Google's Nexus lineup has always been a terrific showcase for pure Android. From the start, these devices have been important for developers and die-hard enthusiasts, but let's be honest: the Nexus brand has never been desired the way a Note or iPhone has. Consumers just don't know any better.
Slowly, surely, that's begun to change. The Nexus brand has started to build an audience (albeit, a very small one) outside of elite tech circles. Today, "Nexus" is a name people actually associate with Google, and that's a very big deal. Consumers who might normally purchase something from Samsung or HTC are now spending their money on Nexus devices, signaling a shift in the industry. People are seriously starting to take notice of the look and performance of pure Android.
The big difference this year is that the Nexus 6 is getting major carrier support in the U.S., making the device more accessible than any Nexus before it. The problem, though, is that Google's new prized pony doesn't carry with it a market-leading price—not like it did years prior. You can hand that crown over to phones like the Moto G and OnePlus One.
While it's still very much a niche device, does the Nexus 6 have what it takes to break into the average consumer's consciousness? This is easily the best and biggest Nexus phone to date, and it's poised for success despite limited availability. The big question is whether more people will take notice.
Nexus 6 Video Review
The Nexus 6 is a hulking brute, a linebacker of a phone. Out of the numerous big handsets we've seen this year, Google's new beast is among the biggest, larger even than Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 (feasible) and Apple's iPhone 6 Plus (edging on uncomfortable). Motorola has a way of making big screens seem smaller, but the illusion doesn't quite work here; it's ultimately a bit too oafish, like it was tailored specifically for Andre the Giant. It looks big, and it also feels big. The body is wide, and it's tall; taller, even, than Apple's iPhone 6 Plus, though the Nexus 6 does offer much more screen real estate in return.
Being that the Nexus 6 teeters on the edge of colossal, I'm always overwhelmed with the feeling that I'm going to drop it. I can't comfortably grasp the thing—bear in mind my hands are small—so I had to consciously hold tight every time I picked it up. But all it takes is one inattentive moment and suddenly it's sitting face down on concrete. I never dropped the thing—I'm typically pretty careful with expensive toys—but I always felt like that moment was just around the corner. It's the same feeling of dread you get when you just know something bad is going to happen.
But here's the thing: the size is a very big part about what makes the Nexus 6 so appealing to people. What seems big to me might be normal to someone else. Google and Motorola very consciously chose the massive 6-inch QHD screen because big phones are what people want. There's a clear and obvious trend toward larger displays—even Apple, so opposed to big phones, is cognizant of this fact. But I still feel like the device would have been more manageable if it were closer to Motorola's own Moto X (2014), which sports a smaller 5.2-inch screen. I've gotten more and more used to larger devices, but I still can't shake the overall footprint of the Nexus 6.
To be fair, the size is both a curse and a gift. A curse because it can be difficult to use one-handed (and it looked hilarious in my pants pocket; no, I don't wear tight jeans), and Google does nothing with its software to make the screen size easier to handle. (Apple at least has Reachability.) A gift because the display size is absolutely perfect for watching video and playing games.
When plopped down on the couch after a long day, YouTube videos look great on the 5.96-inch screen; it's at a size that you begin to wonder if a tablet is even a necessary companion. You might not use the Nexus 6 to watch a three-hour epic, but it's great for catching up on episodes of Bob's Burgers. And Android 5.0 Lollipop's new Material Design looks amazing over the larger canvas. All the fancy new animations, bright colors and slick visual tricks are definitely a sight for sore eyes.
As for the screen itself, the Nexus 6's 5.96-inch QHD AMOLED display looks fantastic. With a 2560 x 1440 resolution (493 ppi), text is incredibly sharp, videos are clean and everything overall is just a pleasure to look at. Colors aren't quite as vibrant and saturated as they are on something like a Note 4, but take nothing away from the Nexus 6; the screen is terrific, with all the rich, deep blacks typical of AMOLED displays. Out in broad daylight, it can be a challenge to see what's onscreen (as with most phones), but otherwise it's a delight on the eyes.
