A week ago, we took an early look at the Nexus 6P, the larger and more "premium" of Google's phones for 2015. Now that I've lived with the 6P for a bit longer, it's time for the full review.
As stated in the preview post, the 6P is undoubtedly the more premium of the two new Nexuses. It's got the larger, more dense display, the aluminum body, the higher-specced processor, the stereo speakers, and the higher price tag to prove it. And my experience with the Nexus 6P has proven that - to me - the phone is worth that price, even as an upgrade from the original Nexus 6.
The 6P demonstrates lessons learned from previous Nexus phones - it's big, but more restrained than the Nexus 6. It restores the pulsing notification light to the Nexus line. It has a camera that's objectively impressive, not just a camera that's good "for a Nexus."
|Price||Starts at $499 from the Google Store|
|SoC||Snapdragon 810 v2.1|
|Display||1440x2560 Super AMOLED|
|Ports/Expandable Storage||USB-C, 3.5mm/Nope|
|Overall build||Between the Nexus 6P and the Huatch, I'm very impressed with Huawei's build quality lately. The 6P is sturdy but light, and it looks fantastic. It's clearly a thoughtful design, and I appreciate that. Even the camera bump we all shuddered at comes off kinda elegantly. Plastic strips for signal are all but invisible, the power button has a subtle texture, and the top surface of the speaker "pills" is flush with the glass, not protruding like the original 6.|
|The width||The Nexus 6P is a little more narrow than the original 6, and it makes a surprisingly big difference. Reaching across the screen with my thumb is possible, whereas on the Nexus 6 I had to perform the hand dance readers may know already to shimmy across the screen.|
|The camera||The camera is impressive in almost all situations. Its spot-metering may be a little exaggerated at times, but the 6P's front and rear cameras produce surprisingly good results.|
|Nexus Imprint||I've used the power button about 50% less thanks to Imprint. I still need that button to turn the display off, but it's so much faster to scan my finger and simultaneously wake/unlock the device that there's no reason to use the power button for that.|
|The display (for the most part)||Aside from the potential burn-in the 6P will face later, the display is great. It's bright (getting ever so slightly brighter outdoors compared to the Nexus 6), it's clear, and colors look great (whether or not you've enabled sRGB mode). The display is a critical part of the device, so getting it right is worth a lot.|
|Wiggly video stabilization||Stabilization when shooting video can get wiggly at times, which produces a somewhat nauseating effect. This isn't something that happens 100% of the time, but I'd rather have a little shake than sea sickness.|
|Slowmo in low light||Slowmo in non-perfect light looks... really bad. To be fair, this is usually the case on other devices (like the iPhone 6) as well, but it was kind of a letdown to find out you need basically perfect lighting to get a good-looking 240fps video.|
|AMOLED woes||This isn't something that will bother everyone, but checking for burn-in, I can already see (after one week!) some very very light retention of the nav buttons, which is a huge downer. The Nexus 6 eventually got so bad that I could see a sharp line where the nav bar was, and the old nav icons (since Google shifted them in a software update) pretty much at all times, and I was hoping the 6P's panel wouldn't suffer the same fate.|
|No removable battery/Expandable storage||This is also something that won't bug everyone (personally I don't mind it), but removable batteries and microSD slots are increasingly rare features these days that a lot of people still care about. This is a Nexus so we didn't expect these features to be present, but still.|
|Charger confusion||I can handle the need to buy new cables to accommodate the USB type C port, but charging bricks like Moto's quick chargers won't charge the 6P...quickly. Which is annoying.|
|Battery life (for now)||Even with Marshmallow's advancements in battery conservation, battery life still doesn't feel like it was a top priority with the 6P. It's definitely passable, but at the same time not at all impressive. As we approach a time where - in my mind - battery life should be one of the biggest differentiators between smartphones, the 6P just isn't winning any points for staying alive. Can this be improved with later updates? Who knows?|
The Nexus 6P is a really really good phone. If you want build quality, a great camera, a great-looking display, and the promise of fast updates, this is your option. If you want amazing battery life, expandable storage, or removable batteries, it is not. As with any phone, it comes down to your personal priorities.
