The Nexus 6P is Google’s flagship Android phablet for 2015, but with a 5.7-inch display and cheaper price, it won’t stretch your hand or your wallet quite as far as last year’s Nexus 6.
The “P” in the Nexus 6P’s name stands for “Premium”, thanks to its all-metal unibody design that’s meant to rival the aluminum iPhone 6S Plus and glass-and-metal infused Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It’s the bigger and more sophisticated-looking version of the Nexus 5X.
However, the P could’ve stood for … a lot of things: “Plus” since it requires two hands to operate properly, or “Palmable” as it’s still way easier to clutch in one hand than the 6-inch Nexus 6.
It could’ve easily stood for “Photos,” considering the Nexus 6P camera benefits from a 12.3-megapixel (MP) sensor that does a better job in low light; “Power,” now that it uses the USB-C for fast charging; or “Performance,” with top-of-the-line specs and Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Finally, the “P” may be best known among bargain hunters for its “Price.” At $499 (£449), it’s cheaper than last year’s Google Nexus 6, which went for $650 (£500, AU$870) at launch.
That said, there seems to be an endless number of 5.5- and 5.7-inch phones vying for the same phablet audience: iPhone 6S Plus, LG G4, Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Moto X Style.
But the Nexus 6P price is down, and the specs have been upped just enough to make this a cost-effective Android contender for our best phones list. Here’s how it fares in my testing.
Huawei built the Nexus 6P to be different than any other Google-commissioned phone. It’s metal design is undoubtedly a step up from the plastic Nexus 5X and every previous Nexus.
Although relatively flat around the back with barely tapered edges, it feels comfortable in one hand, yet still takes two to operate properly. This is, after all, a phone with a 5.7-inch display.
Its dimensions are 159.4 x 77.8 x 7.3mm, making it just one tenth of a millimeter taller than the Nexus 6, but notably narrower and thinner than last year’s measurements of 159.3 x 83 x 10.1mm. My overly stretched, phone-wielding hands appreciate this change.
It went on a much needed diet to become palmable, going as far weighing in at 178g compared to 184g a year ago, despite Huawei raising the bar on the Nexus 6P specs.
Clearly, it was hard to fit everything in. The 12.3MP camera creates an unsightly-looking rear bulge with a black strip, but this eyesore is a fair trade-off given the better low light photos.
Everything else has a luxurious look to it. There’s a riveted power button with a unique texture and smooth volume rocker on the right side of the frame. I now have little chance of mixing up these physical buttons in the dark.
There’s also less of a chance I’ll ever put the charging cable in the wrong way. A reversible USB-C port sits on the bottom of the frame, replacing micro USB in favor of faster charging.
While a 3.5mm headphone jack rests at the top, I dig the front-facing stereo speakers enough to use them. Too many Androids put the speakers to the back, which makes no sense at all.
There’s no off-beat color here in a year when the Nexus 5X has a minty-looking Ice Blue color and the iPhone 6S debuted a popular rose gold option.
The Nexus 6P colors keep it simple with Aluminium (gray), Graphite (black) and Frost (white). Want to customize or protect it? Google has already rolled out multiple cases.
I got to try out the microfiber 6P case and the very rubber 5X case and prefer the microfiber option, hands down. A leather folio case and elastomer are also options in the Google Store.
Display, fingerprint sensor and USB-C
The Nexus 6P challenges the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Moto X Style with a 5.7-inch display and quad HD resolution, and it keeps pace with its fellow Android juggernauts.
That’s because it’s backed by similar technology, a 5.7-inch AMOLED display, which contrasts with the 5.2-inch IPS LCD found in the Nexus 5X, LG G4 and iPhone 6S.
The screen has a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution with a dense 518 pixels per inch, and, all around, it looks brighter and more colorful than last year’s Nexus 6, which also had a dimmer quad HD display at the same resolution.
