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Nexus 5 vs. Nexus 4: Worth the upgrade?

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Nexus 5 vs. Nexus 4

It's that time of year, gang -- time for the annual Nexus owner conundrum known as: "Should I upgrade?"

With the new Nexus 5 upon us, it's a question those of us carrying last year's Nexus 4 are going to have to face. So is the Nexus 5 a significant enough step up to be worth the purchase?

I've been spending the past several days living with the Nexus 5 and spent much of the year before that living with the Nexus 4 as my personal daily driver. You can see my full Nexus 5 review for in-depth impressions and comparisons, but here, I thought I'd tackle the basic question of whether the N4 to N5 upgrade is one you'll want to make.

Let's start by breaking down the five things you'll notice most in moving from the Nexus 4 to the Nexus 5:

1. Display

The Nexus 5's 4.95-in. 1080p display looks fantastic and is a significant step up from the 4.7-in. 720p screen on last year's device. The N5's display is brighter with crisper detail, more brilliant colors and more pure whites. The Nexus 4's display looks dull and washed out in comparison. Personally, if any one thing were to convince me to upgrade, the screen would probably be it.

2. Camera

The Nexus 5's camera may not be the best in the land, but it's capable of capturing some great-looking images -- and it's a marked step up in quality from the shooter on its older sibling.

3. LTE

This'll matter more to some folks than others, but the Nexus 5 supports LTE on all major U.S. carriers except Verizon (no surprise there). If you're among the crowd that lamented the Nexus 4's lack of LTE, well, there ya go.

4. Local storage capacity

Nexus phones are likely never going to be local storage monsters, but the N5 comes with the option of 32GB -- double the N4's max capacity.

5. Design and style

The best way to describe the new Nexus is less premium but more comfortable than its predecessor. The phone's soft-touch rubberized plastic casing is nice to hold and presumably less fragile than the N4's glass, but the device is definitely less distinctive-looking and also somewhat less thoughtfully designed. All in all, it's kind of a wash; which body is better largely comes down to personal preference.

There are other improvements, of course: The Nexus 5 has more processing power than the N4, for instance, but benchmark bragging rights aside, most users will be hard-pressed to notice much real-world difference. Strangely, the N5 also has a slightly different version of KitKat than the N4 will be getting -- for now, at least -- but the elements being kept exclusive aren't that significant (and as an experienced user, you might even be better off without them).

All considered, I'd say this: The LG-made Nexus 5 is a nice step up from the also-LG-made Nexus 4 -- but it's really not a life-altering leap. If you have the cash to spend and are itching for something new, the Nexus 5 is an upgrade you'll enjoy. If any of the aforementioned areas are important to you and you're looking to stay within the Nexus line, the new phone is a no-brainer.

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The Nexus 4 still performs like a champ, though, and will soon get the parts of KitKat that really matter. Unless you're just jonesing for an upgrade, you'd probably be fine to stick it out with the N4 a while longer and wait to see what comes along in 2014.


Nexus 5 deep-dive review: Does Google's new flagship phone deliver?

How good is the Nexus 5 camera? See for yourself

Nexus 5 vs. Moto X: A real-world comparison

Android 4.4, KitKat: The complete FAQ

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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