Post updated December 30th, 2015 at 12:06 am
The Nexus series of smartphones have always been a favourite of many Android users, especially so for Android purists. Back in the days when custom versions of Android were slow, sluggish, and filled with bloatware, Nexus devices were exemplary, mainly due to their pure Android experience. Now, however, custom versions of Android have caught up. Many manufacturers have stripped clean their take on Android of bloatware and unnecessary enhancements, offering genuinely useful features stock Android simply does not have.
This, in turn, brings up the question: is the Nexus lineup of smartphones still necessary? Now that the Nexus lineup isn’t as affordable as it used to be, this question is more relevant than ever. Well, after spending some time with the Nexus 6P, I can say this with confidence: it is still an exemplary Android device that is far from irrelevant.
DESIGN & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
When I first picked up the Nexus 6P, a couple of things stood out the most: this is one hefty and big device. While I like my devices to have some weight to it, some may find the extra heft of the 6P – it weighs 178g – a tad too much. This, coupled with its unusually long dimension (it is actually as tall as the Nexus 6), makes it quite a difficult device to use with one hand.
That being said, the Nexus 6P is a premium device in every sense of the word. Its metal body feels good to the touch, the finish is excellent (albeit slippery), and most of all, it’s the most well-constructed Nexus device yet. This is definitely a flagship device with excellent build quality to boot. Just because the 6P is made by Huawei – the first Chinese manufacturer Google has partnered with – does not make it any less premium than other flagship smartphones.
And then we have one of the most talked about “issues” with the Nexus 6P: its camera bump. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it seems. In real life, the bump is not even that noticeable. Sure, a flush camera would’ve been nicer, but it does give the 6P an identity of its own – just don’t tell ZTE that.
Of course, many consumers are also concerned about the overall durability and reliability of the Nexus 6P’s hardware. From the rear glass window “spontaneously” cracking and how easy it was to bend and snap the device, these are definitely valid points of concern. But, for what it’s worth, I didn’t face either of these issues throughout my time with the Nexus 6P. The rear glass panel didn’t crack, and the phone most certainly didn’t bend.
Aside from these, the introduction of the Nexus 6P also debuts Nexus Imprint, which is the rear fingerprint sensor. In my experience with the sensor, it is fast and accurate; rarely do I get any failed recognition. However, oddly enough, Nexus Imprint – at least in the case of the 6P – isn’t as fast as the Huawei Mate S or honor 7‘s fingerprint sensor, although it’s not to say Nexus Imprint isn’t fast at all.
As far as the design and overall impression of the Nexus 6P go, it is a wonderfully crafted Android device. It is built really well, and boasts construction and specifications that rival many other flagship Android devices. The 6P is truly the most premium Nexus device to date – with a few surprises here and there as well, such as its capable camera.
As the flagship Nexus device of 2015, the Nexus 6P boasts hardware befitting of its status. While there are many controversies surrounding the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, the 6P is very responsive with little to no hesitation when opening and switching between multiple apps. Although this device does get warm in extended use, it never got to the point where it is uncomfortable to the touch.
What sets the Nexus 6P – and the 5X – apart from previous Nexus devices is the fact that it finally has a capable camera. Although the rear camera is merely a 12.3MP shooter, megapixels are not everything, and this will be very evident in our camera test further down this review.
The software side of things has always been the main strength of Nexus devices, and the Nexus 6P is no different. Quite simply, the 6P offers a user experience unlike any other: it is fast, responsive, and most of all, very polished.
What I really like about the move from Android Lollipop to Marshmallow is the fact that the “App Peeking” feature isn’t as annoying as it used to be. In Android Lollipop, the heads-up notification – which will appear whenever I receive a notification – will remain there for a few seconds before it will disappear. If I were to dismiss it, I won’t get to see it again in the Notification Shade, which is very inconvenient.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case anymore with Android Marshmallow: I can simply pull down the heads-up notification when it appears and and push it back up to make it go away. The best part is, the notification will still remain in the Notification Shade until I decide to clear it myself.
While stock Android has its appeal, one thing sorely stood out when I changed to the Nexus 6P: it feels barebone. Take Huawei’s Mate S, for example. Just like the 6P, the Mate S also has a rear fingerprint sensor, but the latter has a suite of useful features in comparison to the 6P. On the Mate S, I can pull down the Notification Shade by sliding down on the fingerprint sensor. Also, a double tap on the sensor would clear all notifications, and sliding up would close the Notification Shade. Needless to say, I definitely miss these convenient gestures when transitioning to the 6P.
