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Google Nexus 5 with LTE available now, starts at $349 unlocked; coming to Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T soon for as low as $149 (hands-on)

The wait is finally over -- Google officially announced its new flagship Nexus 5, available today starting at $349.

Now playing: Watch this: Google Nexus 5 souped up with Android KitKat, LTE, and...
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It's finally here.

After months of leaks and rumors, Google officially announced its latest flagship phone, the Nexus 5, during a press event today in San Francisco. The device will run the latest Android 4.4 KitKat operating system, and like its predecessor, it will be manufactured by LG.

However, the handset features several key changes, like a bigger 4.95-inch screen, a faster Snapdragon 800 processor, and most notably LTE support. It will be available unlocked at the Google Play Store for $349 (16GB) and $399 (32GB) starting today.

Design
Once again, minimalism is key. Decorated with a simple vertically lined Nexus logo and an even subtler LG logo, the Nexus 5 sports a more subdued and restrained aesthetic that is still sleek. Instead of the lustrous, tile-patterned back that we saw on the Nexus 4, the black version of the 5 features a soft-touch matte backing that, during our brief time with it, we found makes it easier to grip.

Personally, we prefer this new simple look for the durability. As chic as the Nexus 4 was, many reported that its glass back cracked too easily; in fact, two of our own review units fractured as well.

The handset measures 5.43 inches tall, 2.72 inches wide, and 0.34 inch thick, but weighs even less than the previous generation, at 4.59 ounces. Sporting the biggest screen yet in relation to past Nexuses, it has a 4.95-inch Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display. Keeping up with its competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, the Nexus 5's touch screen has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and 445ppi. In contrast, the previous Nexus had a 1,280x768-pixel resolution with just 320 ppi.

Although it looks similar to LG's current flagship, the LG G2, the Nexus 5 does not house its key control buttons on the rear. Both its sleep/power button and volume rockers are made from ceramic. As expected, it will come in two color variations: black and white. (The white model has a black bezel and black edges.) Google will also sell a bumper for $34.99 in different colors including orange and gray.

During our briefing, the Nexus 5 felt great in the hand. The slight curve in the back makes it easier to pick it up off the table, and it really does feel light and sturdy.

Core components
Powering the device is a 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, the same blazingly fast CPU seen in the G2. With this processor, the Nexus 5 is a powerful beast of a phone when you consider that both the Galaxy GS4 and HTC One are speed demons themselves, and run on Snapdragon 600 processors.

The handset features an 8-megapixel camera and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera. Google says that it made many key improvements to the handset's camera as well. To compensate for unwanted hand movement, the Nexus 5 now features a small precise gyroscope in its lens for optical image stabilization. However, when we briefly tested it out, it wasn't perfect; there was still some blur in the photos we took despite being inside a well-lit room.

The camera also has HDR+, which fuses together several exposures, as well as burst shots, to make one ideal image. As is common with HDR, it definitely took some time to process a photo when we used the feature.

Google takes the wraps off its Nexus 5. Josh Miller/CNET

Google also mentioned that the Gallery has a wireless printing framework built into the app, so developers can easily add printing support, making it that much easier to turn your digital images into tangible photos.

The handset is powered by a 2,300mAh battery and has 2GB of RAM. Additional features include wireless charging and NFC.

During our hands-on, the handset's internal speeds felt fast and very responsive, and swiping left to Google Now (which you can do with KitKat) was swift.

Network compatibility
Google has made two versions of the handset, one specifically for North America/Asia, and another for other regions like Europe. For US consumers, Verizon customers will unfortunately be left out -- this unlocked phone will not support the carrier's bands. It will be compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

The biggest update about the Nexus 5, however, is the fact that it will support LTE. For many US customers, the fact that the Nexus 4 was only compatible with HSPA+ was a huge letdown (and a bit odd since the Galaxy Nexus later had LTE). As the Nexus 5 is natively LTE-enabled, however, it is on par with today's competition in terms of data speed capabilities, and that's a big (albeit, a bit overdue) plus for the Nexus family.

What's new with Android 4.4 KitKat
Citing that the biggest challenge with KitKat was limiting its size, Google reported that the new mobile OS has just a 512MB memory profile. That's 16 percent less memory than Jelly Bean takes up, and frees up a significant amount of internal storage space.

Some new features include a more intuitive dialer. Instead of searching for a business through the browser, users can begin typing the name of the business into the dialer (even if it's not in the contact book), and Google will use its back-end servers, powered by Google Maps, to draw up the number.

Improvements have also been made to Google Voice Search and Google Now. Several new cards have been added to Now; the software feature has news cards, including one that keeps you updated on your favorite TV shows. It can also tailor search results to bring you summaries of your preferred topics.

For more on KitKat, check out CNET's first take here.

Galaxy Nexus 5
The handset now features image stabilization and HDR+ processing. Josh Miller/CNET

Outlook
Once again, the Nexus 5 brings to the fore some of the best of smartphone technology. Not only does it now have LTE (the absence of which from the last model was seen as a major oversight), it also has a powerful Snapdragon 800 processor, a 1080p screen, and the latest OS software.

But the biggest draw of all is that it's so incredibly affordable. Starting at $349 unlocked, it's a huge value. To compare, an unlocked Galaxy GS4 (16GB) goes for $649, and an unlocked HTC One (32GB) is $599. At under $400, the Nexus 5 will surely be a hit with not just Android purists, but anyone looking for a great handset.

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