Fortunately, there's much more to the Nexus 6's design than it simply being big. It essentially looks like a larger Moto X—same rounded backed, same aluminum frame, same camera placement, and the buttons are more or less the same, too, placed carefully on the right side for easy access when using with one hand. The power button, incidentally, still has a great texture to it, making it easy to find and easy to press; the volume rocker, meanwhile, is click-y enough without feeling chintzy. Overall, the Nexus 6 feels solidly built, strong.
We just wish the backside was made of a different material—or at least a different color. The soft-touch matted plastic looks great, and complements the contoured aluminum well. But the midnight blue model we received—I haven't seen the white model in person—attracts oil and grease like no other phone I've seen this year. The Nexus 6 looks great—in the box—but as soon as you start handling it, the device begins to look like it had an encounter with a large order of french fries. No matter how hard you try, the device is nearly impossible to keep spotless.
There are some saving graces here, however, and one of them is the Nexus 6's front-facing speakers, which are very loud, crisp and clear. Chances are you'll be using the Nexus 6 with headphones or in a quiet area anyway, but the speakers certainly don't disappoint. You don't have to strain to listen when on speakerphone, and you'll certainly have no issue with hearing video or music. I watched a few videos in my apartment, and when set on max volume, the speakers were almost too loud; the speakers will surely turn a few heads if blaring music on your phone is something you subject people to while out in public.
I also can't understate just how important that small indentation is on the back (accented by Motorola's "M" logo), which first showed up on last year's Moto X. Especially on such a giant phone, placing your index finger there immediately helps with getting your bearings; it makes the size and width of the Nexus 6 definitely easier to handle, though, as I mentioned above, the device is still on the unwieldy side for me. But it's the small touches that are appreciated.
Finally, the addition of Motorola's Turbo Charger is handy for giving the Nexus 6 a quick jolt of power. We actually tested this feature out extensively, and found that it does indeed charge faster than traditional solutions. Not substantially faster, but enough that you'll find it useful in a pinch. It's worth noting, however, that your battery needs to be drained almost entirely for Turbo Charger to work, and the charging rate will actually slow as charging progresses. I'm not entirely sure if the six-hour battery claim in fifteen minutes is 100-percent accurate, but Turbo Charging does provide a quick way to get the Nexus 6 back on its feet when battery is especially low.
We've covered Lollipop extensively already, but it bears repeating: Android 5.0 Lollipop is easily the best version Google has ever put out, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Not only does it look good, but it's just downright fun to use. Throughout the years, Android has never been the most attractive mobile operating system out there, and it certainly wasn't always this accessible. There was an adage for awhile that warned people unfamiliar with smartphones to steer clear of Android because it had a steep learning curve. Lollipop changes all that.
Like I mentioned above, the Nexus 6's large display is a beautiful showcase for all the fancy Material Design flourishes. But Lollipop would look great on any screen size (it looked awesome on the Nexus 9). Google's new design philosophy—carded, grid-based layouts, responsive animations and transitions, and depth effects—is the best-looking thing in mobile, no question; it makes previous versions of Android—yes, even KitKat—look outdated and archaic. Simply navigating the homescreen, jumping into the app drawer, digging through settings, is a joyous experience. Lollipop just looks so wonderful in motion.
But it's not just how Lollipop is designed. It also comes with an extensive list of new features that further cements Android's status as the most powerful mobile OS; security improvements, multi-user support, multi-tasking overview, OK Google from anywhere, and a new Priority Mode make Lollipop an incredible experience. Sure, there are some aspects where it's just catching up to Apple's iOS, like notifications, but it's ultimately on a completely different level—that's coming from a guy who owns an iPhone 6—really giving Apple something to ponder ahead of next year's iOS refresh.
As for those notifications, they're one of the best parts about Google's new Android. The execution is a lot like what you'd find on iOS, though Android displays its notifications in little Google Now-like cards, which are then grouped together depending on how many messages are associated with a certain application. You can then pull down to gain access to a full list of your notifications, and pull down again to see quick settings. Depending on what notifications show up, say an email, you can quickly reply and archive right from your lock screen without jumping into the full Gmail app.
While Android's fancy new notifications are powerful in their own right, they're made even better by Google's inclusion of a new mode called Ambient display. The new feature is essentially like Motorola's Moto Display feature, but tweaked and improved in some key ways. Because the Nexus 6 has an AMOLED screen, the device will wake when picked up or notifications arrive. It doesn't sense motion quite like Moto Display does—waving your hand over the screen won't wake it up—but it more or less acts the same.
