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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Some other highlights of KitKat, as seen on the Nexus 5:

• You can now activate the system's Voice Search tool simply by saying "Okay, Google" while on the home screen and then asking a question or issuing a command. It's kind of like the Touchless Control feature on the Moto X, except it works here only when the display is on and you're actively on the home screen, which makes it considerably less useful.

• The Phone application has been overhauled and now allows you to search both your own contacts and nearby businesses simultaneously. It also taps into Google Search to provide caller ID info, as available, for incoming calls from unknown numbers.

The added functionality is fantastic, though in terms of UI, the actual dialer pad is now an extra touch away; for such a core function of the phone, I fear that the out-of-the-way placement could cause confusion among less savvy users. (I cringe to think of my parents opening the Phone app and trying to figure out how to make a call; even my wife stared at the screen for several seconds and then asked me what she was supposed to do.)

• The Hangouts app now handles all SMS and MMS duties in addition to serving as its own cross-platform chat client. The unified approach to messaging is a step in the right direction, but there's still work to be done to make it a great experience. SMS threads are currently kept separate from regular Hangout chats, for instance, even when the conversations are with the same person.

The app's interface is also a bit busy and may bewilder casual users who are just looking to send a basic text. And the VoIP calling functionality recently introduced into the iOS equivalent is conspicuously missing in action; Google tells me it currently has nothing to announce on that front.

• The Email app -- used for non-Gmail accounts -- has gotten a long overdue refresh and now looks and acts just like the Gmail app. This is a major improvement for anyone who relies on regular IMAP-based mail.

• Wireless printing is now built in at the OS level, so any app can allow you to print directly to services like Google Cloud Print and HP ePrint with little setup or effort on your behalf.

• Cloud storage is more natively integrated into the system, which makes it easier to deal with remotely stored files from any app or service.

• The native photo editor in the Gallery app now allows you to edit images nondestructively -- meaning you can make manipulations and then save a new image instead of overwriting the original. It also has a handful of new frames, filters and other tools available.

There's some confusing overlap with the new Photos app, however, which ties into Google+ and shares much of the same functionality as the Gallery (including the ability to view and edit locally stored images). I'm not quite sure why the two haven't been combined.

• The Nexus 5 ships with the now-Google-owned Quickoffice application and with Google's own Google Drive office suite -- again resulting in confusing overlap. One way or another, these two apps really need to be merged into one.

There's much more to KitKat in terms of both form and functionality. For a detailed rundown of all the software's key facets, see the second half of my Android 4.4 KitKat FAQ.

Bottom line

The Nexus 5 represents Google's vision for the future of Android. Unfortunately, that vision seems a little less focused now than it's been with past Android and thus Nexus releases.

Still, the Nexus 5 has plenty of compelling qualities. The phone has a superb 1080p display surrounded by a light and comfortable body; it provides near-flawless performance; and it will get future OS upgrades directly from Google with none of the delays or uncertainties that accompany most Android devices.

The Nexus 5 may not have the best camera or the longest battery life on the market, but it provides an admirable overall user experience -- and when you consider its $349 off-contract price, it's easy to forgive its shortcomings and focus on its strengths.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

This article, Nexus 5 deep-dive review: Does Google's new flagship phone deliver?, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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