Review

Nexus 6P - A personal review

Introduction

Now that the dust left from the Nexus hype-train has settled, I thought it would be an ideal moment to get this short review up of Huawei's first entry into the Nexus game.

I've always wanted a Nexus phone, but there has always been an important aspect missing for the way I use a smartphone. I need large capacity storage for music and other media. I travel often, so don't always have stable data coverage, you see.

So when rumours emerged that the new Nexus will have 128 GB of storage, and possibly a MicroSD card slot, it was checkmate. I had to have one, in fact within days of the keynote, I had placed my pre-order. And so began the month long wait for shipping.

I have owned the Sony Xperia Z3 since launch, and this review will compare loosely against it from the perspective of a user looking to upgrade to a newer flagship. My Z3 is also running Sony's Marshmallow Concept release, so fairly even ground in terms of performance and look and feel on the software front for me to get an idea of how they both compare in practice.

I won't delve too deeply into the Marshmallow ins and outs, as these aspects have been covered many times over the last few months, and besides, there's nothing new to report in this area. What I will focus on, though, is how the Nexus 6P feels as an upgrade to a year old flagship like the Z3. No doubt many users will be looking to upgrade from a smaller screen device, and will be interested in knowing if the extra cost to upgrade to the 6P is worth it.

Specifications

Body & Dimensions

Aluminium, 159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm

Weight

178 g

Screen

5.7" AMOLED (1080x2560 @ 518ppi) (Gorilla Glass 4)

SoC

Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810

CPU

Quad-core 1.55 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57

GPU

Adreno 430

RAM

3GB

Storage

32/64/128 GB

Cameras

Front: 12.3 MP, laser autofocus, 1.55µm pixel size, 2160p@30fps, 720p@240fps
Rear: 8 MP, 1080p@30fps

Battery

3450mAh (non removable)

Connections

USB Type-C (USB 2.0 speed for data transfer)
3.5mm headphone jack

Fast charging

USB-PD via any compatible Type-C power source with a 5v 3A output.

WiFi

a/b/g/n/ac (dual band WiFi radios)

Biometrics

Rear fingerprint sensor

Notification LED Yes, RGB type (disabled in settings by default!)

I'll just say it right now and get it out of the way, at no point did the Snapdragon 810 show any sign of overheating. The phone only got lukewarm while charging!

The core specs are excellent. They are aligned with other flagships, and with it running Android 6, a cut above the competition, as many still don't have their Marshmallow flavoured updates yet.

I did have a few reservations though, but nothing that I couldn't work around if the 6P ended up ticking the right boxes in other areas.

My concerns were in the following areas:

  • No IPX rating for water/dust protection.
  • No Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 support.
  • No wireless charging.
  • Only USB 2.0 speed for data transfer.

Packaging

The box is pretty minimal, but functional. There's not much to write about here, other than it being rather cool. Take a look!

Inside, the neat and minimal approach continues. Behind the 6P is a card offering a 90 day Google Play Music trial for European buyers. USA buyers were given $50 Play Store credit. I don't know about you guys, but this felt like a kick to the teeth to me! I'd much rather have Play Store credit like the USA, not a music trial subscription.

Accessories included in the box :
- USB Type-C to Type-C cable
- USB Type-C to Type A cable
- 5v3A USB Type-C mains charger block

No headset in sight. This isn't an issue for me, as rarely do you get high quality earphones bundled with a phone, but some will find this omission frustrating.

As easy as A B...Type-C?

Not long after release, Type-C cables and accessories started to hit retail channels. Normally this is great news, but in this case it seemed that some third party manufacturers jumped the gun.

To cut a long story short, Not all third party cables and chargers are fully USB-C compliant, and those that aren't, could pose a risk to your new device.

A Google engineer started posting his own reviews on Amazon calling out the non compliant ones. As this gained popularity, the community banded together, and now there is an ongoing reddit thread with info and links showing what is, and what is not compliant.

As it stands, a good 80% of the cheap cables and accessories I had bought through Amazon and eBay in anticipation of the 6P delivery had to be binned. BOOurns.

