The Nexus 5 was a big hit; an unqualified success for Google. People loved that phone, and many of them are still using one. Now, there's finally a true successor to the Nexus 5 in the LG-built Nexus 5X. Hopes were understandably high for this phone, and the handful of missing features led some Nexus 5 owners to planning how they'd keep their 2013-era phones running for another year. Specs don't tell you the whole story, though. The Nexus 5X doesn't have the most RAM or highest resolution screen, but it still deserves your attention because it offers a wonderful experience for not a lot of money.

Specs

SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
RAM 2GB LPDDR3
Internal storage 16GB or 32GB
Rear Camera 12.3MP, 1.55 μm pixels, f/2.0 aperture, IR laser-assisted autofocus
Front Camera 5MP, 1.4 μm pixels, f/2.2 aperture
Dimensions 147.0 x 72.6 x 7.9 mm
Weight 136 g
Battery 2,700 mAh
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Price $379 (16GB) or $429 (32GB) via Google Store

The Good

Design It's a smaller Nexus phone that is usable in one hand, and also manages to be extremely light without feeling cheap.
Camera The camera works well in a variety of lighting situations and captures a ton of detail. The laser autofocus is solid as well.
Nexus Imprint This is far and away the best fingerprint scanner implementation I've ever used. It's also in a great spot on the back.
Battery life Doze is a legitimate success in Android 6.0—the Nexus 5X has great standby time, and screen-on time is around 5 hours in a single day for me.
Display The 1080p LCD has vivid colors and crisp lines. It's also bright enough to be usable outside and dim enough for a dark room.
Notification LED It has one and it's bright.

The Not So Good

Charging The USB power delivery standard isn't fully compatible with all those Qualcomm Quick Chargers you have around. Some of them are moderately fast, but others only charge at normal speeds.
Ambient display It's still disappointingly slow and unreliable.
Design again It's all plastic, if that's something that bothers you.
Speaker It's nice that the single speaker is front-facing, but the sound it produces is mediocre.
Camera again No optical or electronic stabilization. Some lag when taking HDR+ shots.
Storage The 16GB model isn't really enough, and the 32GB is getting close in price to the base model 6P. There's also no microSD card slot (obviously).

Design

The first thing that struck me when I picked up the Nexus 5X is how light it is. I'm used to larger phones that are unrepentantly heavy, but even smaller phones are sometimes hefty in their own right. The Nexus 5X is only 136g, which as I pointed out in the preview, is only a few grams heavier than the 2013 Moto X with its 4.7-inch screen. Hell, it's only 7g heavier than the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, which has a 4.6-inch screen.

You might think being so light makes the Nexus 5X feel cheap, but it really doesn't. This piece of hardware strikes a fantastic balance between size and weight without sacrificing build quality. Yes, this is a plastic phone, but it's one of the most solid-feeling plastic phones I've ever used. There's no flexing or creaking when you squeeze it, and there are no gaps between the plastic sections. Remember how the Nexus 5 would almost instantly get dust stuck in the slightly too-large seam around the screen bezel? That doesn't happen on the 5X.

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The back panel of the 5X is soft touch plastic, very similar to the N5. My review unit has a white back (the panda phone), which is a bit smoother than my old black Nexus 5. This is just how soft touch materials usually are. Lighter colors are smoother to avoid staining. I can say that the 5X's back panel feels much more solid than the N5's.

Toward the top of the back panel you've got the camera hump that protrudes only a tiny bit, the flash/laser autofocus, and the fingerprint sensor. I'll talk about how Nexus Imprint works in detail shortly, but I want to point out how the sensor fits into the overall design. It's located in just the right spot for you to tap with a finger when unlocking the phone, but the slightly raised ridge around the edge also makes it a good place to leave your finger while using the phone. Like the dimple on the Moto X, it helps to stabilize phone and make it more comfortable to hold. It's nice to use a smaller phone that's so easy to hold that you can actually operate with one hand.

The buttons give me some pause. They're made out of the same smooth plastic as the edge of the phone (i.e. no soft touch), and they don't feel as nice as the metal buttons on a phone like the 6P. However, they're pretty clicky, and sit well above the rest of the frame so they're easy to find by touch.

