Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?

You’ll hear from many sources that one of the main reasons to choose this handset over others is the fact that it runs “stock Android” – that is, it hasn’t been messed about with and so isn’t full of the “Android in drag” extras that are commonplace on phones made by HTC, Samsung and others.

Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?

However, this isn’t strictly true. Despite what you may have heard, the Nexus 5 doesn’t run pure Android.

Features such as homescreen integration of Google Now, and the ability to launch a search by saying “Okay, Google”, are exclusive to the version of Android 4.4 (KitKat) running on the Nexus 5. Google calls these new features the Experience Launcher. (Incidentally, “Okay, Google” works only if your phone’s language is set to US English, which is fine, since I can’t imagine too many Britons want to bark at their phone in public – we’re too reserved for that.)

Some other KitKat features – such as the translucent navigation and notification bars – are present on the Nexus 5. However, the 4.4 updates that are available over the air for older Google devices aren’t present on the Nexus 5.

This is odd, since the transparent bars have appeared in some other vendors’ updates. On the other hand, the new Smart Dialer, available on the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 5, isn’t present on devices such as the Motorola Moto X (which is effectively a Google phone, since the company bought Motorola’s phone division last August).

In short, it’s pot luck which KitKat features you’ll get on any particular phone. Although this doesn’t worry me hugely, I’ve read that it’s confusing high-street buyers. Frankly, I doubt they care that much – it’s mostly us techies who are bothered, and the developers who need to test their apps on the “cleanest” phones.

Nonetheless, it’s interesting that Google isn’t supplying “pure” Android on its own-brand phones and thus, in a small way, is contributing to Android fragmentation. Once upon a time, buying the latest Nexus phone guaranteed the purchaser the purest Android experience, but it seems that’s no longer the case.

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