That is not to say Android 6.0 Marshmallow doesn’t offer other useful features as well. The ability to summon Google Now by simply saying “Okay Google” is as convenient as it is responsive. While it also works while the 6P is locked, it’s not as consistent as it is when the device is unlocked. In my testing, it works best when there is little to no ambient sound; hardly ideal in many situations.
Also introduced in Android 6.0 Marshmallow is Now on Tap, which is a rather interesting feature. If I were to be reading an email and would like to get more information on certain things, all I have to do is tap and hold on the home button, and Android would take care of the rest by bringing up a slew of useful information based on what is on the screen. The experience is similar to how I experienced Google Now for the first few times, but in a more focused way, which is great. And very convenient.
All things considered, Android 6.0 Marshmallow is an improvement over Lollipop in many ways. App Peeking isn’t as annoying anymore, and the user experience still feels fluid and responsive. On top of that, there is the introduction of Doze with this version of Android, which will be elaborated in the following section.
Packed with a 3,450mAh battery, the Nexus 6P has excellent battery life. Throughout my time with the device, rarely do I find myself looking for a charger as I’m getting ready to leave the office in the evening. More often than not, I’m left with more than 15% of battery by the end of the day. Complementing the already great battery life is another new feature introduced in Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Doze, which shuts down almost everything whenever the 6P has been idle for some time, which saves up quite a bit of power. Of course, I would still be alerted of important notifications such as phone calls and messages even when Doze is activated.
Thankfully, the Nexus 6P has good battery life, as it is an area where this device simply has to excel. This is mainly due to the fact that it comes equipped with a USB Type-C port, which limits the amount of power banks or alternative chargers that work with it. While this device comes with a USB C to USB A cable to be used with the aforementioned products, I dread the idea of bringing it around with me just to lose it eventually. And, the supplied cable is only about 30cm long, which isn’t ideal in many situations.
Of course, with the addition of the Type-C port, the Nexus 6P also supports fast charging – a feature that certain devices with the same port do not support, interestingly enough. In my testing, the Nexus 6P managed to be charged up to 44% in 30 minutes; a reasonable rate, considering the 6P comes with a sizable 3,450mAh battery. It’s worth noting that my testing involved draining the 6P down to its last charge and immediately connecting it to the charger without switching the device on.
It has been quite some time since I’ve used a phone with a 2K panel – virtually every phone I’ve tested have been 1080p – and, once I switched to the Nexus 6P, I’m absolutely impressed by the display. The 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 AMOLED panel is a sight to behold.
In comparison to other display technologies, AMOLED displays offer several advantages. The blacks are extremely dark (as the individual pixels are actually switched off), colour contrast is excellent, and most of all, the display is very legible even under bright sunlight. While many will argue that a 2K display unnecessarily drains battery, it’s worth noting that the 6P has a 5.7-inch display. If it had a 1080p panel instead, the display wouldn’t be as sharp – and impressive – as it is.
In this department, the Nexus 6P does not disappoint. In my books, nothing quite beats front-facing stereo speakers; it’s the most ideal position for a mobile device, partly because I don’t have to worry about accidentally covering the speaker grille.
As for audio quality, the Nexus 6P is quite up to the task. It can get very loud, and the speakers aren’t as tinny as most smartphones. However, if I do crank up the volume, the speakers will start buzzing, which slightly mars an otherwise great set of stereo speakers.
Google said that the Nexus 6P has the best camera the company has ever equipped on a Nexus device, and in my time with the device, I agree wholeheartedly. See, what makes the 6P such a good shooter is the fact that the rear camera’s Sony IMX 377 sensor has larger than normal pixels – 1.55 micron pixels. Essentially, this enables the Nexus 6P’s camera to capture more light, which effectively makes this device a very capable shooter, especially in low-light conditions where it consistently demonstrates excellent dynamic range.
Under ideal lighting, the same can be said; images are sharp and crisp with good detail preservation. While colours are pretty saturated, it does make the shots look more appealing, which is a good thing in my books. Other than that, images are properly exposed, and the laser autofocus is also quick. The fact that I can launch the camera app by double-tapping the power button is like icing on the cake. In short: this is the best smartphone camera I’ve ever had the pleasure to use (though some of my colleagues feel the Samsung Galaxy Note 5’s camera edges this one).
While I can capture great images with the Nexus 6P, the shooting experience didn’t impress me as much. Although the 6P’s autofocus is fast, the camera gets slightly sluggish when I try to snap more than one image in quick succession. From my observation, the more pictures I snap, the more likely it is for the camera to refocus (for some reason) and for frame rate to drop. This, in turn, causes a noticeable delay between the time I press the shutter button and the capturing of the shot. To make matters worse, the camera application actually crashed on me on a few occasions.
