Finding the right balance is a near-impossible task. In cooking, neglecting to use spices can leave a dish bland and without personality; add too much and you ruin the meal entirely. The same thing can happen in mobile.
I've used and tested a lot of really great phones this year, but none have struck that perfect balance between design, speed, battery life and software. Some come close, but there's always that one thing that keeps a phone from being The One.
The Nexus 6P is different—or comes about as close to perfection as I've seen. What I find most impressive is how the Nexus 6P's excellence feels so natural, like it isn't trying too hard to be the best. It just is. Everything works in perfect harmony to create one of the most exciting devices in a long, long time.
This is by far the best Nexus device available. Maybe the best phone money can buy right now.
Constructed from aeronautical-grade aluminum, the Nexus 6P is a precisely engineered pocket computer. It reminds me of the first time I held HTC's One M7 (and M8 and M9); it's almost like a more advanced cousin, a T1000 to the T800. That is to say this is by far the most gorgeous Nexus phone to date—I'd argue it's one of the year's top beauties.
It doesn't quite elicit the reactions a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus would, but the Nexus 6P is right in that discussion. Google's phone features clean lines, a comfortable heft, and a thinness your brain won't quite believe. And if you're undecided on which color to buy, my recommendation is to go with black.
Accentuating the metal frame are finely carved edges, giving you the sense that whoever created this actually cared about how it looked. And how it felt, too. A little extra care goes a long way. Your thumb rests perfectly on the ridged power button, which can be double-pressed to launch the camera; the rear fingerprint sensor is easy to find and use; and the device just exudes an affable confidence. You can't help but like it.
And don't worry, that rear camera hump isn't nearly as bad as you thought it would be. It barely protrudes, and when placed on a table, it lies flat as a board. People might sneer at the 6P's rear glass stripe, but it's honestly a non-issue. Don't sweat it. You don't touch that part of the phone. And, anyway, how often do you find yourself staring at the back of a device? Precisely one minute per day? Less?
If we compare the design to last year's Nexus 6, Motorola's take is a bulbous, hulking, Frankenstein monster of a phone; the two don't even compare. Even by today's standards, the Nexus 6 still feels a little unwieldy, a device only feasible for someone like The Mountain. And although the Nexus 6P is nearly as tall as the Nexus 6, it's not as wide, which makes a significant difference. It means even the daintiest of hands (mine) can grip the phone without straining. The Nexus 6P is a large phone, but not to the point where it becomes ridiculous.
Now, as far as that rear fingerprint sensor is concerned, I'm not sure how much I love it being on the back. I love it for its quickness and convenience. But I just didn't find it to be quite as useful as one that's on front; putting it on the back means it's not as versatile, and anytime I want to quickly unlock my phone, I have to first pick it up off the table, find where the sensor is on the back, and then unlock it.
I might be the only one who feels this way, and that's fine; I've seen others praise the sensor's placement, so it's simply preference. The muscle memory just didn't kick in for me. It might work for you, it might not. In the end, however, it was just as fast and accurate as something like TouchID, and that's ultimately all that matters. I can live with it being on back if it means Google provides smart and useful technology.
One nice thing about the fingerprint sensor is you don't need to wake your phone to unlock it. Right when your finger is placed on the sensor, you'll be taken right to your home screen before you even have time to think about it. This method is similar to what we saw in the OnePlus 2, and it's something that should quite frankly be something every phone with a fingerprint sensor does.
On the front of the device you'll be staring at a 5.7-inch QHD AMOLED screen (2560×1440, 518 ppi), which looks excellent. At this point so many top tier phones come with QHD displays that everything starts to look the same. Samsung still leads the pack when it comes to out and out beauty, but the Nexus 6P's screen is gorgeous and dense, so there's little to complain about.
You'll have to crank the brightness way up to see the display outdoors, but that's true for every phone. Other things I noticed: viewing angles are terrific, as you'd expect, and colors are nice and saturated, which is also something you'd expect. Huawei packed a great display in the Nexus 6P, though great displays are par for the course in today's super phone market.
Google also included something called Sensor Hub, which is an always-on, low-power processor that responds when you need it. What that means is you can track your fitness routine and stuff like that. But it also means you can "nudge" the phone to see notifications on your screen. The feature works, but not as well as something like Motorola's Moto Display, so it ultimately isn't as useful.
Also on front are a pair of front-facing speakers, which perform very wel. I rarely find myself really needing to put a phone's speakers to the test (I usually have a pair of headphones with me), but the Nexus 6P sounds just dandy. You'll actually find yourself turning the audio down because the speakers can get so loud.
The 6P is powered by a Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of non-expandable storage; Google offers a model all the way up to 128GB if you absolutely need it. Whatever you choose, it's nice to see Google at least starts with 32GB, and not the paltry 16GB Apple refuses to leave behind.
The combo of the 810 chip and 3GB of RAM (plus Marshmallow) means you'll get speedy performance, whether you're playing games, jumping back and forth between social media accounts, or simply browsing the Web. Phones today have mostly reached a plateau where the experience is going to be quick; the Nexus 6P feels faster thanks to stock Android. (Here's an AnTuTu benchmark if you care.)
Speaking of which, Google's Android 6.0 update is by far the most pleasant version of Android ever. Features like Doze will preserve your battery throughout the day, and app permissions are now more granular. Android has slowly bucked its reputation for being an unfriendly OS, and this year's version just feels so fun and easy to use. As a longtime iOS user, I've never been so tempted to pack up and settle down with Google.
