This battle pits two of the most popular Android devices in the world against each other. In one corner, there’s the Galaxy S5 (GS5), one of Samsung’s most marketed devices that is currently outselling Apple’s iPhone 5s, according to early estimates. In the other corner, there’s the Nexus 5, Google’s latest-generation device that has become a go-to source for those who love the pure vanilla Android experience.
Which do you think will win? Let’s get the boxing match started, shall we?
Hardware and Design
The Galaxy S5 comes with a modern glam design for its back cover, with the usual plain design on the front and the “Samsung” brand name at the top. The GS5 still retains the home button that has come to characterize its devices, but the settings capacitive touch key at the bottom left has now been replaced with a page multitasking button that allows users the opportunity to remove pages from the background of the phone without holding down the home button to do so. Some individuals consider this a step forward in the evolution of Samsung’s Galaxy line, and Samsung is certainly intent on making the Galaxy user experience easier for everyone. The company’s focus this year on useful features rather than adding numerous software features is a tribute to its reductionist philosophy.
As for the back cover, the Galaxy S5 has the sturdiest back cover of the Galaxy S line so far. While holding the GS5 in my hands at a local Verizon Wireless retail store, I could tell that Samsung has made strides to provide a more premium feel for its Galaxy device. I didn’t remove the back cover to see whether or not it retains the flimsy feel of the GS4 back cover, but the cover certainly feels more solid when holding the phone in your hands.
The Nexus 5 comes with a soft matte plastic back cover, replacing the former glass cover of the Nexus 4. This was a smart move for Google, and it seems that many a tech analyst complained about the glass cover that looks good on the surface but means little when the glass hits the concrete and shatters. The phone, although retaining a rubbery plastic feel, has been said to be nothing short of premium by many consumers who touch the device for the first time. This just goes to show that plastic can be cool, modern, and premium without derision. As for the on-screen experience, the Nexus 5 features capacitive touch buttons (back, home, and multitasking) on-screen but, unlike the Galaxy S5, doesn’t have a hardware home button.
As for the design, it comes down to the choice. Google’s capacitive buttons consume a smaller amount of space on the phone’s display than the Galaxy S5, but Google could’ve used the bottom bezel space to enlarge the screen some (perhaps a little over 5 inches). While Google’s Nexus 5 does have a more comfortable feel in the hands due to its rubber/matte plastic back cover and the N-E-X-U-S brand name that I love to run my fingers across, the Galaxy S5 is a solid device and feels sturdy in the hands, as well. I give the Nexus 5 the win in this area, although I must preface my decision with a word of caution: the “ooohhh” and “aaahhh” feeling will wear off, trust me. After a month, the on-screen experience will matter a lot more than whether or not your back cover feels sleek and soft.
Which display wins the day? The Nexus 5 features a 1920 x 1080p liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, while the Galaxy S5 features Samsung’s top-notch Super AMOLED display with a 1920 x 1080p resolution. Both smartphones come with full HD screen resolution, so the Nexus 5 competes respectably here – unlike the Nexus 4 model that many said seemed to have “washed out” colors. I think that the same screen resolution on the 7-inch 2012 Nexus 7 led to the same result, unfortunately.
The Nexus 5’s screen resolution has come a long way, but Samsung’s Galaxy S5 retains the same screen resolution as last year. Rumors pointed to Samsung bringing a 2K (or 2,560 x 1600) resolution to the Galaxy S5, but Samsung pulled this in the final stage of production, it seems. It’s been said in years past that LCD screens fare better in sunlight than super AMOLED displays (or AMOLEDs of any kind), but I’ve found the opposite to be the case.
Samsung’s displays have improved in legibility, and the GS5 offers a better viewing experience than even my Galaxy Note 3 does. Even in cases where you’re in direct sunlight and need to access your brightness settings, Samsung’s setup is far more convenient (the drop-down window) than Google’s. The reason this is the case concerns the slide adjuster found at the top of the notification window, as opposed to the two-side drop-down notification window of the Nexus 5 that has your notifications on one side and settings on the other. When in sunlight, I don’t want to remember to perform a two-finger-swipe to find my brightness setting. Samsung gets the brightness adjustment function right here, making the reading and viewing experience a little less frustrating.
Both displays have excellent graphics, so the choice is yours.
The Nexus 5 features a 4.95-inch display (not exactly 5 inches as some may believe), but it’s close enough that you can’t tell the difference. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has increased the diagonal display 0.1 inches from the 5-inch screen of the GS4 model. The GS5 display is a little larger than the Nexus 5, although LG/Google could remove the black bottom bezel of the device by pushing the capacitive buttons down to the very bottom and reserving the small abandoned space for the screen. The company decided to place the Nexus brand on the back of the device, and this leaves room for more display at the top of the Nexus 5. The only problem for Google is how to enlarge the display at the bottom. Samsung leaves its branding on the front, but you’ll get a somewhat larger display.
The winner of the display category overall is based on your personal preference, but for me, it seems as though both devices are rather small. You’ll notice the difference when you touch a Galaxy Note 3 or an HTC One Max.
The Nexus 5 boasts an 8MP rear-facing camera, considered standard, but not enough to keep up with the majority of the Android OEM competition. Samsung, Sony, LG, and others have managed to kick up the rear-facing camera experience to 13MP, with HTC being the one exception to stick to a 4UMP (or ultrapixel) experience in the HTC One M8. While megapixels aren’t everything, they’re when it comes to the Nexus 5 experience.
