Tech enthusiasts all know the “itch”. It’s the feeling you get when you are feeling a little bored with whatever gadgets you have, and the urge to try something new becomes so palpable that you can practically feel it on your skin. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your current level of gadgetry, it still does the job perfectly well, but yet you still feel the need to try something new and exciting.
The itch started a little while back for me. I needed a new toy to occupy my thoughts. Something fun and exciting that could capture my attention. I struggled with it for a bit before deciding that resistance was futile. I managed to sell my smartphone, and was on the market for something new and wonderful. My original plan was to do an upgrade with my carrier, thus renewing for another 2 years. Now, I don’t have any real problems with my current wireless carrier, but still I don’t relish signing away more time. Phone contracts are irritating, but necessary evils, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.
I hemmed and hawed over devices for a while, not really sure what to do, or whether I really wanted to take the plunge. But then, one afternoon, something amazing happened. With absolutely no fanfare, almost out of nowhere, Google released the Nexus 5.
It was available to buy on the Play Store at 2pm EST. I placed my order at 2:08pm. It had sold out of the first batch by 2:27pm. It was almost pure instinct that compelled. Here we had a device that was an amazing value, costing exactly how much I had gotten for the one I had sold, and would allow me to forgo the extension on my phone contract. I could buy it outright, have a top of the line device, and not worry about my mobile freedom. What more could one ask for?
It was less than a week later that the device was delivered. Giddy, I opened up the box to relish my new toy. The Nexus 5 is a slightly understated, yet elegant looking handset that may not be an eye turner, but certainly does not look cheap or plasticky. The unboxing was a pretty simple affair, as with the really low price point it doesn’t exactly come with all the bells and whistles, but still, it was new and fun!
New device excitement set in, and I got around to playing with it, going through the tech geek joys of setting up accounts, downloading apps, loading up music, and finally personalizing it just the way I liked. Everything was great. The Nexus 5 is rocket fast, runs apps like an absolute beast, and gives you a great Android experience.
No one can argue that the specs are top notch, especially for the price. A hair under 5 inches of 1080p screen real estate, a lightning fast Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, wireless charging, a camera with OIS… The specs may not be absolute top of the line, but they are ridiculously close. The hardware, on paper, is utterly amazing. But…
The little things start to poke out at you. the 2300 mAh battery, while on the low side for flagships, should have offered decent battery life. The problem was that it was terribly inconsistent. On one charge it would last the day, the next it made it through 3/4s of the day before dieing. Then it lasted a little more than the day. All with a similar amount of usage. It’s just plain strange. Despite the fact that I am a mobile enthusiast, I don’t tend to be a power user. My use tends to fall on the light side of moderate. I wasn’t expecting an amazing battery life, but it was so oddly inconsistent that I was never sure when I would need to plug it in. Not the end of the world, but fairly irritating.
The camera is an improvement over the Nexus 4, but that camera is so weak that it pretty much had to be. The Nexus 5 though has two weird camera issues. Like the battery, it isn’t quite consistent. It can take some great shots, but then it seems to randomly take incredibly poor shots. You can switch on HDR+ mode, which actually helps a great deal, but then you spend several seconds trying to focus, followed up by several more for the shutter to actually trigger and capture the image. It’s not really ideal for candid or spur of the moment picture taking. But hey, I’m not a shutterbug, so this is a mild irritation at worst.
The speaker (mono) on the device is pretty weak. The result is a fairly low max volume, and the sound quality itself is poor. It’s adequate for ring and notification tones (though they may be hard to hear if there’s a significant amount of ambient noise), but you don’t want to listen to music from the speaker, and movie watching is best done with headphones. Again, not a huge deal.
The buttons rattle. This may sound silly to mention, but it’s worth the note. The power and volume buttons, while nice themselves as they are made out of ceramic, are fitted loosely, and will rattle when the device is shaken. The fact that there are YouTube videos of people taking the entire device apart, just to add a piece of cardboard to prop the buttons up, and then re-assembling the device, should give you an indication of how annoying this is to some people. To me, very minor, but it is in fact noticeable.
The screen, in all its 1080p greatness, is beautifully clear. Not a pixel to be seen, it is really nice. It’s also yellow. Let me start by saying that I have a fairly rare form of colour blindness, so I don’t tend to care too much about colour correctness on a device, since I’m usually wrong about it. The flip side is that I really appreciate whites and blacks on a device, since I can tell those ones most of the time. The Nexus 5 colour scheme is very warm. To the point that blacks are murky and whites are yellowish. It’s most prominent on the Play Store or when you try and read an e-book. But considering how sharp the screen is, it’s a mild issue at most.
Then though, you count up the minor issues. They seem slightly more irritating when compounded. But even then, the value for the device is utterly amazing. Even with the downsides, it is easily the best smartphone value out there. It costs less than half of what a new iPhone 5s would cost, and delivers top of the line specs and great overall performance. It just isn’t perfect. And it doesn’t need to be. The thing to remember is that with that great cost, there are compromises. It isn’t perfect, and no one should expect to be. It’s absolutely a high end device, and it does everything fairly well. It just doesn’t tend to excel in any particular area. But when it comes to value. When it comes to getting the most for your dollar, I firmly believe that the Nexus 5 is the current king.
For me though, after weighing it all, there were two items that came up as deal breakers. The battery was one. It just bugged me that battery life was going to be an issue and that I could never be sure it would last the day. Relatively weak battery life I could plan around. Battery life that may last the day, or may not, was just difficult to try and deal with.
The other item is harder to describe. The Nexus 5… lacks pizazz. It seems silly to say, as this is actually the whole point of the developer oriented device, but there’s a part of me that found it a little boring. The Nexus 5 is what it is. A straight forward device that runs ‘“vanilla” Android. Nothing wrong with that. And it a lot of ways that’s great. I tend to dislike OEM bloatware. But there’s also the part of me that likes cool and innovative ways of doing things. Things like the knock to wake and customizable softkeys on the LG G2. Or the S-Pen functionality on the Note 3. Or the stereo speakers and Zoe camera functionality on the HTC One. Those little extra features that give the device a little added personality.
So, with that in mind I decided that the Nexus 5 wasn’t quite the device for me. I set out my criteria of wanting some cool features, better and consistent battery life, and a screen with incredibly rich blacks (amoled). I met up with somebody that wanted a Nexus 5, and we swapped devices. I now have myself a Motorola Moto X. A really nice super amoled screen, really cool features like total voice activation and enhanced notifications, and a better battery life that is pretty predictable. It isn’t the perfect phone, but I’m liking it quite a bit and it seems to better satisfy my needs. The itch seems to be gone for now, and I have a chance to really enjoy something new and interesting.
Part of the lesson here is that specs aren’t everything. Just because a device has the latest and greatest, doesn’t mean it will be a seamless transition to user enjoyment. Innovation in feature set also comes into play. The other part is that there is no “best”. Tech enthusiasts are often a vocal bunch that like to share their thoughts, and deal in absolutes. The reality is that we are all different, and even in that our tastes and opinions change and evolve. The Nexus 5 is a great device. It really is. But it wasn’t the device for me at this particular time. Just because it has top notch hardware and a great price doesn’t mean that it will be that perfect device. Finding what you want and what is best for you isn’t always easy, and we will occasionally stumble. The trick is to learn and adapt. Because finding that perfect piece of tech for you is a great feeling, and enjoying that new toy is always what we really want.