With yesterday’s release of the Nexus 5, and last month’s iPhone 5S, we now have two smartphones that are very clearly at the top of their game. On the one hand, the Nexus 5 brings you all of the latest and greatest technology, a huge 5-inch screen, and costs just $350 off-contract. On the other, the iPhone 5S is a sleek, light, beautifully designed phone with class-leading performance and battery life — but in true Apple fashion, it misses some newer technologies, such as NFC and 802.11ac. If you’re trying to decide between the iPhone 5S and Nexus 5, read on for our full breakdown of the two devices.
iPhone 5S vs. Nexus 5: Hardware specs, network support
The Nexus 5 has a 4.95-inch 1920×1080 IPS display (445 PPI), bonded to some Gorilla Glass 3. The body is 8.59 millimeters (0.34 inches) thick, and weighs 130 grams (4.58 ounces). Inside, there’s a Snapdragon 800 SoC, with the four Krait CPU cores clocked at 2.3GHz, and an Adreno 330 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage (not expandable), and a 2300 mAh battery. On the back there’s an 8-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization — but early reviews suggest that you shouldn’t get your hopes up about the Nexus 5′s camera quality.
The iPhone 5S has a relatively tiny 4-inch 1136×640 IPS display (326 PPI), but it does manage to be both thinner and lighter than the Nexus 5 (7.6mm thick, 112 grams heavy). Of course, once you put that big, ugly case on your iPhone, those physical measurements will change considerably. Inside, there’s the 64-bit A7 SoC (dual Cyclone CPU cores clocked at 1.3GHz and probably the new PowerVR G6430 GPU) and M7 coprocessor. There’s 1GB of on-package RAM, up to 64GB of internal storage (not expandable), and a 1570 mAh battery. The rear camera is the same 8MP as the Nexus 5, but the iPhone 5S’s photo quality seems to be far superior.
On the wireless connectivity front, both the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5S support 4G LTE (but band support will vary between phones and models, so be sure to check the small print). Both phones also support Bluetooth 4.0, but the iPhone 5S draws the line at 802.11n, while the Nexus 5 supports the so fast and sexy 802.11 ac. Both phones have all of the usual gyros, accelerometers, sensors, GPS, and so on. The Nexus 5 supports NFC, while Apple still stubbornly refuses to bring NFC to its smartphones.
Apple has never been one to compete in terms of raw figures, and that stance has never been more clear than with the Nexus 5 and iPhone 5S. On paper, the Nexus 5 blows the iPhone 5S away. In practice, the 5S’s hardware spec is just fine — after all, it ultimately comes down to how the hardware interacts with the software. Synthetic benchmarks mean very little if both phones feel snappy.
iPhone 5S vs. Nexus 5: Software
As with all modern computers, by far the biggest factor affecting day-to-day usage is software, not hardware. The Nexus 5 ships with the newest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat; the iPhone 5S ships with iOS 7. Both mobile operating systems are wildly different, as you probably know. For an in-depth look at each OS, check out our iOS 7 and Android 4.4 explainers
In short, Android 4.4 is more powerful — more capable and feature-rich — while iOS 7 is generally slicker, faster, and more-integrated. It’s generally easier to get things done on the iPhone 5S with iOS 7 — but only if Apple has deigned to allow you. If you have less-conventional use-cases, the Nexus 5 with Android 4.4 is probably a better bet. The app ecosystem for Android and iOS is pretty comparable, but iOS probably still has the edge if you’re looking to use the latest and greatest apps.
iPhone 5S vs. Nexus 5: Pricing
Beyond the software, the next big differentiator is price. The Nexus 5 with 16GB of storage starts at $350 off-contract, or $400 for the 32GB model. If you want a contract-free iPhone 5S, you can pick up a 16GB model from T-Mobile for $650. On-contract, the iPhone 5S starts at $200 — and weirdly enough, Sprint is offering the Nexus 5 for the same on-contract price of $200. T-Mobile will also offer the Nexus 5, but hasn’t yet announced pricing — with its recent shifts in contracting and monthly plans, we’d hope that the Nexus 5 is offered at a reasonable price.
iPhone 5S vs. Nexus 5: Which one should you buy?
When it comes down to it, unless you’re a power user, there are just three factors you need to consider when buying a Nexus 5 or iPhone 5S: The camera, the size of the device (and your hands), and pricing. If you’re an avid phone photographer, the iPhone 5S looks like it’ll be the better choice (we need some more hands-on time with the Nexus 5 to be sure, though). Size-wise, the iPhone 5S is a lot easier to hold if you have smaller hands — and indeed, even with big hands, you might struggle to hold the Nexus 5 comfortably. On price, the Nexus 5 simply can’t be beaten — but only if you have access to carrier that has a SIM-only offering.
If you’re a power user — i.e. someone who knows that they will use NFC, 802.11ac, or other features that fit certain, specific use-cases — then the Nexus 5 is a very fine choice indeed.