Fit and finish

First impression was "wow, this feels good", and indeed, it felt great in the hand. The chamfered edges have that cold metal feel in the palm. The back is slightly slippery though, I'd be cautious about using it outside on a windy day.

Many people dislike the black camera lens/sensor bar area, but personally I think it's a unique touch, an identifier, if you will. This bar is Gorilla Glass 4, so should not scratch easily.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed the bottom plastic panel wasn't quite flush with the rest of the phone's aluminum surface. in the photo below, you can see what I mean.

Thankfully the rest of the phone feels and looks great. It is the same thickness as the Z3, but in my hand it feels thinner thanks to the sloped sides and chamfered edges.

It is not as big as some would think either. Google says it's a 5.7" phone in the body shell typically found on a 5.5" one, and I think this is spot on. Next to the Z3, it's bigger, but not by a huge amount. The slim dimensions helps keep its form under control.

No doubt most of you will have already heard and read about the 6P bend-gate by now. I was concerned when I first saw the videos being posted, then not so much after the community discussions about it started kicking off. Needless to say, I experienced no bend issues.

It does seem there is an issue with the 6P's structural design though. Only time will tell whether it is a long term issue, or something that Google can remedy in newer batches. The jury is still out on this one, folks.

Screen quality

Google said the AMOLED panel used was the latest generation from Samsung. This later lead people to ask whether it meant the latest on the market (Note 5), or simply the latest that Samsung made available to Huawei, which would probably be the Note 4 generation class. I have not yet found any conclusive details on this, but comparison reviews between Note 5 and 6P suggest that the Note 5 has the better and brighter display, though not by a huge amount.

On my 6P I found the screen to be sharp and clear, but the colour tint to the screen was too warm. The photo above shows one such example, if you compare the bride's photo with the one on Flickr, you can see just how much warmer the 6P is.

The warmth is typical for an AMOLED panel, though. Usually you can change the display mode to suit your taste if it's a Samsung phone. however, the Nexus 6P has no such option under Display Settings. I think it would have been nice to see a dedicated RGB settings screen.

There is an sRGB mode hidden away under developer settings, that once enabled will reduce the vibrancy of mostly primary colours. This made a small difference, but not enough to fix the overly warm tint for me.

Mileage does seem to vary here, as some comments on forums stated it fixed it completely for them. sRGB mode did disable itself randomly a few times too, which was strange.

Other than that, the black levels are outstanding, although we expect no less here. Even with the warmth, colours do pop out. Just anything with white or pale shades has that warm tint to it, which I find quite annoying.

Camera

It is said the best camera is the one you have on you at that moment. Almost everyone carries their phone at all times these days, so having a really good camera is a big bonus for those quick shots, whatever the conditions may be.

The Nexus 6P (and 5X) use Sony's IMX377 sensor. This module is not found on any other smartphone on the market today. It has a pixel size of 1.55 micron, which is larger than the competition.

People had their doubts after the announcement, as Google stated the new camera had photography centric excellent low light capabilities, and showed examples comparing it against Apple's iPhone 6s Plus. But any doubts were laid to rest once samples started to get uploaded.

While there is no Optical image Stabilisation, and the aperture is only f/2.0, the low light performance remains very good, with thanks to the larger sensor pixel size compared to other flagship camera sensors.

Here is a quick indoor low light photo taken at 1/40s, iso400. A full resolution version can be viewed here.

The 6P supports full manual controls, although the Google Camera app is as basic as ever, only offering basic settings.

I downloaded Manual Camera, which seemed to work really well. The photography experience was better now thanks to it, but it doesn't support video, so expect to app-hop for that . The Google app is good though, it gets the job done with no nonsense. But having manual capabilities satisfies those of us who like to tweak.

Android Marshmallow

Version 6.0 is what ships with the 6P, we know all there is to know about the latest version of Android now, and pretty much everything about it has been well received.

Doze brings new levels of idle time on Android, something that iPhone users have had for a while now. The Nexus 5X and 6P also go one step beyond, with a new low power component called Android Sensor Hub. Deigned to handle sensor data and keep the main processor from consuming extra power when your phone is in motion, such as in a bag/pocket.

