Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Published on November 17 2015

It’s Nexus time! Google is back with its seventh generation in five years, but the Nexus 6P isn’t like any Nexus you’ve seen before – it’s better. Much, much better. The Nexus 6P is Google’s first no compromise addition to its much loved but niche range and it hints at heightened hardware ambitions which could shake-up the entire smartphone sector.

Based on my time with the Nexus 6P this would be a very, very good thing. This is why…

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Design – Premium Meets Practical

I’ve owned every Nexus and none could be labelled luxurious. For better or worse, luxury simply wasn’t a consideration, but with the Nexus 6P that changes. Made in partnership with Huawei, the 6P drops the plastic and glass builds of previous models for an aluminium body that’s chamfered to within an inch of its life.

The results are excellent and photos do not do the 6P justice. This is a device which can stand toe-to-toe with the best Apple and Samsung can muster and it signals 6P builder Huawei’s arrival as a major player in the West. Better still it does this by being unique. The 6P’s so-called ‘visor’ (an ever so slightly raised strip for the camera, flash and sensors) is initially odd, but really grows on you with time. In fact it provides the kind of personality Google could build its smartphone brand around. You can identify the 6P from across the room.

But the Nexus 6P isn’t perfect. The top and bottom bezels (forehead and chin) are too wide for my liking on a phone which already has a 5.7-inch display, so while slim and usefully narrow it feels overly tall (159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3mm). The front facing speakers (more later) are some compensation for this and at 173g it isn’t overly heavy for a phone of its size and build materials, but it remains a monster.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

The 6P could also have a little more texture to its finish to aid grip, though the rear dimble for the fingerprint sensor (dubbed ‘Nexus Imprint’) does help in the vein of current Motorola phones and it’s less slippery than the latest iPhones and Galaxies. Whether you like the fingerprint sensor on the back, however, will divide opinion since what it does to help grip is countered by the fact the phone must be picked up every time you want to unlock it. I’m happy with the compromise, but I can understand why others won’t be.

Lastly there’s the infamous bendgate issue. Personally I’ve found it (as with the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014) to be a non-issue. Using the phone for three weeks without a case and storing it in a front jeans pocket I see no evidence of bending or warping. Force the phone and I’m sure that could happen, but who deliberately bends premium smartphones? Meanwhile the pickpocket potential from putting a smartphone in your back pocket is enough of a reason they should never end up there anyway.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Ultimately both Google and Huawei can hold their heads up high. The Nexus 6P is perhaps the best combination of premium and practical on the market right now.

Display – Big And Beautiful

The Nexus 6P’s huge 5.7-inch display doesn’t let the side down either. Its 2K (2560 x 1440) 16:9 AMOLED panel is among the best around with rich but accurate colours, deep blacks and wide viewing angles.

Is it the best? Not quite. I’d still give Samsung’s premium Galaxy family (S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and Note 5) top spot thanks to greater brightness, but the Nexus 6P is a step up from everyone else including Apple’s phablet rival: the iPhone 6S Plus.

The Nexus 6P’s display is practical too. It uses Gorilla Glass 4 (I haven’t picked up a single chip or scratch in three weeks despite extensive travelling and no case) and there’s an oleophobic finish which is one of the best I’ve seen at resisting fingerprint smudges and oil buildup.

Software – Android Done Right

I’ve already written extensively about Android 6.0 Marshmallow so this isn’t the place to revisit it in detail, but there are two key things worth pointing out: 1. It’s the optimised, polished version of Lollipop we desperately needed, and 2. It flies (more in the next section).

