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Under the microscope: Nexus 5 vs. iPhone 5s

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January 27, 2014

Gizmag goes in-depth and hands-on to compare the Apple iPhone 5s (left) and Google/LG Nexu...

Gizmag goes in-depth and hands-on to compare the Apple iPhone 5s (left) and Google/LG Nexus 5

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The last time we took a look at the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5s, we ran through a simple comparison of their specs and features. But now that we've had some extended hands-on time with both handsets, we thought it was worth revisiting the decision. Read on, as Gizmag goes hands-on to compare the LG/Google Nexus 5 and Apple iPhone 5s.

Hardware

There's no mistaking which phone is bigger

Look at both phones side-by-side and the first thing you'll notice is the size difference. No surprise there, as flagship Android phones have consistently been bigger than iPhones for the last few years. The Nexus 5 is 11 percent longer, 17 percent wider, and 13 percent thicker than the 5s.

Pick them up, and the first thing you'll notice is how ridiculously light both of them feel. Technically, the Nexus is 16 percent heavier, but when you take its bigger size into account, the 5s is actually the denser of the two (by a pretty wide margin). In experience, though, I think they both feel about as light as you'd need a high-powered smartphone to feel.

The iPhone's design has a high-end aesthetic that the plastic Nexus 5 can't match

With a couple of minor exceptions, the iPhone 5s looks and feels just like 2012's iPhone 5. It has an aluminum finish with a flat back and chamfered edges. You can buy it in three different colors: space gray/black, silver/white, and gold/white.

The Nexus 5 doesn't have nearly as striking a design. It has a very simple (maybe even a little boring?) matte plastic finish with sloped edges on the back. Unlike the iPhone it lacks any physical home/navigation buttons below its screen (virtual onscreen buttons serve that purpose). Its most memorable visual feature might be the oversized camera on its back. The camera lens itself is a standard size, but LG and Google added a large disc around it for some distinctive visual flair.

The Nexus 5 has a matte plastic finish, and is sold in both black and white colors

One of the most important questions to ask here is what screen size you're happy with. If you've used any of the 4-in iPhones (5, 5s, 5c) from the last couple of years, and are content with that size, then maybe that's all you'll need. But if you're looking for the most screen bang for your buck, then the Nexus 5's much bigger display is going to be worth a look.

Measured diagonally, we're looking at a 4-in screen for the iPhone and a 4.95-in screen for the Nexus 5. But when you look at screen area (a much more telling spec) we'll see a much bigger difference. The iPhone 5s only gives you 65 percent as much screen real estate as the Nexus 5. Sometimes the geekier among us tend to blow specs out of proportion, but screen area is one that's going to play a huge role in your experience. It's like buying a tract of land that gives you 100 acres vs. another that only gives you 65 acres.

The iPhone 5s runs Apple's redesigned iOS 7

There's nothing wrong with the iPhone 5s' Retina Display, but the Nexus 5 wins there too. It has a higher pixel density (445 pixels per inch vs. the iPhone's 326 PPI) and I'm also impressed with its color accuracy, brightness, and viewing angles. We don't want you to walk away thinking the iPhone's display sucks – on the contrary, it's very sharp and pleasing to the eye – but the Nexus 5's is bigger and better.

The Nexus 5 feels extremely light in hand, and is less dense than the lighter iPhone 5s

You'll read lots of smartphone reviews that go on and on about performance, sweating benchmarks and sizing up processor cores and clock speeds. While those things can be worth looking at, we don't think they should play a role in your decision here. Recent high-end flagships like the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5s are so fast you really don't have a damn thing to worry about. In phones like these, performance has gone past the point of concern for most typical use.

On a technical level, the iPhone 5s packs Apple's A7 system-on-a-chip and the Nexus 5 has Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 inside. The Nexus 5's engine wins in benchmarks, so there's that. But, as we said, in terms of experience we don't think this should be a factor in your decision.

The Nexus 5 is 13 percent thicker

Battery life, now that's something to pay closer attention to. We have a standard test that we like to do, where we stream Netflix (over Wi-Fi, with brightness at 75 percent) to see how long each device lasts. These are unusually intense conditions, so you can expect a typical day to last much longer. But in that test, the iPhone 5s lasted six hours and 15 minutes. The Nexus 5 lasted four hours and 43 minutes. That's 33 percent longer for the iPhone.

These tests aren't perfect, as lots of other factors (especially cellular signal) can make battery life vary wildly from person to person. And in my experience, uptimes aren't remotely a factor in the Nexus 5. I usually end a typical day with it hovering around 75 percent or higher (though I primarily use the phone as a host for a paired smartwatch or Google Glass). So make of that what you will.