Brightness is undoubtedly higher when “adaptive brightness” is turned off, and color accuracy is a step in the right direction compared to what we saw a year ago.
Without diving into the developer settings, the screen is still more saturated than true-to-life. That works for subjects, like vibrant-looking red strawberries, but looks unnatural on an actor with a slight tan.
The Nexus 6P retains the Adaptive Display functionality from Motorola’s Nexus 6. Whenever the phone is picked up or a notification arrives, it flashes a grayscale notification lockscreen.
I prefer the gesture-sensing Moto Display, which uses tiny IR sensors embedded in the front of the phone to detect motion or a hand wave and then display the time and peekable notifications.
The screen also doesn’t have the common double-tap-to-wake function found on the LG G4 and HTC One M9. That would’ve helped, given the rear-facing fingerprint sensor.
The Nexus 6P’s aluminum unibody doesn’t attract fingerprints like the smudge-filled Nexus 5 in black with its soft touch coating. But it does have one spot where fingerprints are wholly acceptable.
Google’s Nexus Imprint Sensor is introduced in the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, and they work a lot like other biometric fingerprint sensors out there, including Apple’s Touch ID home button.
There are two key differences. Registering a new fingerprint takes no longer than eight seconds, whereas Apple and Samsung’s methods require too many long presses and pauses.
More strikingly, the fingerprint sensor is on the back and static – it doesn’t double as a button that you can press down. Google’s hypes this spot as a natural location for your fingers.
My index finger, usually resting along the frame, disagreed at first. I had to learn to bend it around back to unlock the phone, and it was initially awkward. I eventually got used to it.
It’s a little easier to pull off on the smaller Nexus 5X, but the tradeoff is that I didn’t smudge the Nexus 6P camera, which is off-center and further away than it is on the 5X.
On either phone, it takes half a second to unlock the phone and, even with the fast setup time, is just as accurate as Apple and Samsung’s fingerprint sensors.
I still find myself using archaic lockscreen unlock methods, simply because it’s easier than picking up this 5.7-inch phone whenever it’s resting on my desk or a table.
This is where front-facing fingerprint sensors work best. However, between you and me, I find that the Nexus 6P is ideal when “talking” to someone, but really nonchalantly unlocking my phone in back. Sneaky, sneaky.
Google’s Nexus design evolution is reflected in more than just matte aluminum build. The Nexus 6P makes the jump to charging and transferring data via USB-C.
This means your stash of micro USB cables is useless and you have to tout a around this new connector and charging block. Forget – or worse, lose – it, and your phone’s battery life is in jeopardy.
Changes like this are always a bit jarring, and I feel like I have too many cables already. Every other Android phone and tablet I have uses micro USB and my Apple devices use Lightning.
My Apple Watch and Android Wear smartwatches take advantage of multiple inductive chargers and a few holdouts like GoPro still require a USB mini. My bag is full of chargers, and this is just one more.
But, once everyone gets on the same page, the advantage is clear. USB-C offers faster charging times and it’s reversible. I never fumble around with inserting it into Nexus 6P.
Google at least made the transition easier. The Nexus 6P comes with a USB-C-to-USB cable, so you can still charge and transfer files into a computer with normal USB-A port. The Nexus 5X doesn’t have the same accessory for free.
Specs and performance
The Nexus 6P has been built to be a cutting-edge phone, and it succeeds with more advanced architecture than the Nexus 5X and several top Android phones.
This is because it harnesses the power of the Snapdragon 810 v2.1, which doesn’t run as slow or hot under pressure as the Snapdragon 810 when it debuted in the LG G Flex 2.
Qualcomm’s 64-bit, octa-core processor combines a faster 2.0GHz quad-core chip and a slower, but more energy efficient, 1.55GHz quad-core one. The results finally strike the right balance.
Saving even more power, the Nexus 6P includes what Google calls the Android Sensor Hub, a dedicated motion chip that alone drives all sensors on the phone. This leaves the core processing unit more bandwidth (and thus power) to run the operating system.