Design and build
Most of my thoughts about the 6P's design were covered in the preview post last week, and my feelings haven't really changed since then. The 6P, though its design deviates from what had become a signature design progression in the Nexus line, is a gorgeous device. The "barcode scanner" bump is an unexpected but thoughtfully handled element, the chamfers around the edge of the device give just the right shine, and the whole phone just looks and feels nice. It's a good design that isn't begging for attention. It's unique but subtle.
As I said before, the speaker "pills" that cover the inset front-facing speakers are flush with the glass, so the phone can sit on its face, unlike the Nexus 6, and you won't be rubbing against them whenever you grab the device from your pocket (or bag if you have small pockets).
The power button has a super subtle cross-hatch texture that's barely noticeable but another nice touch that shows attention to detail.
Around back, the Nexus Imprint sensor is in a great location (I feel the sensor is a little low on the N5X, but that's a smaller device). It's also inset into the back, which is nice. The camera is inside that black bar, with its own outline that shines separately from the glass covering the whole assembly.
The device feels big, certainly bigger than many devices, but compared to the size and overall feel of the original Nexus 6, the 6P seems more restrained and refined. Best of all (I'm going to keep saying this for the rest of eternity) it's not as wide as the 6.
Oh, and one more thing - haptic feedback. The vibration motor on the 6P is night-and-day better than the original Nexus 6. The original 6 had an annoying vibration motor in my opinion, even discounting the one that malfunctioned right after my review. The 6P's motor is much better. It feels tighter, more intentional, and not shaky.
The display on the 6P, as I've already said, is fantastic. It's a latest-generation Super AMOLED (meaning it matches the panel in the Note 5), and at 1440x2560 in the 6P's 5.7" screen, it's plenty dense for even the most hawk-eyed users.
It's cooler than the Nexus 6 display, which is really noticeable side by side. But I prefer this color profile to the 6's. Outdoors it's not really so great. I wouldn't put it above any other phone really, but it is ever so slightly brighter than the Nexus 6 outdoors, at least as my eyes see it.
It's as responsive as I'd expect (not noticeably slower than the N6 for example), and I have to love its size. The only real downside is - as I mentioned in the not-so-good - the potential for burn-in down the road. To look for this I typically download Markers and color the screen grey to see what I can see. Already after a week of use with the 6P I see very faint retention of the nav buttons which is not a good sign at all. But only time will tell if this will become as big an annoyance on the 6P as it was on its predecessor. If you have the Nexus 6 now and want to check for burn-in, be warned that you will never unsee it.
I feel a word about ambient display is also necessary - I've used ambient display since it was introduced with Lollipop on the Nexus 6, but on the 6P I decided to see what it was like without ambient display and the results are in: I don't miss it at all. In theory ambient display is great, but in practice it can be hard to activate (where it should be natural and accidental), and it gets a little annoying sometimes. If you like ambient display though, you already know what you're in for.
I've said this before, but battery life truly is my least favorite part of writing any review. Automated tests won't reflect real-world usage, and my personal real-world usage won't reflect anyone else's. So it's important to take the following with a grain of salt, but in the interest of completeness, I've done an automated test (with Geekbench) and recorded my real-world experience. First the Geekbench battery test. I compared the 6P with the original 6 to give some context. The 6P lasted 22 minutes longer in the test than the Nexus 6. Charging the battery, by the way, took almost exactly 1.5 hours.
That out of the way, here's what I'll say about the 6P's battery: it lasts all day for me, and not much longer. I can generally expect to have it off the charger for about 13-14 hours before hitting the 15% "low battery" warning, with about 3 hours screen on time during that period. The 3 hour SOT measurement has been pretty consistent throughout my experience with the 6P so far. For context, I usually carry the 6P around with WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS on, with adaptive brightness set.
That's certainly not a very good figure, but from speaking with my friend Francisco Franco about it, it does seem like something that could be helped with a future system update. After all, the high-performance cores in the 6P hover around ~600MHz pretty much all the time according to CPU-Z, and touch events get them a boost to around ~1300MHz for 1.5 seconds, two effects that have unclear origins, but could point to a hopeful future for fine-tuning the way the processor is managed. Of course all of that doesn't guarantee that battery life will ever improve for this device (come on, Android 6.1!).
I'm both surprised and not surprised to see this, though. Surprised because battery life should be a much bigger deal than it is at this point, and not surprised because the Nexus 6 was essentially the exact same for me, and Nexus phones before that haven't had a stellar reputation for battery life, even in their own historical contexts.
