The new Google Nexus 5 is an appealing smart phone modestly equipped with a 5-inch 1080p display, a fast Snapdragon 800 processor, and an 8-megapixel camera with an optical image stabilizer for better pictures under low-light conditions. The phone's most noteworthy feature is Android OS version 4.4, dubbed KitKat. It attempts to make cloud-based files more accessible to phone-bound apps, present more info on calls from strangers, and even reprioritize your contacts according to how often you call them.
The traditional role of a Nexus phone is to provide a no-frills showcase for the Android OS it runs, and the Nexus 5 continues that tradition. It has none of the interface tweaks, camera tricks, or unique wireless-sharing options that phone makers throw on top of Android to leverage their brands. Nor does it have any of the nifty gesture and hands-free controls we've seen on the most recent models from LG, Motorola, and Samsung. But the Nexus 5 does work with wireless chargers out of the box, and KitKat does add support for the step detectors and step counters of fitness apps such as Protego, Noom, and Runtastic.
Overall, the Nexus 5 and its camera performed well, though our engineers found the camera's auto focus stumbled in certain situations. KitKat adds some useful touches, such as allowing you to summon widgets, wallpapers, and Google settings by long-pressing a clear spot on the desktop. And it conveniently presents Google Drive files in Quick Office's directory. But its new phone-call-related features didn't work well—at least for me—and some core phone controls, such as SMS messaging and Quick Settings, are actually harder to access than before.
The Nexus 5
Comfortable grip. The Nexus 5 wedges its 5-inch, 1080p IPS display (445 ppi resolution) into a case that's only 2.72 x 5.43 x 0.34 inches, stretching the screen to within 0.12 inches of the phone's left and right edges.
Decent display. The phone's LCD display, while not as dazzling as the Super AMOLEDs we've seen on phones from Samsung and others, presented text and images crisply. And I had no trouble viewing e-mails and the phone keypad in sunlight.
Competent, though confused, camera. The Nexus 5 took very good still images under most lighting conditions, on a par with the iPhone 5 S. In low light, its optical stabilizer helped it take cleaner, less noisy stills that were properly exposed, comparable to those taken by the cameras of the Nokia Lumia 1020 and LG G2. Also, the timer has a very short shutter lag.
But the Nexus 5 camera's auto-focus had trouble zeroing in on low-contrast subjects, such as our lab's color checker test chart. This problem became more acute at close distances. The phone's camera has no notable editing or image-enhancement tools to speak of, but controls are simple and access to HDR, exposure, flash settings, and more is never more than one or two menu levels away.
Video quality was good overall, though under low-light conditions the camera downshifted the frame rate from 30 frames per second to 19. This made images appear choppy and blurry, especially when panning the camera.