The Android Sensor Hub accomplishes orientation and motion tracking tasks, all without taxing the processor. It goes hand-in-hand with the battery-saving, Android Marshmallow Doze feature.
There’s an Adreno 430 GPU embedded into this System on a Chip, or SoC, too and, more importantly, 3GB of RAM. The hardware is fit for multitasking through a whole bunch of apps without much slowdown.
Yes, 4GB of RAM is becoming the standard among phablets, like the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+ and OnePlus 2. But, with Android Marshmallow onboard the 6P, it never flinched.
The Nexus 5X is technically slower, with its stepped down Qualcomm 808 processor and just 2GB of RAM. In most – but not all – cases, apps loaded more quickly on the Nexus 6P.
Huawei’s phone also benefits from bigger internal storage sizes of 32GB, 64GB and 128GB, while the 5X is limited to 16GB and 32GB. The latter’s low entry-level price is attractive, but deceiving.
There’s no microSD card slot in the Nexus 6P, so it’s important to pony up enough money for the storage you need both now and down the road.
So how did all of the Nexus 6P’s silicon fare when put under the pressure? The good news is that the Snapdragon 810 v2.1 didn’t buckle after running a bunch of Geekbench 3 tests.
With a score of 4,073, it’s plenty faster than the HTC One M9 (3,595) and LG G4 (3,499), but trails the iPhone 6S Plus (4,418), Samsung Galaxy S6 (4,975) and Note 5 (4,849).
It’s exactly what I hoped for, given the souped-up specs, but bargain price compared to top tier phones from Apple and Samsung. It’s definitely a step up from the Nexus 5X (2,990).
There was an off-chance that the Snapdragon 810 v2.1 processor wouldn’t be the fix Google and Huawei were hoping for. While there’s some slowdown, it’s not the dramatic trouble that made the LG G Flex 2 so disappointing 9 months ago.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow and apps
Google and Huawei’s Nexus 6P’s refinements apply mostly to the hardware, but are also found in its software, with the Android Marshmallow operating system pre-loaded onto the phone.
There are actually few obvious changes. It’s mostly behind-the-scenes adjustments, like longer battery life when the phone is on standby and app permission tweaks.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow makes for a smarter version of Google’s mobile operating system, and that’s ingrained in its one noticeable, front-facing feature, Google Now on Tap.
Holding down on the on-screen home buttons brings up Google Now on Tap, which scans what you’re currently reading, watching or hearing, and it tries to educate you on the topic.
Reading about the new Star Wars movie poster in the news and holding down the home button instantly brought up a short description and series of links for both Star Wars and Lucasfilm.
They’re in the form of icons, but lead to Star Wars-appropriate Google searches, Wikipedia entries, social media content and Google Play Store apps. It’s a neat shortcut for more information on whatever you’re currently looking at.
This works best in messaging apps, wherein someone references a show, actor or newsmaker you know nothing about. Google Now on Tap is a simple way to cross-reference the internet.
Everything else about Android Marshmallow is straightforward in that Nexus 6P is a phone with stock Android. It really contrasts with the two dozen worthless apps, say, ASUS phones levy on you.
It’s filled with your favorite Google apps out-of-the-box instead: Gmail, Google Maps, Contacts, Drive, Calendar, Photos, Hangouts, YouTube, Photos and so on.
The Google Play Store acts as your portal to downloading everything else, from Facebook and Instagram to LastPass and Pandora.
The last thing I’ll touch on before getting into specific apps is the all-encompassing app drawer. Prepare your brain, since it now has you scroll up and down (no longer left to right). There’s a handy recently used apps row at the very top to take away some of the pain.
I’ve never been a big fan of messaging on Android, because so many of my contacts use different apps. Nothing ties them together, and the Nexus 6P software doesn’t fix this.
It does, however, offer a clean and simple SMS app called Messenger (different from Facebook’s identically named Messenger app). It’s fast and lightweight.
