Engineering and Technology · Reviews

Review: A 2-month Google Nexus 5

Behold.

 

Once a new, still-boxed Nexus 5. A thrill at the first, second, and third look. Still is a thrill, since its first day on the 21st of January.

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But of course, no phone, especially a smartphone, passes any review test without waiting for at least 2 months, after a 2 month worth of intensive app-running, game playing, drop-testing (unintentionally!).

This review is moulded after a blog in Forbes by Gordon Kelly. If you haven’t, you can read that blog first. Kelly gave a grand introduction to the Nexus 5, but I have to cut short to the main point. Like Kelly, I won’t be reviewing Nexus 5 as a new phone, rather, as a 3-month old handset after all the rug and toll.

 

My Verdict: Excellent piece of technology, but that’s before the Screen Glitch.

About sometime in March, during my intensive e-book reading, the phone encountered its first and biggest problem for a new phone: the screen glitching. My previous blog post shows what the screen glitch does, but I will have to save the horrifying glitch to the last. I’m going to do this semi-chronologically, finish reviewing everything that’s great and not-so before the glitch and then after.

 

Phone Specs
It’s a 32GB black Nexus 5. Got it a Nillkin thick protective(?) cover on the day it was bought and gave it a protective screen sticker. That’s its two-layer protection. There’s no Nexus 5 directly from Google in Malaysia, so I’d resorted to buying it from DirectD in SS15. I got the phone in its box in an almost pristine condition (under strict scrutinising) but it works all right. The phone itself, at the time of purchase on the 21st of January, was RM1799 (the price had dropped by at least RM 100 since then).

 


Build and Condition
As mentioned all over the Internet, the black version has a rubberised back cover. My Nexus 5’s rubber backing didn’t get much air, however, being constantly under the protection of a thick cover. However probably due to the protective casing, it sort of collects white particles or debris. My jeans pocket is probably to be blamed. The fingerprint on the rubber back wasn’t a problem as well, as it has a casing.

I had dropped it without the protective case on its second day (I think) from waist level. The phone was still fine, but then the back cover sort of popped open a bit. I just pressed the cover back and then it’s as good as new. It had various unintentional drop-tests over these two months, all lesser drops than the first, but I had hoped I was a better owner of a smartphone. My heart breaks a little every time.

Still it survived. My old Samsung Galaxy W had survived from worse consequences, but I don’t have the asset to risk my Nexus 5. Kelly has also mentioned the deterioration on the camera lens ring, but that’s because he didn’t have a protective case. I had, and it’s still fine.

The only weak spot in its build is that dust, particles and debris tend to get stuck into the seams on the edge of the phone, where the back cover can be removed with special tools. The seam is smaller than a fingernail, so there was no hope of cleaning without bringing it to technicians if you got a piece of cake stuck into it.

 

Size and Portability

The size of Nexus 5 is large compared to a Samsung Galaxy W. Still it fits into my jeans pocket and even most of my shorts. I had to be careful while standing up from sitting unless I want to risk another drop-test on it. It’s light, amazingly light for a phone its size, and I didn’t find any problem in carrying it around. It’s same size as my purse and I can even stuff it into my purse. Just about fits.

It’s size makes it pretty fine for e-book reading. My parents disapproved of me using the phone, even with its screen size, as an e-book reader, but I had simply fixed the font size. Still an iPad or Nexus 7 would be more fitting as an e-book reader. Nexus 5 is simply good for simple web surfing, Facebook scrolling and some PDF referencing. I save a bus schedule in it, referencing it every few seconds as I wait for my uni’s shuttle bus.

For games, I had only tried it with Hungry Shark Evolution. The experience is exhilarating. Performance review later, the size of the screen is just good for up to Great White Shark. Megalodon, however, was too large a monstrosity to fit into even Nexus 5’s 4.95 inch screen.

