July 22, 2014

8 things I love about the Nexus 5 & Android 4.4

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Last Thursday, Google announced the LG Nexus 5. I ordered one for myself, and I have some thoughts on some of the key features that Google put into this phone. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand just how much you would use some of these features, especially when you don’t know anyone who has used them yet. Luckily, I use my phone for just about everything, so I’m able to provide some first-hand experiences that I’ve had with it. Let’s take a look:

Updated Phone App

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The new phone app in Android 4.4 is a great way to start things out. And I know what you’re thinking… you actually use your phone to call  people?! Yes. I do. And the updated app makes my experience a whole lot easier now that there is Smart Caller ID baked into the app. For those who don’t know, when you open the phone application, you can use it sort of like the Yellow Pages. If you’re looking for Panera’s phone number, just type ‘Panera’. If you’re looking for a certain Starbucks in the area, type ‘Starbucks,’ and click on the one you’d like to reach. Personally, after just a few days, this is the most-used feature on my phone so far.

Hangouts SMS Integration

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Google updated Hangouts to version 2.0, and set it as the default SMS application on the Nexus 5. I have to say that this is a pretty big improvement over the old stock SMS client. The light grey/white interface in Hangouts blends seamlessly with the updated UI of the phone. It’s also a whole lot smoother than the previous versions of the app. Even though I absolutely love Hangouts, I have one complaint: while it recognizes that you have a text message, it doesn’t combine the SMS with non-SMS. So, you’ll have two conversations from the same person, not combined at all. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but it becomes irksome if you forget which thread to open if you want to contact a person through a specific medium.

“Immersive Mode”

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This is one feature that I didn’t think I would use too often. When you’re in an app or a game that uses full screen, sometimes you get a text, email, or you just want to check the time. Now all you need to do is pull down from the top of the screen, and VOILA, the status bar appears! Again, the little things like this make the user experience so much smoother. This feature has been around in OEM skins like Touchwiz, and I’m happy to see it finally added to the “stock” experience.

Camera Features

I’m pointing out some camera features as opposed to the entire camera, because the entire package isn’t all that great. The camera is pretty laggy, and sometimes doesn’t deliver a consistent experience. That being said, it does pack some pretty decent new features. Google added in OIS (optical image stabilization) this time around. We saw this feature on the LG G2, and it makes a world of difference on the Nexus 5 as well. It almost completely gets rid of the shakiness that some people get when taking a quick picture.

Also, there is a new feature called “HDR+.” It basically makes the picture a little more balanced with color and saturation, letting the user take a little better quality photo. However, when the feature is turned on, there is a small lag before and after taking the photo. It almost makes the camera have two different shooting modes: one being a quick photo (HDR+ off), and the other being the more high-quality photo (HDR+ on). Nevertheless, we’ve seen HDR modes on skinned devices, and it’s nice to see this finally integrated into Android itself.

Google Now/Search Integration

With the new stock experience on the Nexus 5, there is much more Google Search integration in the home launcher. Along with swiping up from the home button to access Google Now, a feature that has been around since the Nexus 4, you can now swipe left on the home screen to access it. I have to admit, I use Google Now a lot more now that it is so easily accessible. That might have been Google’s intention when they implemented this feature, or it might be a happy accident. Either way, they’ve definitely beefed up the presence of Google Now in KitKat and the Nexus 5.

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I’ve also taken quite a liking to the (sort of) “always listening” experience. Even though you can’t use the phrase “OK, Google” when the phone is asleep, you can still use it from the homescreen, which saves you a tap to the search bar. Along with this feature, voice input has improved greatly, making the experience much more pleasant.

Now, if you don’t have a Nexus 5 but you want the new “Google Experience” launcher on your phone now, you can download it here. At the moment, it’s an early port and some bugs are still being worked out. We’ve tested the app and it works for us, but as always, install at your own risk.

Redesigned Clock App

Screenshot_2013-11-10-19-22-47The clock app on the previous Nexus models really didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If you wanted the alarm, which is probably the most widely used feature in the app, you needed to press the little icon in the bottom-left corner of the app. Google has fixed that, and put it up top with the other features in the app. Additionally, they un-bolded the hour number, making the digital clock much more sleek and presentable.

Build Quality

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I might differ from many other people on this one. I love the design of the new Nexus. I chose the black model, and I am more than happy about it. The back of the phone is matte-black, which is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but I’m willing to deal with that. It looks nice and sleek, and feels great in the hand. It has a slight curve around the back edges, complete with a giant ‘Nexus’ logo carved in the back. The camera protrudes out a tad more than I’d like, but that’s only because I’ve always been nervous about that sort of thing. I want it to be protected without using a case, and that definitely feels like the most vulnerable part of the build. Still, the device overall just looks and feels great.

Additional UI Enhancements 

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Google and LG have also included a few other design features that I’ve grown to love. Firstly, YOU CAN FINALLY CHOOSE HOW MANY HOMESCREENS YOU HAVE. There… I finally got that out. My biggest annoyance with the previous Nexus phones was that I wasn’t able to choose the amount of homescreens I wanted. I had to stick with 5, even though I only ever use 3. It makes the whole experience a little more satisfying to me now that it has a little more minimal design to it.

They have also included the ability to have a transparent status bar and soft keys, which gives the illusion that the screen is a little bigger than it actually is. In KitKat, this feature is available for other apps to take advantage of, though the only app I’ve found that uses it is your homescreen and Google Now.

So there you have it, my initial thoughts on the Nexus 5 and KitKat. Overall, this is a great device, and Google has hit a lot of high points in Android 4.4. With that being said, have you ordered or received your Nexus 5 yet? Do you have any other features you’re looking forward to? Let us know by leaving a comment! If you have any questions for me about the Nexus 5 and/or KitKat, you can also ask them below.