The sleek Google Nexus 5, running on Android KitKat, is an absolute treat to use.

Simplicity is a difficult trait to achieve. More so when you are using it to market a product. But Google seems to have this thing down pat. Those who have used a ‘Nexus’ or a ‘Play Edition’ smartphone will know what I’m talking about. Imagine a smartphone with no frills, no annoying animations, no bloatware. Just the things you need day in, day out, packaged in a really simple body. That’s what the new Nexus 5 is all about. I stayed glued to it for a couple of weeks and here’s why.

Build

Apple might be the queen bee of design, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t know how to do ‘minimalism’ right. Look at the Nexus 5 and you’ll know what I mean. When I hold the phone up, it’s just a plain, sleek, sexy block of black staring back. No buttons, no controls, no recesses, no protrusions. The essential ones – power and volume – are designated either side of the phone; the 3.5 mm jack to the top and the micro-USB slot to the bottom. There’s virtually nothing standing between you and the phone.

With an almost-5-inch display, the Nexus 5 is the largest in the Nexus smartphone lineup. The screen is pretty good – it has a 1920x1080-pixel resolution, just like the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The display is great to read on although personally I prefer reading either on a monochromatic reader like the Paperwhite or at least on a slightly larger screen. However, the display was good enough to have me hooked on to multiple articles on Pocket (formerly Read It Later) for about 20-30 minutes at a stretch.

A bite of KitKat

Stock Android is pure joy to use, especially if you are already a fan of Android. It’s the very first device to run on Android KitKat (Version 4.4). KitKat integrates your SMSes and hangouts, so at times it might get a bit confusing. I ended up pinging someone online thinking I was sending them an SMS and vice versa. To help matters, there’ll be a “via SMS” next to the SMS timestamp. If you can’t see it, then it was sent via Hangout (formerly Google Talk).

Google’s voice recognition is hands-down one of the best of its kind. There was seldom an instance when the “Ok Google” command let me down. The best is that it understands a neutral “Indian” accent so you don’ have to fake another one. I just said “Ok Google, call Mama” for the phone to dial my mom. I could just ask “Okay Google, how big is Chennai?” and pat came the reply “181 square kilometres” in voice as well as with text displayed on the screen.

The new phone app automatically prioritises your contacts based on the people you talk to the most. You can also search for nearby places and businesses, your contacts, or people in your Google Apps domain although the businesses bit has a lot of ground to cover before it can become trustworthy enough to replace JustDial for you. As part of its improvement, sometimes the app will ask you if the number you just sourced from its database was the correct one.

One of the more crucial areas where the Nexus 5 struggles to match up to its competitors is its imaging capabilities. It’s equipped with an 8-megapixel camera which manages to take decent pictures, but is nowhere close to delivering the kind of experience that an iPhone 5S or an HTC One does. If you’ve used the Nexus 4 already, you’ll know how bad a shutter lag it suffered from. The Nexus 5 is a slight improvement upon that but it still doesn’t have the quickest capture time. The photos too are average, a bit grainy at times. But considering the fact that it’s at the end of the day just a mobile camera and you probably won’t use it to shoot a professional portfolio, it should satisfy your selfie needs and more.

Performance

The battery life on the Nexus 5 again is a huge improvement on the Nexus 4. With continuous app usage, intermittently checking WhatsApp and Gmail, and about 5-6 voice calls every day, the Nexus 5 would still be left with some charge at the end of the day. If you have been austere with the usage, you could probably stretch it to two working days.

With 2GB of RAM, multitasking is pretty seamless. Except, when I used it the first two days, a couple of apps such as Google Chrome, crashed on me a couple of times. For the rest of the duration of the review I didn’t have any issues.

Media junkies should keep in mind that the Nexus 5 doesn’t come with a micro-SD slot for extra storage. So, if you love having all your media on the phone, go for the 32GB version.

The Nexus 5 is a brilliant phone for those who need a smartphone for its functionality. Its simplistic looks don’t hurt either. The phone, for the most part, handles multi-tasking with ease and is great for media consumption - be it movies, apps or books. The battery life is on par with most other smartphones in the market, so you’ll probably have to have the charger on hand wherever you go. The camera is not the best money can buy, but it does its job as a smartphone snapper. And more than anything, this is the best, purest form of Android that money can buy.

Rs 28,999

Love – Great display, good build

Hate – Mediocre camera, prone to typos

mahananda.bohidar@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 25, 2013)
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