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More Nexus 5 Impression and Camera Comparison #nexus5

The boot animation.

I have been taking the Nexus 5 with me for the last couple of days, and here are my impression so far.

1. Build

Unlike the Nexus 4, the black Nexus 5 has a soft touch plastic on its back. This makes it feel less slippery than the Nexus 4 (the Nexus 4 can slide down from a desk on its own, that’s how slippery it is). People are saying the white one is more “plasticky” though. I like the soft touch back. It makes the phone feel more durable than the glass Nexus 4. Alas, the material that Google uses actually attracts dust fairly easily. The Nexus 4 does still feel a bit more premium thanks to the glass back. It has the iPhone 4 feel, while the Nexus 5 feels more like a Lumia, well built but not as premium.

Swiping my finger on the Nexus 4 is a joy thanks to its curved glass at the edge. Alas, the Nexus 5 has a sharper edge, making it feel less “luxurious” when swiping my finger over the edge. The buttons have been changed too. It feels more solid than the Nexus 4, but the sharp edges on the buttons, especially the power button, can be jarring on the fingers compared to the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 5 is as big as the HTC One, but it has a bigger screen (4.95″ vs 4.7″ on the HTC One). It is much lighter, even lighter than the Nexus 4. The soft touch back actually makes it feel smaller than the HTC One. It feels nice on the hand, while sometimes I feel the HTC One is too big.

One huge annoyance for me? The SIM slot. The Nexus 4 uses a non-standard pin hole for its SIM slot, requiring a tinier pin to open (vs the bigger hole on the iPhone and HTC One). Well, the Nexus 5 uses yet another different pin hole. The pin included with the Nexus 4 does not work anymore, as the Nexus 5 requires a longer pin. WTF LG? WTF Google? Seriously?

2. Screen

The Nexus 4 has a pretty conservative auto-brightness. The after effect is that people has poor impression of the screen. Coupled with the prevalence of AMOLED screens, the Nexus 4’s screen looks washed out. Google for some reason is aggressively pushing the brightness on the Nexus 5 to combat this first impression. However, we know that more brightness equals less battery life. The Nexus 5 screen is great. It’s sharp thanks to the 1080p resolution. I do still think the HTC One to be better, mainly due to more saturation in color that make images pop.

3. KitKat

The Nexus 5 is running the latest Android, version 4.4, dubbed KitKat. Main thing I notice is that the wallpaper takes over the whole screen, meaning that there is no more black bars on the status and navigation bars. The icons on the status bar are now white in color. In the past, the wifi and signal bar icon are grey in color when connected wirelessly, and blue when the phone is connected to Google services. A small indicator would also pop up whenever there are data transmissions occurring. Those are all gone in KitKat. The icons will be just white, and there are no indicators of data transmissions. You have to go to the control center (2 finger swipe down) to see those indicators (the wireless icons will be orange if the phone is connected wirelessly but not to Google, and there are small triangles indicating data transmissions). This makes it less intuitive to troubleshoot connectivity problems.

The home screens have been rearranged. The main home screen is not the “middle” screen anymore. It is the first screen instead. Swiping to the right will actually reveal Google Now screen on the left. It is similar to iOS 6 when swiping to the right will reveal spotlight search. By default, there are only two home screens. I don’t see a direct way to add more home screens, other than dragging a widget passing the last screen on the right, then KitKat will create a new home screen.

Google Now will now respond once you unlock your phone, meaning that you don’t have to have Google Now running. Unlock the phone, and you can say “Ok Google” right away. It is similar to Motorola’s touchless control, but with the Moto X, it can respond even when it’s locked. So the implementation on the Nexus 5 feels half-baked. Even Siri can be initiated right from the lock screen without unlocking the iPhone.

