Google Nexus 6P Smartphone Review
Huawei chips in with an excellent, premium addition to the Nexus smartphone family.
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Google's Nexus line has consisted of a rotating cast of good-to-great smartphones for about half a decade now. The last Nexus iteration—the Nexus 6—impressed us by being a forward-thinking, user-friendly phablet that was not only a good fit for casual users, but seasoned Android aficionados, as well.
The Google Nexus 6P (MSRP $499 for the 32 GB base model), designed by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei, is built from the ground up for a single purpose: to be a premium smartphone that bumps elbows with the iPhones and the Galaxies of the world.
The good news is that it succeeds. In fact, for the price, one could argue that the Nexus 6P represents one of the best values in its class. Between the hardware, the generous screen, and the superb camera, the 6P is a bloody steal at around $500 for the base model.
The Battle of the Bulge
Big phones are a tough sell for me. I don’t have particularly small hands, but I’ve always valued the ease with which small devices can be held and manipulated. If you can maneuver a smartphone in and out of your pocket easily, though, there’s a good chance you can incorporate it into your lifestyle easily, too.
At 5.7 inches, the Nexus 6P is a big phone. But it’s so thoughtfully designed and well-built that I almost forget how big it is over the course of a day. In fact, the 6P is the quickest I’ve ever warmed up to a smartphone of this size.
Part of the reason the Nexus 6P succeeds where other giant phones fail is the amount of care and consideration Huawei put into its design. It's not just a monolithic slab of metal (though I wouldn’t fault you for thinking that based on pictures); the 6P is sporting subtle cuts and ridges along its nearly-uniform aluminum body, and they all give you just enough purchase to keep the phone securely in your hand.
These minor design flourishes—the phone’s chamfered corners, for instance—add up to a device that’s as sturdy as it is handsome. The slightly-brushed texture of the aluminum casing is not as seamless as the metal bodies of the HTC One M9 or the iPhone 6s, but what few seams there are don’t work against the overall look or feel of the device.
On the top of the phone’s backside is a bulging strip of glass that spans the width of the device. This bulge, as it has now come to be known, houses the 6P’s camera, its dual-tone flash, and its laser autofocus. The bulge has drawn the ire of those that favor minimalism when it comes to tech design, but I’d be lying if I said it ever got in my way. It’s certainly not my favorite aesthetic design element, but it's not a deal-breaker. You'll get used to it.
In the real estate just below the camera sits a circular fingerprint scanner—another somewhat polarizing decision on Huawei’s part, but ultimately one that was bound to alienate a certain amount of people. These days, it seems like everyone is either a front-facing, home button kind of person (à la the iPhone), or a scanner-on-the-back kind of person (like the LG G4).
But this is one of those issues I don’t feel strongly about one way or the other. Frankly, the placement of the fingerprint scanner only makes itself known when it’s inconvenient, and for my money, these instances are about the same no matter where your phone’s scanner is.
In the case of the Nexus 6P, you might find its rear-facing fingerprint scanner getting in the way when you’re fishing around for the phone in your pocket, but that’s really the extent to which it might inconvenience you.
The Nexus 6P is such a well-crafted device that its made me reconsider some of my apprehensions involving gigantic smartphones. The slimness of the device coupled with the chamfered corners makes for a smartphone that’s easy to hold without sacrificing luxuriousness.
Hardware & Performance
A fine-looking smartphone is nothing unless the experience holds up, too. Certainly, the Nexus 6P is a winner at both.
Let’s start with the 6P’s 5.7-inch, 2K AMOLED display, which outputs a stupidly-good pixel density of 518 ppi. In laymen’s terms, this means that there’ll never be an occasion when the pixels are visible, even when holding the phone close to the face.
The Nexus 6P crushed our processor benchmarks, which is not much of a surprise when the smartphone in question is built like a Formula One race car underneath the hood. The 6P is equipped with a 2GHz Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, and at the base level, 32 GB of memory (64 and 128 GB models are also available). Without a microSD port there’s no option to expand the phone’s storage, so choose your model wisely.
The 6P is also the first Nexus to feature USB Type-C, the next standard in USB that is just beginning to see the light of day. The new format is smaller, reversible, and faster, but what will undoubtedly sell most people on Type-C are the insanely fast recharge rates associated with it.
