Review: Nexus 5 smartphone is potent rival to iPhone, Galaxy [Video]

If you’re thinking of buying an Android smartphone, look no further than the Nexus 5.

Google’s new flagship smartphone, with its all-around features, is a powerful alternate to Apple's iPhone 5s and Samsung's Galaxy S4.

The Nexus 5 went on sale this month, and it features a vibrant 5-inch screen. The LG-manufactured smartphone can also connect to LTE networks, an attribute not shared with its predecessor, and it has been packed with Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of the Google’s mobile operating system.

All the while, Google is selling the device at a low price with no contract, making Nexus 5 a good choice for consumers looking for a top-of-the-line smartphone with a reasonable price tag.

But it’s an especially worthwhile option for users who like beautiful screens. The Nexus 5’s display is bigger than its predecessor the Nexus 4, and has a higher resolution. The Nexus 4 was limited to a 720p HD screen while the Nexus 5 boasts a full 1080p HD display -- and the difference is noticeable. Everything on this phone’s display just glows and looks sharp. All the colors are vibrant and attract attention.

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The screen is also improved thanks to software changes. In KitKat, the Android operating system’s notification bar atop the screen and the on-screen buttons at the bottom are now translucent, giving more real estate to whatever app, website or game a user is looking at. When you combine that with Nexus 5’s black front cover, which helps to emphasize the cinematic feeling of the screen, and you have one of the nicest screens available on any smartphone.

Besides the front cover, the rest of the Nexus 5 has a simple but attractive design. The back cover on the device I got was also black and features “Nexus” in large letters scrolled from the bottom of the phone toward the top. The back cover has a rubbery feel and at the top left of the device is the Nexus 5’s noticeably large camera lens. The back cover comes in black or white finishes.

Although the Nexus 5 doesn’t have the unique sparkly back cover the Nexus 4 had or the luxurious feel to it the iPhone 5s does thanks to its aluminum shell, it still looks like a phone that means business. And thanks to its rubbery back, it feels like a phone that could handle a drop or two without suddenly losing its charm or damaging anything important on the inside.

As far as size, the Nexus 5 is slightly wider and taller than its predecessor, but Google and LG managed to make the phone thinner and lighter than before. Overall, it’s an improvement in size.

But it's inside where the biggest improvements have been made. The Google device has antennas that allow it to connect to LTE networks, allowing for high-speed Internet surfing. Most other phones have had LTE-connecting capabilities for a few years now, but for some reason that was left off of the Nexus 4 last year. Fortunately, the Nexus 5 did not suffer the same fate, and it shows in terms of speed.

Combine the LTE capabilities with the 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, and the Nexus 5 is a little speed demon. As I used the Nexus 5 around Los Angeles going through my apps and surfing the Web, everything simply seemed to flow. If speed matters to you, the Nexus 5 is a great option.

Other improvements are seen in the Android 4.4 KitKat software.

For starters, if you use voice assistants, you’ll appreciate the fact that if you’re in the Nexus 5’s home screen you can simply say “OK Google” and the phone will begin listening to your query.

Although this isn’t as simple to use as the “OK Google” feature on the Moto X, which is always ready to assist you even if the phone is locked, the “OK Google” feature on the Nexus 5 eliminates the need to have to first press on the microphone icon in the Google search bar. For someone like me, who constantly uses voice assistants, this is a very welcome feature.

On the Nexus 5, Google has also placed its Google Now feature to the left of the phone’s main screen. Google Now is a service that displays numerous cards filled with information that users may find helpful, eliminating their need to have to search for it.

The cards include birthday reminders, weather information, traffic details for their routes to work or home and scores for their favorite teams as well as reminders for upcoming games. Previously users had to press on the Google search bar to see their Google Now cards. By putting Google Now to the left of the home screen, Google is beginning to emphasize the feature more than before and the company is making it more accessible.

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Two more subtle changes are in the messaging and phone apps.

Now, the phone app will try to arrange your favorite contacts based on the people you call most. You can also use the app to search for the phone numbers of nearby places, such as a store or restaurant you want to call. Type the name of the place and once it shows up in the results, you can tap its name and the Nexus 5 will call it.

Google has replaced its messaging app with the Hangouts app that it introduced earlier this year. This makes it easier to keep all your conversations -- your text messages as well as the conversations you’re having through Gmail and Google+ using Hangouts -- all in one app.

About the only thing I found lacking with the Nexus 5 was its camera. The Nexus 5 features an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 1.3-megapixel front camera, which is the same as the Nexus 4.

Both cameras got the job done, but I felt they were inferior to cameras on other devices, including the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S4. There wasn’t anything actually wrong with the pictures -- you could still proudly share them on Instagram or Facebook -- but they didn’t look as sharp or as detailed as the pictures that other devices can take.

The 16-gigabyte version of the Nexus 5 is available online from Google Play for $349 or $399 for a 32 GB version. Sprint also sells the device on a two-year contract for $149, and T-Mobile sells the device on a payment plan of $41.99 down followed by 24 monthly payments of $17, which add up to $449.99.

All in all, the Nexus 5 is my favorite Android device this year, thanks largely to its speed, feel and a vibrant 5-inch screen. Although this device doesn’t stand out as a must-have phone by any means, it is an excellent alternate choice to the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S 4.


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