But this is where Google's implementation is actually a bit more powerful. Rather than showing you your three most recent notifications like Moto Display does, Ambient display essentially shows you your entire lock screen (but in black and white). That means you can quickly peek at whatever notifications you have at that moment; you're not just limited to a few. And when you interact with a notification, your screen will come alive with color, allowing you to quickly interact with them.
If nothing else, Ambient is a worthy addition to Android simply because it doesn't require you to constantly press the power button just to quickly glance at the time. This feature isn't available on the Nexus 9 because it doesn't have an AMOLED display, though you do get the convenient "double tap" to wake. The Nexus 6, however, has the proper technology, and allows Android to light only the necessary pixels to show you notifications, time, etc.
And, in a welcome return, there's now a Clear All button that let's you easily clear all your notifications from the pull-down shade. Not a huge addition, but a welcome feature that was previously yanked from Android. You can, of course, just as easily swipe notifications away, which react with bouncy, vibrant animations. They're just implemented well overall, and look great thanks to the carded layout.
That's just the tip of what's new in Lollipop. All of Google's core apps, as you'd expect, have also been improved to reflect the company's Material Design, and they look phenomenal. As cheesy as it sounds, Android is just good fun to use all around. You can tell Google put a lot of thought into how users interact with what's onscreen, and it makes for a truly pleasant experience. Even swiping down the quick settings menu is interesting. As you swipe the tray down, the time time will dynamically get bigger, while the battery icon will float to the left slightly to make way for a settings icon.
There are a lot of little touches like that that make Lollipop the best and biggest version of Android yet.
Google's Nexus lineup has never excelled in the camera department; the same can be said for Motorola phones. Last year's Nexus 5 was hampered by poor camera quality at launch (inconsistent focus, awful low-light), and the Nexus 4 before that didn't fare any better. Updates to the Nexus 5 have provided some noticeable improvements over the past several months, but by and large you wouldn't necessarily put Google's devices at the top of any lists, especially not when you have devices like the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 on the market. You don't buy a Nexus phone for its camera alone.
That makes the Nexus 6's 13-megapixel shooter with optical image stabilization even more important. The good news is that any concerns you may have had about picture quality can be put to bed. We took a lot of images with the Nexus 6 over the last few weeks, and a large majority of them look absolutely terrific, which in and of itself is a miracle. Focus is quick and consistent, shots are detailed and properly exposed (for the most part), and colors are accurate. It's an impressive experience, especially considering the Nexus lineup's poor history.
Of course, low-light performance still leaves a lot to be desired, though the optical image stabilization certainly helps to a degree. With an f/2.0 aperture, the lens is open enough to pull in a lot of light, though even indoor photos looked dark and lacked any significant detail. One shot in particular (of the two cars) is tough to look at; to be fair, there wasn't a ton of light there to begin with (just an overhead street lamp), but it still did a poor job. Focus also tended to struggle without any bright light sources (check out the shot of the Christmas lights), unless a subject was up close.
The dual-LED ring flash wasn't so bad, either; it performs about as well as it did on the Moto X (2014), which is to say it's bright and provides even lighting. Overall, though, the Nexus 6 has an impressive shooter, one that will more than get the job done as your main camera. I commend Motorola and Google for doing such a solid job. For such a powerful device, it would have been a shame to see the device snap poor images, but that's just not the case.
The camera software is also pretty slick, but you already knew that. The UI is minimal—settings are out of the way, and can be swiped in once you need them. Turning the flash on or taking a high resolution panorama is just a flew swipes and taps away; tap the shutter button and you've snapped a picture. The shutter, meanwhile, is extremely fast, too, and firing off shots happens in an instant.
Video quality is also solid—it can record 4K video at 30 fps, which is a nice touch. I don't know many people who insist on recording home videos in 4K, and since the file sizes are ginormous, I wouldn't recommend it. But the feature is there should you decide your kid's birthday just has to be in 4K. Regular 1080p looks sharp and balanced, which is all you can really ask of a smartphone camera.
