Google Nexus 5: hands-on review

"The attention to detail is stunning" – we get up close and personal with Google's KitKat-powered smartphone

It’s without doubt the worst kept secret in technology, but Google has finally fessed up to the Nexus 5 handset, and revealed the five inch flagship will go on sale today. With a full HD 1920 x 1080 display and a 4.95in screen, it’s a really impressive bit of kit.

The first thing you’ll notice, however, is its dramatic weight loss since the Nexus 4. Now weighing in at a svelte 130g, the Nexus 5 feels incredibly light, and the attention to detail has reached Apple-like levels, with even the buttons feeling solid and crisp to use - unlike pretty much all previous Android handsets.

Google also said the new handset would be more widely available than previous versions. “The prices are without contract, and we are launching in ten countries today, and in more retail -  it will be more broadly available than previous Nexus handsets,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s Android boss. There’s also a white version - although disappointingly only the rear case is actually coloured white.

First bite of KitKat

The Nexus 5 is our first look at KitKat, and it’s a great improvement - not a radical overhaul, but a real spit and polish that makes everything seems faster and easier than before.

Nexus 5 hands on

It’s significantly more responsive, and Google's integration of Search and Google Now is, unsurprisingly, brilliant - with the search bar appearing instantly when you tap on it, and voice search also getting an overhaul - if the phone is on, you can simply say "OK Google" to trigger a search.

Google Now has also been improved, with new cards and a new way to access it: simply by swiping left from the homescreen. 

Voice recognition is also much improved, and seems a lot more reliable than in previous versions.

There's also some deeper integration - you can ask the handset to call Michelle, for example, and it'll ask you which Michelle in your phonebook you want, showing you their contact info.

The improved Hangouts app is also worth a mention - having SMS messages integrated into it makes a lot of sense, and works very well.

Google has also included support for third party cloud apps for the first time, so looking at your gallery will show you not only what's on your Google Drive, but also what's in your Box drive - although funnily enough, there was no mention of iCloud suport any time soon.

Overall, KitKat is extremely responsive, and Google claimed it has tuned all of its key apps to be faster now, and there's a noticaeble difference compared to the Nexus 4.

There’s also a range of new accessories, including some new induction chargers, and a range of eye-wateringly bright cases.

More after the break...

What's next?

There was also a quick preview of what's coming up for Android, with apps set to be integrated in the coming weeks, so if you search for a recipe, for instance, app results will appear alongside web searches - something Google believes is a critical step forward for merging apps and the web.

Google Nexus 5: hands-on review - What's next? 2

Google said a range of apps, including IMDB and Open Table will be initially added, with the ability for developrs to add their own apps in the near future as well, making their content searchable by the phone. 

We were also promised more updates to Now, with the addition of extra cards for search results 'bundled' together, which will apear within weeks.

Our initial verdict

This is a clear contender for most desirable Android handset on the market (particularly where the Moto X isn't available).

The attention to detail is stunning, and this feels like an incredibly well though out product, in terms of both the hardware and the changes to KitKat.

Our only gripes would be some sharp edges on the volume buttons, and the rather ungainly inclusion of a sticker with the IMEI number on the back, along with the oddly protruding camera lens.

Overall though, it's a big step forward for Google's Nexus product - and the first that could go mass market.

We'll be delivering our full review as soon as we've had more time with the Nexus 5 – so stay tuned to Stuff.tv for that.

Until then, read our full Google Nexus 5 preview here.