As always, the best about Android is how you can customize and mold the software to your preference, right on down to the finer details. But the new feature to watch out for is Now on Tap, which builds on Google's excellent predictive technology. We've already explained what makes Now on Tap so exciting, so be sure to check that out over here. In a nutshell, the feature provides additional information about what's on your screen.
If only it was actually useful.
Let me back up: Now on Tap is useful, but it's not nearly as good as it could be. And we get it: big features like Now on Tap take time to reach their full potential, but we're still a little disappointed by its performance. Under the right conditions, it will absolutely provide you with the information you need. But oftentimes it just doesn't produce the results you're looking for, or at all. That kind of inconsistency is frustrating, which means I only used Now on Tap on the rare occasion.
It'll get better. Just give it time. Google Now wasn't a home run right from the start. There are still some magical moments when the feature feels like the future. But, as it stands, it isn't crucial to the experience. Not yet.
The rest of Marshmallow will feel a lot like Lollipop, with many of the changes happening out of sight. Like I said, never has Android felt so optimized and quick. Material Design, carried over from Android 5.0, still looks vibrant and new, and this year it's much more accessible to people of all skill levels. Never used Android? Marshmallow is a good place to start.
For me, the feature that makes the biggest impact is Doze, which, when combined with the Nexus 6P's 3,450mAh battery, will easily get you through an entire day with heavy usage. (Here are a few screenshots of usage.) Doze essentially puts your device into a sleep state when you're not using it, which means you won't lose 20-30 percent when your phone is just sitting there. Put it this way: when you forget to charge your phone overnight, it won't be dead in the morning.
(And Doze isn't just helpful in devices like the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P; I've been using a Nexus 5 with Marshmallow since the software hit, and battery life has improved dramatically.)
If you do happen to run out of battery, the Nexus 6P's support for fast charging means you'll be fully charged in no time. Keep in mind there is no wireless charging, and you can't replace the battery at your convenience. But that's really a non-issue when your device can get several hours of battery with just ten minutes on the charger. Let's just hope you have some extra USB-C cables handy to outfit your home, office and car.
Based on the combination of design and software alone, the 6P can easily contend with today's top brass. But what makes the device really stand out is the camera. Nexus cameras have always been mediocre, but this year's model finally overcomes an important hurdle, meaning you no longer have to worry about how your vacation photos are going to turn out.
The Nexus 6P sports a 12.3-megapixel camera, with a 1.55 µm sensor that's capable of capturing more light, even when you're in a dim environment. We showed you some early examples of what the device's camera was capable of, and found that shots out in broad daylight look excellent: colors are saturated, exposure is even, highlights aren't blown out, details are sharp (but not too sharp).
A recent test by DxOMark actually put the Nexus 6P's camera right up there among the best on the market, confirming that Google has done great work. Again, previous Nexus camera were never all that great, but the 6P offers some of the best pictures I've seen in mobile, and that's saying a lot considering the quality coming from Samsung, Apple, Sony and LG.
Where the 6P falls short is in low light. Google says the sensor has been designed to perform well in these conditions, and I'm not saying the camera is terrible in bad lighting. But it's certainly not the best. Features like HDR+ will help punch pictures up, but otherwise you'll be looking at low light pictures that are good, but not great. And the lack of optical image stabilization certainly doesn't help.
One last thing: when you snap a picture (in any lighting condition) the Nexus 6P takes a moment to process the picture before it's ready to take another one; I'd say it takes one or two seconds in some instances. The good news is that focusing is fast and accurate. But once you snap a picture, prepare to wait a beat before the 6P is ready to take another.
It's also worth noting that Google's camera software doesn't offer much in the way of manual controls. You'll get features like Photo Sphere, Panorama, and more. But don't expect to tinker and tweak settings in search of that perfect image. On the video side, the Nexus 6P does 4K video and slo-mo at 120 or 240 fps, which is good fun.
Google's Nexus 6P strikes an impressive balance between hardware and software, and at just $500, it's tough to beat.
The Nexus 6P isn't nearly as flashy as a S6 Edge Plus, and it won't get the same marketing attention as Apple's iPhone. But the fact is the Nexus 6P belongs in the same company. Our job is to get nit-picky and find flaws in these amazing devices. The truth is there's very little to dislike about the Nexus 6P. This is finally the Nexus phone everyone should own (geeks, Joes, etc.).
The hardware is beautiful, the software is intelligent and fun to use, and the camera is excellent. And with an entry point of $500, it's more affordable than most high-end smartphones. Even if it was more expensive, I'd still recommend the 6P over most devices. This is the Android phone to beat.
I've tested a lot of phones this year, but I haven't quite fallen so hard as I did for the Nexus 6P. I was ready to to give the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus the smartphone of the year award. But now I'm not so sure. Google has created something here that works so incredibly well, and is so incredibly smart, that it's difficult to pass up.
This is the Android phone for everyone. The perfect balance of hardware and software, a device that deserves your attention. Get it.
- Excellent design
- Terrific camera
- Intelligent software
- Now on Tap growing pains
Disclaimer: Jon used the Nexus 6P for 7 days before filming his review. Brandon used the device for four days before writing his review.