Technology

Hands-On With Google’s New Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X Smartphones

A big flagship and a serious budget-friendly competitor.

Google Takes On iPhone With New Nexus Phones

On Tuesday at an event in California, Google announced its newest pair of Android smartphones, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X. This is the first time since the Nexus line was launched, in 2010, that Google is releasing two phones at once. Each is targeted at a different segment of the market, but they both share a number of critical features for wooing customers.

The 6P is Google’s new flagship, the successor to last year’s Nexus 6. The original Nexus 6 was made by Motorola (owned by Google at the time, though since bought by Lenovo) and was met with mixed reactions from critics and customers. It was big, the camera wasn’t as good as those in competing phones, and it was roughly twice the price of its own predecessor, the Nexus 5. The 6P is the first Nexus phone made by Chinese company Huawei, and it tries to fix what was wrong with the 6 while bringing a few new things to the party.

Nexus 6P

The 6P is a little smaller than its predecessor, with a 5.7-inch instead of a 6-inch screen, featuring ultrahigh-definition resolution. It also comes at a lower starting price ($499, vs. the Nexus 6’s $649). The body of the phone is unibody aluminum, not unlike the iPhone, and at just 7.3 millimeters it has exactly the same thickness as the iPhone 6S Plus. There’s a large black bar at the top-back of the case, which holds the camera module. It’s not as bulky as it looks in photos, but it’s still aesthetically prominent. Google says it wanted to do something different than the standard round protrusion (you know, the one that looks like a shiny glass pimple), but I’m not in love with this alternative. Otherwise, the entire phone looks and feels like the flagship phone Google should have had all along.

The Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X are Google’s latest smartphones.
The Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X are Google’s latest smartphones.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

You’ll notice a little silver ring on the back—that’s the Nexus Imprint fingerprint sensor, which is used for unlocking the phone, validating payments, etc. It’s an unusual place to put it, but your finger really does gravitate toward that spot when you’re picking up the phone. I’d have to use the phone for a little while to say for sure, but I think this is a smart move, freeing up space on the front without affecting user experience at all.

The 6P charges with USB-C, the new standard that’s still in its infancy. It charges quickly, and the connector is reversible, so nothing to complain about here.

Finally, there’s the camera. It’s 12 megapixels, with larger pixels than any previous Nexus camera. Bigger pixels mean more light can be absorbed by each one, so you get better low-light performance and richer colors. In the few minutes I spent with the 6P, results seemed good. Focusing was fast, images were sharp even under fluorescent lights, and the new camera app design is a lot more intuitive. It will take a full test, though, to say whether this is up there with the likes of the Samsung Note 5 and Apple iPhone 6S Plus.

Instead of a camera bulge, the Nexus 6P has a curved bar at the top of the phone.
Instead of a camera bulge, the Nexus 6P has a curved bar at the top of the phone.

Nexus 5X

A more budget-friendly option is the Nexus 5X, which is made in partnership with LG, the same company that produced the original Nexus 5 in 2013. It’s a smaller phone, with a 5.2-inch screen, full 1080p resolution, and a soft-touch plastic back in place of the 6P’s aluminum.

Short of these reductions, the 5X retains most of the upgrades present in the 6P.

You still get the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, the USB-C charging, and the same new camera. With a starting price of $379 for the 16-gigabyte model, you could look at the 5X as trading screen resolution and build quality to save the customer a little more than $100, although there will be plenty of people who want the 5X for its smaller size alone. Also, if you ask me, it’s the better looking of the pair, and the plastic back makes it insanely lightweight.

Both phones will ship running Google’s latest version of the Android operating system, Marshmallow, which officially rolls out next week on earlier Nexus devices. Also, because these phones come directly from Google, without any third-party manufacturer software or carrier restrictions, there will be monthly security updates, and the phones will be fully supported for at least two years. The 6P and 5X also join the original Nexus 6 on Google’s Project Fi wireless service

USB Type-C charging is fast, and the plug is reversible.
USB Type-C charging is fast, and the plug is reversible.

Parting Thoughts

Since Nexus was first introduced, competition and creativity in the Android phone market has really heated up. The Nexus 1 was a true reference device, showing the market that an Android phone could have serious specs and that the ecosystem was worth exploring. Today, though, phones such as the LG G4, Motorola Moto X Style, and Samsung Galaxy S6 are all top-tier and offer consumers a lot of choices. Nexus isn’t necessarily the only good option anymore, and the Nexus 6 failed to win over a large, loyal following like previous models had. With the 6P and 5X, Google is making a strong case for giving the Nexus program another long, hard look.

Preorders for both phones start on Sept. 29, with devices shipping before the end of October. To start, the 6P and 5X will be available in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, and Japan, with more countries being added in coming weeks. In the U.S. they’re only available unlocked, directly from Google via the Google Store, while availability in other countries will vary.

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