Touch ID is easy to set up

The iPhone 5s' killer feature is its fingerprint sensor, known as Touch ID. Living beneath the home button, Touch ID gives you passcode security without the hassle of entering a passcode. When you set up your iPhone, you teach it your unique print by pressing and lifting your finger multiple times (it guides you through the process). You can also teach it up to four more fingers, which can belong to you or a trusted friend or loved one. When it comes time to unlock your phone, hold your finger on the home button for a moment (usually less than a second) and the gates will open.

In my experience, Touch ID works brilliantly – most of the time. It gets a little flaky if you live in a dry climate and have peely fingers, but even then you can improve its accuracy by teaching it the finger you use the most multiple times. In other words, set up the same finger more than once, as if it's different fingers, and its accuracy should be close to bullet-proof.

The iPhone 5s' Touch ID fingerprint sensor lives beneath that redesigned home button

Touch ID could potentially do much more down the road. Right now it also lets you authorize iTunes and App Store purchases, but the opportunity is there for things like mobile payments for physical goods, cloud password storage, or web-based payments. Apple hasn't announced plans for any of those things, so we wouldn't recommend buying the 5s based on that potential ... but there's a lot more Apple could do with Touch ID if it wanted to.

The Nexus 5 doesn't have a fingerprint sensor, or any kind of equivalent to Touch ID. The closest you can can get is to use a Play Store app like SkipLock to set up trusted Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth devices. After setting that up, when your Nexus 5 is connected to, say, your home Wi-Fi, your car's Bluetooth audio, or a Pebble smartwatch, then you won't have to enter the passcode. Leave those networks, and you will have to enter it. Again, not really the same thing, but at least vaguely in the same ballpark.

Software

Both phones run the latest and purest versions of their respective operating systems: Andr...

Software is the most subjective area that we're covering, so we aren't going to pretend to have a hard and fast answer for everyone. What we can do is try to convey our different experiences of using stock Android and iOS and help you to find what works best for you.

If you've ever heard complaints about Android phones' software updates being inferior to those of iPhones, then know that this doesn't apply to Nexus phones. The Nexus 5 ships with the newest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, and it should also receive future updates very soon after Google releases them. That's the Nexus family: it's Google's vision of Android, unhindered by OEM or carrier "improvements."

I find this "pure Android" to consistently be the best version of Android. Samsung's Galaxy phones – and other rival devices from companies like HTC and LG – technically run Android, but they're buried beneath layers of UI glitz and "exclusive features." Most of the time, though, I find these skins to be little more than marketing ploys. They often complicate things and confuse me with long lists of unnecessary features. Sometimes they even bog down performance. Google's version of Android always seems to be the smoothest, simplest, leanest, and most focused. That's what you get with the Nexus 5.

That's why this is such a great pair of phones to put under the microscope: we're basically sizing up the best of iOS and the best of Android. These phones showcase the purest of Apple's and Google's respective visions for mobile computing.

The Nexus 5's 4.95-in screen is big and beautiful

If you're just looking for the basics – things like Netflix, Facebook, web-surfing, Candy Crush, and video chat – then both platforms have you covered. The Google Play Store and iOS App Store are both chock full of great apps for your smartphone. The App Store is still a little better for games (though that isn't nearly as big a difference as it used to be) and the Play Store offers more customizations.

By "customizations" I mean things like alternate keyboards (Swype and SwiftKey are old favorites), live wallpapers, browser tweaks, home screen widgets, and other things that Apple doesn't allow into its walled garden. Of course rooting your Android phone only accentuates those possibilities, while jailbreaking your iPhone can open the door to some similar customizations.

iOS naturally gives you all of Apple's popular services. Things like iMessage, FaceTime, iCloud, Siri, iWork, iTunes Radio, and so on. Apple's services are designed by Apple, made by Apple, and reflect Apple's values (simplicity, elegant design, "it just works," etc.). They're the company's way of controlling your experience, presenting it the way they think it should be presented. They also conveniently double as a consumer lock-in mechanism, since those apps and services aren't available on any other platform or non-Apple devices. Once you're invested in the Apple ecosystem, the odds of keeping you there are pretty high. Why bother transferring your life to other services that aren't available on Android?

