There’s no point beating around the bush, so we’ll just come right out and say it. The Google Nexus 5 is a whole lotta phone, for not a lot of cash. For $350 (and no contract), you can snag flagship specifications like a 5-inch 1080p display, a top of the line quad-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, and the latest version of Android that can perform handy functions such as tell you what company is calling (if it’s on Google Maps) or find you local businesses right from the dialer. So now, when you type in “Ram,” you’ll get your friend Ramon, and local Ramen joints appear in a list for you to choose from. (The new operating system, KitKat, is so cutting-edge that currently only the Nexus 5 runs it.)
Despite its low price (a standard iPhone 5S will run you twice as much), the Nexus 5 feels well made. We love the feel of the soft-touch back, and the screen is wonderfully sharp, to the point where graphics in games display better and more smoothly than in almost any phone we’ve seen before. HD videos look pin sharp, just as you’d expect from a flagship mobile device. We watched movie trailers on this and other phones for comparison, and what sets the Nexus 5’s display capabilities apart is its natural color tones, which are vibrant, without appearing overly saturated.
If you’re more about the bells and the whistles, the Nexus 5 has plenty of them, too. From the home screen, you can now just say “Okay, Google,” and the phone will search for whatever you say next, hands-free, and with scary accuracy. Google’s voice command technology was good before, but now it’s really giving Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S Voice some serious competition. For example, we asked the rather computer-unfriendly question, “what is the difference between weather and whether,” and the Nexus 5 didn’t trip up when giving us an answer. Not bad.
Other smart features include wireless charging built right in and an impressively powerful photo editor – especially when compared to the ones on previous Nexus phones – that has a wide variety of options for fixing up those wonky self portraits. Often with phone photo editors you have to download third-party apps to do anything beyond the most basic cropping or resizing. On the Nexus 5, you can add multiple filters (and save them as presets), straighten and realign images, and execute even more specific operations – adjusting color curves, for example – that are more typical of desktop photo editors. In addition, you can save your edits, and change your mind and revert back to the original photo. The Nexus 5 is available now in two color options (black or white,) both of which look smart, though we think the the Batman-esque look of the darker model makes it our favorite. [$350; play.google.com]