For the past few months, my LG Google Nexus 5 was starting to feel boring and outdated. It was also restarting randomly for no apparent reason and Google just told me to try and uninstall apps (and if all else fails, factory reset to fix the problem). With the Android 5.0 OTA update still on the way, I lost my patience. I unlocked the Nexus 5’s bootloader, wiped all my data, flashed Lollipop, and locked it once again. Just like that, it feels like a new phone.
Design & Features
It should feel like a new phone because Google’s design language is also new. It’s called Material Design, and it makes everything lighter and more colorful. The UI is going to be full of layers that are acting like paper, going behind and on top of each other, and every interaction has to come from somewhere.
Booting up my Nexus 5 with all of my data deleted feels refreshing, but that also allows me to experience Android 5.0 from its depths – starting with setting-up which looks a lot better and more intuitive than before. The lockscreen has also changed drastically, with the dialer and the camera available from both sides and notifications are improved, giving you more data to interact with. Face Unlock can also now be configured to work in the background and it’s now called Smart Unlock; Android Wear and other Bluetooth devices can be added to trusted devices as well and will make it easy to unlock your phone. If there’s one thing I don’t like about the new lockscreen, it’s the removal of widgets, mainly because I don’t like how the clock looks like, but that’s just me.
Material Design is the big story here though, including all the small things that make up for big changes. It will take some getting used to before you finally utilize it to its full potential (I took a day to master the new notification bar), but majority of it is something that I like: the on-screen buttons are new, multitasking is now called overview which developers can take advantage of (Chrome tabs utilize this), and basically all the Google apps are updated to this new UI; the new Calendar app is worth a special mention for me.
I still wouldn’t use the Play apps, and I honestly don’t like the way Google has scattered its apps all around with no means of hiding them in the app drawer. Movies, Games, Books, Music, Newsstand – it’s all too messy for me. I’m also not so active in Google Plus and Google’s forcing us all to use the Photos app by removing the Gallery app. Hangouts is still as lost as ever, but thankfully, Google has provided a stock Messenger app for SMS in the Play Store. There’s also too much unused space in the homescreen, with all the icons being too huge for my taste, but again, thankfully, we can easily hide & ignore these problems with a launchers and third-party apps.
Two big features here for me is the availability of a guest mode and more importantly, screen pinning, which is turned off by default. What this allows you to do is pin an app to your screen and when you let someone borrow your phone, they can’t tinker with other parts of your phone without knowing the way out or your passcode. I can finally lend my Nexus more to children and my friends.
Oh, and one more small thing. When you turn the screen off, you’ll notice that the TV-monitor animation is gone and is replaced by a fade into black & white before finally turning off. It still looks cool, but I wish we were given the option to choose as a lot of people are still wowed by that amusing TV animation.
We’ve reviewed the Nexus 5 here before already, and while it’s honestly still well-spec’d today, it’s a year old and most devices start to slow down through time. Seeing Android 5.0 Lollipop’s animations, one might think that it’s going to be difficult for the hardware to run all of these – but to my surprise, my Nexus 5 feels faster and better. The Snapdragon 800 CPU and the 2GB RAM never slowed down, but to be honest, all the animations are sometimes overwhelming and it makes me wonder if lower end devices can manage it.
As for the battery, I felt a very slight increase for its longevity, but it still doesn’t make the Nexus 5 a phone with great battery life. However, Lollipop adds a Power Saving Mode which you can decide to use or not to use. Yes, it does extend your battery life, but I personally don’t like using it mostly because the whole experience becomes laggy with dropped frames everywhere, again, making me worry about phones who can’t run the animations smoothly because Android 5.0 Lollipop, when it stutters, is a very bad experience. On the bright side, you can decide not to use it.
The verdict? Well, Android 5.0 Lollipop is a great OS update, and Material Design plus the few small features nails the experience right. Some apps still need updating, but I’m sure these things will be fixed through time. For a software update to make my Nexus 5 feel like brand new again is a huge success for Google, and I will have no problems recommending this phone for another year. My only problem here is Google’s forcing me to use their services and that some devices might not be able to handle Lollipop’s animations, but other than that, it’s as good as it gets.
Let’s just see how it does with HTC Sense, TouchWiz & the other skins.
What we liked about it:
- Material Design
- New lockscreen
- Better notifications
- Screen Pinning
- Guest Mode
- Still fast on 1 year old hardware
- Power Saving Mode option
What we didn’t like about it:
- No lockscreen widgets
- Needs some getting used to
- Google Apps too in-your-face, can’t uninstall
- Stock launcher lacks features
- No stock Gallery app, only Photos
- Overwhelming animations sometimes