Huge. That was my first thought when I first wrapped my hands around Google’s Nexus 6, the successor to the Nexus 5. The Nexus 6 is one of the largest Android smartphones out there — it has a 6-inch screen — and it definitely does not fit in my pocket.
Aside from its large size, the Nexus 6 is the first Android smartphone to ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Nexus 6 is different from previous Nexus devices for another reason: pricing. Unlike the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, the Nexus 6 is not being sold as a heavily subsidized unlocked smartphone. It starts at $649 for a 32GB model, whereas the Nexus 5 started at $349 for a 16GB model last year. Is the Nexus 6 worth the full price admission? Read on for my full review.
I review smartphones all year round. While my personal phone is an iPhone 6, I’ve grown to really like Android this year, more than ever, mainly because smartphone makers have upped the ante on hardware design. Everyone’s usage differs, and while this is how I use my phone, I think the usage pattern is not too far off from what many use their phones for.
I consider myself a power user; I use my phone all day long as a companion device to my laptop. With it, I field emails from four Gmail accounts, keep up on the news via apps like Feedly and Flipboard, text people all day long on a variety of messaging apps, keep up on Twitter and Facebook, take photos and videos, and make a few 3-10 minute phone calls each day.
When I have meetings, which is usually 3-4 times a week, I have an hour-long commute to and from my home office. During that time I like to listen to music via Spotify or Google Music, play a few games, and watch bookmarked YouTube videos or movies I pre-loaded onto my phone. Pretty common usage, really.
Design (Premium feeling)
If the Nexus 6 looks familiar, that’s because it shares the same exact look as the Moto X (2014). The only difference is the Nexus 6 is larger — way larger.
That’s not a bad thing. As I said in my Moto X (2014) review, the design is tops; it looks and feels like a premium device.
The Nexus 6’s aluminum frame, curved display edges, bulge towards the top and dimpled Motorola Logo are virtually identical to the Moto X (2014). That also, unfortunately, means the phone wobbles when you tap it while it’s on a table. Not a deal breaker, but still annoying.
You don’t get any of the Moto Maker materials and color combinations — the Nexus 6 comes in Cloud White and Midnight Blue (a dark navy) — but that’s fine.
The rear is matte polycarbonate plastic. It’s not the soft-touch rubber material the Nexus 5 has, so it’s not nearly as grippy, but it’s not particularly slippery, either like the Nexus 4’s glass back. The Nexus logo still feels too overbearing, splaying across the entire back. As if the Motorola logo and Nexus logo weren’t enough, the AT&T model will reportedly have a carrier logo at the bottom. (Yuck.)
One difference between the Nexus 6 and the Moto X (2014) is the front-facing speakers. On the Moto X (2014), it’s only a mono front-facing speaker. On the Nexus 6, the two speaker grilles are stereo — and they’re excellent. Sound is very loud and clear. Watching movies and listening to music out loud benefits from the better speakers. I didn’t have an HTC One (M8) on hand to compare, but if I did, I think they’d both be in the same audio class.
While the Nexus 6 has a 6-inch display, its dimensions are in line with most phablets. The Nexus 6 measures 159.3mm x 83mm x 10.1mm. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 measures 153.5mm x 78.6mm x 8.5mm and the iPhone 6 Plus measures 158.1mm x 77.8mm x 7.1mm.
The Nexus 6 is wider and thicker than both of the Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus, which makes it even harder to use with one hand. But you probably already knew that such a large phone would require two-handed operation.
The 10.1mm thickness also means it bulges significantly out of your pants pockets (if you can even put it in there). It’s full on autumn here in New York City, which means I mostly kept the Nexus 6 in my jacket pocket. It’s not as noticeable, but I really have no idea how you’re going to pocket the Nexus 6 in warmer climates or seasons, unless you put it in a jacket pocket, purse or bag. You can always back-pocket it; the Nexus 6 is rigid enough to not suffer from #bendgate, but it’ll also make it easier for someone to steal when you’re not paying attention.
The Nexus 6 has a drop-dead gorgeous display. The 5.96-inch screen is one of the best on a mobile device I have ever laid eyes on. Like so many big Android smartphones, the Nexus 6’s display is a QuadHD one, meaning it has more pixels than a Full HD screen.
