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Benchmark Variance: Not Every SoC Is Created Equal

Google Nexus 5 Review: A Fast, Affordable Phone With LTE For All
By

We could go into a lengthy diatribe about how not every piece of technology is created equally, or how we shouldn't complain considering the price of the phone and the features being offered. We could talk about the way in which market demands mean that things don't get to be “fully baked” or completely realized until after the fact when the dust settles.

We could. But we won't.

Frankly, our particular Nexus 5 has a slower CPU core than most, and there's no getting around it. The benchmarks will reflect this, as anything solely determined by CPU, or mixed CPU/GPU performance suffers, while workloads that exclusively tax the GPU line up with other findings.

It was disappointing to see our unit consistently rate equal to or worse than either the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 in AnTuTu (both Snapdragon 600-based devices). In fact, our Nexus 5 using the stock ROM and kernel never even reached the performance levels of any of its Snapdragon 800-equipped cousins, including the LG G2 with which it shares so much in common.

The performance deficit also shows up in games where physics and decent AI are being used at the same time as intensive graphics. Asphalt 8, for example, is laggy in certain intense sections, and the slow-down is particularly noticeable during collisions. This lag doesn't affect the gameplay, and it probably became more bothersome once we knew what was causing it.

So, we investigated solutions, first by using brute force. We flashed ROMs and kernels and saw sometimes marginal increases, sometimes dramatic performance jumps. Eventually, we had this Nexus 5 beating out the consistently highly-rated (and proven to cheat) Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Unfortunately, this was always at the cost to battery life and heat dissipation.

Sometime during this process we remembered a lesson long forgotten: KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. So we did just that. We flashed back to stock, rooted the device, and then checked for PVS rating, which defines how slow or fast the CPU core is in terms of binning (something that had been revealed during the first few months of the Nexus 4). The SoC scored a whopping 1. That means that the internal Qualcomm QA test that is built right into the chipset rates our Nexus 5 as the slowest on a scale of 1 (slowest) to 5 (fastest).

We sighed, and accepted our fate. After all, this could very well be your experience if you purchase a Nexus 5. At the very least it answered some of our questions.

If you're already the owner of Nexus 5 and are interested to see how your handset's SoC stacks up, do the following on a rooted device:

  1. Grab a terminal emulator from Google Play
  2. Type “su” in terminal emulator
  3. OK the Super User request
  4. Type “dmesg | grep PVS”

Here's hoping you have better luck than us with your Nexus 5.

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  • 8 Hide
    guvnaguy , January 21, 2014 12:18 AM
    Nice review. I think the whole $600-700 price for an off-contract phone is pretty much theft anyway, when the phones cost <$300 to make. Kudos, Google.
  • 5 Hide
    MoulaZX , January 21, 2014 12:31 AM
    The Nexus 5 is extremely susceptible to thermal throttling which this article seems to gloss over or entirely miss.

    Yes PVS scores do indicate something. They indicate the efficiency of a chip at a given frequency. The lower PVS numbers will heat up faster, and thus be at the optimal 2.23Ghz frequency less often, thus giving the perceived impression of being significantly slower.

    I have a Nexus 5 myself, same PVS scoring (1). Running Antutu in my hand, and I'll score 22,000 - 23,000. However, out of curiosity, I rest the phone on an AC vent for 15 minutes, started the Antutu benchmark while leaving it there, and managed to score 29,500. All results easily and consistently repeatable. And my phone has never been unlocked/flashed. 100% Factory ROM, 4.4.2.

    The issue purely heavy thermal throttling under heavy sustained loads.

