Why power users will love the Nexus 5

Android 4.4 KitKat adds full-featured Android to lower-priced smartphones.

Google just announced the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat. For contrast, Google should have also announced a Nexus 1 to show the breadth of Android 4.4. The hypothetical Nexus 1 would contrast Android 4.4 running on a mass-market, low-cost processor such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 with 512MB of memory, against the Nexus 5's powerful Snadragon 800 processor and 16GB of memory. The hypothetical Nexus 1 would not compete with the real Nexus 5, but it would show off an Android 4.4 device running smoothly on a sub $100 smartphone.

With more than 5 billion mobile phone subscribers in the world yet to move to a smartphone, this improvement in Android memory usage and processing efficiency is critical to achieving a low, carrier-unsubsidized price for an entry-level smartphone. According to Google’s developer website:

"KitKat streamlines every major component to reduce memory use and introduces new APIs and tools to help you create innovative, responsive, memory-efficient applications."

There is a set of tools for OEMs to tune KitKat to run on devices built with lower-performance, lower-priced components than the powerful Nexus 5. Also notable from the same website:

"OEMs building the next generation of Android devices can take advantage of targeted recommendations and options to run Android 4.4 efficiently, even on low-memory devices."

KitKat will accelerate the end-of-life of Android 2.3 used in very low-cost smartphones, which is increasingly difficult for application developers to support as they straddle the various versions of Android. Android 4.x is also much easier to upgrade with over-the-air system updates. There wasn't much news about the Nexus 5 that had not been leaked already, though its powerful hardware doesn’t need Android 4.4 performance improvements to impress. It is based on LG's G2, released a few months ago. The G2 and Nexus 5 share a design based on the Snapdragon 800 2.26GHz processor that is lightning fast, has a 4.95-inch 1920x1080 445 ppi HD display and advanced camera features. Based on benchmarks of the LG G2 running Android 4.2.2 by Ubergizmo, it is one of the fastest - possibly the fastest - smartphone available.

In designing the G2, LG researchers found that the 4.95-inch diagonal screen is the largest that can be comfortably used with one hand without the awkwardness of a two-handed phablet. The large Nexus 5 screen with a thin bezel affords an almost edge-to-edge display. Android 4.4 complements the large screen with immersive mode that increases the display area by hiding the status bar and navigation buttons. Swiping the edge of the screen returns the controls.

The Nexus 5 leapfrogs the Nexus 4 with fast LTE 4G. Based on the specifications, it will work on most carrier networks, except Verizon. Subsequent to last year’s Nexus 4 announcement, former Android head Andy Rubin revealed that eliminating LTE 4G was a design decision made because at that time LTE 4G quickly exhausted the battery. Due to improvements in LTE 4G hardware, it did not tax the closely related LG G2. Note that the G2 has a 3,000 mAh battery and the Nexus 5 a 2,300 mAh battery. The Moto X is powered by a 2,200 mAh battery and experiences good battery performance, so the Nexus 5 battery life should meet the demands of most users. With heavy data usage, Nexus 5 owners might want to have a wireless charger to keep the battery topped up.

There wasn’t a big Apple- or Samsung-like announcement that accompanied the debut of KitKat and the Nexus 5. When the Nexus 4 announcement was cancelled last year due to Hurricane Sandy and the Google Play store ran out of inventory a few days later, Google’s Android team learned that features and price performance were more important than fanfare. Less than 24 hours after the Nexus 5 announcement, the Google Play store inventory is exhausted.

The Nexus 5 is a bargain at $349 for the 16GB version and $399 for the 32GB version without a contract. KitKat brings many new features for end users and developers. Anyone in the market for a new smartphone should take a look at it, especially buyers disappointed that Apple did not announce a low-cost iPhone.

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