Shedding a single tear for a not-too-impressive battery life, we move on to connection and call quality.
Connection and call quality
Since I'm a Project Fi subscriber (you can read about my experience here), my experience may not be very diagnostic for those who plan to use the 6P on one carrier. That said, everything has gone swimmingly so far. In the basement of my apartment building, where I get no signal with the Nexus 6, I have 3G with the 6P! WiFi has been great so far, and to tell the truth I've used WiFi for most of my phone calls with the 6P. WiFi or otherwise though, call quality has been consistently good, and I haven't experienced anything out of the ordinary like dropped calls or other hassles.
Inside my apartment the 6P gets about -95dBm for those who like stats.
Audio and speakers
The speakers on the 6P are great, if you're into listening to music without headphones. I don't predict the 6P would be loud enough to replace a set of "real" speakers at your party, but they'll fill up a small or medium-sized room just fine, and sound is very clear all the way up to the top of the volume scale.
Audio through the headphone jack is good too. I'm definitely not an audiophile so my account of things should be taken with a grain of salt but just out of curiosity I listened to the same song (Aanorak's remix of Unspoken by Pacific!) at the same volume level on the 6P, the Nexus 6, and the iPhone 6 (using V Moda's Crossfade LP headphones).
Between the Nexus 6 and 6P I couldn't really tell a difference. It's possible that the 6P has a slight edge, but the difference was so marginal that I can't say with confidence whether it even exists. Neither device held up to the iPhone 6 though, even streaming the song through Google Play Music on all three devices. I was surprised to hear that, on the iPhone 6, audio sounded noticeably richer, with more defined mids and a deeper sound overall. That's not to say that the 6P or 6 sounds bad, though. Just that I personally noticed a big difference between those devices and the iPhone.
This is the important section, right? Google has touted the 5X and 6P camera up, down, sideways, and diagonal since the announcement with Googlers posting really impressive samples of both still and video captures. But how does it hold up in everyday imperfect situations?
I've discussed my feelings about mobile cameras at length before, so I won't rehash that whole spiel here. But I will briefly outline my thoughts. It's my belief that the primary benefit of a mobile camera is its convenience, so probably the most important thing to judge are the camera's average results in various scenarios as it performs automatically. So, with auto settings (or minimal tweaks) engaged, how does the camera capture bright, dim, and low light situations? How well does it meter for exposures? How's the white balance and ISO? These all contribute to the image you'll see after capture.
As I've said before, full resolution is where the cracks begin to show, but unless you're printing poster size at 200DPI, you'll likely not see some of those cracks wherever your photos end up. So we'll look at the details, but I mostly wanted to explore the bigger picture as it were. Here are the static comparisons, with labels below each set. I left the 6P on HDR+ Auto, but unless noted, HDR wasn't actually activated.
Left: Nexus 6, Middle: Nexus 6P, Right: iPhone 6
Left: Nexus 6, Middle: Nexus 6P, Right: iPhone 6
Top: HDR Off Bottom: HDR On
Left: Nexus 6 Middle: Nexus 6P Right: iPhone 6
As you can see, it tends to do pretty well across the board (but does fall victim to lens flare in direct sun). Colors seem truer than the N6, and generally richer than the iPhone 6. Its one downfall (which seems to be totally the responsibility of software) is metering. Sometimes. I say this because if you tap the screen to focus, the camera will meter to that spot (meaning it will focus to properly expose that spot/region, throwing consequences for the rest of the frame to the wind). But that's where HDR+ comes in. If you have a particularly difficult situation like a somewhat dark/midtone building and a bright sky with scattered clouds, metering for the building will blow out the sky, but HDR+ can compensate for this, giving you a more even exposure. Here's a shot without HDR+ (on the left) and with (on the right).
And how about video? This one I'm less qualified to speak to, so I'll let the samples do the work. First up, 4K recording from the 6P. I noticed that the stabilization in videos sometimes gave a nauseating wiggle effect, but overall the quality seems good, and the phone didn't try to refocus 9,000 times like the Nexus 6. The camera adjusted exposure really quickly as I panned between overly-bright and dark parts of the scene, and - while digital zoom will always be a bane - zooming wasn't as jumpy as it seemed on the N6.
