Should You Buy the New Nexus 5 Phone?

The wonderful new Nexus 5 is available in either white or black.
The wonderful new Nexus 5 is available in either white or black.

Google’s long-awaited and thoroughly leaked new Nexus 5 super phone is now a reality – although it quickly went out of stock and currently shows a two to four week delivery delay (depending on your model choice).

I ordered my Nexus within 8 hours of the official release announcement on 31 October, and already the phone was on backorder (mine is slated to ship on 22 November).

This is a sad example of how – yet again – Google is dismayingly unable to match production to demand.  The earlier Nexus 4 was famously unavailable and out of stock for much of its model life, and the question of how many millions more units Google could have sold if the phone was freely available is one analysts love to debate after too many drinks.  Is the Nexus 5 now to be doomed to a similar fate?

Should you order and patiently wait for a Nexus 5, or perhaps choose an alternate Android powered phone, or maybe instead select the iPhone 5S?

Clearly, I’ve already answered that question for myself, and am eagerly awaiting my Nexus 5, and will ‘retire’ my iPhone 5 at that time.  I’m also expecting to retire my original iPads as soon as the new replacement Nexus 10 tablet is available, too, meaning I’ll have gone from being an all-Apple mobile device user to now being all-Android.

Oh – Apple is currently showing a 2 – 3 week delivery leadtime for its 5S phone, so the Nexus 5 delay isn’t all that much worse.

The Winning Features of the Nexus 5

There are two reasons for considering the Nexus 5 the best phone now available.

One clear reason is cost.  The extra cost of an Apple branded product was less clear when, first, Apple was the only company selling iPhone type smart phones, and the only company selling iPad type tablets.  The extra cost remained acceptable when the Apple products were clearly superior to competing products from other companies.

But now, to be as kind as possible to Apple, let’s simply say that Apple and competing products are comparable in quality and functionality.  And so the extra price penalty associated with choosing Apple becomes difficult to ignore or excuse.

The second reason is that, actually, Apple products are not only no longer superior, but in some cases, they’re not even generally similar.  They are – wait for it – they are inferior.

Which brings us to the second reason for choosing the Nexus 5.  It has a big screen.  The iPhone has a small screen.  The Nexus 5 screen is both larger and also packed with way more pixels.  To be specific, it has a 4.95″ diagonal screen with 1080×1920 pixels.  Compare that to the puny iPhone 5/5C/5S and its 4.0″ screen and a mere 640×1136 pixels.  The Nexus 5 has almost three times as many pixels.

The larger screen is important for many reasons.  Websites, emails, and just about everything can now display in larger size, making them easier to read, and reducing the need for the worst of all requirements – having to expand the text and then scroll left and right on each line to read what’s on the screen.

If you want to watch a video clip, there’s a lot of extra screen real estate on the Nexus 5 compared to the iPhone 5 series, meaning your video is larger and easier to see.

Although the difference between 4.0″ and 4.95″ might not seem a lot, when you actually calculate the square inches of screen space, the Nexus 5 has almost 55% more screen – 10.6 sq inches compared to 6.8 sq inches, and that’s a profound difference.

Furthermore, whereas the iPhone 5 can’t even show a 720p video without ‘downsampling’ and losing some of the picture quality, the Nexus 5 can show a full 1080p video with no pixel downsampling at all.

There’s another benefit of a bigger screen, too.  The on-screen keyboard is also larger, making it easier to try to type something without our fingers/thumbs spilling over to the wrong keys all the time (as happens to me on the iPhone 5).

Best of all, this 55% increase in screen real estate does not mean a phone that it also 55% larger and heavier (although all phones these days are so light as to make an ounce here or there close to irrelevant).  The Nexus 5 is a mere 0.55″ taller, 0.4″ wider, and an infinitesimal 1/25th of an inch thicker.  Its weight is 4.6 ounces instead of 4.0 ounces for the iPhone 5S – both phones weigh only slightly more than a feather.