The lock screen has been redesigned too. In 4.2, there is no indication that you can swipe the lock screen to the left to run the camera app, other than a brief flash of outlines on the sides of the screen when you wake up the phone. In KitKat, Google followed iOS, by providing a camera icon on the lower right corner. Following the bottom of the screen, there is an arrow pointing up in the middle, This replaces the dotted circle on 4.2 to access Google Now. Thing is, at first that up arrow makes me think that I can swipe the lock screen up to start the camera, just like the iPhone. Well, to start the camera, you have to actually swipe to the left instead. I can see new users being confused at first.

Another change in KitKat UI is the icons. They are overly large. The App drawer now only contains 4 x 5 grid instead of 5 x 5 on the Nexus 4. The icon size is so large that it feels downright silly. This also makes folders in the home screen to cover up more space that it did before. Aesthetically annoying as it makes the screen feels cramped.

The regular messaging app is gone. Everything is handled under Hangouts. Like it or not, Google wants you to use Hangouts and join Google Plus. This consolidation of messaging apps is welcomed, but Google created another confusion. This is not exclusive to KitKat, but with the new push of Google Plus, now there are two apps to access your photos. The classic Gallery app, and the new Photos app that integrates the camera roll with Google Plus. Confusing? Yeah. I can see the classic Gallery app going away, although I really like it.

In terms of responsiveness, the Nexus 5 is fast. It is so fast that it actually make the Nexus 4 feels slow. Side by side, when opening apps and menus, there is a noticeable delay on the Nexus 4 compared to the Nexus 5. Now the Nexus 4 is by no means slow/laggy, but there is this noticeable hesitations on every screen transitions compared to the Nexus 5. Not sure if this is due to KitKat or just because of the beefier hardware of the Nexus 5, but hopefully KitKat can bring some smoothness to all Android devices.

4. Battery Life

Non-scientifically, it’s a meh. I took the Nexus 5 along with my iPhone 5 for a stroll. Both have everything on (wifi, cellular radio, GPS, etc), and same email accounts configured. I used both to take similar number of pictures. After a few hours, both are showing around 75% of battery life left. Thing is, I had the iPhone also running a location tracking app, while the Nexus 5 did not have this app running. Considering how the iPhone 5 battery is a lot smaller, this tells me that the Nexus 5 and/or Android is less efficient than the iPhone/iOS. Seems like Android does not behave well, especially when cellular signal is weak. I notice this also on the HTC One as the battery drains pretty quick when it is in low signal area. Heavy users might want to have an external battery pack handy just in case.

5. Camera

I did a comparison of the Nexus 5 camera with some other devices on the previous post. Here are some more pictures to enjoy. 🙂

The HTC One is showing a weakness here. The Nexus 5 fares okay, while the iPhone 5 continues to provide the best balance. Throughout this post, you will see inconsistent white balance from all devices. It is also interesting to see the different FOV of each devices (the HTC One having the widest FOV).

Getting this image was an interesting experience. I actually had a hard time making the leaf in focus with the iPhone 5. I had to go very close before it focused properly. I’m guessing the iPhone has a minimum range where it initiates its macro mode focusing. The HTC One took the picture without much fuss. The Nexus 5 had trouble in its metering, resulting in a dark image although the leaf was in focus properly.

Wow, white balance all over the place. 😀 The HTC One doesn’t look good here. It seems that it had trouble in determining the white balance and overblowing the highlights. The Nexus 5 did an okay job though. I kinda like the warmer tones in this context. The Nexus 4 trailed behind, but you can probably do some post processing to make it look decent. The iPhone, again, gave the most balanced picture.

This was a tough picture to take. I wanted to focus on the lower right fruit. After numerous tries, I just couldn’t do it with the Nexus 5 and the stock camera app. Same thing with the Nexus 4, it was impossible. The iPhone also had a difficult time, but I finally got a focus, albeit resulting a dark picture due to the phone trying to compensate for the sky. The HTC One? Well, at first, I had trouble with it too. But a simple flip to macro mode, bam! It took the picture like a champ. 🙂

On the Nexus 5 and Nexus 4, I tried using a camera app called Camera360. This app has multiple options, including macro mode. Although it was still a difficult process with multiple tries, I finally got something. Not great, but it’s something. The HTC One definitely took the cake this round.

