The Nexus 5 is still a great phone for the money, if you can find one
Android 4.4 (KitKat), 5.0in 1,920×1,080 display
The Nexus 5 camera has gone through two major changes since launch. The original camera app was sluggish to launch and take photos, though this was largely fixed in the update to Android 4.4, plus it was frustratingly minimal in its interface design. However, that app has now been removed entirely, with Google moving even such core functions to standalone apps, which are then easier to update regularly without updating the operating system itself. The new Google Camera App is actually available for any Android 4.4 or newer device. It launches very quickly on the Nexus 5 from the home screen, and can still be launched straight from the lock screen too, so you don’t miss a shot while fumbling with your unlock code.
The app is simple and easy to use, there’s a big onscreen shutter button, while tapping the screen is only used for adjusting the focus and exposure point. The volume rocker is pressed into service as alternative shutter button, obviously it doesn’t have the half-press capability of a proper shutter button, to let you lock focus and exposure, but it’s still handy and has a light enough touch so as not to move the camera when you press it.
There’s not much in the way of settings, a swipe from the left edge brings out a menu with options for video, camera, panorama, photo sphere and lens blur. The first two are self-explanatory, while the panorama and photo sphere modes guide you to take multiple pictures (either in a line or as a segment of a sphere) and then stitch them together into one large image. This works pretty well, with the joins almost imperceptible at the kind of sizes you’d share such an image online.
The Panorama mode works well, though as is typical it struggles with varying light levels
The new lens blur mode is designed to create the short field of focus effect that DSLR cameras achieve, great for blurring out the background of portraits. You centre the subject then move the camera upwards after pressing the shutter. The motion gives the Nexus 5 some depth data to work with, based on which it blurs the background. There’s a slider so you can choose the severity of the effect, but you tend to lose detail in your subject as you adjust it upwards. With a steady hand and a very still subject you can get some reasonable results, but other manufacturer’s efforts are better.
The new Lens Blur mode certainly blurs the background but if you aren’t careful it will blur your subject too
With the many changes to the camera app since launch, we’ve also seen the image quality refined. The Nexus 5 has an 8-megapixel sensor, which is few pixels by current standards, but images were generally fine in daylight, with accurate colours and well-resolved details. You do lose detail quickly if you crop into your images though, due to the low pixel count.
The initial camera app tended to overexposure, but this seems to have been largely fixed by the updates. Colours have been warmed up a little, and it looks good and sharp now too. It’s a little grainier than some cameras, so it looks like the noise reduction algorithm has been tweaked to more detailed shots, rather than softer, more ‘pleasing ones’ something we prefer. The camera now prefers faster shutter speeds and higher ISOs (for sharper but noisier shots) over its previous preference for slow shutter speeds and lower ISOs (which produced some blurred images).
Photos are reasonable in low light, but noise reduction led to some smudgy details. It’s not the best camera we’ve seen, and is the only evidence of LG compromising to keep the Nexus 5’s price down, but it’s still more than adequate for most uses.
Perfectly good shots from the 8-megapixel camera
The photos have been improved then, but the quality of the video footage was always rather good. When filming outside in the street, we saw lifelike detail, strong colours and little noise in the 1080p footage, but the lack of optical image stabilisation means some camera shake is inevitable.
When compared side by side with the video from a Samsung Galaxy S4, which itself has a high-quality video camera, the S4’s footage had significantly more noise and some interference on repeating surfaces, such as brickwork. We much preferred the Nexus 5’s video in daylight.
The Nexus 5 produces great footage outdoors, with vibrant colours and little noise (best viewed full screen at 1080p)
While the Galaxy S4’s video has more noise and interference patterns on brickwork (best viewed in full screen at 1080p)
The Nexus 5 is still a fantastic phone for the money. The Full HD screen is excellent, the phone is seriously fast and, if 16GB of storage isn’t enough, A 32GB version is also available. The Google Nexus 5’s only drawback is battery life; it managed just 7h 22m in our video playback test, which is three hours less than we expect to see from a modern smartphone. We use one daily and it never runs out, but we suppose that heavy users, out from dawn to bedtime, might struggle to make the Nexus 5 last until they get home.
There is some stiffer competition around these days though. The Nexus 5 is showing its age, at more than two years old, so the Nexus 5X that replaced it is a much better purchase unless you find the Nexus 5 particularly cheap, which might be tricky. The latest Moto G 3rd Gen (2015) for around £160 (everything you need for not much money) is otherwise a good budget-level alternative if you can’t find the Nexus 5 on sale. If none of those fit your needs then check out our regularly-updated Best Smartphones and buying guide.
|Main display size
|CCD effective megapixels
|Memory card support
|Memory card included
|GSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 800/850/1700/1900/2100, 4G 1/2/4/5/17/19/25/26/41
|Android 4.4 (KitKat)
|Microsoft Office compatibility
|Word, Excel, PowerPoint
|headphones, data cable, charger
|Price on contract