Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One budget smartphone comparison review

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Price and availability

The Nexus 5 is more expensive than is the OnePlus One in that it starts from £299. But for a flagship smartphone, even one with 2013 specs, that remains an amaxing price. Similar handsets almost always cost around £500 to 600, so the Nexus is a comparative bargain. (See also: 34 best smartphones of 2014 UK.)

That is until you pitch it up against the OnePlus One. The One from OnePlus is a high-end smartphone at a mid-range price even lower than that of the Nexus 5. Like the Nexus it is an Android smartphone running an OS based on 4.4.2 KitKat, with high-quality specifications, but in the UK it retails for form just £229. That's around a third of the price of the most expensive smartphones with which it shares key specifications.

But when it comes to availability, however, the OnePlus falls down. You can buy the One only from OnePlus, and online. And that's not all. You also need to get an invite to buy, either by asking someone who has bought a OnePlus phone for an invite - anyone who purchases a OnePlus One will receive invites to give out to friends and family - or by entering contests and promotional events hosted on the OnePlus Forums or social media channels. (And before you ask, we don't have any invites.)

You have to buy it SIM free, too, but that's always the cheapest way to buy a phone anyway and much the best way to buy the Nexus 5. In fact, you'd be foolish to get either of these phones on contract as their principal benefit is cheapness at the point of sale. Telcos always overcharge for contracts, even if it seems cheaper at the time. (You can buy the OnePlus without an invite: How to get OnePlus One phone with or without an invite: buy OnePlus One phone without an invite.)

If you're sick of lengthy and expensive contracts then you should seriously consider buying either of these phones outright and then using a SIM-only deal. New phones come out so often that if you really want to upgrade then you can sell your current device and pay the difference to get a shiny new one. A rolling SIM-only deal means you can always make sure you're on the best deal around rather than being tied down. (See also: Nexus 5: Where to buy.)

But when it comes to choosing between them: the OnePlus One is cheaper, but you may struggle to get hold of one. Head over to Google's Nexus 5 site and you can buy one today. (See also: The UK's 33 best Android smartphones of 2014.)

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Design and build quality

The OnePlus One is well designed and -put together. It's made of what feels like high-quality materials. A big, understated slab of black, look closer and you will find subtle curves. There's a chrome outer rim surrounding the large glass display, which is slightly raised beyond the rest of the handset.
 
The Nexus 5 has simple and understated style – none of the spangled glass rear cover of the Nexus 4 that divided opinions and made the phone slide off anything you put it on. The black model has a nice matt soft to the touch finish plastic casing. From the off, there's also a white model but we took a look at the former.

The only major caveat with the OnePlus One is that the bezel at the top and bottom of the OnePlus One's display is bigger than we'd like. Google and LG have shaved off some bulk compared to the Nexus 4 so the Nexus is now 8.9mm and 130g which is nicely thin and light for a device with a large screen. The Nexus 5 has impressively small bezels down either side helping it feel like you're holding a screen rather than a smartphone. It's a small phone considering it has a 5in screen, and that is a benefit over the OnePlus One.

For the record the OnePlus One measures 153 x 76 x 8.9 mm and weighs in at 162 g. It's neither the thinnest nor the lightest big-screen smartphone on the market, but it feels good in the hand. Solid, but ergonomic.

The back of the OnePlus handset is made of a material we can't place, with a finish we haven't seen before. It's rough like carpet, but soft to the touch. Like a material finish. That sounds bad, but it isn't. Everyone who picked up the OnePlus One in our office commented on and liked this.

The OnePlus One is available in black or white. We tried the black model, and we like it. It's different to other phones on the market, and in a good way.

Switching back to the Nexus 5 and we find that the rear cover is slightly curved helping it to sit nicely in the hand but it's a separate piece of plastic so there is a seam where it meets the edging. The build quality doesn't quite match up to rival flagship devices and although we'd prefer a uni-body, it somehow has that desirable feel to it. The back isn't removable, so the battery isn't user-replaceable.

These are both high-quality, well built devices. (Read our Nexus 5 vs iPhone 5S comparison review.)

Nexus 5

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Hardware and performance

You might think that to keep the price down Google and OnePlus would scrimp on specifications. You'd be wrong.

The Nexus 5 is up there with the best with, at its core, the impressively speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip which is inside a few other flagship Android smartphones. The phone has 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. With the OnePlus One the spec is even better: you get a Qualcomm MSM8974AC Snapdragon 801, a quad-core Krait chip clocked at 2.5GHz. It's paired with 3GB RAM, and graphics are again taken care of with a Adreno 330 GPU.

Both the Nexus 5 and the OnePlus One feel great in use. Benchmark scores bear this out. As ever, take synthetic benchmarks with a pinch of salt. They offer a guide to performance and nothing more. But in Geekbench 3 the OnePlus One managed an average multi-core score of 2570, the Nexus 5 2800. That them both up with the very best Android handsets.