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The headphone jack and USB port are both on the bottom. I think this is a more logical place for headphones to plug in, but I'm sure not everyone agrees there. The USB Type-C port is neat, I suppose. It'll be great when everything uses this one standard, but for the time being it's just another cable type that I need to have around. This phone only comes with a C-to-C cable that plugs into the power adapter. So, if you want to access the phone from your computer to transfer files or unlock the bootloader, you'll need to buy an A-to-C cable, which costs $8-10 right now.

Display

The Nexus 5X has a 5.2-inch 1080p LCD display, which is a noticeable step down from the 1440p AMOLED on the 6P. By most measures, I think this is a very good LCD. Some of its properties won't match AMOLED, but that's just the nature of the beast. The display's colors are accurate, but they lack the punch of an AMOLED. I don't think you'll notice unless you've got another phone to compare side-by-side. The color balance is also shifted more to the warm end than most devices. I've seen some people complain of very yellow screens on the 5X, but mine seems to be within what I'd consider the "normal" range.

I have absolutely no problem using the Nexus 5X outside. This screen gets monstrously bright, to the point that it's almost as legible in direct sunlight as it is indoors. If you shut off adaptive brightness, it also gets surprisingly dim. Not as dim as a Samsung AMOLED, but it's usable in a dark room without searing your retinas. Viewing angles are also solid. There's no distortion or fading even way off-axis.

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Google is obsessed with this ambient display thing now. The idea is that when notifications come in or you pick up your phone, the lock screen will appear as a black and white outline that shows you notifications and the time. The nifty part is you can interact with the buttons and notifications immediately, so in theory, it's a little more capable than something like Moto Display. However, ambient display is still too slow and unreliable. I'll pick up the phone and just stare at the screen sometimes, wondering if ambient display is going to wake up. Those 1-2 seconds can feel much longer when I just need to glance at something quickly. Too often it doesn't come on at all, and I have to relent and wake the phone up manually. I kept it on for battery life testing because that's the default setting, but I think I'll shut it off now.

If you do use ambient display, you'll notice that the Nexus 5X's black levels are good (for an LCD). There's a purplish hue in the black areas of the screen, but you don't usually notice in normal operation. Next to a phone like the Moto X Pure with its 1440p LCD, the Nexus 5X is slightly less contrasty. Compared to a budget phone, though, the 5X LCD had more than acceptable black levels.

As for the resolution, let's be frank here. A 1080p screen at 5.2-inches is more than enough. This phone has 423 pixels per inch, and unless you have amazing vision and get your eyeball right up there, you'll never be able to make out individual pixels. The other properties of the screen are more important, and the Nexus 5X performs well.

Nexus Imprint

The Nexus 5X and 6P are the first phones to have Google's official fingerprint unlock method built-in, and it's probably the best fingerprint system I've ever used on a phone. Nexus Imprint can be set up when you first power on the phone, or you can access it from the security menu at any time. Adding a fingerprint is almost suspiciously fast. It takes six taps to learn your fingerprint extremely well. The first time I did this I thought I must have missed something. Most phones have you tap the sensor at least 15 or 20 times. It was no mistake, though. Nexus Imprint has been rock solid through all my testing.

It doesn't matter what part of my finger touches the sensor or what angle it happens at—Nexus Imprint recognizes my fingerprint in under a second and wakes up the phone, completely skipping the lock screen. One vibe means the phone has recognized you, and two mean it hasn't. I very, very rarely get that second vibe with the correct finger. You can touch the sensor on the back of the phone to wake and unlock, completely removing the need to press the power button. Even from a sleeping state, Nexus Imprint is unbelievably fast.

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One of my favorite things about Nexus Imprint on the 5X is that you can still use Smart Lock without losing any functionality. With a phone like the Galaxy S6, you can't unlock it via the fingerprint sensor if smart lock is engaged. It'll go back to asking for the print when your situation changes, but it's actually less convenient to unlock the phone with smart lock because you have to swipe the screen. With the 5X, even if you have smart lock turned on, you can still use your registered fingerprint to wake up and unlock the phone. So you don't have to worry about whether or not the sensor is going to work based on your smart lock status. It's a brilliant way to set things up. Hitting the power button will still bring up the swipe-type lock screen when smart lock is active.

