The Nexus 5 is my favorite Android phone of all time. I wanted to see what it would be like to use it in 2018, nearly five years after the phone was originally released. Here’s how it went.
Day One: This Isn’t So Bad
To perform this little experiment, I wanted to go with pure, stock Android—the last version officially supported by Google. So I flashed it to start with a clean slate. That went smoothly (as per the norm), and I was on my way.
Given the phone’s age, I decided to start with a clean slate and only install the apps that I absolutely have to have. That turned out to be a good idea, because man this phone can get bogged down quickly. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After getting it set up and all my apps installed, I spent the evening settings up my home screens and logging in to all the apps that I use on a daily basis. It wasn’t awful, but the more things I used, the slower the phone was getting. I knew this was going to be a challenge.
The first noticeable downside of using this phone wasn’t the performance, though. It was the battery life.
Let me tell you guys: I was lucky to get an hour of screen on time before having to hit the charger. Granted, this is a nearly five year old phone with the original battery. I didn’t expect anything good, but man…this was bad.
Still, day one with the Nexus 5 wasn’t totally awful! It wasn’t until the next day I really starting seeing how bad this was going to get.
Day Two: Waiting is the Hardest Part
So, the Nexus 5 did not age well. The performance is unbearable now. The way I use my phone can be pretty intense—it’s not uncommon for me to switch back and forth between a handful of apps very quickly, but that’s not happening on the Nexus 5. Not only was stock Marshmallow released before one of my favorite and most used multi-tasking features—the double-tap-to-switch-between-apps feature—but the performance just isn’t there in general. The Snapdragon 800 can’t keep up with modern day apps and multitasking.
One of the absolute worst offenders is Facebook Messenger, which I will readily admit is one of the heaviest apps I use on a regular basis—it can even be sluggish on my Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy S9. It’s just a poorly-written, super-heavy app.
But using it on the Nexus 5 was awful. The lag was unbearable. At one point while trying to close a chat head, I accidentally called my buddy Dan, whose text message was running behind said chat head. But here’s the kicker: the phone was so delayed that it didn’t ring on my end, and I had no idea I ever called him until I got a text that said “butt dial?” The dialer never even opened, because the phone was so loaded down trying to close a simple chat head.
Battery life issues continued to plague me the second day—I ended up having to keep a portable charger with me pretty much all the time just to use the phone. It was so bad that I was scared to make any important phone calls from it because it would die too quickly. I ended up using my iPhone (my second phone) for anything important—the Nexus 5 just couldn’t be trusted to not crap out on me.
Day Three: Android Aut—OH MY GOD
We don’t leave the house that often (at least, I try not to—my wife often has other plans), so it was a couple of days before we hit the car, where I live and die (and drive) by my Android Auto head unit. If I thought the phone was laggy the day before, I hadn’t seen anything yet—the Android Auto experience was terrible.
First off, it took ages for the Auto interface to launch in the first place. With modern phones, it’s usually up and running before I even pull out of the driveway. But that day? I was out of the driveway and at least 12 blocks away before it even attempted to launch. And even then it wasn’t doing much.
Generally, when I use Auto, I play music and then jump over to the navigation screen for realtime traffic details (or, you know, navigation). But the Nexus 5 got so overwhelmed with those activities that it had no idea what to do. Just playing music was fine, but as soon as I switched over to the navigation screen, it basically gave up.
But that’s just the beginning. You now those battery issues I was talking about? They gets worse. On my way to go pick up my stepkids (about a 40 minute drive), the Nexus 5 managed to lose 15 percent battery—while plugged in.
Day Four: It’s Time for a ROM
I haven’t rooted or ROMed my main phone in years. But back in the day when I was but a wee Android lad, this was the de facto way to squeeze more speed, performance, and everything else out of your phone. I figured it couldn’t get any worse, so why not give it a shot? I installed Lineage OS.
In short: performance was better, even if only slightly. Android Auto was still a disaster, but most other every day use was better. Multitasking was slightly improved, and memory management appeared to also be slightly better. Battery life wasn’t any better, but I’m going to chalk that one up to the fact that the phone has a five year old battery that really just needs to be replaced.
I didn’t dive into all the root tools available, like custom kernels and overclocking, mostly because the Snapdragon 800 already gets hot enough on its own. It just seemed like a bad idea.
Despite the differences and improvements (as minor as they were), the Nexus 5 was still just unusable.
Day Five: I Concede, This is Awful
My goal was to use the Nexus 5 for a full week, but after five days, I had to tap out. I gave up. I couldn’t do it anymore. I went back to my Pixel 2 XL, and I swear it was the most magical moment I’ve had with tech in years. Years.
Why? Because all the complaints I had about the Pixel were suddenly gone. The minor niggles didn’t matter at all, because it just works. It’s fast. Android Auto does exactly what it’s supposed to. It was a moment that I haven’t had with a piece of tech in a long, long time. It was eye opening to see how far we’ve come in just a few short years.
The Takeaway: Some Final Thoughts
Like I said in the beginning, the Nexus 5 is my favorite Android phone of all time. And despite what an awful idea it was to use it as my primary mobile device in 2018, that feeling hasn’t changed.
I still love how the Nexus 5 feels, and I’d love it if Google would do a modern take on it as part of the Pixel line. Same size (or at least similar), same materials—I actually like plastic phones—but with modern specs. I’d be all over that.
But going back to a point I touched on earlier: the amount of progress that has been made with mobile phones in just five years is staggering. More specifically, Android itself has improved dramatically in that time. Marshmallow is just two years old, but somehow it feels so much older when compared to Oreo. While it doesn’t look dramatically different, the small touches included in Oreo that aren’t present in Marshmallow (and older) make a huge difference.
The number of times I thought “why did I think this was a good idea” while doing this little experiment can’t be understated, but all in all I’m glad I did it. To be reminded of where we came from—both in terms of software and hardware—compared to where we are now was a nice reminder of the things I take for granted with modern handsets (and technology in general).
I’d be curious to see how the Nexus 5 would perform with Android Go, because it would likely be a totally different experience. Except maybe with Android Auto. I’m not sure anything could fix that.