Colors on the Nexus 5 will appear washed out or oversaturated when you take photos. Although the same can be said for certain photos on the Galaxy S5, the case is obvious when you match photos taken on the Nexus 5 with the real-life image in front of you. I took a picture of a toy basketball goal sometime ago in a friend’s room, and the Nexus 5 made colors (even in the light) to be a bit oversaturated. The mild orange became a dark orange, and the mild pink turned into a dark pink. Colors such as a neon green shirt she was wearing turned to an even lighter green than before.
One of the reasons why I think the Nexus 5 camera does this is because it is optimized to take excellent low-light photos. In my tests with the Nexus 5, the photos, I found that there were times when the color seemed rather accurate, and times when the color seemed rather off. The same can be said with both cameras, but the Nexus 5 camera is a consistent “hit-or-miss,” often missing accurate color representation with indoor lighting. This is the case with daytime photos, as well.
When the Nexus 5 camera isn’t washing out or oversaturating colors, it’s giving certain photos a “bluish” tint. I tried to use my Nexus 5 to take pictures of my iPad screen – and colors were horrible, to say the least. The Nexus 5 couldn’t accurately capture the iPad screen (with green rolling hills and clouds for wallpaper) without permeating the “blue” sky color across the entire photo. Even the grass appeared bluish-green when the photos were taken.
The autofocus is okay, but not stellar. The Android 4.4.2 KitKat update was released to improve the autofocus; while it does to some extent, it still takes photos a while to focus. The problem with the Nexus 5 camera is that, while pictures quickly snap, they do so with a lot of motion blur in them (since the autofocus is slower than the camera’s snap capacity).
The Nexus 5 does shine in low-light photos, however, particularly at night. This is where the Nexus 5 may prove to be a contender with the Galaxy S5. The GS5 has improved in its low-light shots significantly, and the GS5 could potentially win in this area. For now, though, I will give the win over the camera to the Galaxy S5, seeing that you’re getting a 16MP camera with better zoom quality and improved low-light photos as well as a 0.3-second Fast Autofocus feature that should match the Nexus 5 experience. Some users prefer better low-light photos, but I tend to take more daytime photos than anything else. In high-light environments, the Galaxy S5 wins decisively against its Android competition and features the best smartphone camera on the market right now.
Under the Hood: Processor
What’s under the hood for the Nexus 5? You get a 2.26Ghz, Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB RAM. The Galaxy S5 sports a 2.5Ghz, Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB RAM. With this said, you’re likely to find that both devices are zippy and fast. It may be the case that Samsung’s TouchWiz may seem to lag more than the Nexus 5, but there’s a simple explanation for this: Samsung’s Galaxy S5 provides much more of a feature-packed experience than the Nexus 5. Some individuals prefer a basic OS experience without the need for additional software, but there’re a number of photographers who like Samsung’s camera filters and multiple settings. I’ll get into the OS discussion further below.
The Nexus 5 is a thing of beauty, providing you with 16GB or 32GB of on-board storage. The Galaxy S5 provides the same amount of local memory storage, but does allow you to upgrade your memory by way of its microSD card slot – a feature the Nexus 5 doesn’t have. If you’re the type of consumer who wants to store more pictures or videos on a microSD card, go right ahead with the Galaxy S5.
Where Google’s hardware storage lacks, however, the company makes up for it in its cloud storage. Google has a weapon in its arsenal called “unlimited photo storage” that allows you to take an unlimited amount of photos. I’ve taken 3 years’ worth, and have yet to be told by Google that I’ve taken too many.
Yet and still, all Android devices (and even iPhones) have access to Google’s unlimited photo storage. Thus, the choice comes down to whether or not you want to access your photos from the local storage or from the internet. If you’re in a place with poor internet connectivity, having that microSD card slot in the GS5 will be a life-saver. On the other hand, it may not matter to you – so you could care less which phone wins the competition here. Still, the Galaxy S5 offers a local memory storage bump up to 128GB, not to mention Google’s unlimited photo storage. I’m giving the win here to the Galaxy S5.
The Nexus 5 runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the latest and greatest of Google’s Android. The Galaxy S5, however, also runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat. As a result, you will get excellent experiences in both, but this one also comes down to preference. Google offers you a pure vanilla Android experience, free from a lot of apps that you may never use. Android 4.4.2 KitKat will take away no more than 6GB of memory storage from your device. Samsung’s Galaxy S5, on the other hand, features not only Android 4.4.2 KitKat but also Samsung’s own camera filters, features, and software such as its WatchON, chatON, and other apps. As a result, you will likely have no more than 23GB left on a 32GB device.
As for the 16GB device, half of your memory storage may be consumed before you download one app onto the device – reducing the enjoyment you’ll get out of it. This is where it seems that many Android users prefer Google’s plain OS experience better. As for me, I like Samsung’s TouchWiz and its software features, but then and again, I’m not you. You’re the one who must decide which of these two companies you want to live with for two years (less, in prepaid customer circumstances).
Both smartphones provide an excellent experience, but then and again, these two devices aren’t tailored to the same consumer base. Some individuals care little for Samsung’s software innovations and would rather have Google’s experience. Others prefer Samsung and deem Google’s plain vanilla Android a little bland for their tastes. In the end, it seems that, OS aside, the Galaxy S5 provides all that you need in a smartphone plus extra. You may not need the extra all the time, but it may prove helpful in special situations. Last but not least, the water and dust resistance gives the GS5 the win over the Nexus 5, in my opinion.
What do you think? Do you think the Nexus 5 still beats the Galaxy S5? Let us know what you think in the comments below.