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My only qualm about Nexus Imprint, and it is a mild one, is that it's almost too fast. It's possible to brush the sensor with your finger as you're placing the phone in a pocket or bag. Just this is enough to wake the phone up. It really illustrates just how fast it is, but it can be somewhat annoying. Still, I'd rather it be too sensitive than not sensitive enough.

Camera

Nexus phones have never been known for their cameras... no, that's not right. They have been known for their cameras being bad. I feel like this is the first year Google really took the cameras seriously, and I say this knowing the Nexus 5X is missing a few features. However, it's still better at taking photos than all previous Nexus devices.

This phone has the same 12.4MP Sony image sensor on the back as the Nexus 6P. There's no optical image stabilization, and for whatever reason, Google's method of electronic stabilization doesn't run well enough on the Snapdragon 808. Or at least that's the story they're going with. Whatever, we're not here to dissect Google's talking points. What matters is that the Nexus 5X is great for taking quick snapshots, and it produces excellent photos (usually) on the first try.

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In bright light, the images come out great—colors are accurate and the level of detail is impressive. Fine details aren't drowned out by over-sharpening as they are on some phones. I encourage you to check out the full resolution shots and zoom in. They're really sharp. Exposure is overall above average. You might get some blown out areas in certain lighting conditions, but HDR+ helps with that a lot. The range of Google's HDR implementation is better than most phones, but captures are slower. In outdoor settings that isn't much of a problem, as everything is pretty fast to start with.

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Indoors, the Nexus 5X is still very capable. The colors are shifted slightly warm, but it still pulls out a good amount of detail without much noise. There's still some graininess when you zoom in, though. As long as you're not going to be cropping these photos to high heaven, it ought to be fine. Capture times to start to tick upward in medium and low light, but it's not as bad as I expected. The larger pixels and f/2.0 aperture in this sensor apparently do their job quite well. There's a bit more shutter lag than something like the G4 or GS6, but much, much less than the OnePlus 2. The depth of field is also very impressive in all lighting situations, I presume thanks to the laser autofocus, which allows you to reliably focus on your subject. I don't use front-facing cameras much, but this one performs well compared to competing phones. It has 1.4 μm pixels and a f/2.2 aperture, so it'll capture usable shots in various lighting conditions.

My primary concern is not so much related to the camera, but with the Google Camera app. After taking several photos in a row with HDR+, the app lags badly as it processes those images. This isn't unique to the Nexus 5X as I've seen the same thing happen on the 6P. My assumption is that this is a bug that will be addressed at some point.

Without any sort of stabilization, optical or electronic, the Nexus 5X does have a tendency to produce some fuzzy images in low light. I do find this annoying, though it performs better than I expected. I guess I'd chalk that up to the larger pixels and aperture again. It's not a perfect camera by any stretch, but I don't think you'll be disappointed with it.

Battery Life

Let me start off by saying, the Doze hype is real. It's so real I can't make myself believe it entirely. Google has a tradition of making lofty claims about battery life in Android, then failing catastrophically to live up to them. Not this time. Doze gives the Nexus 5X really killer standby battery life. It loses around 2-4% of its charge if I leave is sitting overnight. However, if you use it on and off during the day, it won't be in Doze mode much.

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As for active use, I'm reasonably happy with the Nexus 5X and its 2700mAh battery. In a single day, I think you can eke out roughly 5+ hours of screen time over about 20 hours of use. I've had no problem getting from early morning to late evening with another 20% left in the tank. This is based on my usage, which will of course differ from yours. I use phones mostly for messaging, browsing the web, Reddit, photos, and a little light gaming.

With a 2700mAh battery and 1080p screen, I think the active battery life could stand to be a little better. It's not bad as it stands, but I'm sure you can stretch it by dropping the brightness. I left it right in the middle with ambient mode turned on, but it's a bright LCD in general.