That being said, I was not able to replicate the camera crash ever since my unit of the Nexus 6P was updated to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which could have solved the issue. However, the slightly sluggish performance when taking multiple shots is still present, even more so when the camera shoots in HDR+ mode – something that isn’t present on the Galaxy Note 5’s Auto HDR mode.
Even though the camera shooting experience isn’t as good as competing devices (such as the excellent Samsung Galaxy S6 Duos or the Galaxy Note5), the end results are very, very good. Gone are the days when Nexus devices had mediocre camera performance.
At this price point, the most immediate competitor to the Nexus 6P is the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Retailing at RM2,699, the Note 5 costs merely…RM1 more than the Nexus 6P. In terms of hardware, both devices are almost on par with each other, although the Note 5 has more RAM at 4GB. On top of that, the Note 5’s camera performance is arguably better than the Nexus 6P, which is partly because of the optical image stabilisation feature and a more refined software optimisation on the Note 5. That being said, both devices are definitely capable mobile shooters.
If we were to nitpick, the Nexus 6P has a slight edge over the Note 5 in several areas. For one, the Note 5 only has a 3,000mAh battery (because it is a smaller device in all three dimensions), while the 6P has a more generous 3,450mAh cell, which should theoretically result in better battery life – this is further complemented by Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s Doze feature found on the 6P. Other than that, the Nexus 6P’s clean, stock Android experience is a key advantage over the Note 5. That being said, Samsung has improved TouchWiz in many, many ways as well, such as the exclusion of bloatware that used to plague the Android skin.
Finally, the Nexus 6P has more built-in storage at 64GB, which is double the storage of the Note 5; remember, both devices do not offer expandable storage, so this is a particularly important point. However, the Note 5 has an ace up its sleeve, which is the (indispensable, to some) S Pen. Those who find the need for a stylus and Samsung’s excellent range of S Pen software will find the Note 5 a better device.
Other than the Galaxy Note 5, there is one more interesting competitor to the Nexus 6P: the OnePlus 2. Just like the 6P, the OnePlus 2 is popular among Android purists, mainly because of OxygenOS, which is an almost stock version of Android. That being said, the Nexus 6P is already running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, while the OnePlus 2 has yet to receive the update, which is slated sometime in the first quarter of 2016.
Hardware-wise, both the Nexus 6P and OnePlus 2 are powered by a Snapdragon 810 processor, although the latter has more RAM at 4GB. While both devices have 64GB of internal storage, the 6P has a slightly bigger 3,450mAh battery in comparison to the OnePlus 2’s 3,300mAh cell. Also, the 6P has a much sharper 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 2K AMOLED display; the OnePlus 2 has a 5.5-inch 1080p panel instead.
As for shooting capability, the OnePlus 2 is theoretically a better shooter on paper, thanks to the 13MP rear camera with optical image stabilisation. But, Google mentioned that the Nexus 6P’s large 1.55 micron pixels sensor negates the necessity of OIS. Plus, we haven’t actually reviewed the OnePlus 2, so it remains to be seen if OnePlus’ latest flagship device is a better shooter than the Nexus 6P.
While the Nexus 6P has many advantages over the OnePlus 2, this comes at a cost (literally): the 6P costs much more than the OnePlus 2 at RM2,698, while the latter can be purchased from Maxis at a much more affordable price of RM1,788 without any invite or device plan from the telco company. Of course, as the 6P is priced like many other flagship Android devices, it also has a much more premium construction than the OnePlus 2.
The Nexus 6P is definitely an excellent device. It is how Google envisioned Android to be, and what a vision it is. The user experience is smooth, fluid, and most of all, extremely polished – something that many manufacturers can’t seem to get right.
That being said, the Nexus 6P is not perfect. As it is the most premium Nexus device ever released, it also carries with it a high asking price of RM2,698. At that price point, the 6P faces major competition from the likes of Samsung and Sony, among others. On top of that, the 6P’s camera isn’t quite up to snuff against its competition as well, especially with the absence of optical image stabilisation and a slightly unrefined shooting experience.
Regardless, I am not looking forward to reviewing any other device; it would mean putting the Nexus 6P down for another smartphone. Personally, I’m not too particular about camera performance, and I’m much more concerned about software above all else; that’s what makes the 6P the best Android smartphone. Well, to me at least, and it’s a very important distinction as not everyone will share my sentiments.
If you can look past the 6P’s minimal flaws, you will not regret purchasing Google’s latest and greatest Nexus device yet. It offers the best version of Android today, great battery life, and above all else, a premium user experience only a proper flagship device can offer, and that in itself is a big win for the Nexus 6P.