And indeed, when the Type-C charger is in use, the Nexus 6P replenishes its juice in less than an hour, rivaling Samsung’s Fast Charge in terms of sheer speed. It’s an upgrade everyone will see in the coming years as Type-C becomes more ubiquitous, but for now, the 6P is one of the only phones utilizing the format.
The Nexus Experience
One of the biggest reasons people flock to Google Nexus smartphones is the lack of a skin over the Android operating system. In some ways, the “pure Android” experience is what the Nexus line has always been about.
As someone who’s perpetually annoyed by bloated Android skins, I can’t praise this enough; the marriage between the 6P’s top-shelf hardware and its barebones operating system ought to be celebrated. Not only is everything quick and responsive, but the lack of sponsored and proprietary software keeps everything neat and organized.
The real joy in using the Nexus is the realization that a smartphone experience can be this painless. This stripped-down, what-you-see-is-what-you-get version of Android is incredibly easy to warm up to, even if you don’t fancy yourself a tech wizard.
A new sensor for a new Nexus
The 6P’s predecessor, the Motorola Nexus 6, aced most of our camera tests and dazzled us with its ability to capture 4K video with an insane amount of detail.
The bar was set pretty high for this year’s Nexus phones, and for the most part, Huawei hit it out of the park with the 6P. The phone’s outfitted with a 12.3-megapixel, ƒ/2.0 camera sensor from Sony (a small step down from the Nexus 6’s 13MP rear-facing camera) and an 8-megapixel front-facing secondary camera.
Noticeably absent is optical image stabilization, which might worry those people that've become reliant on that particular feature. My guess is that most people won't even miss OIS, since the 6P focuses and shoots fast enough to minimize any motion blur.
To make up for its absence, Huawei equipped the 6P with laser autofocus. It's not quite a replacement for optical image stabilization, but it will improve low-light photography by minimizing blur.
In fact, in the build-up to the 6P's launch, Google boasted that the 6P will make low-light smartphone photography better than it’s ever been. That statement might be a bit bold, but the 6P does do well in dimly-lit environments.
The Sony image sensor is sporting huge, 1.55-micron pixels that capture light with greater sensitivity. Ostensibly, photos—especially low-light photos—should benefit from this increase in sensitivity.
In our lab tests, we found the Nexus 6P to do just that: Photos taken in low-light held up very well at full resolution, maintaining an impressive level of fidelity despite the darker conditions.
Both the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P are capable of shooting video in 4K (duh), but for the time being, only 6P owners will be able to say that their smartphone can shoot in slow motion at an impressive clip of 240 FPS in 1080p.
All in all, the video performance is fantastic. Most footage is bound to look at least somewhat impressive in UHD, but what impresses me the most about the 6P’s sample footage is just how naturally everything plays out. I’ve seen some fantastic, smartphone-shot 4K video, but rarely have I seen it look this smooth—there’s virtually no trailing or choppiness to speak of.
Except for the absence of OIS—an absence I feel most people won’t notice even notice—Huawei’s put together a truly uncompromising smartphone camera. It shoots fast, it shoots clear, and it’s built to stay on top of the market for years to come.
I’m a believer.
I admit that I had my doubts about the Nexus 6P; doubts about its size, about its camera, and yes, about its bulge. But I got used to its size, I fell in love with its camera, and I ultimately decided that the anti-bulge sentiments are much ado about nothing.
The Nexus 6P is a slam-dunk of a phone, and because it starts at 32 GB for just $500, there’s a good amount of value here.
So what could possibly be the case against the 6P? Its size, for one thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you’re even so much as slightly worried about the size of this phone, do yourself a favor and pick one up at your local retailer before dropping the money on one.
And then there’s the price. Even though it’s a great value at $500, there are some other low-cost phones to be aware of.
The LG-made Nexus 5X has a smaller, 5.2-inch screen, and its relatively affordable starting price of $379 might seem a better fit for people with smaller hands or lighter wallets. And if you're really down with a big phone, you can still get the Nexus 6 for cheap.
In truth, there’s almost nothing to dislike about the 6P. I could whine about the lack of OIS, but I’d be lying to myself about the type of pictures I was able to take (and admire). I could bemoan the bulge on the back of the phone, but the truth is, I stopped realizing it existed after ten minutes. I could raise a fuss about the 6P’s rear-facing fingerprint scanner, but even that only manages to be frustrating under a very particular set of circumstances.
The Nexus 6P is the best pure Android phone on the market, and it’s well-equipped to stay that way for a while.