Software And Performance

The Nexus 5X ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but of course you know that already. You probably already know a lot of the ins and outs of this version. Liam is working on a Marshmallow edition of Getting To Know Android, so I won't go into extreme detail about the basic Marshmallow features. However, there are some things to note.

There are fewer pre-installed Google apps this time around, but if you're importing apps from an old device, you might end up installing a lot of these anyway. You still get the basics like Gmail, Drive, and of course, the Play Store. It's a smart move that makes the device setup process faster (fewer things to update) and offers more choice (install what you want without as many pre-loaded apps in the way).

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The new permission system is great, and I'm a bit surprised how close it is to what people have been asking for in recent years. You get prompts for important permissions in your apps, and the security settings let you toggle permissions on and off as you like. You can do this for any app, even if it hasn't been updated for Marshmallow. However, you'll be warned that things could break if you do so.

You can't talk about Marshmallow without mentioning Now On Tap. This was one of the big headlining features Google talked about during the announcement, but I'm sorry to say it's been pretty disappointing so far. The idea is that you long-press the home button to scan the screen and get cards that offer contextual information and actions. In practice, it doesn't do much. I've used it on a few devices so far, but it's always the same. It seems good at picking out addresses and restaurants, but most everything else is just a link to a web search I'm probably not going to look at. Thankfully, Now On Tap is part of the search app, so Google should be able to improve it over time.

Marshmallow has been running admirably on the Nexus 5X since I started using it. Animations are fluid and apps seem to run in the background properly. This phone only has 2GB of RAM when many phones are starting to ship with 3 and 4GB. That hasn't stopped Samsung from mucking up the memory management in Android, though. I haven't noticed apps dropping out of memory too quickly, and nothing with a notification has been killed while I've been using the phone. The only lag I've seen is when the phone wakes up from a long period of inactivity. There will be maybe 5-10 seconds of mild jerkiness as (I assume) apps wake up from Doze and check in. Once or twice this has resulted in glitchy home screen performance that necessitated a restart, but this is probably a bug that'll be addressed in a future OTA. I've heard some people claim other lag issues are present on the 5X, but I haven't seen any of that.

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If you're on T-Mobile, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that WiFi calling works great out of the box. This is part of AOSP now, so there's no setup required beyond toggling the setting. Band 12 LTE (which T-Mobile insists upon calling "extended range LTE") is another story. Because T-Mobile uses its custom VoLTE implementation on band 12, there are areas where that's the only voice calling it offers. Since you need to be certified for VoLTE on T-Mobile, the carrier is asking OEMs to disable band 12 until they get that certification. You can read more about this mess here and here. Google is working with T-Mobile to add band 12 support to the 5X, but even on the latest OTA, I have yet to see band 12 pop up at all. This is a real bummer if you have come to rely on it to get a signal.

Conclusion

The Nexus 5X is a very, very good phone. I know that you can look at the spec sheet and get stressed about one thing or another, but just don't. The experience using this phone has surpassed my expectations.

The screen is only 1080p, but it's a good panel and is perfectly acceptable at this size. It performs well outside and inside, and the more modest resolution allows for good battery life. I've personally been getting 5 hours of screen time with heavy use, which is good for a device with a 2700mAh battery. Android 6.0's Doze functionality also makes standby time amazing. You'll get less screen time with light use, but the phone might make it through almost two days.

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The Snapdragon 808 and 2GB of RAM are a step down from the Nexus 6P, but I've had virtually no issue with performance on the Nexus 5X. For whatever reason, Google can't make electronic image stabilization work with this hardware, so the camera suffers slightly. It's still fantastic in all lighting conditions, with just a little risk of blurring in low-light. Still, some of the photos I've gotten from this phone really blow me away.

The 16GB starting capacity is a disappointment for me, but I could see some people going for it if that extra $50 for the 32GB is a stretch. I think that's the one to get, even though it's getting close in price to the 32GB Nexus 6P. You probably shouldn't get the Nexus 5X over the 6P, but because it's a smaller Nexus phone rather than a phablet. It's the modern embodiment of the 2013 Nexus 5, and it's worth buying.