The Nexus 6P is one of the most anticipated Android handset of 2015. As the high-end “Google Showcase” handset, it is seen by many as having the most advanced Android software and features, along with high expectations for an excellent quality/price ratio. This time, Huawei is Google’s partner for the best Nexus phone of 2015, and much is expected from one of the fastest-growing handset maker in the world.
In this review, I will go through how it feels to use the Nexus 6P, and tell you how it performs in the real world, including its camera. Finally, we will look at the performance and performance/price analysis to show you if the Nexus line is still a great deal.
Industrial design (very good)
The Nexus 6P industrial design is a bit of a departure from its recent predecessors because it uses a CNC-machined aluminum body, and you can feel it right away. At 178g, it feels quite substantial in the palm of your hand, and some people will really like that “solid” feel. The metal back cover and the all-glass front feel “premium” to the touch. It’s definitely different from the more plastic feel (and weight) of the Nexus 5X.
As you may know, Huawei is the company that Google partnered with to build the Nexus 6P, and this reflects on how fast and how aggressively Huawei has improved the build quality. Usually, Google’s designers are the ones who ultimately deciding what the design look like, and what the budget is, but Huawei has to ultimately make it happen.
It’s clear that Google and Huawei have very different business goals here: Google wants to set the bar for Android handsets (vs. just making money) and Huawei wants to show what it can do when it is not limiting itself to high-impact “value per dollar” phones, which is its specialty. Both companies seem to have hit the nail in the head with this design.
On the black version which we have, the branding is very low-key. Although the Nexus logo is huge, it’s not very visible due to the low contrast with the background color. The white version is the exact opposite: the Nexus logo is extremely visible.
In the center, the fingerprint reader is visible. It has a little ridge that makes it easy to find and helps putting the (index) finger in the right location. Although other designs may have some physical clues to help locate the fingerprint reader’s location, I found the bevel design to be the best for now. The difference is subtle, but I found it to be sufficiently better to take notice.
Finally, at the top, there is a prominent feature with black glass that houses the camera, and the wireless antennas (metal does block radio signals). You may or may not like this phone design feature, but it helps reinforce the sense that the camera is very important (more on that in a bit!).
I really like the design which gives the phone a solid, premium feel, even if it doesn’t beat the S6 Edge family in terms of pure design and elegance (my take). I prefer the black version, but drop a comment to let me know which one you like.
At 5.7” and 2560×1440 (3.7M pixels), the display is bright and colorful. The color saturation is good, and since it uses the AMOLED technology, the black levels are excellent. Although other display with the same resolution could be slightly better, I don’t think that the difference is meaningful enough to be a sway factor.
For instance, I compared it with the Galaxy S6 Edge+, and color-settings aside, both screens looked very good. The only esthetic advantage that Samsung’s Edge design has is the curved edge -which is beautiful-, but this doesn’t relate to display “quality”, mainly design.
The Nexus 6P’s AMOLED display is protected by a Gorilla Glass 4, which, when compared to Gorilla 3 glasses, is a little less prone to fracture, but a little more prone to scratches. All in all, this is a tweak designed to provide a better tradeoff between being hard and being brittle. Lessening the impact with a bumper or a case is still the best way to avoid screen fracture, which is mainly due to the compression of the glass from one of the corners.
Software: Android 6.0
The Nexus line of product is always the preferred medium for Google to release a new version of Android, and this is no different. Android 6.0 (aka Android M or Android Marshmallow) comes with a number of new features, four of which you should really know about:
Less preloaded apps
A favorite for most users. Google says that it ships its new phones with less pre-loaded apps. Alternatively Android allows you to “disable” apps that you don’t use, to avoid processor and memory bloat. Not having them pre-installed to start with is even better. Google also points out that many preloaded Android apps, can be completely removed “like any other apps”. Check our tutorial about removing Android Apps if you’re not familiar with the process.
Now on Tap
This feature is a deeper and more pervasive integration of Google’s Search services into Android. The main advantage to the user is that it’s possible to search and get information without leaving the current app.
Better, clearer permissions
Before 6.0, apps were requesting a bunch of permission at installation time. It was notorious that even savvy users would quickly “agree” to them, without reading. From now on, Android will ask for a one-time permission when the app tries to access things like SMS or the camera, just to cite two out of many requests. For instance, it may be weird that a notepad app asks for access to SMS. This could be a malware.
Android has been able to execute voice commands for some time. Now, this functionality is being extended to 3rd party apps. Following the classic “OK Google” sentence to get the phone’s attention, users will now be able to control apps that are using this new capability. Expect voice control to be more pervasive.