Compared to Full HD, which has a 1920 x 1080 resolution, QuadHD has a 2560 x 1440 resolution. With 493 pixels per inch, the Nexus 6’s screen isn’t the densest QuadHD screen — LG G3’s 5.5-inch display has 538 PPI and the Galaxy Note 4 has 515 PPI — but that’s not really a big concern since you won’t be able to see any of the pixels at all unless you break out the microscope.
As an AMOLED panel, I was expecting colors to be a little more saturated, but Google and Motorola seem to have fine-tuned it so that reds and yellows are more defined and whites are not as warm.
The obvious advantage to having such a large and sharp display is that you can easily see read text and view photos and videos with greater clarity — no more zooming in as much! The Nexus 6 is hands-down my favorite phone to watch HD videos, read e-books and browse the web and play games on. It’s not too small and cramped and not as large as a tablet.
I, however, am not convinced most normal people will see the difference between Full HD and QuadHD to appreciate the extra resolution, though. I passed the Nexus 6 to a few friends and family members and none of them felt there was a difference between the Nexus 6 and an iPhone 6 Plus which has a 1080p display with 401 PPI. Go figure.
Software: Android 5.0 Lollipop (So fluid)
Android’s come a long way since its 1.5 Cupcake days. Nine desert-named versions later and we’re now on Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Lollipop is arguably Android’s biggest revision to date. Whereas previous Android versions were more about polishing features — tweaking the UI, optimizing for speed, or adding performance boosts — Lollipop is a rethinking of Android with Google’s new universal “Material Design” design language and improvements to the operating system to be smarter and faster.
Let’s start with Material Design, Google’s new universal design language, where elements, buttons and windows are modeled after paper. Think of pieces of paper for a second. When you stack one on top of another, you automatically know what order they’re in; the top item is the newest and the bottom is the oldest.
Lollipop’s hierarchy is like this — only digital. In fact, Google actually made paper models of icons and mocked up third-party apps with Material Design with real paper, and then photographed them from different angles to experiment with the lighting and shadows.
The goal with Material Design is to provide logical context with the OS. For example, in Google’s apps, there’s a circle button that floats above the pane beneath it in the lower right hand corner. In Gmail, it’s a compose button, in Google Maps, it’s a location marker and directions button, in Google Calendar it’s an Add New Event button. These buttons use shadows to provide a visual cue of “layering”, similar to how iOS 7/8’s translucency provided the same.
Lollipop is also very colorful compared to previous Android versions, kinda like how iOS 7 was a fresh splash of paint compared to iOS 6. Like iOS 7, Google might have went a little overboard with its color usage. All of Google’s apps — Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Music, etc. — which have been redesigned with Material Design now sport bright top menus that extend to the notification bar.
You either love the color explosion and greater use of white space or you don’t. I didn’t like it at first, but it quickly grew on me.
Furthermore, Lollipop’s animations give the perception that the entire OS is faster. Unlike iOS 7’s motion option, which zooms in on folders and makes you feel like you’re literally entering them, Lollipop’s folders bubble open with grace and I experienced no sense of nausea the way I did when I first installed iOS 7. Little things like the way apps open from the bottom up give Android 5.0 more life than previous versions of Android.
In Lollipop, the Recent/Multitasking Apps menu button functions differently. Instead of getting 2D cards of running apps that you can swipe and close, they now sit in a vertical carousel and resemble Chrome tabs (3D ones, though). In fact, Google even went one step further and unshackled Chrome’s tabs and extended them into this window. If you open dozens of Chrome tabs, the multitasking stack can get a bit busy, but luckily you can choose to turn off Chrome tabs show up individually.
Notifications also got completely revamped in Lollipop. While Android’s Notification bar was the first to get notifications right on mobile, they weren’t actionable on the lock screen without unlocking the screen and then pulling the bar down. Now they are. When you get notifications, they show up on the home screen and you can choose to dismiss them by swiping them to the right or double tapping them to open the app. And don’t worry, Google’s also thought of security; you can choose which apps you want and don’t want to show up on the lock screen.