Consequently, for all the high profile issues Apple has suffered with iOS 9, the fast, smooth and virtually bug-free experience with Marshmallow has been incredibly refreshing. In fact it only serves to highlight the wastefulness of both the needless bloat on most third party Android handsets and the woeful fragmentation that means most phones and tablets will not get Marshmallow for months – if ever. Stock Android that’s always up to date is a massive win for the Nexus line and something Google should exploit more to increase pressure on underperforming handset partners.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Looking more deeply, Marshmallow is an exciting mix of potential and efficiency. ‘Now on Tap’ falls into the former camp with the ability to perform contextual searches anywhere just by long pressing the home button potentially a game changing feature. When it works (for example, one long press pulling up a restaurant suggestion over IM with ratings, directions and opening hours) it’s revolutionary, but it isn’t there yet and often fails to guess which elements on the screen are the ones you want to research. It just needs time.

But what is ready from the off and perhaps the biggest immediate benefit of Marshmallow is ‘Doze’. This brings the standby efficiency to Android that has long been enjoyed by iOS and means you only lose a few percent points of battery charge leaving the phone unplugged overnight. As our phones are more in standby than in use, this makes a significant difference to battery life and I’ll touch on this in more detail in the battery life section.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Another important step is Marshmallow can treat external storage just like expanded internal storage, though it makes the Nexus range’s shunning of microSD a shame. There are also a variety of vital updates like the core integration of fingerprint verification (more on Nexus Imprint next), voice searches across all apps and on-demand app permissions – something taken from iOS – which gives the user far greater control over their phone.

Marshmallow’s revolution is how well it polishes up Lollipop and how well it runs out the box. There hasn’t been a single patch issued yet for Marshmallow (excluding Google’s new commitment to monthly security updates) and it isn’t obvious the OS needs any.

Performance – Finally iPhone-like Speed On Android

Given the optimisations of Marshmallow it is fascinating to experience it on the Nexus 6P’s hardware. Firstly because the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset at its heart has been dogged with heat and performance throttling controversies, and secondly because – on paper – the 810 should be very powerful. So how does it perform with stock Marshmallow? Superbly.

Using the Nexus 6P provides an experience unlike any Android smartphone currently on the market. Navigating around the user interface is buttery smooth, apps load incredibly quickly and almost nothing can slow it down. The Exynos 7420 chipset at the heart of Samsung’s top end Galaxies may blitz the Snapdragon 810 in most benchmarks, but nothing Samsung sells operates with anywhere near the consistent fluidity of the Nexus 6P. Yes TouchWiz adds functionality missing from stock Android, but none of it feels worth the performance compromises after spending time with the Nexus 6P.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Like every Android handset the one area where the Nexus 6P can stutter is in the Chrome browser when navigating with very complex websites, but this is more of a Chrome issue and Google has stressed it’s a priority to eliminate.

Also worthy of great praise is Nexus Imprint. Samsung upped its game earlier this year, before Touch ID 2.0 on the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus raced ahead again with greater speed and accuracy, but Nexus Imprint on the 6P is every bit the equal of Apple’s latest and greatest tech. Recognition takes a fraction of a second and comparisons on YouTube have shown the technology (identical in the Nexus 5X and 6P) outpacing Touch ID 2.0.

The consequences of this are highly positive as Nexus Imprint can completely bypass the lockscreen and with the sensor on the back you can pick the Nexus 6P out your pocket and have it open before it is in front of your face. It’s a great timesaver when looking to do something quickly. Furthermore as Google’s Apple Pay and Samsung Pay rival ‘Android Pay’ (spotting a theme?) rolls out globally the speed and reliability of Nexus Imprint is going to be crucial to making it a seamless, reliable experience. In short: the Nexus 6P sets the bar for all other Android handset makers.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Also worth mentioning is the performance of the Nexus 6P’s dual front facing speakers. Given the size of the top and bottom bezels, they needed to justify their existence and thankfully they are top notch. Volume and clarity are both excellent and while HTC’s acclaimed BoomSound technology offers a fraction more bass, the Nexus 6P leaves the bottom edge mounted mono speakers used by both Apple and Samsung in the dirt.

