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Is Google's Nexus 5 The Best Phone To Buy This Christmas?

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If you're an Android enthusiast/fanatic/fanboy, there can be only one cellular experience that truly satiates your smartphone gadget lust, Google's own Nexus line of devices.These are the creme de la creme of Android experience for those who want the stock Android operating system, uncluttered by all that extra software (bloatware) that cellphone carriers bog devices down with. Google's new Nexus 5 is the latest in the line and should have the whole world taking notice. Not just the rabid fanboys with Droid Rage.

 

Droid Rage

For many the Nexus 5 is the gold standard for what Android should be on a smartphone and I can't say I disagree with that assessment. The problem though is rarely with the software, but in this case the hardware- well, except for that camera app. Typically, many reviewers who espouse anything less than the unmitigated deity of this phone are internet hated, trolled and poo poo'd by the fan base for being biased but there is better hardware on the market. In fact, Google's Nexus 5 is based on a phone I liked so much I purchased for my own daughter, the LG G2. The G2 has a more refined appearance, innovative button placement and better battery life but none of those things are the point of the Nexus 5! What Google brings to the consumer market under the Nexus line is possibilities. Off contract that LG G2 will cost you as much as $700 for what is one of the best Android phones on the market right now. Off contract, the Nexus 5 will run you $400 for what is one of the best Android phones on the market right now and that, my friends, is where the possibilities come in. You don't need to be tethered to a carrier for two years to have a great device. You don't need to enroll in some early upgrade program at an additional monthly cost to get a new phone twice a year. Google's smartphone sits at the Nexus of high technology hardware, high tech software, state of the art cellular service and (most importantly) broad consumer accessibility. Let's face it, high end tech is awesome to read about in magazines and online, to daydream about one day being able to afford, but what is truly exciting is an amazing product that everyone can enjoy!

 

The Heart of the Robot

Where does one begin when reviewing anything Android? Well, the software of course! The culmination of hardware specs will always be the user experience… the software. Don't believe me? Think the fastest processor in seven galaxies is what matters most? Just ask all those folks who, for years bought BMW's and complained about the lack of cupholders. They have them now, don't they? At the heart of every piece of hardware, is how we'll use it and Android has matured into a powerfully refined platform that brings with it a whole ecosystem of services and experiences but let's zoom in and take a micro look at the Android running on the Nexus 5.

The latest version of Android, dubbed KitKat is and isn't unique to the Nexus 5. KitKat as an OS has rolled out to other Android devices like the Moto X but in order to get the full KitKat experience the way Google intended, you'll have to have the 5. Google's proprietary launcher now puts you one swipe away from one of their most innovative products, Google Now. While Samsung has obfuscated access to Google Now on their devices, one swipe to the right on the Nexus 5 puts predictive search in front of your face. To be clear, there really isn't that much difference between the old method which was long-pressing a menu button or swiping up on the app drawer icon but I think that placing Google Now in the launcher like this shows their commitment to making this service a central part of your web and location-based search. If you're not creeped out by it and have used it, you understand why. If you haven't used Google Now, I think you should. Whether you know it or not, you're likely already using it. You can read all about that here.

From that Google Now screen, or the home screen for that matter, you can now interact with the internets, local search and other functions on your phone by simply uttering the phrase, "Ok, Google." Matter of fact, here's a list of 50 commands you can use to do everything from play music to sending a text message without ever touching the phone! Among the other features Google has made easier, with regard to interacting with what's on your phone, is the addition of built-in printing in KitKat. These devices are now computers which just happen to be capable of making calls so it seems like a good idea that we be able to print from them. Now, to be honest, you've been able to do this for a while thanks to an app download or two but Google has gone ahead and baked that functionality right in. So, you can now print to any Google Cloud Print enabled printer, HP ePrint enabled printer as well as other printers that have apps in the Play Store. I've used this feature with ease on my own home network, connected wirelessly to my HP Multifunction printer and it works like a charm with HP's ePrint app but I had trouble getting the phone to print natively. Now, my printer is an older model so that may factor in but the phone was able "see" the printer on the network and it shows up as an option but when attempting to print it grays out and gives me an error message, "unavailable."