Google, of course, still packs in Hangouts, which was redesigned over the summer for both iOS and then Android. It’s better, but can’t really top Apple’s iMessages way of doing things.
As I explained in my Nexus 5X review, text messages are isolated on my Nexus 6P when using the Messenger app, and Hangouts confuses people by integrating my work email or my Google Voice number.
Group messaging with a number of iPhone users is also a problem (this one problem isn’t necessarily Google’s fault). My messages go to the original messenger and no one else.
It’s a shame, because Google has a fantastic keyboard by default, with finger swiping enabled on the frontend and a smarter autocorrect system in the backend.
Movies and music
The 5.7-inch display of the Nexus 6P is a better fit for watching HD movies in a 16:9 aspect ratio when compared to the Nexus 5 from two years ago.
The screen size isn’t as big as last year’s 6-inch Nexus 6, but the color is more accurate. I don’t find the hues to be overly saturated, though some people may find this to look washed out.
Really, you can see the difference in side-by-side comparisons of actor’s faces. Orange is the new tan, when I watched “Big” on the Nexus 6P compared to the Nexus 5X.
The latter doesn’t have the artificial pop of the Nexus 6P and doesn’t boast that quad HD display, but it’s colors are more true to life. Nexus 6P, however, beats the 5X when it comes to sound quality.
Listening to music and movies is a bit one-sided on the Nexus 5X. The speaker for all media is located in the bottom of the phone, whereas the multimedia-friendly Nexus 6P has stereo speakers at the top and bottom.
The Nexus 6P can handle all of the game apps I throw at it, with no discernible slowdown or imperfections in the graphics and color. Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8: Airborne get along just fine.
Slight variations between Nexus displays favor the Nexus 5X when it came to movies starring real people, but game apps I test look, oddly, a tad more muted in color on the 6P display.
Bezel has become a bad word among smartphones, but I find games in landscape mode easier to control, thanks to the slightly thicker bezel of the Nexus 6P (the same is true of the Nexus 5X).
The Nexus 6P camera, along with the Nexus 5X, is the best of any Nexus phone, Google said to no one’s surprise. After all, we’ve only seen subpar results from Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 photos.
What’s different here is that the 12.3MP Nexus 6P rear camera captures 1.55-micron pixels, which is larger than the normal 1.4 microns. Translation? Bigger pixels and more light captured.
This allows me to take superior indoor photos, especially in low-light situations like restaurants, bars and outdoors after dark. I’m pleased with the results compared to older Nexus phones.
This isn’t to say that the Nexus 6P camera is always better or brighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, LG G4, iPhone 6S Plus and Moto X Style I awkwardly carry around.
It’s also identical to the 12.3MP Nexus 5X camera sensor, save for processing speeds. I had to double check the files when comparing my photos to make sure I didn’t load the same ones.
Both new Nexus phones lack optical image stabilization (OIS) and the nifty camera software that is offered by Samsung and LG.
You won’t find options to shoot in RAW, gesture controls to snap selfies without touching the display or software-manipulated wide selfies for group shots.
Google, to its credit, has improved its default camera software in a year’s time. You can switch between the front- and rear-facing camera with just one tap instead of two confusing taps.
You can also set the timer with one press, too, and turn on video recording with an easy swipe. This Nexus 6P camera records video in 4K at 30 frames per second, while the front-facing camera is 8MP with the normal 1.4 microns and the same f/2.0 aperture.
In fact, the only thing hidden in a side menu are returning modes: Lens Blur, Panoramic and Photosphere.
This is where Google’s camera failed to impress me more than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5, as much as I saw impressive results from both. The extra modes and post-production processing found in recent Samsung phones is still top-notch, even with the normal 1.4 microns.
The Nexus 6P is a big phone with a big battery. At 3,450mAh, it’s capacity is bigger than most other phones we’ve reviewed, save for a few, like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active and Moto X Play.