Each phone has its unique set of strengths, but you really can't go wrong with either

With that said, Android offers high-quality alternatives for just about all of Apple's popular services – whether baked-in or downloaded through the Play Store. There's Google Hangouts (and many other third-party services) for messaging and video chat, Google syncs most of your content just like iCloud, Google Now is in many ways better than Siri, QuickOffice is a very nice free office suite, and Google Play Music is a terrific iTunes replacement. You might prefer one platform's versions of these services over the other, but as far as feature breakdowns go, there aren't many iOS features that Android can't match.

The stereotype used to be that iOS devices delivered a smoother experience, with more seamless integration of basic services, and were, on the whole, more reliable. I suppose you could still make that argument, but I think Android devices like the Nexus 5 are extremely smooth, integrated with lots of terrific services, and as reliable as you'd need them to be.

If anything, I now see iOS as being a bit too rigid. Apple has decided how an ideal smartphone should operate, and it doesn't let you – or app developers – deviate very far from that. You can't swap from Apple's tap-only keyboard, you can't set a different web browser or email app as your default, and third-party apps are much more limited in what they get access to. You could argue that these restrictions make for a more stable and secure experience – that's certainly Apple's reasoning – but I've never once found the Nexus 5's software to be anything but 100 percent airtight and stable.

Camera comparison

Both phones have very solid cameras

For more and more people, smartphone cameras are their main – or even the only – cameras that they use. Which phone's camera takes the cake? Let's jump right in and take a look at some sample shots from both, in identical settings:

Outdoor shot taken with the Nexus 5
Outdoor shot taken with the iPhone 5s

Not a big difference here. Our images get downscaled a bit for the web, but even when viewing the originals on a Retina MacBook Pro, I don't consider this a big victory for one phone or the other.

Now let's pan back a bit:

Another outdoor shot from the Nexus
Another outdoor shot with the 5s

Again, not a huge difference. The dark areas are, however, a bit lighter and more visible in the iPhone's shot. Taken as a whole, though, I don't see any differences here big enough to base my purchasing decision on.

Now let's move into a crappy indoor lighting setting, first with the flash off:

Poorly-lit indoor shot taken with Nexus 5
Poorly-lit indoor shot with the 5s

No amazing low-light performance from either phone, but the iPhone's definitely looks lighter. The HTC One outperforms both of these handsets in poorly-lit settings, but both of these phones are about par for the course here – with a bit of an advantage for the 5s.

Now let's turn on the flash:

Flash shot taken with Nexus 5
Flash shot with the 5s

These shots are almost indiscernable. No clear advantage one way or the other, despite Apple's boasts of more lifelike flash images with the 5s' "True Tone" dual LED flash.

One advantage that the 5s' camera has is its slow-motion video recording. It's dead simple: tap an onscreen setting button for slow-mo, record your clip, and you'll instantly have a 720p slow-mo video recorded in 120 fps. It's a great feature for capturing pets, children, or sporting events. You can even edit which parts of the video play slowly, and which play full-speed.

The Nexus 5's camera doesn't have anything similar built-in. There are some Android apps that let you convert videos to slow motion after the fact, but don't expect anything that rivals the 5s' instant slow-motion feature.

Value

It's aluminum vs. plastic

We could easily split this comparison in two. There's everything we've covered up to this point – physical design, size and weight, displays, performance, and so on – and then there's what we're about to cover. Pricing. Depending on your priorities, you could argue either way about which phone won on the other fronts, but there's no gray area here. The Nexus 5 gives you much more bang for your buck.

You can order the 16 GB Nexus 5 from Google Play for US$350. That's the off-contract price, no strings attached. Want to buy the 16 GB iPhone 5s off-contract? You'll have to fork over $650. Yep, it costs nearly twice as much.

Of course many people in the US buy their phones with two-year contracts attached, in which case you'll probably spend around $200 up-front for the iPhone 5s. But if you don't want to sign a 24-month blood oath to Verizon, AT&T, or whoever, then the Nexus 5 is going to be a much better deal. In fact, I think it's almost a given that it's the best smartphone value around right now (though the temporarily-discounted Moto X could make a strong argument as well).

The only fine print here is that the Nexus 5 hasn't been consistently in stock on Google Play. For example, earlier today (at the time of publication) the black 16 GB model was shipping within a day or two. Now it's listed as out of stock. The 32 GB models are both in stock, but they also add an extra $50 to the price. This might not deter you, but just know that you might need to keep checking Google Play to get your hands on the exact model you're looking for.

