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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There are other signs of increased Google presence on the Nexus 5: Google Now, the company's oft-acclaimed intelligent assistant, now lives on its own dedicated panel on the home screen; swipe over one spot from your left-most panel and it's there. You can still swipe up from the bottom-of-screen virtual buttons to get to it, as you've always been able to do, but that shortcut now takes you to the Google Now home screen panel instead of a standalone app.

The tighter integration of Google Now into the OS makes sense from a discoverability perspective: The swipe-up shortcut was a result of Now being tacked onto an existing operating system instead of being integrated into the software from the start. Its new placement makes it a more integral part of the platform and consequently makes it harder to overlook, particularly for less experienced users -- and that seems smart.

Nexus 5
Google Now, the company's oft-acclaimed intelligent assistant, now lives on its own dedicated panel on the home screen.

For users more accustomed to the platform, however, the particulars of the implementation present some peculiarities. First, there's an odd level of redundancy in being able to swipe up or swipe over to perform the same action. And more significant, the panel next to Google Now -- the left-most panel you're able to customize and control -- is permanently set to be the default panel that pops up when you press the Home button. That means if you use more than two home screen panels, you now have to swipe farther to get to some of your content due to the noncentered starting position. That makes for a lopsided and awkward workflow.

(You can disable Google Now entirely, which will remove it from your home screen -- but that doesn't change the default panel position; the only way to accomplish that is to use a third-party launcher instead of the stock Google experience.)

It's probably no coincidence that KitKat gives you just two home screen panels to start. You can expand and add as many additional panels as you like, however, and doing so couldn't be easier: You just drag a shortcut or widget past the right-most panel and the system automatically creates a new panel for you. Conversely, when you drag all the content off of a panel, the system automatically takes the panel away. In another new twist, the system allows you to rearrange the order of your panels by long-pressing anywhere on the home screen.

Widgets, puzzlingly, are also now accessible by long-pressing the home screen, which is a step back to how things were done in the 2.3 era of Android. Google moved widgets out of a long-press menu and into a unified app drawer with Android 4.0 two years ago; the goal then was to simplify the operating system by eliminating hidden functions and making UI elements easier to discover.

Reversing that shift with KitKat strikes me as a strange regression. While the app drawer does look cleaner without the presence of a dedicated widgets section, the widgets are back in a place that's less visible and less immediately logical for users to discover. It's easy enough to get used to -- and long-time Android users likely won't mind the change -- but I'm not sure I understand the rationalization behind the move and worry it could hurt discoverability.

Equally baffling is the placement of a new Settings shortcut within the home screen's long-press section. At first, it just seems redundant, since there's already a Settings shortcut within the top-of-screen notification panel (as is the norm for Android). Once you press it, though, you realize this Settings shortcut takes you to the settings for Google Now -- settings that are also accessible within Google Now itself -- which just doesn't make sense.

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