By Michael Fisher | October 31, 2013 7:02 PM
If we got you panting and hoping for a (Video) tag on the end of that headline, sorry; we’re still waiting on our Nexus 5 demo hardware. But as soon as it comes in, we promise a flood of comparison and review coverage unlike any other.
Until then, we’ve got a lot to talk about. We’ve already covered our hopes, dreams, and fears for the Nexus 5 in this morning’s Pocketnow Weekly podcast, and followed that up with a more-dynamic discussion in an Editorial Roundtable after the device’s midafternoon announcement.
A big focus of our Roundtable discussion was where exactly the Nexus 5 sits in the smartphone landscape, both in the context of its place among Google’s Nexus family, and its standing globally. That’s a big point of consideration, and you can see my efforts to try and answer it devolve into nonsensical swearing starting around the 42:40 mark:
As with every Google-sourced device, the Nexus 5 is a quandary. Taken together with the rest of the world’s smartphone offerings, it’s not quite clear where it fits – because the Nexus program itself has been through a few changes over the years. Right now, it seems to be an effort to deliver top-notch unlocked smartphone hardware at historically low price points: quite a far cry from the traditional model of expensive smartphones made cheap via carrier subsidy.
That’s the world inhabited by the LG G2, the Nexus 5′s non-Googleified sibling which we reviewed last month. The G2 is currently selling at a full retail price of $574.99 via AT&T’s website, with a two-year commitment required to bust that cost down to a reasonable $149.99. By contrast, the Nexus 5 is currently on sale at the Google Play Store for $349/$399 depending on capacity – with no contract whatsoever.
But pricing and corporate-strategy speculation aside, what exactly are the differences between these step-siblings? Why might you opt for one over the other, and what will you lose in the process? We’ll be doing a full deep-dive on that question in our forthcoming video comparison, but until then, let’s run down the basics.
When it comes to the device that you hold in your hand, my position has always been that the hardware should say something. It should contribute, in a meaningful way, to the total experience of using the device. In this respect, the G2 is the phone with the greater personality. The Nexus 5 seems to have been built with a firmly minimalistic intent and a desire to avoid distracting from the software experience (which is fitting for a Nexus device), while the G2 has always tried to make a splash with its casing.
The G2 does so with its back-mounted control collective: the power/standby keys are arranged in a vertical formation on the phone’s spine rather than on the sides, and LG has done its best to build in some custom button functionality to take advantage of that unique placement. Elsewhere, the G2 hews more closely to convention: though the razor-thin bezels do a great job of setting off the vibrant 5.2-inch display, the G2′s curvy, glossy plastic body closely resembles Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 – which isn’t bad, but it’s also not great.
The Nexus 5, by contrast, cloaks its internals in a matte soft-touch exterior featuring sharper corners and barely a trace of gloss or glitz. At 130g, the Nexus is the lighter device by 13g, and the buttons have been returned to their more conventional positions on the sides of the phone. Contrary to LG’s stated justification for the button move on the G2, this rearrangement hasn’t affected the display, which is almost as large (5 inches vs 5.2) and still features very thin bezels, while retaining 1080p resolution. The camera has taken a step down from 13MP on the G2 to 8MP on the Nexus, but it’s retained the optical image stabilization that made shooting with the G2 such a joy.
Under the hood
The phones find common ground in the processor powering them: each is fueled by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974), a quad-core SoC running at 2.3 GHz and backed up by an Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. That’s about as top-of-the-line as it gets for non-phablet smartphones these days, though you’ll almost certainly see superior day-to-day performance from the Nexus 5 due to the G2′s cruft-laden software load (more on this below).
Where the specifications differ significantly down in the engine room is in battery power. While the G2 ships with a large 3000 mAh LiPo pack, the Nexus 5′s slimmer dimensions have mandated a smaller power plant: it’s rated at 2300 mAh instead (though it’s able to be replenished wirelessly via Qi recharging, while the G2′s pack is not). Google still claims 17 hours of talk time and a staggering 60 hours of music playback on the Nexus 5 due to “acoustic tunneling” technology and some other enhancements, but given its rather lofty claims regarding the Moto X‘s battery life, we’ll have to see for ourselves just how well the Nexus 5 does. And of course we’ll be doing just that in a few days’ time.
Almost all of the shortcomings we found in the G2 experience had to do with its software. LG’s third-party UI riding atop Android is responsive, but it’s also intrusive, overwrought, and just plain tacky at points. It’s the perfect example of differentiation for the sake of differentiation.
Being a “pure Google” device, the Nexus 5 thankfully carries none of that chrome and bloat – which is definitely its clearest advantage over the G2. The Nexus 5 ships with Android 4.4 KitKat, a brand-new build that bundles advantages like improved Google Now support, integrated Yellow Pages-like contact lookup, and a new SMS-capable Hangouts app in a package that’s sleeker and smoother than before. We’ve got a full rundown of KitKat’s features, as well as a video tour of the new software, coming soon – for now, it’s enough to say that it’s the best version of Android available … which makes it worlds ahead of what the G2 offers out of the box.
Given what we know now, the Nexus 5 looks to be the clear choice for anyone legitimately weighing these two contenders. It’s literally hundreds of dollars cheaper off-contract, it packs software that’s far superior, and it includes the full guarantee of timely Android updates (for at least two generations, anyway). Even the Nexus 5′s build quality seems superior, simplistic though it is. Unless the battery endurance, screen size, or camera resolution downgrades really bother you, the Google product seems far and away the superior one.
But remember: this is based on information that’s half-complete. Everything that’s not listed as a fact or figure here is speculation – which we’ll verify with hands-on sessions with our review units as soon as they arrive. So sit tight, check out our continuing Nexus 5 coverage, and drop by the comments below or the Pocketnow Forums to let us know which one of these you’ll be picking up!