    In day to day operations though, it is absolutely flawless, and felt ever so slightly snappier then my previous HTC One (M7). Still incredibly happy with this device, and the only one I have never felt the need to unlock and flash silly. My only gripe was Camera issues, but the 4.4.2 update resolved those problems.
  • -4 Hide
    MoulaZX , January 21, 2014 12:31 AM
    Duplicate post. Disregard.
  • 0 Hide
    shahrooz , January 21, 2014 2:39 AM
    I just bought mine wainting for it to arrive xD
  • 0 Hide
    beetlejuicegr , January 21, 2014 2:51 AM
    So a friend bought Nexus 5 and i bought his nexus 4 for me. Really happy with it even if its a last year's mobile. Economy crisis in Greece just won't give me space to buy Nexus 5 :p . Nexus phones are always on the the top list in quality and especially on price/quality mark. It is just that the way google sells them in Europe that is incompatible with the mentality of mobile buyers here. I bet my right thumb :p  that if they had few actual shops inside shopping centers in Europe that they would sell like crazy. Now that i think about it, they know it, they just let other mobile companies for this, for android dominance perhaps? Just like what IBM did with PC and DoS? All were awed to see my Nexus One just when it was released few years ago, which i still have and still works fine, i doubt if an iphone or any 600+ $/euro mobile can survive that long right?
  • 0 Hide
    beetlejuicegr , January 21, 2014 2:52 AM
    Oh and to add, this heating throttling might be annoying if it is used on a warm country like Greece i guess? Can the article elaborate on that? (room temperatures vs performance)
  • 0 Hide
    davidjan , January 21, 2014 3:14 AM
    Great phone. N4 doesn't support OTG. But N5 supports. So can use Meenova MicroSD reader to add its storage: http://goo.gl/2iJ6gf
  • -1 Hide
    cypeq , January 21, 2014 3:49 AM
    I'd love to get 'USA price' on this devices... it is 450 Euro here
  • 0 Hide
    clownbaby , January 21, 2014 4:56 AM
    I finally pulled the trigger on a Nexus 5 and am upgrading my trusty old GNex. The unpolluted android system is by far the most underrated aspect of the Nexus devices. Paired with a crazy enthusiastic development community, Google offers a device experience that can't be had for any price by other manufacturers. To all of this, top end quick hardware is just icing on the cake. I would take a Nexus device with half the performance of an Iphone or Galaxy 4 just for the software environment.
  • 0 Hide
    yasamoka , January 21, 2014 5:51 AM
    The LG G2 does not have a microSD slot. Only the Note 3 does out of the 3 handsets mentioned in the article.
  • -2 Hide
    the1kingbob , January 21, 2014 5:57 AM
    Great article. One thing I would like to see is comparing the ~$350 N5 to other phones of equal price from apple and android. Like to see what a GS3 and a iP4S can do against it.
  • 0 Hide
    chazzmatt , January 21, 2014 6:16 AM
    The Nexus 4 was NOT the first "bleeding edge" Nexus smartphone. So, was the Galaxy Nexus (aka gen 3 Nexus), made by Samsung for Google. Released at end of 2011, had 4.65" 720p HD display, dual core 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM -- and NFC. The Verizon models had LTE. It was one of the first Androids with HD display and had many of the attributes of the Galaxy SIII, released by Samsung a few months later. Yes, those were VERY much cutting edge specs at the time.
  • 2 Hide
    ballerslife , January 21, 2014 7:03 AM
    Err, bit late for a review. The phone came out november
  • 0 Hide
    RooD , January 21, 2014 7:13 AM
    I love my nexus 5, much nicer than my galaxy nexus. I like it more than my wife's S4 and the money I save from being off contract will pay for the phone in the 2 years I'll keep it.
  • -5 Hide
    Zachasaurs , January 21, 2014 7:59 AM
    wow smartphone companies are bathing in money this is the price of a budget gaming pc why would you pay this for a phone? you could but 3 good tablets instead or a pc or laptop
  • -4 Hide
    Zachasaurs , January 21, 2014 7:59 AM
    wow smartphone companies are bathing in money this is the price of a budget gaming pc why would you pay this for a phone? you could but 3 good tablets instead or a pc or laptop
  • 1 Hide
    koolkei , January 21, 2014 9:09 AM
    cloud based storage is all good and fine..... ON MOST OF THE 1ST WORLD NATION...but when they brought it on to the third world nation, our internet just sucks. 1mbps DL and 0.15 mbps UL (that's bit not byte). what are you gonna accomplice or store with that speed here? not to mention the price and the limited bandwidth. a micro sd card is WAY faster and WAY cheaper in the long run here.although i understand why they are doing this, it's just not really gonna work in places where the internet infrastructures are still way behind. btw, where i live, we still struggle to get 3G speed. yet korea is already 4G LTE, and so close to 5G, so they got minimum every day average 3G LTE at least right? and i believe 3G for america and england
  • -2 Hide
    unsivilaudio , January 21, 2014 10:49 AM
    Hilarious they left out the Moto X out of this review comparo, let alone this test; given the claims of superior battery it has made.
  • 2 Hide
    chazzmatt , January 21, 2014 12:07 PM
    Well, Moto X is mid-tier specs, not top tier like the Androids with Snapdragon 800 and 1080p. Why should they mention phones like the Moto X?
  • -1 Hide
    unsivilaudio , January 21, 2014 12:26 PM
    Quote:
    Well, Moto X is mid-tier specs, not top tier like the Androids with Snapdragon 800 and 1080p. Why should they mention phones like the Moto X?


    They mentioned the Nexus 4, which is right alongside spec-wise with the Moto X; also its probably to the 2 most compared phones out right now.
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