Just like a Circle of Life, Google and some popular phone maker made up a handset to be a standard-bearer for the newest version of Android. hhmm, maybe not every year: This time around there are two of them. While the LG-made Nexus 5X is a direct successor to the beloved Nexus 5, things aren't quite as straightforward with Huawei’s Nexus 6P. It's a sleeker, smaller, more powerful take on the phablet formula Google and Motorola tried to crack with The Nexus 6, and it seems to hit all the right notes. Hell, with a price tag that starts at $499, it's even cheaper than its predecessor. All that said, Google gets better at big phones. there's never been a better time to be in the market for a new phone -- Android or otherwise -- which means the Nexus 6P faces some stiff competition.
The bigger of this year's two Nexus handsets seems like a dream on paper, with premium build quality, top-tier specs and access to the latest software updates straight from Google. Booms, Google finally has made a big big phone that's comfortable to use with one hand. It's great for die-hard Android enthusiasts, but we're all spoiled for choice this year and the Nexus 6P doesn't do much to outshine the competition.
The previous Nexus phones really looked like each other , they're just as much a reflection of our changing tastes in hardware as they are showcases for Google's latest and greatest software achievements. The evolution is impossible to miss: After generations of plastic phones, Huawei's sturdy, all-metal 6P is svelte (7.3mm thick) and surprisingly light, at 6.28 ounces. In fact, the monolithic slab of aeronautical-grade aluminum used here is basically the polar opposite of last year's Motorola-made Nexus 6. While Moto hoped its phone's curvy shape would offset its size, Huawei takes a different approach, emphasizing sheer thinness to achieve comfort. This plan is worked.
I was a little wary of the 6P's overall when I first saw it, but I've grown to appreciate its light weight and dimensions -- well done. And the looks? Eh. The graphite-colored review unit I've been testing has a little less character than the white or silver versions, but some people will appreciate the spartan aesthetic applied to the whole 6P line.
A quick look around the 6P's edges reveals a headphone jack on the top, a nano-SIM slot on the left and a USB Type-C connector on the bottom. The Nexus 6P and 5X are the first major, widely available smartphones that use Type-C, and Google says you should get up to seven hours of use from a 10-minute charge with the included 3A charger (more on that later). Since anyone buying a new Nexus is probably starting a whole new phone cable collection, Google included both a Type-C-to-Type C and a Type-A-to-Type-C cable in the box. Meanwhile, there's a volume rocker and a power button nestled on the phone's right edge, and I've been having serious problems with the latter. See, it's got a nice, grippy texture that helps it stand out from the volume keys, but it takes hardly any pressure at all to actually use it. That means even glancing blows were enough to accidentally shut the screen off while I was in the middle of a Hangouts conversation or thumbing through a book -- I asked a few friends if it bothered them as much as it did me and got a wide range of answers, so your mileage may vary. Still, I keep shutting off the screen by accident at least twice a day, and I don't see that changing early.
Given the phone's tendency to fire up its 5.7-inch WQHD AMOLED screen whenever something brushes the power button, it's a good thing it also packs what Google calls the Android Sensor Hub, a secondary processor that monitors data from all the phone's sensors so the main CPUs don't turn on the screen and burn power when it's not necessary. Speaking of the main CPU, Google and Huawei went for a familiar one -- it's a more recent (think v. 2.1) hardware revision of Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 810 clocked at 2.0GHz, along with 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM. We've seen that configuration pop up before, and with good reason: It makes for a total powerhouse. Our review unit is a $549 64GB model, which sits in the middle of the 6P hierarchy with a $499 32GB option below it and a $649 128GB version at the high end. Take my advice: You'll want to splurge on extra storage since there's no way to expand it via a microSD card. At least the base model comes with 32GB of space, something Apple definitely, definitely need to consider.
Display and sound
Unlike the Moto X, the back on the Nexus 6 is plastic, I have the white model that is probably best described as having an "eggshell" kind of feel and color. It's smooth without being glossy and so far has resisted both scratches and discoloration. The power and volume buttons are thankfully located in a humane position on the right of the device, reachable with your thumb. It looks a little weird, and I still hit the wrong button sometimes despite the differentiated etching on the power button, but it works.
Just so I'm super clear: the only time you can really use this phablet one-handed is when you're just scrolling through a web page or an ebook with your thumb. For everything else, accept that it's a phablet and you're going to use two hands.
Unlike its smaller sibling, the Moto X, the Nexus 6 has two front-facing speakers. They are loud. Once I accidentally put the phone up to my ear when Google Now was about to speak in its Outside Voice, and I damn near damaged my eardrum. Still, these won't replace your Jambox: at high volumes it can begin to sound a little tinny. But if the only phone that beats you in terms of sound quality and volume is the HTC One M8, you're in good company.
Let's get back to the screen, whose size is really the whole reason for this phone's existence. The resolution on the 6-inch screen is 1440 x 2560, which at 493ppi sits between the iPhone 6 Plus and the Note 4 in terms of pixel density. But whatever, the pixels are tiny and even if you go hunting for them, you won't find them. Crazy world we live in, but this kind of "Retina Plus" pixel density is table stakes now.
Living with a giant-screened phablet takes some getting used to, but it’s nearly impossible to go back once you do. So many of the foibles of smartphones become lessened or eliminated simply because there’s simultaneously more space on the screen and many of those things are bigger and easier to tap. It’s easier to show stuff on your phone to other people, it’s easier to turn it into a reading and movie-watching gadget, and it’s way easier to type on.
The Nexus 6 was released with Android 5.0 "Lollipop", and later became upgradable to Android 5.1.
We'll have a deeper, more nuanced review of Android 6.0 Marshmallow for you soon, but here's what you need to know about the new OS and the Nexus 6P. At first glance, Marshmallow doesn't look much different from last year's Lollipop, except for the updated Google logo that lives in the ever-present search bar and a bolder font for the time display on the lock screen. Most of the other changes you'll find, like the vertically scrolling app launcher, hit devices running the Google Now launcher late last month so some people have had time to get used to them.
Beyond those minor cosmetic changes, users finally get a smarter way to deal with app permissions. In the old days, people were presented with a list of all the potential actions an app could take and had to agree to them before even downloading it. Surprise, surprise: Few people actually read through that list before hitting "Accept," and while that wasn't a huge security concern for many of the legitimate apps floating around in the Play Store, it created a blind spot that allowed some users to be ensnared by shady developers. In Marshmallow, apps now ask your permission whenever they actually try to do something new, like when Twitter wants to figure out where you are or when Chrome wants access to your media. It might seem more annoying to have to deal with popups whenever an app wants your attention, but users might come away with a better understanding of their device security. And that would be a welcome change indeed.
As far as I'm concerned, this is the one thing Google and Huawei really needed to nail. Just look back at the annals of Nexus phone history -- we loved their speediness and stock software, but kind words about their cameras are tougher to come by. In an attempt to change the Nexus line's photographic fortunes, the companies chose a 12.3-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture and 1.55-micron pixels that allow the sensor to capture more light than previous models. That should mean good things for low-light performance (which is especially nice since the Nexus 6's camera had pixels that were 1.12 microns and sort of sucked in the dark) but let's talk about daylight conditions first.