I should note that I shot the sample below on a pretty windy day (warning headphone users), but the 6P seems to have at least smoothed the background noise a bit.
Of course the unique video feature for the 6P (compared to the 5X) is 240fps slowmo capture. As stated earlier the quality of these videos is really terrible in sub-optimal lighting (as it is on many phones capable of slowmo, though the iPhone 6's capture was marginally better), but the effect seems to work as intended regardless. Another quirk is that you can adjust the slowmo region on the 6P, but that adjustment doesn't actually save a video file - if you share the video, the whole thing will play in slow motion. And playback on-device can be very glitchy itself.
Of course the front-facing camera is worth mentioning too. I'll spare you my selfies, instead relying on a basic sample. Rear-facing cameras on phones may be mostly about convenience, but convenience is the bread and butter of the front-facing camera. Typically users aren't looking to fine-tune exposures for their selfies, so it's important to know that a front-facing camera can do a good job all by itself. The FFC on the 6P can do HDR, but I'm not sure when that would be necessary. Regardless, the quality in good lighting seems above average, but the quality in all other scenarios seems just okay.
Stability and performance
There are really only so many ways I can say "the Nexus 6P feels fast" before it loses meaning (come to think of it the total is probably one - one way I can say that), so I did some quick benchmarks for those readers who enjoy looking at the stats. Without further comment, here they are for the 6P.
And for the Nexus 6.
So what about subjective, daily use? All in all the 6P seems to perform just fine. I haven't noticed any lag or stuttering. And if you're wondering about the 810, it honestly still hasn't made itself obvious to me. I spent Saturday lazily writing and doing some other work, playing with the 6P in between. Playing games ranging from Tadpole Tap to Asphalt 8, browsing the web, scrolling once again through a stream of Instagram photos I'd already seen, or looking for even more apps to try out, the phone got warm but not notably "hot." But then again maybe the 6P's battery life is the 810 making itself known. Whatever the case, I haven't experienced any performance issues so far, so that's good.
Marshmallow on the 6P
The real story here is not about Android 6.0 Marshmallow - we already know all about that. The story is that on the Nexus 6P (and 5X), it's even lighter than ever - Google has made more of its own apps uninstallable from both devices. Check out the screenshot from the 5X below - there are just 22 pre-installed apps that can't be uninstalled entirely, and many of them are just tools that are expected on every smartphone - dialer, messaging, browser, camera, email, calculator, calendar, clock, contacts, gallery, app store, and settings. The few apps that are there simply for their own product-motivated sake (Pay, Drive, Google, Hangouts, Games, Movies, Music, and YouTube) comprise the rest of the collection, which itself doesn't even fill up a single home screen. Compare this to the 33 pre-installed and non-removable apps on iOS 9 - including, bewilderingly, Apple Watch - if you dare.
Elsewhere, the experience of Marshmallow is just what you'd expect. While Lollipop was about getting over the hurdle of a major redesign, Marshmallow is about refinement - picking up stray pixels, fixing a few broken or unintuitive things (ahem volume controls), and adding in a few features users have been asking for (dark mode excluded). The camera app, I will note, is speedy to open particularly compared to the Nexus 6 which, since Marshmallow, takes about a million years to get going.
I'll discuss this more in a future post, but the one thing that bugs me about Marshmallow right now is Google Now On Tap. With On Tap, Google is headed in a great direction that - in the future - will provide some really interesting results, but it simply isn't there yet. While going to Google Now asks your device "what information do you have for me," Now On Tap asks "do you have any information for me?" And the answer is too often a disappointing "no, not really." Sacrificing instant access to Google Now, which almost always has information for you, for a feature that too often doesn't seems like an odd decision right now - could regular Now just appear below the On Tap screen? Could the feature evolve really quickly into what we all want it to be? It's hard to say what will happen next, but for now I'm not loving it.
I have a few minor qualms with the Nexus 6P like wobbly video stabilization and not-bad-but-not-good battery life, but those can (probably) be fixed in future updates. Really the only problem still weighing on my mind is the potential for burn-in on the 6P's Super AMOLED display, but when I take into account everything this device has going for it from the build quality to that camera, it seems like a no-brainer that I'll use a 6P as my daily device. Google and Huawei have made magic here, and despite some minor flaws I'd recommend this phone to anyone. If you have $500 to spend on a phone, this should be on your shortlist.