There are lots and lots of tinier tweaks and changes to the UI and Google’s core apps, like how Gmail isn’t strictly a Gmail client anymore (it now lets you add accounts from Yahoo, Outlook.com, and AOL Mail) and the fact that Hangouts is separate from the Messages app again, but the last major feature I want to highlight is Guest Mode. As its name suggests, Guest Mode switches from your main Google account associated with the device to a sort of “Incognito” or “private” user that’s entirely temporary (for as long as you want it). Guest Mode gives you a sandbox of the OS to play in, without compromising your personal data. Anyone operating in Guest Mode will be silo-ed off from your personal data. It’s like they’re using a factory-reset device, only you can switch back to your account anytime you want. It’s great for when you want to let your friends use your phone and you don’t want them snooping or messing any of your settings up.
One thing I am disappointed to not see in Lollipop on the Nexus 6 is the lack of a landscape mode. It just seems like a perfect fit to have a home screen that is re-oriented horizontally ala iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 Plus. I also secretly wish there was some kind of multi-app window mode, like on the Galaxy Note 4, which would really take advantage of the larger and higher resolution display.
For what it’s worth Lollipop does work in landscape orientation for tablets (Nexus 9, Nexus 10…), but just not on the Nexus 6. It’s a real bummer.
The Nexus 6 flies. That’s no surprise since it has a 2.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, Adreno 420 graphics, and 3GB of RAM. You can pick two capacities — 32GB and 64GB. There’s no microSD card slot for storage expansion which is a bummer.
On Geekbench 3, a benchmark that tests the processor’s performance, the Nexus 6 scored a 1053 on the single-core test and a 3336 on the multi-core test. It easily crushed the performance of last year’s Nexus 5, which scored an average of 860 and the Samsung Galaxy S 5 which scored an average of 938 on the single-core test. The multi-core score also bested the Nexus 5’s (Snapdragon 801 processor) 2538 score and the Galaxy S5’s (Snapdragon 801 processor) 2836 score. It’s pretty clear the Snapdragon 805 processor is a monster.
On GFXBench 3.0, a benchmark that tests the OpenGL ES 2.0 and 3.0 performance, the Nexus 6 scored 1170 (18.9 fps) on the 1080p Manhattan Offscreen test (Open ES 3.0) and a 2201 (39.3 fps) on the 1080p Manhattan Offscreen test (Open ES 2.0).
That just barely edges out the iPhone 6 Plus’s 1169 and beats out the Droid Turbo’s 1113 on the Manhattan Offscreen Test. As for competition on the T-Rex Offscreen Test, the Nexus 6 falls short of the iPhone 6’s 2388 score and the iPhone 6 Plus’s 2505 score.
There’s no doubt the Nexus 6 is a performance beast. Combined with Android 5.0’s fluidity, the powerful CPU, GPU and 3GB of RAM are more than enough to
I experienced a few crashes every once in a while where apps just stopped working and closed for no apparent reason, but they were few and far apart. Google says Nexus 6 devices shipping to retail shouldn’t have the random crashes, so it could just be the case of a pre-release software bug.
Generally speaking, I had no problems playing 3D games such as Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt 8: Airborne. These are the two 3D-intensive games I try to consistently test across all current devices and as far as I could tell, it ran best on the Nexus 6 — smoother than on the Moto X (2014) and even the Galaxy Note 4.
High-resolution screens are great to have, but I think most people would rather have longer battery life instead. The Nexus 6 has a non-removable 3220 mAh battery. That might seem like a lot, but for a phone this big, I wish it had more.
To put that battery into perspective, the Galaxy Note 4 has the same battery capacity, while the Motorola Droid Turbo has a massive 3900 mAh pack.
The Nexus 6 can get through a full work day on medium usage (email, texting, social media, music), but that QuadHD display sucks up a lot of power, even with Android 5.0’s power savings.
My suggestion is to keep a battery bank or the Turbo Charger that comes in the box (rapid charges the phone and adds up to 8 hours in about 15 minutes when it’s critically low) handy if you decide to buy the Nexus 6 or spring for the Sony Xperia Z3 or iPhone 6 Plus. Both of those phones get 1.5-2 days of battery life mainly because their displays are 1080p ones and not QuadHD displays. They have fewer pixels to push so they can get more out of the smaller battery capacity.
Motorola’s smartphones are not known for having great cameras. Take the Moto X (2014)’s 13-megapixel rear camera — absolute junk with some of the worst image quality on a flagship device.
