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

Benchmark Variance: Not Every SoC Is Created Equal

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.

  • guvnaguy
    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.
  • MoulaZX
    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.
  • MoulaZX
    Duplicate post. Disregard.
  • shahrooz
    I just bought mine wainting for it to arrive xD
  • beetlejuicegr
    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?
  • beetlejuicegr
    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)
  • davidjan
    Great phone. N4 doesn't support OTG. But N5 supports. So can use Meenova MicroSD reader to add its storage:
  • cypeq
    I'd love to get 'USA price' on this devices... it is 450 Euro here
  • clownbaby
    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.
  • yasamoka
    The LG G2 does not have a microSD slot. Only the Note 3 does out of the 3 handsets mentioned in the article.