As Google’s flagship Android phone, it comes with the latest 4.4 KitKat version of Android, and can be expected to be the first phone to get the latest Android updates, but we no longer see that as being as important as a few years ago.

When both iOS and Android were in their infancy, with major omissions and limitations, each new version was eagerly (even desperately) awaited, because it brought needed improvements and enhancements.  But now we’re into the ‘minor tweak’ category with both operating systems and for most of us, it no longer matters if a phone gets the latest version a month or two sooner than another phone.

Overall, the Nexus 5 is a very slightly tweaked version of the LG G2 phone that first appeared in September.  This is unsurprising, because LG is Google’s manufacturing partner for the Nexus 5.

Other Differences

There are other differences too between the Nexus and iPhone units, but they’re moderately trivial for most of us – they are the sort of things that if you need to know about them, you already will know about them.

In terms of ease of use and breadth of applications to run on the phone, there’s very little difference these days between iOS and Android.  Both have great user interfaces and hundreds of thousands of apps, and most of the major apps are now available on both operating systems.  These types of differences are generally subjective and of little importance – the big difference between the phones is the screen size, and secondarily the cost.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 As a Competitor

The other major competitor to the Nexus 5 is probably the Samsung Galaxy S4, also an Android device.  In terms of raw features and capabilities, it might seem that the S4 beats the Nexus 5, and while we like the thought of a phone with a built-in thermometer and hygrometer, in the real world if we want to know weather information, we simply use one of the weather apps on our phone that does a much more reliable job of telling us current local weather and also forecasting the future.

We’d have pronounced the S4 a winner when it was released, but for one thing.  What we don’t like about the S4 is that Samsung is layering their own proprietary software and interface on top of the generic Android software.  They are not doing this for our benefit (although that’s what they’d have you believe, of course); they are doing this for their benefit, to try to lock you in to their hardware.

That’s a sensible move on their part – as the phones themselves become more generic, it is the user experience that may become a more important part of a person’s buying decision, and in particular, it may help lock a user in to a specific brand for future upgrades, too.  But do you want to be locked into Samsung?  Probably no more than you want to be locked into Apple.

How to Buy a Nexus 5 and Which Carrier to Use it With

At this point, it seems that the Nexus 5 can be purchased directly from Google, or through either Sprint or T-Mobile.  The phone would also work with AT&T but is not being sold by AT&T, and apparently it will not work with Verizon.

Sprint offer it in a classic subsidized price for a two-year contract type deal; T-Mobile has changed its business model and now no longer bundle phone subsidies into your monthly price – instead, you can buy a phone from them and pay it off in monthly installments.

The huge benefit of this approach is that once your phone is paid off, you no longer have to keep paying monthly installments, whereas, with the other wireless companies, your monthly rate stays the same, even after your two-year contract (and built-in subsidy repayment) ends.

T-Mobile has been making huge changes to its network, its capabilities, and most of all, its pricing, and now, for most of us, it is by far the very best wireless company to use, especially if you do any international traveling.

In my case, I am buying the phone direct from Google.  I am locked into some remaining months on my AT&T two year contract, so I’m going to use the Nexus 5 with my AT&T SIM until such time as the contract has expired, and then I’ll instantly switch to T-Mobile (remember you can keep your mobile phone number when switching carriers).

Which Model to Choose?

I’ll not give you advice on the color choices, but there is also a choice between a phone with 16GB and a phone with 32GB of onboard storage.

This storage can be used for programs and their data files, and for things such as videos, music files, and pictures.

The good news is that the larger 32GB capacity phone costs only $50 more than the 16GB phone.  You could get by with ‘only’ 16GB, but for greater freedom and longer technological life, get the 32GB phone.  If you start recording and storing video, you’ll go through that storage very quickly.  Even with ‘only’ pictures and music files, you’ll find you will soon start hitting the limits of a 16GB phone.

