ned Productions Consulting

Technology musings by Niall Douglas
ned Productions Consulting
(an expert advice and services company based in Ireland)

Friday 15th November 2013 8.07pm

I've been using my new Nexus 5 for a week now whenever I can, so I suppose it's time for a mini-review. Bear in mind I'm coming from a Galaxy Nexus, while Megan has a Nexus 4. I won't mention the changes in Android 4.4 over 4.3 which are mostly UI changes except for adding printing support (which BTW is very cool, our Epson printer has Google Cloud Print support and printing to it from any phone or Chromebook is now absolutely seamless).

* The 1080p 445ppi screen. My god is it an improvement in clarity over the Galaxy Nexus whose "720p" screen was really only 720p-ish for green and 480p-ish for red and blue. I genuinely cannot see individual pixels even when staring at a single white diagonal line on a black background. I can barely see the pixels on the 318ppi 720p display of the Nexus 4, but putting the Nexus 5 and 4 side by the side the difference in visual clarity is remarkable - the Nexus 4 looks "fuzzy" and out of focus in comparison to the Nexus 5.

* It is very, very fast compared to the treacle of the Galaxy Nexus. Part of this is because the Galaxy Nexus only has 1Gb of RAM, so it's constantly running out of memory and having to reload apps, so if you have no homescreen widgets, disable all background services and don't use the Chrome web browser app, your Galaxy Nexus is plenty fast because you have spare RAM. The other part though is that the 2.3Ghz quad core Snapdragon 800 CPU in the Nexus 5 is several generations ahead of the 1.2Ghz dual core OMAP CPU in the Galaxy Nexus - it quite literally runs a single core about 2.5x faster, plus it has twice as many cores and oodles more L2 cache. A quick example of the difference is this: it takes over a minute to reboot my Galaxy Nexus, while the Nexus 5 reboots in about 15-20 seconds. It also reaches peak scores in almost every benchmark you throw at it - very unusual for a Nexus phone which normally uses lower end parts.

* This phone has much faster eMMC storage. Copying around large files I'd estimate is about twice as fast as the Galaxy Nexus.

* The camera's low light performance is truly outstandingly better. It can see better than my human eye now in dim light, and will produce a brightly lit almost daylit photo with no flash and no pixel noise in only barely tenable amounts of light or what I would personally call an only just illuminated room. There is also no blur or shake problems in low light, or low frame rates from a night mode setting - it just works in dim light as if you were outside with perfect colour balance and no noise. Really impressive.

* The speaker on the Nexus 5 (and Nexus 4) is easily five times louder than the almost useless speaker on the Galaxy Nexus. That crappy speaker is one of the two things I hate about the Galaxy Nexus - it makes the phone nearly useless for GPS navigation.

* The power button is much harder to accidentally push than the Galaxy Nexus - this is the other thing I really hate about the Galaxy Nexus, picking it up almost always meant turning it on or off accidentally.

* The screen is perfectly calibrated with no tint EXCEPT that the gamma is way off, at about 1.9 to 2.0 instead of 2.2 where it should be. I assume this is deliberate to bring out detail in very bright and very dark regions, but it makes pictures look washed out, especially in comparison to the Galaxy Nexus with its very vibrant OLED screen.

* Speaking of which, as nice as the 1080p screen is, I personally prefer the extra saturation an OLED screen can deliver. Photos and movies have a lot more "pop" on the Galaxy Nexus because that OLED screen can deliver many more colours than a traditional LCD screen.

* The Nexus 5 can't dim its screen by much, making nighttime use eye hurting. Even with a root hack to really zero the brightness, it's still far too bright i.e. zero brightness really means about 15% brightness. Also, even a fully black screen emits enough light to go to the toilet with in pitch black - that's partially the nature of IPS LCD panels which give poor blacks in exchange for excellent colour fidelity and viewing angles, but the Galaxy Nexus gives far better blacks and contrast - that "pop" I mentioned.

* The phone has a lot more obvious cut corners for price e.g. only one of the speaker grilles generates sound, the battery capacity is a bit small, I find the buttons a bit cheap and rough even if they are ceramic, there is a rough almost sharp bevel between the gorilla glass and the plastic frame which hurts your ear during long calls, the corners are too pointy and I keep bruising myself by accident off them. The Galaxy Nexus had a much better quality feel to it (very solid buttons in particular), and even the Nexus 4 feels less cheaply made than the Nexus 5 despite its incredibly slippy sparkly glass back. I don't think it'll fall apart, but it definitely doesn't have that quality build feel of the Nexus 4 or especially the Galaxy Nexus.

* I don't feel confident that the battery size will be enough. Right now I'm getting about the same battery life as a two year old Galaxy Nexus whose battery is old and tired. The screen being turned on is the most fatal thing you can do on the Nexus 5, it hoofers down the power. If you keep it off all day you can easily have 85% left end of day.

So it is a worthwhile upgrade? Absolutely without doubt if coming from a Galaxy Nexus which just doesn't have enough RAM for modern Android, plus of course Google will no longer be updating it. From a Nexus 4 though? Much harder - you'll win on the screen for sure, but other than that the improvements are minor and there are some countervailing losses such as rough edges everywhere. I do assume of course you place your Nexus 4 in a rubber case, because its slipperiness is a guaranteed phone destroyer and is probably that phone's single worst feature.