Having previously used a smaller phone like the Samsung Galaxy W (3.7 inches) I see no trouble or distress in the conversion. It’s thin and light, and unless I put the two phones together I hardly notice the size of a Nexus 5. Even with a protective casing, I had no problem handling it one-handed.

 

Personal Usage

Now, personal usage is important in saying how much and how intensively I used my phone. For the first five days I played Hungry Shark Evolution and charging it almost simultaneously. I heard it’s not good for a smartphone, but game addiction is a bit tricky.

For most of the time in the first month, Nexus 5 is a fine companion in lectures and the general living. With Google Drive and Dropbox, I had everything important synced between my computer and phone. Seamless web browsing also made it easy to download lecture notes and stuffs. There is no stock file manager app in the Nexus 5, so I used Fo and File Commander together. Fo for its simplicity and root explorer (no editing, though, as my phone is not rooted), and File Commander for its nice and sleek user interface.

I used the camera more for taking pictures of slides in lectures, and whatever important notes I found myself too lazy to write it by hand. And then Google Keep for notes I don’t feel too lazy to type them down. There’s a few dictionary apps I use as well. Also in the first month I occasionally read e-books for a few hours at a time, mostly Jim Butcher and Cahill vs. Vespers. I had also played another game, more intensively than Hungry Shark then, but it was no GPU intensive game like Riptide or other stuffs.

For the most of March, I was caught in addiction to a series of urban fantasy books. Refer my review on The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison. I read them for more than a few hours at a time, and resting only when I had to charge it, sometimes even using a power bank to keep reading.

Generally speaking, I can use my phone for a whole day on one day, and not at all for two days.

 

User Interface

One of the main reasons I bought Nexus 5 was its user interface: the fading status bar and its cool dock (the 3 buttons, I think, was the dock). Pulling down the status bar with one and two fingers give two different effects. One finger, you see the notifications. Two fingers, and there are settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Brightness, Data, Settings and stuffs. Long press Wi-Fi and you can toggle it on and off. It didn’t have the Samsung Galaxy W control on brightness by just pressing the status bar, or the on/off buttons for Wi-Fi and settings related to it on the first finger pull of the status bar, but it’s good enough.

The volume button can switch between silent mode without vibration, with vibration and then sound mode with the volumes, but as I changed between these settings pretty much (coming in and out of lectures) I don’t know if the buttons may wear down over time.

I didn’t like the UI for phone calls in particular. It’s too empty and quite awkward looking, and when I first received a phone call with Nexus 5 I accidentally ended the call. It’s big and red, should be no reason for any accidental call ending but the UI is so awkward that I did. There are also a lot more options in the phone call UI I hadn’t had chance to explore, which considering how fast one had to pick up calls, there’s no chance for me to do more exploring before my caller ended up getting into my voicemail.

The applications pages, which I suppose was the result of KitKat, lost functionalities in creating folders and sorting the apps into different pages. On first sight it might seem as a great liability, but now that I used back my Samsung Galaxy W for reading e-books, I realised that the design somehow saved me the trouble of sorting apps into pages, since the apps can already be sorted into folders in the home page, and so far I hadn’t tested the number of home pages I can create, but then I wasn’t a fan with many home pages.

Another new function in Nexus 5 is widgets in lock screen. It is enabled in the settings, and there I can use a flashlight app without unlocking the screen. But I don’t do much in the lock screen other than taking photos and using the flashlight, because the lock screen still serves the important purpose to preventing stranger access to the more sensitive apps such as email accounts.

 

Stock Applications

By that I mean all the Google pre-installed applications that are stuck in Nexus 5. Another big reason I chose Nexus 5 was its apps. No non-sense Samsung Touch Wiz or HTC sense. I want a vanilla android phone, and that’s Nexus 5. I had no qualms with Google Drive, G-mail, Google Keep and most of the Google stuffs. I mean, what’s the point of a Nexus 5 if you don’t use the Google apps?

