This, then, is where the Nexus line of phones and tablets fits in. These are Google’s own devices, made with HTC, LG, Samsung and others, aiming to push the boundaries of what Android can achieve while also unifying hardware and software. And with the new Nexus 5 phone, Google is for the first time addressing both problems: it’s a premium handset, but one that’s accompanied by a new version of the Android software that could offer top performance even on slower mobiles.
As a device, the Nexus 5 feels like it should cost a lot more than the £299 recommended price - Carphone Warehouse is even selling it for £295: manufacturers LG have made a concerted bid to give its plastic construction a matt feel that is neither slippery nor cheap. Its 4.95” screen is surrounded by super-slim bezels and a screen that offers the now customary HD. At maximum brightness, it looks as good as any Android rival. There is only an 8MP camera, no removable storage and the construction is great value for money rather than iPhone-peerless. But there is wireless charging if you buy a suitable charger and there is also 4G, unlike the previous Nexus 4. That makes Three's forthcoming free 4G upgrade offer particularly attractive for those on a budget. Battery life, overall, was adequate but not 16-hours-a-day without worrying, while pictures were, again, very good for an 8MP camera.
So far, so evolutionary. And you could be forgiven for thinking the software of the Nexus, now dubbed Android 4.4 KitKat, is only an evolution too: it continues to improve on the feeling of slickness in previous versions. But it adds a few key features: a translucent Google search bar and the top of every page, updated icons, swipe left for Google Now, the predictive search that suggests that since you’re, say, at a bus stop you might want to know when the buses are leaving. The phone dialler is now more sophisticated, adding in search features, and Google’s own Hangouts app now also incorporates SMS. There’s a lot more that can be done with voice, such as setting location-aware reminders, but these are coming to all Google phones eventually. Supposedly, the phone is always listening for a wake-up command such as “OK Google”, but UK models do not seem yet to have this enabled.
Perhaps even more important, however, is a change that is totally concealed: almost everything now effectively runs from the Google Search app, making it easier for Google to manage the problem of Android appearing to be fragmented across different manufacturers.
Elsewhere, Android now requires less space for its basic requirements, making it easier to install on less sophisticated phones - that lays open a future where the full version of the software runs not just on phones but on smart glasses, smart watches and a host of other devices. The underlying impression is that with the Nexus 5 Google is producing yet another smartphone that proves a point: its software can not only power premium devices sold for a decent price, but it can also lead the way with innovative ideas that will come to fruition in the future and probably in devices made by others. At this price, that sort of innovation is easy to get excited about.
Display: 4.95-inch Full HD IPS (1920×1080, 445ppi), Gorilla Glass 3
OS: Android 4.4 (Kit Kat)
Camera: 8MP rear facing with Optical Image Stabilization (1.3MP front)
Battery: 2,300mAh (17 hours talk time, 7 hours internet on LTE)
CPU: 2.3Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (quad-core)Weight: 4.59oz (130g)
Dimensions: 69.17 x 137.84 x 8.59mm
WiFi: Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
NFC; Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Storage: 16GB or 32GB, no microSD slot