Someone at Google must have given someone a good yelling because the 13-megapixel camera with dual LED ring, while identical-looking to the Moto X (2014)’s camera, is surprisingly much better. Image capture is near instant and image quality is slightly better probably because of the f/2.0 aperture versus the Moto X (2014)’s f/2.2 aperture.
Although it’s clear Google’s done a lot of software optimization to the Google Camera app to get it to be more responsive and for things like Auto HDR to work quicker, the built-in optical image stabilization (OIS) also deserves credit for helping me nail many shots.
Low light performance is also better than I expected, but it’s still a no contest compared to the iPhone 6’s capabilities. Take a look at the comparison below between the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6:
The front camera is still the usual 2-megapixel sensor. It’s good enough for those obnoxious selfies and clear enough for 1080p video recording or for video chatting, but it’s not going to impress like the 13-megapixel front camera on the HTC Desire Eye.
The Nexus 6 also shoots 4K video. It’s a nice feature to have and it’ll lead to more user-created content, which will hopefully drive more 4KTV and 4K monitor sales, but it’s not a must-have (yet). My main gripe with 4K video recording in smartphones is that most people don’t have 4K displays or TVs to view the content back on. Viewing 4K recorded content on the Nexus 6 looks good, but it’s still playing back at 1440p (QuadHD) and not 4K.
I didn’t think I’d ever get over the Nexus 6’s gargantuan size, but I did. The screen is gorgeous and the tapered design aped from the Moto X (2014) makes it so the device abnormally thick.
The Nexus 6 is an unapologetic phablet. It’s not trying to hide the fact that it is a device that you’ll need to use with two hands (unless you’ve got massive hands). The camera is one of the better ones on Android, but I think Samsung’s Galaxy Note and LG’s G3 still have the upper hand. And Android 5.0 Lollipop’s Material Design adds a level of dimension and depth to the operating system like never before.
The only thing I wish the Nexus 6 had was a bigger battery. The 3220 mAh battery is adequate enough to survive a day of usage, but a device of this size with a power-guzzling QuadHD screen deserves a bigger power unit. Had Google asked Motorola to put in the 3900 mAh battery found in the Droid Turbo, the Nexus 6 would be near flawless (for a big phone).
The Nexus 6 pushes the limits of premium Android smartphones into the 6-inch category. Can it be done well? The Nexus 6 is proof it can be.
Once you’ve gotten over the size of the Nexus 6, the only thing left to do is sit down and decide if the pricing is right for you. As I mentioned earlier, the Nexus 6 is not heavily Google subsidized this time around. Why? The answer is simple: Android is grown up. It’s no longer the underdog.
Google’s Nexus phones were created at a time to go head-on with the iPhone. They were created as “reference” devices so to speak, for other phone makers to strive towards. Nexus devices — running “pure” Android without any custom skins or modifications — are Google’s iPhones; great hardware with great software.
And they used to come with great prices (as far as unlocked devices go). The unlocked Nexus 4 started at $299 for an 8GB in 2012 and the unlocked Nexus 5 started at $349 for a 16GB last year. So why is an unlocked Nexus 6 priced at $649 for a 32GB? Because Android is now the most popular mobile operating system. Most of the Nexus’s goals have been accomplished with the previous Nexus devices.
Look at devices like the Moto G, Moto X, Sony Xperia Z3v or even budget devices like the Sharp Aquos Crystal and what do they all have in common? They all run pure Android without any skins on top. Google’s vision of pure Android is quickly becoming the norm, not the oddity. Google is now in a position where it doesn’t need to take losses on its Nexus devices and can price them in the same realm as competing flagships like Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note devices.
The $649 starting price also allows for another option: carrier pricing. For the first time ever, Google’s Nexus 6 is available on five major U.S. carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon. We don’t have all the details, but Sprint is selling the 32GB model for $299 with a two-year contract. AT&T will sell the same for $249 with two-year contract. T-Mobile will sell the Nexus 6 starting at $27.08 per month with zero down payments, paid over two-years. No word on what U.S. Cellular or Verizon plan to sell their Nexus 6 at.
The short answer to “Should I buy a Nexus 6?” is yes, if you’re okay with a big phone; it’s one of the best phablets money can buy.
Overall product rating: 8.8/10