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Nexus 5 vs. Galaxy Nexus: It’s Worth the Upgrade

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While most sites and consumers are busy comparing the impressive new Nexus 5 with other flagship devices like the Galaxy S4, HTC One, Nexus 4, and even the iPhone 5s, others will be comparing it to older devices like the one they currently have in their pocket. A better comparison would be the Galaxy S3, or in most cases, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

If you’re eying the new Nexus 5 there’s a good chance you’ve been using the Galaxy Nexus as your daily device, or some other Android device that you’ve rooted and went stock Android with a custom ROM. I know, because I’m one of you. I purchased the Samsung Galaxy Nexus from Verizon at Best Buy and signed a new 2-year contract the first day it was available back on December 15th of 2011 for $299. Sounds crazy right? It wasn’t back then, and many of you did the same.

Taking that into account, many Galaxy Nexus owners probably bought it within the first few weeks it was available, which means that 2-year contract is up (in 2 days here) or sometime before the end of the month. So now is a good time to start weighing your options.

Nexus 5 both

As you all probably remember, the Galaxy Nexus was announced in October of 2011 as the first smartphone with Google’s new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and eventually launched in November. Then Verizon shocked everyone and launched its own 4G LTE version of the device, almost two months later, and we all lived happily ever after with terrible battery life on the Galaxy Nexus.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome device and the phone to beat for a long time. Fast forward just a few months though, and the Galaxy S3 shook up the market, HTC released a slew of devices, and things got a little crazy. The Galaxy S3 was a better phone in every sense of the word, but you already signed a 2-year contract. I’ve been through probably 15 phones in the past two years, but not everyone does what I do, so for everyone still rocking the Galaxy Nexus (even if you’re on Android 4.4 with a custom ROM) here’s a quick comparison with the new Nexus 5.

Read: Nexus 5 Review

Design

Smartphone shapes and overall designs haven’t changed too much, but the size certainly has. As far as design these two devices are extremely different. The Galaxy Nexus followed the Nexus S and its curved display. The screen wasn’t actually curved, but the glass slightly was. Making it sit off its surface while laying flat on a table. Maybe that helped prevent scratches, made it stronger, whatever, it was neat. The 4.65-inch 720p AMOLED display was gorgeous on the GNex, and it still is today.

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The Galaxy Nexus had that weird concave shape where the back curved in and left a little chin on the back bottom. It was pretty ugly, but actually was a nice resting place for your fingers. Overall the Samsung Galaxy Nexus was an awesome smartphone for its time, but things move fast in the tech and smartphone world, so it’s quite dated right about now.

The new Nexus 5 is made by LG, as I’m sure you all know, and offers so much more you’re crazy not to want to switch. LG’s 5-inch smartphone has a soft-touch matte plastic design. It’s simple and elegant with no unnecessary curves, and the buttons are in the same place. Power/wake on the right side near the top, with the volume on the left. The only major difference with the design is there’s no removable battery with the Nexus 5. Overall the Nexus 5 is a better designed, built, and more comfortable of a device, as far as design, if you ask me.

Display

Another major factor will be the display you’ll be looking at all day with your smartphone. The Galaxy Nexus was one of the best during its time. Offering a 4.65-inch 1280 x 720p AMOLED display that looked great. It’s still what I’d consider the perfect size smartphone, or 4.7 basically. It was crisp and sharp, but had huge bezels and wasn’t that friendly on the battery.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 9.59.39 AM

The Nexus 5 however, is leaps and bounds ahead of it. We have a 5-inch full 1080p HD display offering a 1920 x 1200 resolution. The edge-to-edge qualities make the bezel and device stay small, even with a big screen. It isn’t AMOLED, and the colors aren’t as striking, but the text and everything else is sharp, crisp, and just wonderful. Display technology keeps improving and improving, and the Nexus 5 is no different. You’ll notice a huge change in quality, and certainly won’t want to go back to 720p anytime soon.

Read: Galaxy Nexus Review

Specs

When it first came out the Galaxy Nexus was an impressive handset. That 1.2 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments chip with 1GB of RAM was fast, and Verizon offered 32GB of storage. Android 4.0 ICS and the Galaxy Nexus had a super fast 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, a 1.3 front shooter, and a measly 1,750 mAh battery. I bought the extended battery within a week, and eventually a second to carry around. One big problem today with the Galaxy Nexus is that Texas Instruments dual-core OMAP processor. They don’t make processors anymore, and that division is gone, so updates have been slow for the Galaxy Nexus, but more on that below.