These were another difficult shot, with dark and bright areas. The Nexus 5 did okay. It dropped down its shutter speed to 1/9 to help with light while keeping the ISO low. Problem is, it is susceptible to blurring due to shake (despite having optical image stabilization). Not bad, but not as sharp as the iPhone 5. The Nexus 4 had to resort to high ISO, giving noisy picture. The HTC One suffered overblown highlights, its achilles heel.

Throughout this experiment, I was really annoyed with Android stock camera app. The camera start-up on the Nexus 5 is slow. When switching from portrait to landscape or vice versa, there is a significant lag. Yes, lag, on a  quad-core snapdragon 800 phone. There is really no excuse there. The focusing system is slow, and it wanted to keep focusing at the center. I observed it changing the focus to the center even while it was taking a picture, which can sometimes create out-of-focus picture. It’s ridiculous. The camera itself is capable on producing decent images. Google needs to really work on the software side.

The HTC One continues to be a joy to use. Startup is fast, focusing is fast, and it is the only one having a specific macro mode. Sometimes relying on auto everything is not necessarily the best way (e.g. the iPhone having issues with the leaf). Even better, its gorgeous screen makes you enjoy the pictures right away. Its weaknesses at this point are well known though, especially the overblown highlights.

In the end, the iPhone takes the best balanced pictures in most situations. Apple just know their stuff. Start up is fast, focusing is fast, and other than some issues in specific instances, it just works. However, during this experiment, I wish it had a larger screen. 😉

If you are going to take a lot of pictures, get the iPhone. You have to have a lot of patience with the Nexus 5.

6. Conclusion

Well, there you go. My quick impression of the Nexus 5. It is Google’s latest, and the only way to enjoy KitKat out of the box right now. It feels great on the hand, but I would still invest in a case. It has top notch spec, yet Google is still skimping on certain things, like the stock camera app. Despite all the drawbacks, one has to remember that this is a $350-$400 phone. It’s cheaper than even the iPhone 4S! 😀 It’s an excellent phone for the money. Hopefully my impression can help your decision, or at least make you feel better about your purchase. 😀

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in android, apple, comparison, google, impression

 

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Nexus 5 Camera Test and Comparison #Nexus5

A Nexus 5 just arrived and joined the family. 🙂

IMG_0456

From left to right, Nexus 4, 5, and 7 (2012). All we need is a 6. 😀

Anyway, Nexus 5 is running the latest Android OS, 4.4, aka KitKat. The logo kinda shows the obvious brand connection. Yeah, no more flinging jelly beans around.

IMG_0457

The most controversial thing about the Nexus 5 among reviewers is the camera. Well known tech bloggers are disappointed with the camera. As an armchair analyst/critic, I did another non-scientific comparison, similar to what I did previously for the HTC One. The contenders were the Nexus 5, Nexus 4, iPhone 5, HTC One, and the Sony RX100 as a reference. Settings were all auto, and JPEG were resized to lower res by iPhoto. Why not upload the full size? I don’t want to waste the free space I have on WordPress. 😛 Also, let’s be realistic. Most of the pictures taken with smartphones are posted on social networks that will resize them anyway. Normal people don’t pixel peep their digital photos.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. First was indoor fluorescent lighting, featuring Momotaros and Urataros.