Similarly in our framerates tests the OnePlus managed an average score of 28.5fps and the Nexus 5 24fps: very good if not top of the shop. And we got a very good result for javascript performance in the Sunspider benchmark for both phones: the 877ms of the OnePlus One is excellent in this test, the Nexus 5's 801ms even better.

Overall then performance is good. Both the OnePlus One and the Nexus 5 have the specification and the performance of much more expensive flagship phones. Impressive stuff. In reality we just can't split them. Read more Google Android 4.4 KitKat release date, new features and device upgrades.

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Storage

The Nexus 5 comes in 16- and 32GB flavours. The OnePlus One takes the now more common approach of offering 16GB and 64GB. The £269 64GB flavour in particular is a good value purchase.

Sadly neither the Nexus nor the OnePlus offer expandable storage. And that is disappointing. If you need big storage, you need the 64GB OnePlus One.

OnePlus One

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Display

Both of these 'cheap' smartphones have excellent displays that are toughened with Corning Gorilla Glass 3.

The Nexus 5 has a 5in Full HD IPS touchscreen which is common for a top-end smartphone at the moment. That 1080 x 1920 resolution results in a high pixel density of 445ppi.

On the OnePlus One we find a 5.5in IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen display boasting 16M colours. Spread over 5.5 inches, 1080 x 1920 pixels makes for a pixel density of 401 ppi. Not as sharp as the Nexus 5, but plenty sharp enough for a bigger display.

The Nexus 5's display is beautifully rich, clear and responsive. It's got the great viewing angles you'd expect from an IPS panel and works well outdoors.

Watching movies, viewing images, and browsing the web all look good on the OnePlus One. Colours are deep, resolution sharp. The only issue we had is that some colours look a little overblown. Whites on photos have a slightly yellowish tinge. It's good to look at, but doesn't feel particularly accurate.

Zoom in on text, however, and you will have to get very close before you are disappointed. Viewing angles are good, and the screen is lovely and bright.

Two great displays. If push came to shove we would choose the Nexus 5's, but the OnePlus One's is bigger.

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Connectivity

The Nexus 5 is well-rounded in terms of connectivity, even if it doesn't have an infrared transmitter for controlling your TV like a few rival devices. It's got dual-band Wi-Fi with the latest 802.11ac standard, Bluetooth 4.0 low energy and GPS.

Once again, the microUSB port is SlimPort enabled which means it supports video output to a larger display like TV if you buy an appropriate adapter. The device supports all current and upcoming 4G networks.

OnePlus One connectivity specs include 4G LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0.

These are two well-connected handsets.

OnePlus One vs Nexus 5

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Cameras

The Nexus 5's camera is a mere 8Mp but Google says it's able to capture more light than other smartphone cameras. Another addition is optical image stabilisation and although this helps keep photos and videos shake free, it doesn't work as well as on some other devices.

The camera is fairly good, but other flagship smartphones outpace it on levels of detail and exposure. The Nexus 5 takes its best photos using the HDR+ mode which is switched off by default. Video quality isn't as good as we'd hoped with a lower amount of detail than we're used to at the maximum 1080p. The camera also continuously focuses during filming which you can't switch off.

The OnePlus One has a 13 Mp Sony Exmor camera, with dual LED flash, and f/2.0 aperture. OnePlus tells us that the One camera has six physical lenses for greater detail, even at lower light conditions. It offers geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panorama and HDR, and captures video of up to 2160p (4K) at 30fps.

We haven't had time to test the camera as much as we'd like, but our early impressions are decent. The OnePlus can't match the superior cameras of the Galaxy S5 or the Xperia Z2, but it is perfectly adequate for a smartphone camera.

Neither of these cameras is earth shattering, but nor are they terrible. Decent smartphone cameras, but no more than that.

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Software

With the Nexus 5 comes a clean version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 4.4 KitKat. The KitKat interface is clean, simple and colourful – as you would expect from 'vanilla' Android. It's easy and intuitive to use, especially when compared to the overly complex skins which Google's manufacturing partners slap on. Detailing, including the status bar, is now white and new app icons keep things looking fresh. The same is true of the switch to transparent status- and button bars instead of solid black ones allowing the wallpaper to take over more. Full screen album art on the lock screen looks slick.

The app menu is simpler, just showing app icons rather than apps and widgets. Customising the home screens with widgets and wallpapers is now done with a long press on a free space.

Access to Google Now, should you opt in, is a left swipe away from the main home screen bringing the feature to the forefront. The Google search bar stays put as you swipe around the home screens and saying 'Ok Google' launches a voice search and voice control but we couldn't get it to work. However, it won't work at all unless you change the language in the settings from English (UK) to English (US).