Those specs were decent for 2011, but today they are mid-range at best, and something most budget devices offer. Even the $179 Moto G has a quad-core these days. The new Nexus 5 this year is the most powerful Nexus to date, and the first Nexus with top-end hardware in almost all categories. Even the Galaxy Nexus 5 megapixel camera wasn’t as good as the Galaxy S2 8 megapixel shooter. Every Nexus had compromises, and the Nexus 5 does too, just less than most.

You’ll enjoy a 5-inch 1080p HD display that is powered by a top of the line 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM. We have 16/32GB of internal storage available. LG added its 8 megapixel Optical Image Stabilization shooter on the rear for a camera, and we received a 2,300 mAh battery. Again, some phones now have 13 megapixel cameras, and that 2,300 mAh battery is the smallest battery of any 5-inch smartphone. Compromises.

Nexus 5

You have twice as much RAM and processing cores, double the speed, a much improved GPU for gaming, the camera is leaps and bounds ahead of the Galaxy Nexus, and even the Nexus 4, and overall the Nexus 5 is a complete package. Even with Android 4.4 KitKat sideloaded on the Gnex, the Nexus 5 will be faster, smoother, perform better in games, browsing the web, and multitasking, and overall just offer a better experience. There’s no other way to put it. It’s certainly worth the upgrade.

Software

Speaking of software, this is where things get messy. The “Nexus” branding is supposed to mean software updates are quick and timely, but we quickly learned the Verizon Galaxy Nexus wasn’t a Nexus at all, as Verizon made sure they had all the control. No other Nexus to date has been as slow to updates, and as we sit now the Galaxy Nexus is on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean (what, like 5 updates behind) and there’s “hope” that it’ll receive Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Android 4.4 KitKat won’t ever officially arrive on the Galaxy Nexus. So for the average consumer upgrading to a new device makes the most sense, as the Galaxy Nexus is about to stop receiving support all together.

Read: Android 4.4 KitKat: What’s New in Simple Terms

Android 4.4 KitKat is a huge update to Android as far as performance. It offers subtle changes that will improve multitasking, offer full-screen support for all apps, changed the font, improved memory management, and much more. Google Now is deeply integrated, as is search in the phone dialer. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich blend the phone and tablet UI, 4.1 and 4.2 wrapped things up, and Android 4.3 Jelly Bean perfected everything. KitKat continues to improve every aspect behind the scenes, as well as polished Android as a whole, and you’ll get that with the Nexus 5.

Galaxy Nexus users running popular ROMs like CyanogenMod will get Android 4.4, but it won’t be the same experience. The Nexus 5 has a different launcher than most, integrating Google Now even deeper than ever before, not to mention it’s already on Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Even with a custom ROM on the Galaxy Nexus the situation doesn’t look good, and performance won’t be as smooth.

The Galaxy Nexus is already fading off upgrade maps, while the Nexus 5 will be one of the first devices updates to Android 4.5 (or 5.0) or whatever Google calls it, and will continue to see awesome support over the next few years. Yes KitKat is aimed at older devices, but the reason they’re struggling with updates is how old it is, and that the processor (Texas Instruments) company is no longer around for support. And there’s no changing that. Get a Nexus 5 or a Galaxy S5 folks!

Battery Life

We can’t talk about the Galaxy Nexus without mentioning battery life, as it was the single biggest issue for the Galaxy Nexus. Mine barely made it through 6 hours, used or not, the battery would just drain. Android was still evolving, TI didn’t have the best support for 4G LTE, and the display technology was in the early stages. It was a great phone, but that battery was awful. I had two extended batteries, and sometimes that still wasn’t enough.

The Nexus 5 isn’t the best in the industry today, not by a long shot. However, you’ll easily get more than double the battery life over the Gnex, no matter what. The Nexus 5 is efficient, stable, and lasts easily 15 hours with heavy heavy usage. Light users should get a full 24 hours or more on a single charge, and will love how much longer the Nexus 5 lasts. This really is the most important feature for me, and will continue to be moving forward. I don’t want to turn off LTE to get my device to last all day, and you shouldn’t either.