There’s only one nasty app in Nexus 5 that has no use or whatsover. The HP printing app or something, and I’m not even bothering to refer to its name. It stucks there like an ad and I don’t have a HP printer.

Other than the nasty HP app (again, that’s because I don’t have a HP printer) the stock apps are all nice to use. I keep to most of the stock apps – alarm and clock app, calendar, gallery, calculator (I have a proper scientific calculator if I want, with real hardware buttons, so no-no for calculator apps for me), play music and stuffs. Google Drive, on its own, is the most practical application.

One thing I noted was the birthdays in my contact list doesn’t get updated to the Google Calendar. It will be great if it does, like the Samsung Galaxy W. The Google Calendar is synced to my main Google account and the peoples app (my contact list) seems to be a separate thing, which it is. I didn’t want my messy junkyard of my email contacts to mess with my phone’s, but somehow it’s annoying that the birthdays cannot be shown in the Google calendar.

The second thing was that the phone app and peoples app are not quite connected. It just seemed natural for the phone app to be the same as peoples app, for me to edit a contact after receiving a miss call ( that’s how I usually save numbers) but it doesn’t happen quite easily, not within a few finger presses. It’s much easier to edit a contact in the peoples app than the phone app.

 

Multimedia Hardware (Audio and Graphics)

The Nexus 5 box set, much to my disappointment, does not include earphones, but that’s mostly because I’m a junk hoarder and I don’t go to RadioShack or any speciality store just for an earphone.

The speaker and the microphone are located at the bottom rim of the device. Note the singularity of the noun of speaker, but then you can’t expect anything more from a smartphone. It’s not built to be like Dolby. It’s a freaking phone. In my meagre standards, I think the speaker is passable for regular listening experience. Maybe the higher frequencies are rather shaky and distorted, but I was listening to Lana Del Ray’s Million Dollar Baby and I couldn’t be sure. Better than my shitty laptop’s speaker, that is (yes, I’m sure to write another consumer review for my Vaio here). The Microphone was clear, recorded piano in my house’s living room to a quality I’m sure would be better in a soundproof studio. The microphone holes are in the right bits with the phone’s screen facing up.

And then graphics. Stunning. Amazing colours. Nifty screen lock animation resembling something like when you switch off a CRO box TV. Minimum lag, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any occasionally glitching and twitching of certain pixels. They can be ignored. Also, the screen protector can’t be matte unless you want the display to look really awful. With the wrong screen protector the whites become noises of Red-Green-Blue instead and it’s a pain to look. Go for the glass-transparent sort.

I know the difference because when my device returned from repair services they changed the protective sticker for me which is about 10% too small and sucked like shit.

 

Start-up and Performance (ART, General Performance and Gaming)

Again, I’d be lying if everything runs so smoothly there hasn’t been a crash or two. Sure, the camera and some apps crashed a few times, but they are rare enough, enough to not to hinder any productivity or affect any sort of mood. Start-up time for the very first time had been longer, but on subsequent start-ups it took a significantly shorter time. I didn’t time it, but it is acceptable. Shut-down time is even faster, it’s in a blink. Well nigh instantaneous, of which Samsung Galaxy W might take ten seconds or so.

Performance? Stunning. Multi-tasking is not optional. When I chose not to switch on my laptop, I let Nexus 5 tank everything else. Ahem, that being said, Nexus 5 doesn’t do MATLAB, but it got 70% of my electronic job well done. Web printing. Accessing Moodle. Sync through about 6 e-mail accounts. Keep one game or two minimised for instant access.

And yet I was told the whole thing could yet perform better with ART runtime. I did try it, but a lot of the apps I used are sort of classic, outdated and entirely incompatible with ART. Even Cytus doesn’t run in ART. So Dalvik it is. However, as for other gaming experience a hardcore gamer will be looking for, I have not truly tried out any of the GPU-intensive games, if Hungry Shark Evolution isn’t one of them. I think I will cover that in a possible Part 2 of a Nexus 5 Review, when I get more time and hand around it, and when other issues with regards to my set of Nexus 5 are fully resolved (refer below: Screen Glitching at 2nd Month).