So, spare yourself the frustration, some months from now, of running out of space, and get the 32GB phone.

Feature Comparison Table

Here’s a list of what seem to be the most relevant features of the Nexus 5 and its two main competitors.

A few things might benefit from explanations :

  • The optical stabilization approach, as used on the Nexus 5’s camera, is generally considered superior to the digital stabilization on the other two phones.  On the other hand, early reports suggest the camera is a bit disappointing – Google believe a firmware update will resolve this shortly.  In any event we continue to view cell phone cameras as ‘for casual snap shot’ use only, and for that reason, all three phones can be considered to have satisfactory camera quality (for that type of purpose).
  • The micro-SD card on the S4 might be a very useful feature for some people, and we wish the Nexus 5 also offered this (there’s no use in even wishing Apple would offer this feature, that’s a battle long since lost).
  • The iPhone 5S supports the most number of fast data frequencies, but for most of us, in most ‘normal’ countries, the other two phones will usually work perfectly.  The Nexus 5 comes in two models, one optimized for US and some international frequencies, the other with a broader range of international frequencies.
  • It is surprising that the iPhone doesn’t support the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, but this is not a deal breaking omission.
  • It is also surprising that the iPhone has such a shorter battery life.  That is a more relevant consideration.
  • All three phones have incredibly powerful processors that dwarf what we formerly had in our desktop computers only a few years ago.  It doesn’t really matter which phone is a few percent faster than which other phone in terms of CPU speed, number of cores, data word length, etc.
  • We view fingerprint readers, Near Field Communications and wireless charging as gimmicky things rather than must-have essentials.  But if they’re important to you, we show which phones have which features.
Nexus 5iPhone 5SGalaxy S4
Size138 x 69 x 8.6 mm124 x 59 x 7.6 mm137 x 70 x 7.9mm
Weight130 gm112 gm130 gm
Screen diagonal4.95″4.0″5.0″
Pixels1080 x 1920640 x 11361080 x 1920
Main camera8 MP optically stabilized8 MP digitally stabilized13 MP digitally stabilized
Front camera1.3 MP1.2 MP2 MP
System memory2GB1GB2GB
Storage memory16GB or 32GB16GB or 32GB or 64GB16GB
Micro-SD cardNoNoYes
UMTS (3G) frequencies800, 850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100850 900 1900 2100
Fast data frequencies800 (band 20), 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1800 (band 3), 2100 (band 1), 2600 (band 7)700 (band 13), 700 (band 17), 800 (band 18), 800 (band 19), 800 (band 20), 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1700/2100 (band 4), 1800 (band 3), 1900 (band 2), 1900 (band 25), 2100 (band 1)800 (band 18), 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1800 (band 3), 2100 (band 1), 2600 (band 7)
Wi-Fi802.11 a b g n ac802.11 a b g n802.11 a b g n ac
Mobile hotspotYesYesYes
Battery capacity2300 mAhr1570 mAhr2600 mAhr
Battery life17 hrs talk,10 hrs talk17 hrs talk
ProcessorSnapdragon 800Apple A7Snapdragon 600
SensorsAccelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Barometer, Step detector, Step counterAccelerometer, Gyroscope, CompassAccelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Thermometer, Gesture, Humidity, Barometer
Fingerprint readerNoYesNo
Near field communicationsYesNoYes
Wireless chargingYes, Qi standardNoNo
Price (with two year contract/subsidy)$150 16GB Sprint$199 $299 $399$199
Price – unlocked, no contract$349/$399 for 16/32GB$649 $749 $849$639


The new Nexus 5 is a major step forward compared to the Nexus 4.  It has all the features that are now considered essential in a smart phone, as well as a state of the art screen, and a wonderful low (unsubsidized) purchase price.

The main reason for choosing the Nexus 5 would be due to its wonderful large screen.

This is a great phone in every relevant respect (and in most irrelevant respects too).  It is my next smart phone, and probably should be yours, too.

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