One of the biggest changes to come with the release of KitKat on the Nexus 5 is the new dialer. Now, normally a phone dialer is nothing to get excited about but that's because past changes have been cosmetic only. Not anymore! With the dialer included in KitKat you get two new features which just make sense: 1. Search not only your contacts but for a business you're wanting to call right from the dialer. 2. Now you can call a number, or receive a call from a number and if it can be matched to a Google Maps business record, you'll see the name of that business and if you're lucky a picture. When you first open up the dialer, there will be a bit of a shock because it does look very different than what you're used to but have no fear… the call log and actual dialer are just a soft button press at the bottom of the screen. In order, from the top of the screen, what you're going to see is the search field, a recently called contact, 3 most frequently called favorites, a list of your favorites along with most frequently called contacts and then a tile which takes you to the infinitely scrolling list of all of your contacts. Want to add a new contact, clear your frequently called list or import/export contacts? Tap on the three dots aka the Overflow Menu on the bottom right of the screen. "Why has Google done this," you ask? When you're going to make a phone call from your smartphone, often you may be searching for something, or in another app getting some information and then taking that and making your call. Well, Google wants to make it so that you rarely have to leave the dialer to do this. Everything in one place and I like it! While it isn't perfect -please make the "add new contact" somewhere front and center instead of placing it in the overflow menu- it is a huge step in the right direction.

 

But What About The Hardware?

Now, there are many other features included in Android KitKat that are definitely worth mentioning, but this is a Nexus 5 review so let's get on with the robot's hardware! The 5" screen on the Nexus 5 sports a true HD 1920x1080 resolution at 445 pixels per inch. Now, if numbers aren't your thing when it comes to screens, just wait until you look at one! Images pop, colors are rich and vivid and everything full screen sings. Good thing Google built in wireless charging because a display this brilliant will eat up battery, which the Nexus is a tad skimpy on. The Nexus 5 includes a 2,300mAh battery and the battery life isn't that bad at all but when compared to the phone the 5 is based on, the LG G2, I can't help but pine for more. Battery life on that device is stellar but there's a reason why the juice on the N5 is less so. We'll get to that in a bit. One thing you'll likely do very little of with the N5 is wait. Google threw in one of the latest and greatest processors, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 running at 2.26GHz and my how that dragon snaps! I could throw a bunch of benchmark stats your way, but both of us would just gloss over so I'll sum them all up with two words: no lag. You'll see no lag when you're gaming either, thanks to the Adreno 330 graphics processing unit. In English, that means that you have a processor that will handle all the heavy lifting when you're phone is performing many graphics intensive tasks so that whatever is happening on the screen has a better chance at running lag and glitch free. Smooth like butter! The phone's buttons are unique in that they're ceramic, which gives them durability without sacrificing weight. Around the rear of the device, you'll get a "soft-touch" back that is a joy in hand and helps to make the phone feel secure in your grip while you use the 8 megapixel camera to capture those candid life moments. You'll appreciate the image stabilization that is built-in when you're looking at your shots and more so since that is Optical Image Stabilization. There are two kinds: digital image stabilization and optical image stabilization and just like with digital and optical zoom, the optical variant is the better of the two. On the front side of the device, you'll get 1.3 megapixels for quick selfies and video chats. You will also get a bevy of sensors as well! Everything from Proximity/Ambient Light sensors to a pressure sensor and accelerometer.

You can pick up the Nexus 5 in two colors, black or white (which isn't really "white," more like zebra) and in two memory capacities, 16 or 32GB. Of all the features, both software and hardware alike, the most compelling of all must be the price! Starting at $350 you get pretty close to state-of-the-art access without having to be locked into a carrier for two years. To put it in context, if you don't want to extend your contract, but you wanted an iPhone 5S you'd have to shell out $650 for the 16GB model. Want that beautiful LG G2 without the contract? You're going to wind up $550 lighter. How about one of my favorite devices this year, the Moto X? Motorola recently had some stellar sales and were allowing select individuals to pick one up off contract for $350 but any other time you're going to have to shell out $550 for some great innovations and that, more than anything is what the Nexus 5 is all about… access. It's about showing consumers that you can have an amazing device with little, or no, buyers' remorse and more control over your service options with it being available for all carriers. Win! So, to answer the questions posited in the headline, if you want an amazing phone off contract, other than the Motorola Moto G (an entry-level device) you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal this holiday season.

Tshaka Armstrong Tech Ninja Tshaka Armstong writes about the latest technology and helping FOX 11 Viewers understand how to be safer, smarter users of the internet and their "gadgets. He's also one of our social media guys, helping guide the station's online efforts and social media outreach.
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