The Nexus 4 did okay. I did have a hard time tying to get proper focus for some reason. Android’s stock camera app just sucks. The Nexus 5 is a definite improvement over the Nexus 4. White balance is better, and thanks to optical image stabilization, it can take the picture with slower shutter speed and lower ISO, resulting in lower noise compared to the Nexus 4. Image is sharper too, but it’s the same camera app. Yes, the one that has an ADHD focusing system. It loses the area you want to focus easily, and always wants to go back to the center focus. The iPhone 5 is a bit in between, being definitely better than the Nexus 4, but since it lacks optical IS, it has to find a balance between shutter speed and higher ISO. The result is still great, with decent white balance. What makes the iPhone 5 much better is the shooting experience. It focuses quickly without fuss and I was done in a snap, while I had to take time composing and focusing using either Nexus phones. The HTC One fares okay too. The taller picture is because the HTC One captures in 16:9 ratio natively. Switching to other aspect ratio will result in less resolution. Image is sharp and white balance is good. As long as you don’t pixel peep, you won’t notice that it’s only 4MP, smaller than the rest. And lastly, the RX100 obviously took the cake, with a definite blurring of the background, sharp picture, and low noise. It performed even better when I manually adjusted the white balance.

Okay, so within indoor lighting, everybody did fine, although you can already see the limitation of the Nexus 4. Next, I turned off the light, leaving ambient light coming from an adjacent room.

Okay, Nexus 4 is toast. 😀 It’s useless, period. The Nexus 5 is a huge improvement over the Nexus 4. However, again, you are dealing with the sucky stock camera app, and focus hunting is often. Noise creeps in due to higher ISO. Same thing with the iPhone 5. The Nexus 5 does have an advantage of optical image stabilization, thus using a slower shutter speed to get more light, while the iPhone 5 has to find a balance between shutter speed and ISO. In the end, the Nexus 5 still used a higher ISO than the iPhone 5, 1624 vs 1600, but you can see the image itself is a tad brighter. Again, what makes the iPhone 5 better is the shooting experience. Even at low light, it still managed to get focus quickly, and I was done in a snap. Apple just nailed the user experience down. The HTC One continues to surprise me, as it managed to get such bright image. Sure, details were lost and whatnot, but once you post that into Facebook or whatnot, your friends would prefer being able to see a less detailed something than a dark blob of darkness. Its camera app is not as snappy as the iPhone’s, but it’s more usable than Android’s stock camera app. The RX100 produced a dark image, but its noise reduction is better than the smartphones, and considering it can shoot in RAW, you can probably extract and post process a better picture in the end.

How about flash? I don’t like using flash as straight on flash just does not work in most situations. Let’s take a look.

LOL, the Nexus 4 is just useless. The Nexus 5 is much better, but again, the problem with straight on flash is the major overblown highlights. The iPhone 5 offers similar image. Okay but overblown. The HTC One, surprisingly, is very good! I don’t know if it’s due to its wider lens, but the resulting picture is not as overexposed as the others. The RX100 also has overblown highlights, but not that bad and seems like you can get a good image after some post processing. Note its depth of field advantage too. 🙂

When you read/watch/listen to reviews from the tech bloggers, you probably heard about the Nexus 5 not being able to focus properly, or that it took blurry pictures. Alas, I can confirm that it is an issue. Take a look at this.

Nexus 5 out of focus

Yes, a blurry mess. The Nexus 5 thought that Momotaros’ head was in focus. Seems like this happened when I set it to either use flash or auto-flash, ie. it fired the LED flash while trying to get a focus lock, but while it seemed that it got proper focus when the flash is on, its focus was off afterwards. Worse, once it got this out-of-focus lock, it didn’t seem to want to refocus. I tried to touch different areas and move the composition to reset the auto-focus, but it seemed that it’s locked. Very annoying. If I disabled the flash, it didn’t seem to have this issue. I could be wrong though. Google has said that it’s a software issue, and I think that is correct. Yes Google, your Android stock camera app is trash. Can’t you just ask HTC or Samsung to help you? Seriously.