If you can snag it for $350 from Google Play, the Nexus 5 offers out-of-this-world value

So there you have it. Two great phones, different operating systems, a few key feature differences, and one very big price difference. Everyone has different tastes and preferences, but I personally don't think you can go wrong with either phone. I do think the iPhone 5s' screen is looking pretty small these days, but other than that it's easily one of the best handsets around. The Nexus 5 is on that list too, with its incredible price tag serving as its standout feature.

Want to go a bit more in-depth with one phone or the other? Then be sure to check out our individual reviews of the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5s.

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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13 Comments

Finally an Android vs iOS article that doesn't totally reek oh Fanboyism.

Even though there is an obvious, albeit slight, slant towards one.

With that said, my only criticism is this. You went to great length to point out the iPhones slow motion video, then said the nexus has nothing to compare to it. What about the photo sphere? This might be the best feature android cameras offer. When I show it to my itoy using friends they are blown away by it. It really is that good. Plus when you open it in the gallery you can further enhance it by using that top down view feature.

There's also face unlock to compare with the fingerprint reader of the iPhone, though I consider both of them gimmicks.

Now for the bad, you never mentioned how with android, your phone is a computer and can be used as such. Meaning, you are not tied to the horrific iTunes. Want to add or delete music? Just Drag and drop it or a dozen other, just as easy alternatives, such as NFC. This goes for any other file on the phone.

This consistently, is my itoy using friends, biggest complaint.

For the average 14 year old itoy user, this isn't a concern, After all, they have parents they can "but it's Only 99 cents" to death. And or don't know the first thing about transferring files or care about it. But for anyone else who might have amassed a huge music collection in the years before iTunes, having the ability to use the hard drive as you wish, Google 20,000 songs per account Free music storage is invaluable.

somfw
27th January, 2014 @ 11:10 pm PST

I agree with somfw. My wife is an i-girl and I'm a Galaxy boy. When I tried to cut & paste photos from my PC on to her iPad the paste option was grayed out. The only way I found I could do it was to load up 60MB of iTunes, plug her iPod in and it automatically started transferring every song on my PC onto the iPad! I stopped it.

Not so with my Galaxy. The phone looks like a hard drive and I can dump whatever I want onto it, even stuff unrelated to a phone. If it can play it, it will, if it can't it won't. I can use it like a 32 GB memory stick.

Now I admit I don't know my way around i-devices but every time I try to do something on them it fails.

I think they must be just TOO intuitive for me!

warren52nz
28th January, 2014 @ 01:31 pm PST

I have some thing to say about TOUCH ID, Android too have similar security feature, and its called "Face Unlock"

phissith
28th January, 2014 @ 01:36 pm PST

So phones now seem to do everything, except make phone calls!

freedomsailor
28th January, 2014 @ 01:58 pm PST

It's interesting that the larger size was touted as a selling point. Phones used to be trending smaller but are now going the other way. I find the iphone to be as big as I can easily carry in my pocket. If you really need a larger screen, you may as well lug around a tablet or ipad.

Bob
29th January, 2014 @ 03:18 pm PST

Reading the article, its kind of obvious why Apple hasn't released larger iPhones yet. Battery life. Hopefully, they will figure it out for this year's large screen model release.

Bob Smogango
30th January, 2014 @ 06:32 pm PST

One thing not mentioned (naturally) is customer support. Apple is far, far better in this regard.

The also-rans cost less because they use a free OS, if you have a problem with that or google's services you're well and truly screwed. Ever tried to get hold of google 'customer service'? Good luck.

Once the larger iPhone 6 comes around (Sept. I think) there'll be absolutely no reason to get a copycat.

Neil
5th February, 2014 @ 09:06 pm PST

I used the nexus 5 for about 3 weeks. Perfect device. However, the iphone 5S won out because of a feature NOT talked about here- Google Hangouts.

Yes both devices support Hamgouts, but there's one difference between Android Hangouts and iOS Hangouts- Google Voice integration. T-Mobile doesn't have coverage in my hometown, so without VoIP service, I was unreachable by voice. Other than that, it was an awesome device for an awesome price. I miss it to be honest with you.