Performance wise it's very smooth. This is what Android has been heading toward for a long time now, and it is finally here. Between the 6P and Z3, both run Marshmallow just as smooth as each other. People might expect the 6P to pull ahead, be just that bit faster still considering the newer and better spec Snapdragon 810 chipset, but this is not the case.

Marshmallow also introduces an interesting set of options on the new Nexus phones. Here's what happened when I hooked up the 6P to my Xperia Z3 using an Aukey USB-C to USB hub.

This is a good thing of course, and is what Android needs. If Marshmallow allows compatible devices to perform just as smooth as each other, then more power to us. Class tiers should be divided by what features they offer, not by how sluggish they feel in day to day use. Speaking of which...

Day-to-day use

Over the course of several days, I used the 6P as my main phone. I installed the same applications, had the same Nova Launcher configuration, used the same sim and connected to the same WIFi networks.

This would give me the best possible indication on whether the 6P was capable of powering though the average day.

Connected to my 5GHz home network, I was surprised to see a connection rate of 866 Mbps. The dual WiFi radios were working their magic. Previous handsets maxed out at 430 Mbps.

On 4G connectivity, I found no network performance differences between 6P and Z3. I also saw no difference in Mobile Radio battery consumption in Android's battery monitor. The LTE radio on the 6P had nothing new to show here, at least not for me anyway.

The fingerprint sensor was one of the big talking points, it really is as good as all the hype suggested. I didn't know how it would feel having the sensor on the back of the phone though, previously I'd only ever used front facing sensors on Samsung phones.

I found it worked really well and felt natural. By the time I'd taken it out of my pocket, the screen was already unlocked and ready to use. I had no recognition issues either.

There were no issues typing on such a large phone either. I am used to it having owned the Note 3 and have other phablets kicking about. Using it one handed is a challenge, but not impossible.

Battery

Battery life was all round decent. In the areas I work around, cell reception to 4G is not so strong, so this strains the battery more. Nevertheless, I was able to charge the phone and unplug the night before, have a full day at work, return home, and then maybe think about putting it back on charge by around 7PM.

It's no Z3 for battery life, but it's certainly better than what I used to get with the Note 3.

Charging 3450mAh back to full was very quick. The Huawei charger took the 6P from 5% to 100% in around 1 hour 30 minutes. Using third party cables with the stock charger took slightly longer for some reason.

Media playback

The new Nexus phones are the first to offer a great camera, but can they also offer a great audio experience? I'm pleased to say yes to this. The 6P's stereo speakers are outstanding. The bass isn't as deep as HTC's BoomSound, but the clarity, stereo imaging and overall detail is all there with the onboard speakers.

The headphones output is very good too. Whether I connected a pair of headphones or IEMs, the audio was loud and clear, even on my hard to drive AKG. A Wolfson DAC powered Samsung flagship does get louder, and has a warmer, sweeter sound by the very nature of the DAC itself. Qualcomm's audio chip used in the 6P is good enough though, and I had no trouble enjoying music and videos.

Closing thoughts

The Nexus 6P surprised me for sure. It was my first Nexus device, and I found it to be a well rounded and premium flagship running the latest stock Android. The styling is quite unique too, you certainly won't mistake it for any other phone on the market. It reminds me of Bender from Futurama, I'm still waiting to see if some Bender themed decal skins hit online stores!

I ended up concluding that the 6P wasn't quite for me. Don't get me wrong, it is an excellent smartphone and will please many who upgrade to it. But my requirement for 128 GB or more storage meant paying a considerable premium, and for that kind of extra cost, I had to make sure that whatever replaced the Z3 had as few deal breaking compromises as possible. For me, the 6P has one too many, chief of which is the warm tinted screen. The lack of an IPX rating, QC2.0 and a few other things I could live with. But to have no ability to tweak the colour tone of the thing you look at hundreds of times a day just doesn't cut it for me.

2016 is going to be a fun year for phone enthusiasts, with Qualcomm promoting Snapdragon 820, and rumours of 3D Touch like features, I'm very excited.

If anyone at Google is reading this, please, just add an RGB slider settings page for white balance adjustment. Sony has had this for a while!

 

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