Google’s phablet lasts slightly longer than one day with heavy use, so you’ll have time to get back to that all-important USB-C charger before it’s completely drained. It lasts just long enough.
Our battery life tests indicate that how quickly the battery drains heavily depends on the display settings you have the phone set to: for example, is adaptive brightness on or off?
Turning it on saves battery life, with our 90-minute HD video running the 100% charge down to 84%. That’s just shy of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 that ran down to 86% at full brightness.
However, this isn’t the true full brightness of the Nexus 6P. Diving into the settings menu and switching adaptive brightness off drains the full battery life down to a less impressive 75%.
What helps, if you’re not constantly turning on the display, are Google’s new software tricks: Doze mode and App Standby. They essentially put the phone into a semi-sleep mode.
When you go to pick up your phone after waking up, and it wasn’t on the charger, you should see minimal battery drain and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a handy tool, and beats the pants off of straight battery life tests.
Even better, when you do charge the Nexus 6P, it takes just 1 hour and 37 minutes to juice the battery up to 100%. That’s faster than the Nexus 5X and it’s smaller and weaker battery.
It’s marginally slower to charge than Samsung’s Fast Charging and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 standards, which use a micro USB cable along with a larger-than-normal charging brick.
Samsung’s Galaxy Galaxy S6 and Note 5, for example, fill back up in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Thus, USB-C is nearly as fast with the added benefit of being reversible.
What’s missing here are any sort of wireless charging capabilities. Samsung’s phones are leading the way via their 88-minute “Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad.”
Google, on the other hand, didn’t include any sort of wireless charging in its two Nexus phones. It recently yanked the Nexus Wireless Charger in its Google Store because of this reason.
The Nexus 6P is one of the best Android phones you can buy right now, given its top-of-the-line specs for a more affordable price. It’s easier to hold and takes better photos.
That wasn’t a big surprise to me in this review. This phone was always going to be better than the Nexus 6, as much fun as I had with the ridiculously big screen. Where the 6P fits into the current crop of Android phones remains the biggest question over my week of testing it out.
I can hold the Nexus 6P in one hand without dropping it, although it takes two hands to operate. That’s a relief for anyone who couldn’t adjust to last year’s Nexus 6. The back of the phone has a fast and accurate fingerprint sensor and the front fits in loud-sounding stereo speakers.
It has Android Marshmallow 6.0, which is worthwhile simply for its battery-saving tricks. The best part is that you get all of these features and a fast processor for a lower-than-average price. For these reasons, this is the best Nexus phone and one of the best Android phones right now.
That said, this phone is not for everyone. There are more full-featured phones out there from familiar names, like Samsung and LG. The Nexus 6P’s hardware isn’t as fast as those rivals’ flagship phones, and it’s missing a few of their best camera software tricks.
There’s no wireless charging or optical image stabilization integrated into this phone. These are two things that are becoming standard among the best smartphones. Really, though the biggest problem for this new Nexus phablet is that there’s so much competition.
The Nexus 6P is a luxury phone without the premium to match. Behind its aluminum finish are powerful phone specs that nearly keep up with Apple and Samsung’s flagship phablets. That’s because the Snapdragon 801 v2.1 processor gives Qualcomm’s troubled chip new life, plus 3GB of RAM is just enough to future-proof the phone.
As for USB-C … it may be ahead of its time. Consider yourself an early adopter when it comes to this and Android Marshmallow. The Nexus Imprint fingerprint sensor is right on time, even if it landed on the back of the phone, and Google finally catches up to Apple’s Touch ID. This method offers just as much speed and accuracy.
Google’s super-sized phone for 2015 is thinner, lighter, stronger and easier to hold, making it a true step up from the Nexus 6 in every way imaginable. No, it’s not fast as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ – and the 12.3MP camera is comparable, not always better. But this is the best phablet for the price, hands down, and returns the Nexus brand to its more affordable and palmable roots.
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