Clay Knight
11th February, 2014 @ 12:27 pm PST

I've used both devices for a few months. I switched from a nexus 5 to an iphone 5s. There were a lot of growing pains and also some upsides. A lot of users mentioned the face unlock being comparable to touchid, this is absolutely not true. You cannot use face unlock in the dark and it is absolutely unreliable and a very bad useless feature. The camera resolution is simply not high enough to get an accurate picture of your face. The software on a nexus 5 is miles more stable than ios 7. On ios 7 (I also own an iPad air) I see about 3 crashes a day. The phone will just completely reboot itself or the browser will just exit and crash. I've seen this happen maybe once ever having used android devices for over a year. Apple is absolutely losing out on this front. I came to the apple

bandwagon late, so it might just be ios 7, but the experience is terrible. The iphone App Store is probably still better than the google play store but as is always mentioned that gap has narrowed quite a bit. Most of the developers on the ios platform are very concerned with beautiful design. I don't believe the same ethos exists in the android ecosystem. App software updates are much faster in the android universe because there is no approval process unlike with apple. You also get some neat apps like replacement keyboards and automator apps like tasker and torrent apps and bitcoin apps. Android, like one commenter works much more like a computer than ios. There is no file system to access here. The reason I switched, though, was that I owned an iPad and a MacBook Pro retina. The unity between the services works a lot better, but I would honestly say that I regret my switch a bit. The 4 inch screen is also much worse to type on and the way the iphone displays websites is not as nice as it is on the high resolution android with chrome. I would also note, though, that the apple is a much better made product as far as build quality goes.

James Huang
12th February, 2014 @ 02:50 am PST

Nice article and thankfully not biased. But I want to say (as an admitted Android fan):

-Touch ID was already eclipsed by Android's Face Unlock in 4.0, which over 55% of registered Android devices use, way back in 2011.

-In the unlikely event anyone got hold of my Face Unlock/Touch ID data I'd far prefer them to know what my face looks like, which my Facebook/Google+ account already can tell them if they really look hard enough, rather than my non-changeable fingerprint, which no one has.

-I don't think people realise that you can get most paid apps for free on Android by downloading them off a sharing website: so you can still get Flappy Bird now after it was taken off iTunes and Google Play.

-To mirror the screen to TV you only need to get a £25 HDMI adapter with Android, whereas with iOS you need to get Apple TV, which costs £90-£100.

-Android has NFC which iOS doesn't have, which essentially future proofs it.

-You can change the keyboard to a third party one.

-If you really want, you can change the look to be similar to iOS.

-The performance difference (if any) isn't really noticeable in real life and being a few milliseconds slower is certainly worth £300 more in my pocket to me

-Google Play support is very good and helpful - they replaced my broken Nexus 4 quickly even though it's out of production

-Admittedly the iPhone 5s looks better than the Nexus 5, but the iPhone turns heads, whereas the Nexus 5 just blends in, and I don't always need people looking over my shoulder just because I have a fancy phone

If anyone has something to say in favour of the iPhone, other than that it's a ripoff for the worse specs and user experience it provides, please say so.

pmeds25
16th February, 2014 @ 01:00 am PST

As both a pure Android and iOS user (Nexus 5, IPhone 5) I have to say both systems have there strong points. Aside from a rare force close iOS has proved very stable for me and the imessage, facetime applications are very reliable. With that being said iOS is confined, over priced(I got my iPhone 5 for 250 on craigslist, which was a steal and the lowest price I have ever seen a 5 at), and breeds a religious following that can be nauseating. My Nexus 5 has been an amazing experience, major improvements over the GNex. The video quality is amazing, and after installing smart launcher the experience has been even smoother. The HDR is the salvation for the camera, and googles video maker can be entertaining. My major complaint is battery life (same as on the Gnex) and trust me I know all the tricks and tips for extending battery life and since I began implementing that into my daily usage (I refrained to test it as it came) and there have been drastic improvements but with that being said the iPhone does win out on this. I compare percentages at the end of the day after heavy usage (I have them in a 3 day rotation) and the iPhone always has a higher percentage. With all that being said, I could never use iOS exclusively. However I have used Android exclusively, and could now do so if necessary. Android always wins out for me due to my needs as a consumer... Like they say kids its all subjective.

Side note: Samsung's UI is not true Android, its skins are cheap and bogged down by gimmick ware. I'm sorry but it is a massive pet peeve of mine when iOS exclusivers criticize Android for Samsung's faillings. Also can we cut the fanboy crap? The choice for OS is based on consumer needs and perference, which defers person to person. There's no reason to tell somebody they deserve to rot in hell because they love their iPhone.

ㄟ( ̄▽ ̄ㄟ)

reyoung268
12th March, 2014 @ 04:06 pm PDT

I would like to add that on android, you can get third party screen locks which are as good as the fingerprint scanner (like voice recognition)

Archit Bajaj
1st May, 2014 @ 07:54 pm PDT

You forgot to talk about the nexus 5's tri-band lte or that it can detect up to 25 fingers

Jeffery Howard
24th July, 2014 @ 02:10 pm PDT
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