Does the Nexus 5 cut the wrong corners?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: November 7, 2013

With the Nexus 4, Google set some expectations. It's an easy thing to do in the mobile industry. It's probably one of the only places where doing something once can instantly mean it has to be a trend moving forward. Fortunately, in some cases, it works out like that, and companies tend to show their true colors as creatures of habit. Whatever the reason was for Google and LG to sell the Nexus 4 for so "cheap" without a contract, whether it was an experiment or just a means to get a phone into developer's hands for the mobile platform, it's resulted in a trend that Google probably feels obligated to follow at this point.

Last year's Nexus 4 was a powerful device, easily comparable to the other high-end devices on the market at the time. The one thing it was missing was LTE-connectivity, which it was panned for across the board, but that's just a small ripple in the large pool of goodness that was the Nexus 4.

The Google Nexus 5, designed again by LG, follows in the steps of the Nexus 4 in all the right ways, but it makes some important divergences in the most important areas. First and foremost, the cellular connections inside. The Nexus 5 does indeed have LTE-connectivity this time around, while at the same time upgrading just about everything else within (and out of) the device.

Just in case you somehow missed it, here's what the Nexus 5 is packing: A 5-inch True HD IPS display, with a resolution of 1080x1920. That gives it a pixel per inch count around 445. It comes in two variants: a 16GB model, or a 32GB version, both of which come with 2GB of RAM. On the back of the handset you'll find an 8MP camera, and on the front a 1.3-megapixel shooter. Inside, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor clocked at 2.3GHz. The Nexus 5 is running Android 4.4 KitKat right out of the box, and it has a 2,300mAh battery shoved inside.

Basically, ever since the official introduction, we knew that all those rumors we had been swirling around for weeks had been true. So, hooray!

You get all of that for either $349 or $399, depending on how much storage you want. All off contract. You buy it, it gets shipped to you and then you start using it (after you figure out your SIM card situation). It's an amazing deal for the cost, there's just no better way to look at it. If Google wanted a way to make sure that developers didn't have to spend a lot to get the "best stock Android device," well, they've achieved that goal.

It's a trend they started with the Nexus 4, and now with the release of the Nexus 5 they've all but sealed their fate moving forward. We've all got our expectations for the Nexus lineup from here on out, and if Google wants to venture away from that path, then they'll have to have a good reason to do so.

At the same time, what I've noticed since Monday, and through reviews of the device, there are some points with the Nexus 5 (and, by comparison, the Nexus 4 of last year) that you simply just have to shrug and say, "Well, that price" and ignore some of the shortcomings. After all, with a total package as good as it is, a few small issues can't ruin the whole show.

When it comes to the Nexus 5, and the recurring "issues" I've seen with the device over social media, both the camera and the battery leave quite a bit to be desired. But hey, for the price it's still a good deal, right?

All of that just makes me think about what could happen if Google made a high-end devices worth the price in all the good ways, instead of making a phone that can be "excused" because of its price point. In other words, what if the Nexus 5 wasn't a high-end device with shortcomings that help justify its price point, but a high-end device that's as high-end as every single design piece inside it.

The easy answer to that isn't even from Google, necessarily, even though we call them Google Play Edition devices. We've seen what that looks like through the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, right? After all, those are high-end devices, with better cameras, and batteries that aren't panned for being terrible.

So, what if Google did the same thing with the Nexus lineup? What if we saw the Nexus 5 as a truly high-end handset, with a body designed from aluminum and glass like the HTC One, with a battery that's closer to 3,000mAh rather than 2,000mAh. (For the record, the HTC One has the same size battery as the Nexus 5; the Galaxy S4 is a 2,600mAh block.) And instead of an 8MP camera, we saw something like Samsung's 13-megapixel option, or maybe even something more like Nokia's 20MP offering. (I'm not saying the same camera from Nokia, but something at the similar level of quality.)

It would bring up the question of whether or not the Nexus could ever be a truly popular device, and whether or not a stock Android (or Google, if you prefer) experience can really compete with devices with proprietary software. It would also make folks really question whether or not they're buying the Nexus 5 for the software experience (as a consumer), or simply because it's cheap and off-contract.

Truthfully, I would like to see what would happen if Google partnered with a company like HTC to create a Nexus smartphone that was truly high-end in every regard, from the camera, to the battery, to the build of the device, and made the price tag make sense in all the right ways -- rather than leaving gaps for excuses. I think it would be an interesting experiment, at least. But one I know will never happen, considering the aforementioned expectations and trends.

What do you think? Would you consider a phone from Google in the Nexus lineup if it offered a high-end build quality in every category, and didn't offer up room for excuses because of its price tag? Or is the Nexus lineup forever destined to be a cheap option on the outskirts of the mobile industry, while the other companies rake it in with their custom options? Let me know what you think.