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First look: Google Nexus 5

updated 05:57 am EST, Wed November 6, 2013

Google, LG team for 1080p 5-inch Nexus 5

The Google Nexus 5 went on sale just a few days ago and it is already out of stock in most of the 10 ten countries that were lucky enough to get launch stock. Some Google Play stores are indicating that each of the four variants won't be shipping out of the warehouse for another four to five weeks. If you were planning on getting one, but have missed out, is it worth waiting over another month for one of the most eagerly anticipated Android handsets of the year?

As with the Google Nexus 4, Google has teamed with LG to bring the Nexus 5 to market. Those who have been lucky enough to pick one up are also the first to enjoy the latest flavor of Android, Android 4.4 'KitKat.' Nexus 4 owners will be next in line to get the update, while owners of the Google Play Editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One will also be receiving an update in the next fortnight or so. Or, if you have the nous, you can download the latest update and flash your device yourself. However, right now in the Android world, the Nexus 5 is about as 'must-have' as it gets.

The Nexus range of devices was originally intended for use by developers, as they come with both a clean install of Android and an unlocked bootloader. However, for many regular consumers, the attraction to Google's Nexus devices is two fold -- firstly, compared to most competing devices with similarly cutting-edge specifications, Nexus devices are incredibly affordable - secondly, leading manufacturers like to customize the Android OS, adding additional features and original design themes to better differentiate their products. However, this has resulted in Android users having to wait for extended periods before they get the latest version of Android, if they ever do at all. Nexus devices (and Google Play Editions) get the latest version of Android at launch or soon after.

The Nexus 5 centers on a 4.95-inch 1080p IPS LCD display made by LG and covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3, two features considered essential in a flagship device. It is powered by the now familiar 32-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor clocked at 2.26GHz, which is mated to 2GB of RAM. Also on board is the powerful Adreno 330 GPU clocked at 450MHz, which ensures that the Nexus 5 will be competitive with all the high-end devices currently on the market. On the rear is an 8-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization, while he built-in battery is rated at 2,300mAh -- the Nexus 5 also incorporates wireless charging capabilities. Connectivity includes dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE as well as, importantly, 4G LTE.

From a specifications perspective, the Nexus 5 has everything that you could conceivably ask for. Yet Google asks just $349 for the 16GB model and $399 for the 32GB model outright. So how has Google managed to keep the price so low, especially as similarly specified devices sell for considerably more off-contract? Obviously, its margins on the Nexus devices must necessarily be much slimmer than other makers, but it has also cut some costs with the choice of materials that the Nexus 5 is made from. Our black unit looks nice, but its matte black soft-feel plastic is very non-descript to say the least will certainly not beat out the top Android flagships for looks. It is actually very much like what you would expect a developer device to look like, which is really about function over form. Even last year's Nexus 4 with its ornate glass back looks more striking by comparison.

In the hand, the Nexus 5 is reasonably comfortable to hold, helped to great effect by its slender 8.6mm thin body and 4.59oz (130g) weight. It is one of the lightest 5-inch devices on the market, matching the Samsung Galaxy S4 in this regard. One thing we noticed though, is that the bottom corners of the Nexus 5 are slightly sharp in the palm of your hand, an effect that is the result of where the back plate joins to the body of the device. In its favor, the narrow bezels make the Nexus 5 quite comfortable to hold and operate for the most part. So while the body of the device is the only obvious sign that this is where its build costs may have been reigned in, it's really hard to quibble over this when you get some much 'bang for your buck' otherwise. The optional colored bumper cases will also help to jazz up the device if looks really matter to you.

The other star of the show is of course Android 4.4 'KitKat' that brings with it a host of new features, many of which are not obvious at first glance. The interface looks quite similar to the look and feel that Google developed for 'Jelly Bean,' although some icons have been revamped and a swipe to the left of the Home screen now launches Google Now. This is still accessible with a swipe up from the bottom as well, though apps are now all arranged in screens to right of the Home screen. New features include Auto Awesome in the photos app (which we will look at more closely in our full review), voice control capabilities similar to Moto X, revised app interfaces for Play Music and Play Books (including some iOS 7-like translucency touches apparent). Google has also improved multitasking and overall system speed with memory optimizations, while it has significantly improved touchscreen responsiveness as well.

If you are an Android fan, the Nexus 5 offers a tantalising value proposition - if you can get one that is. It seems that Google is repeating the same mistakes it made with the Nexus 4 launch, which faced similar extreme supply shortages that took a couple of months to fully resolve. If you are looking to buy a phone outright, then there is simply no better value smartphone on the market. We will put it through its paces and explore Android 4.4 'KitKat' more fully in our upcoming full review - it just might convince you to hold out for one.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



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