Review: Google gets it right with Nexus 5 Android smartphone
Finally, Google's flagship smartphone can actually compete with other Android flagshipsFollow @MobileGalen
I've found Google's previous attempts to create a "pure Android" flagship smartphone uninspiring. Last year's LG-built Nexus 4 didn't support LTE, for example, and the previous year's Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus marred its nice hardware with a series of software flaws. The first Google-branded device, 2010's Nexus One, ended up a big disappointment, with iffy 3G connectivity and no distinct features -- so much for being a flagship.
Thus, I wasn't particularly eager to test the LG-built Nexus 5, released in small quantities on Halloween (a second batch is now available for purchase from Google's website). But I was pleasantly surprised by the Nexus 5. This is a nice Android smartphone, with hardware that's pleasant and capable, as well as software that feels more polished than previous "pure Android" attempts.
A nicely polished, restrained software design
It's the first Android device to run Android 4.4 KitKat, but that version is a minor update to the more commonly used Android 4.2/4.3 Jelly Bean. What's notable about the Nexus 5's software are the polish and simplicity evident in the home screens, Settings app, and common apps like Email and Calendar. The polish is similar to that of the HTC One -- and it's a marked contrast to the feature jumble evident in the Samsung Galaxy S 4. The changes are subtle -- mainly around clean, restrained design -- but they lead to a very nice experience.
Case in point is the use of icons in mail messages to indicate the sender. It works like iOS 7's Phone and Messages apps, with the person's image displayed if available and the letter of the first name if not. It's a very quick way to find messages from a specific person. The Email app also shows more context at the top of a message, such as what folder it's in and controls for displaying images in the message. That often pushes the meat of the message down below the visible message window -- but the same is true in the Galaxy S 4's Email client, which feels less polished despite having essentially the same information displayed.
Likewise, the Calendar app in the Nexus 5 is simpler than that in the Galaxy S 4. The Nexus 5 doesn't copy Samsung's use of side tabs to switch among views (such as Month and List), but instead uses a menu at the top that leaves more space for your calendar entries to appear. But the Nexus 5 does copy iOS 7's ability to scroll horizontally from week to week or vertically from month to month, a convenience the Galaxy S 4 does not offer.