The OnePlus One also runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, but it is a customised version of Android. Indeed, it is different to Android, running an interface known as CyanogenMod. (OnePlus has now confirmed that within three months of Google releasing the final code for its forthcoming mobile OS the OnePlus One will also get Android L. So both of these phones will be kept right up to date with Android updates.)

Don't be frightened of CyanogenMod. As with the Nexus 5 you get access to Google Play. And when first you boot the OnePlus One you are asked if you want to run a custom OnePlus theme skin. If you opt not to go for this (we didn't) you get a very vanilla Android interface. The OnePlus One is all but a Nexus phone in that respect.

The interesting aspect is that you can install CyanogenMod themes that allow you to build your own skin for your smartphone. Choosing a specific theme allows you to tweak app icons and system fonts, your wallpaper, lock screen and so on. You can also specify changes to the way your smartphone works. But there is a caveat: the themes cost money, mostly. You won't break the bank buying them, but personally I'd rather live with vanilla Android.

Nexus 5

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: Battery life

The OnePlus One comes with a large Li-Po 11.8Wh (3100 mAh) battery cell. And we have been impressed with battery life, although less impressed with the fact that it isn't removable.

Out of the box the initial charge wasn't great, but it took a long time for the OnePlus to ship to me, so we won't hold that against the handset. Much more important is that with light use, 24 hours after charging, 67 percent of the battery life was left. That's a strong performance: we hadn't been doing much beyond email, messaging and social media, but that kills our iPhone 5 in 24 hours. Of course the battery will degrade as time goes buy.

Nonetheless, 48 hours after charging there is still 39 percent of battery life. And in the second 24 hours we made a point of streaming video clips, using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and running benchmarks to simulate heavier use. The OnePlus One charges quickly, too, so we'll forgive the US charger and adaptor with which it ships to the UK. It doesn't always want to charge via USB, even when we can get it to mount via the USB port and cable. Odd.

OnePlus tells us that the battery life is helped with an energy efficient display which adjusts the level of backlight and differentiates between dynamic and static content on the screen to reduce power consumption. We'll keep an eye on battery performace over time. But so far we are very impressed.

At 8.5Wh, the battery inside the Nexus 5, which is also non-removable, is smaller than a lot of other flagship smartphones. We found battery life to be mediocre, with just a day of regular use from the Nexus 5 before needing a charge. Only very light users will get any more life out of this smartphone.

The advantage the Nexus 5 has it that is charges up fast and, like the Nexus 4, has wireless charging which is a feature not a great deal of smartphones offer. Spend a few quid on a compatible charger and it should be fairly easy to keep the Nexus 5 topped up.

But if we were choosing based on battery life the OnePlus One is where it is at. (See also: Nexus 5 vs Moto X comparison review: Which Google Android smartphone should you buy?)

Nexus 5 vs OnePlus One comparison: verdict

It's difficult to choose between two phones that offer excellent value, performance and build quality. Both offer access to up-to-date Android. It is currently much harder to get hold of the OnePlus One, and we do marginally prefer the display of the Nexus 5. But the OnePlus One is better value, better storage options and a marginally better camera. Given the choice we're going OnePlus.

OnePlus One: Specs

  • 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
  • 162 g
  • CyanogenMod 11S based on Android 4.4
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2.5GHz Quad-core CPUs
  • Adreno 330, 578MHz
  • 3 GB LP-DDR3 RAM at 1866MHz
  • 16/64 GB eMMC 5.0, available capacity varies
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity and Ambient Light
  • 3100 mAh LiPo battery
  • GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
  • WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/8
  • LTE: Bands: 1/3/4/7/17/38/40
  • 802.11 b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • Micro USB 2.0
  • 5.5 inch JDI 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), 401 PPI
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 13 Megapixel - Sony Exmor IMX 214 camera, 5 Megapixel front-facing camera
  • 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
  • 162 g
  • CyanogenMod 11S based on Android 4.4
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2.5GHz Quad-core CPUs
  • Adreno 330, 578MHz
  • 3 GB LP-DDR3 RAM at 1866MHz
  • 16/64 GB eMMC 5.0, available capacity varies
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity and Ambient Light
  • 3100 mAh LiPo battery
  • GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
  • WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/8
  • LTE: Bands: 1/3/4/7/17/38/40
  • 802.11 b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • Micro USB 2.0
  • 5.5 inch JDI 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), 401 PPI
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 13 Megapixel - Sony Exmor IMX 214 camera, 5 Megapixel front-facing camera

OUR VERDICT

It's difficult to choose between two phones that offer excellent value, performance and build quality. Both offer access to up-to-date Android. It is currently much harder to get hold of the OnePlus One, and we do marginally prefer the display of the Nexus 5. But the OnePlus One is better value, better storage options and a marginally better camera. Given the choice we're going OnePlus.

Best prices today

Retailer Price Delivery  

Price comparision from , and manufacturers