There you go, my personal non-scientific and completely subjective impression of the Nexus 5 camera. Is it better than the Nexus 4? Hell yeah. I can argue that it can rival the iPhone 5’s image quality. However, the shooting experience is not great. This is where the iPhone just wins. Apple just nailed everything down. It may not have fancy things like optical image stabilization, nor the super best image quality, but Apple managed to find that balance where things just work and the result is fine, so people like to shoot with their iPhones more. Meanwhile, the HTC One continues to surprise me. It performs very well, despite the naysayers bashing its 4MP camera. Sure, it has its quirks, but I find shooting with the HTC One to be more enjoyable than the Nexus 4. A high end compact like the Sony RX100 still offers more, especially when you want more control of depth of field. But then again it costs as much as an iPhone 5s. 😀

Speaking of cost, it is important to remember that the Nexus 5 costs US $349 for the 16GB model, which is less expensive than anything else here, other than the Nexus 4. Still, it’s no excuse for Google to not bother with the crappy camera app. Hopefully the promised update from Google can improve the Nexus 5. If you are buying or have bought the Nexus 5, don’t be disheartened. If you are upgrading from a Nexus 4, you are getting a much better camera. If you are already on an iPhone 5 and up or higher end Android phones, you are not missing much though, other than having the latest Android OS.

So, in short, the Nexus 5 camera can produce images that may rival the iPhone 5, but it is hindered by the crappy Android stock camera app and usability.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in android, apple, impression

 

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HTC One Photo Comparisons #HTCOne

Yes, I obtained myself the HTC One. It is my second HTC phone, the first being the Nexus One. I don’t usually like HTC as in the US, they don’t sell their phones unlocked (Nexus One being the exception, sold by Google). However, looks like HTC is changing their ways, by offering their latest flagship, the HTC One, unlocked, straight from their own website. And unlike Apple that delayed their unlocked iPhone availability in the US to push people buying from the carriers, HTC is making the One available pretty much at the same time as the carriers. This is quite unprecedented, as most phone OEMs are only selling their handsets locked with the carriers in the US. HTC finally joins Apple, Sony, and Google, in selling unlocked handsets.

Aside from being unlocked, one of the most talked about feature of the HTC One is its camera, namely that it’s just a paltry 4MP. Considering how other phones are pushing 8 to 13MP cameras, it’s actually refreshing seeing HTC taking a different path. Despite being 4MP, the One’s camera has a much larger sensor than most phones, 1/3″. That is nothing in the world of digital camera, but in phones, it’s quite “big.” Having a bigger sensor means more light exposure on each pixel, thus better low light sensitivity. Of course, lay consumers will balk at four megapixel, so HTC is branding it as “UltraPixel.” In most HTC One’s marketing material, you won’t see 4MP being mentioned anywhere.

Why the gear switch from the megapixel war? Consider the most common usage of smartphone cameras. Most of the time, they are used in low-light situations (indoor social events, parties, etc), the worst situation for a camera with such tiny sensor and cheap optics. Also, most of the pictures are posted online, in social networks, where they are resized to less than 4MP at best, with most are around or less than XGA resolution. Not many people are going to print the picture taken by their 13MP smartphone camera into a poster. HTC recognize this, thus the focus on low-light capability by sacrificing the resolution.

I’m going to do a completely unscientific comparison between the HTC One camera and carious other devices.

First contender is the iPhone 4. People now talk about 8 to 13MP camera and laugh at HTC One’s 4MP, yet just a few years back, everybody was praising Apple iPhone 4’s 5MP camera. The iPhone 4 is still available for sale from Apple. Second is the Nexus 4, the reference Android handset from Google. It didn’t receive good reviews for its 8MP camera, but for $349, you get a 16GB unlocked stock Android phone running the latest OS. Not too shabby for the price. I also include a cheap Samsung flip-style camcorder that I bought from Costco a while back for $100, the Samsung HMX-W200. It is designed to be a flip-style camcorder, but has picture taking mode at 5.5MP. And finally, I also use the Canon S90, a compact camera that propelled the enthusiast high-end compact category. It’s old, uses an old CCD sensor compared the latest CMOS ones in the S100/S110, but it’s still a good size sensor for a compact, 1/1.7″ at 10MP.

First test is indoor, with some natural light going in. All pictures are straight JPEG from the devices, resized with iPhoto. No other post processing done. Now, count up your sins! 😀

Well, we can already see the advantage of the HTC One, Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

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