Price

Like I mentioned above, the Galaxy Nexus was $299 from Verizon with a new 2-year contract. Sounds absurd right? That’s how it was in 2011 with flagship devices. Google’s slowly killing that dream carriers have, and the Nexus 5 with all the stunning specs mentioned above is just $349, outright. No carriers to deal with, no contracts, you’ll pay $349, or $399 to get it with 32GB of storage. This cannot be beat by anyone in the industry at the moment, and the same situation will probably arrive next November for the Nexus 6.

Google’s Nexus 5 is an awesome device for the price. Even if the battery life isn’t that great (but still miles ahead of the Galaxy Nexus) and the camera isn’t what we’d consider top-tier, for $349 you cannot complain, and any customer should be plenty happy. Plus, you won’t be tied into a contract like all you Verizon Galaxy Nexus users. I’ll never sign a contract again.

Carriers

There’s one problem here, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus was the only Nexus with 4G LTE, and it’s still the only Nexus that will work with Verizon 4G LTE. If you want the Nexus 5, you’ll probably want to jump ship to AT&T or T-Mobile. The GSM Galaxy Nexus has received slightly better support than the Verizon model, and it works on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint has a version too.

However, the user with a Verizon Galaxy Nexus is probably about to be out of contract, and is surely ready to upgrade. So what do you do? Personally, I’d jump ship to AT&T and use their awesome 4G LTE on the Nexus 5. Stay and get the Samsung Galaxy S4, or wait a few more months for the Galaxy S5. It’s a terrible situation that Verizon Gnex put you in. I know, because I had to weigh the same decision.

Nexus 5 LTE Best Carrier

The Nexus 5 is available on all major US carriers, but won’t play nicely with Verizon LTE. Thankfully AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint all support it, and most carriers around the globe do as well.

Final Thoughts

A good portion of Galaxy Nexus users have already moved on to the Nexus 4, the Galaxy S4, or even a Note device, but for those who haven’t that contract is surely up soon. That said, we wanted to share a few quick other ideas for those who can’t or don’t want to leave Verizon, which means they can’t buy the Nexus 5. A good choice would be the Moto X, as it’s as close to stock Android as you’ll get, and it’s the only other device with Android 4.4 KitKat aside from the developer edition HTC One. We’d recommend the Moto X, the DROID Ultra MAXX, or the LG G2.

9 Comments

  1. Jimz

    12/13/2013 at 11:48 am

    I just ditched my 2+ year old Vz Gnex and went to a Straight Talk ATT LTE Nexus 5. This was like reading my own writing in my head.

    • Cory Gunther

      12/13/2013 at 2:40 pm

      I bounced to AT&T too but did it a month ago instead of waiting. Damn Verizon contract. I’m using the Nexus 5 and GS4 GPe both ;)

  2. John "jaQ" Andrews

    12/13/2013 at 2:10 pm

    Where did you find the Nexus 5 for $299 (16GB) / $349 (32GB)? Google Play has them for $50 more.

  3. himanshu

    12/14/2013 at 5:12 am

    excellent phone but, camera has 8 mp low pixels for 32 nexus 5.

  4. paul

    12/14/2013 at 7:10 am

    Nexus 4 allmost like Nexus 5 and cheaper.Without 4G.

  5. Sahil Arora

    01/14/2014 at 10:52 pm

    I don’t think its worth comparing the Nexus 5 and Nexus 1st in terms of specifications specially!! Both are different from each other!!

  6. RG

    03/08/2014 at 7:02 pm

    I bounced from Verizon over a year ago and never looked back. Overpriced contracts even with an employee discount. I took that abuse for over 8 years, half of which were with a feature phone. Now I’m with Tmo using a Samsung Google Gnex paying $30/month on a no contract 5gig plan. Service in San Diego is good. Will probably upgrade to the Nexus 5 or 6 and pop the existing Tmo sim in it.

  7. gale

    04/04/2014 at 1:27 pm

    My GSM nexus battery lasts about 24 hours with medium use. After 6 or 15 hours I would still have plenty of charge-maybe the verizon model was different? I hate to think the Nexus 5 will be worse. :(

    • gale

      04/04/2014 at 1:28 pm

      GSM Galaxy nexus that is.

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