The really great thing this time around is that the new version of Android will give developers access to the Camera API, so we'll hopefully see apps in the future that really make the Nexus 6's shooter a more powerful (and manual) experience.
Nexus devices have always come equipped with market-appropriate specs, and the Nexus 6 is no different. We've already discussed the phone's screen and camera at length, but what's under the hood is equally as important. And Google made darn sure the Nexus 6 packs the necessary internals to ensure users get a smooth, fluid experience. You definitely won't be accusing the Nexus 6 of being underpowered.
Behind that massive screen, you'll find a 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of non-expandable internal storage, a 13-megapixel camera, and a 3220mAh non-removable battery. If that doesn't get your heart racing, you might want to visit a doctor. The latest internals aren't necessarily required to create a good phone, but they sure as heck don't hurt.
No matter what you throw at it, the Nexus 6 doesn't break a sweat. With Snapdragon 805 guts inside, it goes without saying that performance is top notch, whether browsing the Web, watching video, playing games or simply tinkering on the home screen. Android has always carried around the reputation of being sluggish when you least expect it, but that's not really an issue at all on the Nexus 6. Google actually built an entirely new Android runtime in Lollipop, and the performance improvements are definitely noticeable.
I did run into a few occasions when third-party apps stopped working altogether, causing me to force quit and reboot the app itself. But that was the only hiccup I noticed performance-wise. Even when jumping into Android's new "Overview" multi-tasking feature, I didn't notice a dip in performance; everything is smooth and responsive, regardless of what I was doing. Android 5.0 is just so, so slick on the Nexus 6, with no outstanding issues to speak of.
Not only is performance top notch, but battery life is great as well, which is to be expected when you have 3220mAh to play with. As I say in all my reviews, my usage will probably differ quite a bit from yours. As much as I love using a phone, I don't typically spend every waking hour using it. For the purpose of this review, I watched quite a bit of video, responded to email, browsed the Web, and listened to some playlists on Google Play Music. I left work Friday evening with the device fully charged up, and made it all the way to Monday with plenty of battery to spare.
Mind you, this was after plenty of YouTube, Web browsing, Ambient Display-ing, and picture snapping. I didn't have to worry about battery life once, and only glanced at it a few times to admire just how well it was holding up. Of course, as with any phone, your usage will certainly vary depending on what apps you use and how often you're turning the display off and on. I used Twitter quite a bit, too, which seemed to only have the very smallest affect on overall battery life. By comparison, Jon found in his tests that the phone lasted a full day and still had 35 percent battery life by the time he went to bed.
When the Nexus 6 does run out battery, Lollipop now displays an estimated time left to fully charge, and the estimated time left on your device is still there. There's also a new battery saver function that Google promises will extend device use by up to 90 minutes. I consider that to be a good thing; any device I don't have to tailor my usage just to save battery life is definitely solid.
Finally, Google has tweaked Android's "OK Google" hotword in Lollipop so that you can access the function even when your screen is off (your device needs digital signal processing support, which naturally the Nexus 6 has). I don't often use voice assistants no matter which platform I'm using, but Google Now is an excellent, powerful and accurate service, so it's great to have access to the technology even when your screen is off. It helps encourage a hands-free experience, which is particularly useful when driving.
The Nexus 6 has amazing specs, the best version of Android and a solid camera to boot.
The Nexus 6 is by far the best Nexus phone yet, but I still have a few reservations. For one, the size is almost unmanageable. We've grown so accustomed to big phones over the last twelve months, but the Nexus 6 still manages to feel oversized; it requires constant attention and careful handling, even for someone (like Jon) with big mitts. Maybe that was a conscious decision on Motorola's part to really push the limits of what's comfortable—it stands out, that's for sure.
Still, buyers are ultimately getting an incredible showcase for Android Lollipop, a big phone with great specs, no bloat and a pretty respectable camera, too. The device is by no means perfect—no removable battery, no expandable storage—but it's pretty darn close, and one of the best ways to experience Android the way Google intended. The bigger challenge now will be convincing customers that the Nexus 6 is a smarter buy over devices like the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4.
At $649 off-contract, it'll be a tough sell, but it's ultimately worth the price of admission.