Battery life is never long enough, so Google is getting smarter about it. For instance, there is now a “doze mode” that detects when the phone is resting on a table. When that happens, the phone will become much less active and stop syncing app data in the background. These days, an Android phone can easily lose 20-30% of its battery life overnight. This should help a lot. To be fair, a few years ago, the overnight depletion was only 5% or so…
Touch to unlock / Fingerprint sensor
Being able to wake-up and securely unlock the phone is a huge boost to both security and productivity, especially if you use full-device encryption. I have noticed that the fingerprint unlock is faster on all Android 6.0 devices (including the HTC One A9) when compared to Android 5. x ones.
- New user interface (UI) animations
- “Heads-up notifications” that could show enough information you wouldn’t need to take further action
- A to Z apps indexing for faster search (duh). Search with the keyboard added.
- Quick app access at the top of the app tray that will change during the day, depending on your app pattern
Camera (very good)
On paper, the Nexus 6P camera is impressive. Google says that it has a huge sensor, along with large pixels (1.55um each). Shortly after that, the renowned DXO benchmark announced that it had the second-best camera behind the Galaxy S6 Edge (which is the same as the whole Samsung line-up this year). I walked into this review expecting the Nexus 6P to be close or better than the S6-series.
Unfortunately, the S6-series remains noticeably ahead in terms of photo quality. Which is not to say that the Nexus 6P is not very good, but it just can’t touch the “excellent” rating of the Samsung mobile cameras for now. Here’s an example of two photos taken from the same location:
That said, the Nexus 6P is somewhere between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ in terms of photo-quality, so it’s still very good by any standard.
Low-light photos are important because in good lighting conditions, all top camera phones do take excellent photos and the difference resides mainly in who has more pixels (megapixel).
In low-light, the camera lens, sensor and more importantly, the camera software, is pushed to its limit. Every trick in the book (filter, post-processing, OIS) must be used to build a great photo and this is a very tough race.
Performance (very good+)
With a Snapdragon 810 v2.1 and apparently optimized graphics drivers, the Nexus 6P performs well in both general tests (Basemark OS 2) and graphics/gaming tests (GFXBench). Since the synthetic CPU core performance cannot be optimized by drivers, its GeekBench score remains in retreat when compared to the new iPhones and Galaxy phones, but other than that it performance is very decent – especially for the price (more on that later).
If you’re not familiar with this chip (SoC), read our Snapdragon 810 overview. It is basically the high-end chip from Qualcomm for 2015, and it won’t be before Q1 2016 that its successor, the Snapdragon 820 processor will start appearing. The new version may be the same as the Snapdragon 810 featured in the Sony XPERIA Z5.
GFXBench gives an indication for the 3D video-game performance (GPU/graphics processor), while GeekBench 3 is more focused on synthetic CPU performance. Basemark OS 2 is more representative of general performance/speed.
While none of these provide a 100% accurate image of the phone’s perceived speed, they do give good pointers that can be used to objectively estimate the potential of a handset. In the end, the software for each phone makes the final difference, but in our experience, there’s a good correlation between performance and experience.
The Nexus 6P 3450 mAh battery capacity is excellent. It’s not the absolute biggest on the market, but it is one of the largest for this form-factor. Sheer battery capacity remains the most important factor to determine what the battery life will be like, especially within a same platform/OS and comparable display size.
Battery life can be affected by too many factors to be accurately estimated in the lab. Apps activity, cell tower proximity, display brightness – just to name the obvious ones- can make a huge difference in terms of battery depletion speed.
Note that the battery of the Nexus 6P is NOT removable, but as most modern phones, it does support fast-charging. There is no integrated wireless charging.
Value proposition (very good)
Nexus phones have always been about their great quality+performance… for the price. At the time of publication, this is true once again. When compared to other popular phones, the Nexus 6P offers great general system performance (Basemark OS 2), and great gaming performance (GFXBench), for the price.
Conclusion (very good+)
The Nexus 6P is a great handset, which brings a lot of value for the money. As the high-end Nexus handset it has been designed with a “Premium” feel and hardware that justifies its $499 price, especially since it often behaves like a $700 phone.
The camera is very good, but despite the large-pixel sensor, it can’t beat the Galaxy S6 Series (Note 5, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+) which remains the top Android camera phone at the moment. But since the S6 currently costs about $510 (unlocked), the difference isn’t as big as one may think.
In the end, I am impressed by the overall quality of this phone which is built by Huawei. This is without a doubt the best Huawei handset to date and we’re looking forward to seeing what this brand will come up with in 2016.
To conclude, I’d like to add that beyond the handset itself, I have heard a lot of praise about Google’s customer service, which seems to be impeccable, not only in the USA, but also in European countries. Also, keep in mind that Nexus phones tend to be the first ones to get new Android updates, which is a big selling point for many.