subsidized plan then you might be able to get something slightly better for around the same cost.
That said, there's a simplicity and cleanness to the design that's very appealing, and a definite advantage for developers in that this phone is designed to be fiddled with. It's also very simple to crack open and replace certain parts should they fail.
So, after using it for five days would I spend my own money on the Nexus 5? The answer is unequivocally yes; if you don't need the latest and greatest screen and camera and can live without removable storage, there's no better value phone out there. ®
All product photography by Rik Myslewski