Camera – Game Changing Low Light Shots

Which leads us to the traditional achilles heel of the Nexus range. Without putting too fine a point on it, every Nexus until the 6P has had a disappointing camera experience – either in terms of quality, speed or both. But, as it does in so many categories, the Nexus 6P again turns this perception on its head.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

The standout feature is lowlight photography and the Nexus 6P takes the best low light photos I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. This is thanks to a combination of its large 1.55 micron pixels, fast f2.0 aperture and snappy laser-assisted autofocus. A great example of this is the shot of the house with multicoloured lanterns. Despite being very dark the level of detail and colour accuracy without over sharpening or pixelation far exceeds anything produced by Apple or Samsung.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

This can also be seen in the shot down the London street in near total darkness. Whereas this shot was nearly washed out by the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S in very similar conditions, the Nexus 6P retains remarkable colour fidelity and detail. It’s a game changer.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Interestingly though this superiority doesn’t quite carry over into good lightning conditions. Certainly the 12 megapixel Nexus 6P is no slouch and is among the best cameras around, but I find the premium Galaxy family and iPhone 6S Plus can deliver fractionally more detail. The LG G4 can also top it with its extensive manual settings, but I find the G4 a less reliable point and shoot camera.

Then again my counterpoint to all this is: what premium smartphone doesn’t take excellent shots in decent lighting conditions? The shot of the BMW wheel may display fractionally less detail than the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S Plus’, but no-one is going to complain about the quality of this short of a professional photographer.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Good shots in decent light is no longer a category smartphones need to be desperate to win. The results are better than the vast majority of users require. Instead the real battle is sub-optimal conditions to battle the blurry bar shot, the discoloured evening sunset or lively house party. Here the Nexus 6P leaves all its competitors in the dust.

One grumble: the auto HDR+ mode on the Nexus 6P doesn’t always pick the right option – as the split show below shots. Here it decided HDR+ was not needed, but then it blew out details of the sky. Manually selecting HDR+ fixed this and given results with it are invariably excellent I just leave it on all the time.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Where the Nexus 6P does stumble more decisively, however, is video. Remarkably its superb low light shots are achieved without optical image stabilisation (OIS) which helps keep the lens steady for longer exposures, but the knock-on effect is shooting video isn’t as smooth as it should be. EIS (software handled image stabilisation) does its best, but small handshakes are still picked up in frame and become distracting – as the video sample shows below:

Google has promised it will continue working to improve EIS in the Nexus 6P, but I can’t ever see it equalling the super smooth results of Samsung’s Galaxy range and the iPhone 6/6S Plus (the standard iPhone 6/6S lacks OIS). If you’re a big video shooter, this could be a deal breaker.

Still the Nexus camera finishes with a notable plus: its quick launch shortcut. Google has learnt from the much loved Samsung camera shortcut of double tapping the home button and put it on the power/lock button as the Nexus 6P lacks a physical home button. This proves really useful in catching shots you might’ve missed, though it isn’t quite as quick as Samsung’s phones here – at least not yet.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Battery Life – All Day Longevity

By now you’ll be spotting a pattern, the Nexus 6P retains core Nexus strengths but shoots down its traditional weaknesses: build quality, camera… and yes, battery life.

There are two key elements to this. Firstly Doze is the real deal and it does a great job of saving battery life while your phone is in standby. This is also true for both the Nexus 6 and Nexus 5 when upgraded to Marshmallow and will hopefully be true for third party handsets as well when their updates (eventually) arrive.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Secondly, with a substantial 3450 mAh battery the Nexus 6P stands out from the pack in a year where the likes of Apple and Samsung both reduced battery capacity in their premium handsets. As such I found that even with heavy use the Nexus 6P would get me through a day while light use would comfortably see you through 1.5 days. You can kill it with non-stop gaming and GPS navigation, but that’s true of any phone and for me only the iPhone Plus models last longer.