 

Battery
I’m sure we have all been told to be disappointed with Nexus 5’s battery life. Well to be frank I don’t think it’s that bad, unless you are like me in the first three days of getting a new phone, addicted into playing Hungry Shark Evolution for three hours straight. From 100% to 82%, it gave me about 15 hours and 45 minutes, of which I used for about 5 horncalls for mousehunt, checking Whatsapp lightly and glance through about three e-mails. Light stuffs. Note that I had switched off the phone’s radio through *#*#4636#*#* as the radio antenna isn’t quite working. With minimal use, the Nexus 5 is entirely capable of being on standby for emergency for at least 24 hours. I have had the Nexus 5 tanked two days without charging, but that’s because I didn’t use the phone for anything.

During a normal day of lecture and University when I use my phone for a lot of things, it sure did well in lasting out for the day until I’m back to my room late at night. But make it a point to bring a fully-charged power bank around, because there’s no telling when you would suddenly find yourself playing your 6th round of 2048 or Plant vs Zombie, only to realise you have drained about 80% of your battery before 3pm.

 

File Transfer to Computer with MTP and Windows
One of the most significant and frustrating thing that I realised with Nexus 5 was the mode of file transfer. With Samsung Galaxy W, I can access the internal storage and SD card like a USB Mass Storage Device. It’s just like plugging in an external HDD.

However Nexus 5 uses something like MTP. It means that while I can pull out the USB without safety removing the device, the things I can do with the files are severely limited. The files load slower than it would have been with an external HDD, for one, and I cannot use cut and paste, only copy and paste, even though copy and paste is usually a safer way of doing things. Also sometimes if I make any changes to the files in MTP, I wouldn’t see any such changes in my device. I will have to reboot my phone to refresh the files, so to say.

Small hindrance, but a hindrance otherwise. It isn’t enough to discourage me from file transferring, and I supposed that not being required to safety remove my device is kinda a good point there.

 

Camera and Video
The camera I’m speaking is before the camera update into something like a Google Camera. I hadn’t used the new Google Camera much, knowing little other than the shutter button took up nearly half the screen of Nexus 5. Could be quite a handicap, that, but I hadn’t really used the camera to be certain.

The older app before the update however was nifty enough. Passable to good user interface, astounding photo quality (in my point of view), and nice videos (in comparison to what few miserable video capturing gadgets I have). But then I’m not really a camera person, so there’s not much I can say about camera and videos. Connoisseurs might have a different opinion when it comes to quality control.

 

Screen Glitching at 2nd Month
In case if you wonder what the glitching entails, refer my earlier post here. For the video I’ve taken on the glitch, click here For a quick look, I’ve included an image on the screen glitch below:

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The most unsavoury experience I ever had with a smartphone, still I refused to degrade Nexus 5 in its quality. I mean, if you really don’t count that screen glitching, it’s like the best device ever, no shit, for what it’s worth, literally. RM 1799 for that kind of performance was simply stunning.

But unsavoury. I was reading e-books, freaking mere e-books when I faced the first signs of that glitch that I have to return to use my old Samsung Galaxy W for such simple task. The glitching gets worse whenever I open any e-book reading app, which I don’t know if it might be a coincidence, since it doesn’t get worse with Hungry Shark Evolution or HellFire. I mean, seriously. Even rebooting the phone or letting the phone stay switched off for half a day doesn’t work miracle.

I held onto the condition for over 2 weeks, I think. It could be 3 weeks for a whole month. Still there came the time when the problem escalated until I couldn’t even wrap up a few things before I have it sent to the technicians.

