Google Nexus Devices

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

Google's Nexus 5 offers a high-end Android experience at a low unlocked price -- but is it worth owning?

Google Nexus Devices

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The phone has two grilles on its bottom edge, though only one is directly related to the speaker; the other apparently holds the device's microphone. The speaker's sound quality isn't great: Music played through the phone is somewhat tinny, as is the case with the majority of smartphone speakers, and the volume cap is fairly low.

That being said, the Nexus 5's speaker is absolutely an improvement over the Nexus 4's, both in sound quality and placement. Its audio is noticeably less good than what you'll hear through the Moto X, however, and not even close to the outstanding audio delivered by the HTC One.

As far as ports, the new Nexus has a 3.5mm headphone jack on its top edge, a micro-SIM card slot on its right edge and a micro-USB port on its bottom edge (centered between the two aforementioned grilles). The micro-USB port doubles as an HDMI-out port with the aid of a SlimPort adapter.

Performance and storage

The Nexus 5 runs a 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor along with 2GB of RAM. Translated from geek-speak, that means the phone is fast -- really fast.

The Nexus 5 handles anything you throw its way. Loading and switching apps is practically instantaneous, Web browsing is smooth and speedy, and swiping through home screens is swift and stutter-free. There's really not much to complain about when it comes to this phone's performance.

I must add, though, that we're reaching the point where high-end phone performance is (or at least should be) reliably good. That doesn't make the Nexus 5's horsepower any less impressive, but in terms of most real-world use, we're talking about a small noticeable difference between it and other high-end devices -- including last year's Nexus 4. Most modern smartphones are more than fast enough for our needs, and that's a good thing.

The Nexus 5 has a nonremovable 2300mAh battery. I was initially concerned about the phone's stamina: On my first couple of days with the device, the battery drained rather quickly and I hit the empty mark by late evening.

Since then, however, things seem to have settled out and the phone is now consistently okay -- though not exemplary -- in its real-world endurance. Results vary based on my day-to-day activity, but with a moderately heavy mix of scattered Web browsing, social media use, video streaming and voice calls, I'm generally able to get around 13 hours of up-time with 3 to 3.5 hours of screen-on time per charge. The phone still isn't going to win any awards for its battery life, but for most users, it should be able to make it through a typical day.

The Nexus 5 comes with either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage space, depending on whether you buy the $349 or $399 model. Just over 4GB of that space is taken up by the operating system and various preinstalled software, leaving you with roughly 12GB or 28GB of usable space. The phone does not have a microSD card slot for external storage expansion.

Carriers and connectivity

Compared to most carrier-connected phones, the Nexus 5 is a bit unusual in its network-agnostic setup. All models of the phone are compatible with any GSM network -- meaning AT&T or T-Mobile in the U.S. -- as well as with the CDMA technology Sprint employs. Verizon is the only major U.S. carrier that doesn't allow the phone to operate on its network.

The benefit of that setup is that you can purchase the phone unlocked directly from Google and use it wherever you want -- including with a variety of prepaid providers, many of whom offer service comparable to what you'd get on a postpaid plan for as little as $30 to $45 a month. Such an arrangement can save you hundreds of dollars a year compared to what you'd pay with a traditional contract-based configuration, and Google's unusually low unlocked price makes it quite reasonable to consider.

On the data front, the Nexus 5 has full support for all U.S. LTE and HSPA+ 4G networks. I've been using the phone with my own personal T-Mobile prepaid SIM and have been getting data speeds consistent with what I expect in my area (I don't have reliable T-Mobile LTE coverage at my house yet, so I usually end up defaulting to the carrier's HSPA+ network; my download speeds lately have been around the 12 Mbps mark).

Voice calls on the phone have been fine for me; I've been able to hear people loud and clear, and those with whom I've spoken have reported hearing me with zero distortion.

The Nexus 5 supports near-field communication (NFC) for mobile payments and contact-free data transfers. Thanks to a new system called Host Card Emulation, payment services like Google Wallet will now work regardless of what carrier you use; previously, certain carriers had blocked such services due to a special type of system access they required.

The Nexus 5 supports the Qi wireless charging standard and will work with any standard Qi-based charger. I tested the phone with the Nexus 4 Wireless Charger and had no problems.

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