More controversial though is charging. The Nexus 6P uses the much heralded USB Type-C connector which is reversible and charges as fast as anything on the market. Just 10 minutes charging from flat will give the Nexus 6P up to seven hours of (light) usage – it’s hugely impressive. The flipside is finding Type-C connectors right now is rare and it doesn’t support the increasingly ubiquitous Qualcomm Quick Charge standard so you’ll need the Type-C charger in the box to get these super fast results. Additional official chargers aren’t cheap and third party cables right now are extremely hit and miss.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Lastly, there’s also no wireless charging. Google claims this is unnecessary given the 6P’s excellent battery life, but personally I think it is actually more importantfor a phone using a (currently) rare charging standard to have another more widely available charging option. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it may be for some and is definitely a disappointment.

Still, for me, having a phone with a rare charging standard which lasts all day is better than a phone with ubiquitous charging standards which constantly needs them. Yes, Galaxy S6 I’m looking at you.

Availability and Value – Google Ups Its Game

Nexus devices are famously niche and availability is often scarce, but again the Nexus 6P appears to be bucking this trend. Despite initial delays on some orders, Google is promising far wider availability of the Nexus 6P and it has returned to the bargain pricing the Nexus 6 skipped and which makes the Nexus range so appealing:

Nexus 6P – $499/£449 (32GB), $549/£499 (64GB), $649/£579 (128GB)

These price points make the Nexus 6P $200-$250 cheaper than rival phablets like the iPhone 6S Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 5/Galaxy S6 Edge+. Like Samsung, but unlike Apple handsets, the 6P also starts with a sensible 32GB option which is perfectly usable. Colour choices aren’t extensive but you do get aluminium (silver), graphite (black) and frost (champagne). My personal favourite is graphite as it blends in best with the visor and front fascia, but all look good – especially in an era of iPhone look-a-likes.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Bottom Line – Google Knows Android Best

I’ll admit to having been sceptical when leaks of the Nexus 6P first appeared. The visor looked ugly, the front bezels too big and I was concerned about the usual Nexus flaws: build quality, camera and battery life. Bezels aside (and you get some meaty front firing speakers as a compromise), I need not have worried. The Nexus 6P is easily the best, most cohesive Android smartphone to date and it makes a very strong case for being the best smartphone available right now on any platform.

Grumbles? No optical image stabilisation was a mistake, those front bezels could/should’ve been smaller and there’s no removable battery/expandable storage – but the Nexus line has never offered them.

Still what Google and Huawei have delivered is a remarkable package of style, quality, performance and – crucially – bargain pricing that none of its rivals can match. In fact the only reason I can see anyone with the financial means choosing a different big screened phone is if a) they’re wedded to some aspects of a manufacturer’s third party Android customisations, or b) they’re heavily invested in another ecosystem.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

Speaking of which, there’s something quite iPhone-ish about the Nexus 6P: the sense of superiority through co-developed software and cutting edge hardware that has been missing from the Android ecosystem until now. The fact the 6P will also get Android updates as soon as they are released means it is immune from the common criticisms of Android fragmentation and lapse security.

Interestingly the Nexus 6P launches at a time when rumours are growing that Google will go all in with handsets and chipsets developed entirely in-house. If the Nexus 6P is any indication of what Google can already achieve merely through close third party partnership, then the potential here is frightening.

Ultimately the Nexus 6P deserves to be a breakout mass market device to challenge the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy range and Apple’s iPhones, but that’s highly unlikely to happen. Despite some increased marketing, it seems like Google is merely testing the water to see how partners react to slightly more prominent Nexus sales. To which I’d counter: Google needs to stop caring about that.

Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

The Android ecosystem currently lacks a powerhouse partner which has the best intentions of Android at heart and Google cannot afford to keep bleeding customers at the high end to Apple. With them will go the focus of app developers which creates a vicious cycle.

The Nexus 6P is the perfect example of Google need to reverse this. It is easily the best Android device ever made, a true flagship without compromise that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything currently offered by Google partners and – for my money – superior to both the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.

In the short term buying the Nexus 6P is a no brainer. But in the long term whether Android can stand up to iOS at the top end of the market will depend on the fight becoming Apple Vs Google, not Apple Vs Google’s underarmed Android minions…

Article Source: Nexus 6P Review: Google Outshines Galaxy S6 And iPhone 6S

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