The screen doesn’t just dance tango. Well at first they just did, and I can simply screen capture nothing. The glitch doesn’t shows on screen capture. But then as the problem gets worse, the whole damn thing lags. The screen does not respond. I can safely say it’s lagging because when I lock the screen and unlock it after a few seconds (the only way to cure the problem for a short while) everything’s been like before the lagging. So that’s when I realised there’s more to the screen glitch.

 

Retail Experience with DirectD
Personal buying experience? Ok. They won’t go all hard-boiled salesperson on you. Maybe they just didn’t have the time or employees to manage that. The ridiculously small shop is perpetually cramped with too many customers even during the working hours on a weekday. That also means they sort of expect you to know what you are looking for when you enter their shop. There’s one year AP warranty and all that, and I got cheap free gifts like the phone car charger that grows very hot every time you use it, phone stand that doesn’t work, even a couple of sweets, you know, that sort of stuff.

 

Warranty and Service with Brandstar

And then there’s the warranty, customer service experience with Brandstar, located in the floor above DirectD. Thank goodness the first floor isn’t as sardine packed as the ground floor.

I fully exploited my rights as a consumer in the event of facing a terrible screen glitch from my device. I can’t say that the peoples there are all very talkative. They are even more minimalistic than I in conveying messages, grunting and keeping to the one-phrase rule. I supposed that maybe was just the characteristic of technicians and those who are real serious in troubleshooting fouled-up devices. I’m terribly silent when I’m programming, you know, but they have to at least tell me something. Under my prodding, they stated that they had not met this kind of problem before with any other Nexus 5s, and that it must be a hardware (motherboard) problem. So I got my receipt and number, and was told to let them work for 2 weeks on my Nexus 5.

I gave them a month. Not entirely by my own volition, but there were assignments and exams and I simply did not have any more time for trivial matters on giving a couple of technicians some pressure. I’ve enough pressure myself. At the 3rd week my mother gave me pressure into pressuring them for my phone. So it took them one week to get the job done, and they told me I could collect my phone.

They didn’t replace my device with a new one, apparently, because as I have quite forgotten (and it was too frustrating) to factory reset my device, I found that all of my files and apps are intact. The screen, though, should be new. They replaced a screen protector for me which sucked hell (showing the whites with RGB pixelated noises) and is about 10% smaller than what it should be. There are also a couple of scratches on the screen protector that I can begrudgingly ignore. I didn’t collect the thing myself as I was having exam, so I couldn’t ask what they did to it, but my best guess was they replaced a couple of parts like the screen.

So the screen glitch was resolved, true, but it doesn’t feel like the original one I had anymore. It just doesn’t… feels right. The power button also seems to be looser than it had been. I can hear something jingling when I shake the device. And it seemed that my instincts were right because apparently there’s still one problem to go. Somehow, the mobile signal is always either one-bar or nothing. Most of the time I couldn’t get no signal, and it took a couple of minutes for Whatsapp to get through the verification.

And so my SIM card was back to the old faithful Samsung Galaxy W. Cheers. Another visit to the service centre. It would be better if they can just replace the whole thing because knowing that my original device has been taken apart once, it didn’t feel like what it was anymore. Sure, maybe it was the different screen protector, but if it doesn’t feels right, it doesn’t.

 

Verdict
No, you don’t let the glitch shit cloud your think-pan, ’cause aside the troublesome, unfortunate issue I faced with the worst possible luck ever, Nexus 5 is a damn good smartphone at that kind of pricing. Especially if you are from the United States, it’s even cheaper than what I could ever get in the jungle of Malaysia. If you are not as unfortunate as I was and get yourself one good, pristine Nexus 5, I will steadfastly declare that LG’s Google Nexus 5 is worth your choice.

If I ever get my Nexus 5 back to full working condition, I would be proceeding to exploit the gadget to beyond what I’ve covered in this review to give a Part 2 on its post-service performance as well as using more GPU-intensive games to prod my Nexus 5 with, but that Part 2 will probably be more like a “Review on the Worn, Scratched and Old Nexus 5”.

 

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