Android isn’t an elitist system. But it still has a pure-breed strain. We’re talking about the Nexus family, the official ambassadors of Google’s mobile republic. Phones like the Nexus 6P aren’t made in Google labs by Google robots, though.
The Nexus 6P is made by Huawei, which has clawed its way up from making budget phones, often for other companies, to produce this. And it is one of the lead Android phones, regardless of brand.
After the Nexus 6, which not everyone loves, the Nexus 6P sees the series get back on track. Starting at £449 it’s a bit cheaper than the ‘intended’ prices of the other flagships, and really aces a lot of phone side attractions as well as the main events, like the speakers, battery, fingerprint scanner and selfie camera.
It’s one of the best all-round phones money can buy.
The cool, hard stuff
Huawei used to make pretty awkward-looking phones. Like a teenage boy trying to grow out his hair, there were some questionable moments in its design history. Before it starting coming up with stunners like the Mate S. The Nexus 6P is perhaps not quite as much a beauty as that phone, but it’s certainly smart-looking.
The Nexus 6P has a slim aluminium body and ours features a dark grey finish that takes the edge off the often-sparkly look of anodised aluminium. There’s a little raised lip at the top, a phone-wide bar covered by glass that makes the 6P appear a bit less of a stunner than something like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. However, we’ll take it. It lets the rest of the body stay a trim 7.3mm thick.
Phones don’t get points just for being slim, but a giant-screen phone like this needs to lose bulk wherever it can. One of the big problems with the original Nexus 6 is that the thing just feels huge.
By slimming down the frame and reducing the screen size a bit, the Nexus 6P is far more manageable. I found its size makes both hands gravitate towards the screen rather than just the one, but it’s not the thumb workout the Nexus 6 is. It’s more a Samsung Galaxy Note 5-a-like. You’ll need to treat it pretty nice, though. After accidentally keeping it in a pocket with my keys for about 45 seconds, it had already scraped off some of the outer dark finish. Oops.
This is just the nature of dark-coloured aluminium devices, though. So if you don’t fancy treating your Nexus 6P like a newborn you might want to consider the lighter silver and Frost white versions. All three look great.
Packing it in
Back to the good stuff: Huawei has handily bunged all the on-body buttons on the side, right where your thumb lands naturally, and the rear fingerprint scanner gives plenty of room for the front-facing stereo speakers. It’s a pretty successful case of phone Tetris.
While the finger scanner is part of the new Nexus Imprint team, it actually feels just like the one on the Huawei Mate S. It’s fast, it’s accurate and it works even when the phone screen is off.
Good fingerprint scanners have gone from being a rarity to the norm among top-end phones, but this is among the best. It seems to be able to deal with wet fingers far better than most too. Being on the back, the Nexus 6P wants you to use your index finger rather than your thumb. But you can train the little guy to recognise up to five fingers. Just like other finger scanner phones, then.
The speakers are just as worth noticing. The Nexus 6P has two front-facing speakers for a proper stereo effect while you play a game or watch a bit of Netflix. It’s a decent-sounding duo.
I put the Nexus 6P next to the BoomSound speakers of the HTC M8S and found the 6P is just as loud, just lacking a bit of the mid-range padding that makes HTC’s phone speakers so special. Google says the ‘P’ in the name stands for premium, and it’s pretty clear there are no half measures in this phone. This stands with the screen too.
The Samsung factor
The Nexus 6P has a Samsung-made Super AMOLED screen of 2,560 x 1440 pixels. It’s probably a very similar panel to what we saw in the Galaxy Note 5. Very big, very sharp, bright and with immense contrast, it’s a terrific screen.
Colour fidelity has been improved a smidge since the oversaturated Nexus 6, however to my eyes it still looks like the screen is a touch hot. It’s similar to what you get in the LG G4 and the ‘adaptive display’ mode of Samsung’s phones. It’s out to show off what OLEDs can do.
You don’t get the option of extreme accuracy that Samsung provides in the Note 5. Some of Huawei’s IPS LCD screens have a slightly more natural tone too.
Still, this is generally a great screen. It makes the phone a great little media and gaming machine. But no, there’s no Force Touch pressure sensitive nonsense going on here. With no support for it baked into Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Apple has a clear lead on innovating the way we prod our phones. There’s no Galaxy Note-style stylus either.
Media hoarders also need to note that the Nexus 6P memory is non-expandable just like every other Nexus device. However, sensible pricing makes even the 128GB version pretty attractive. You’ll pay £449 for the 32GB version I’m using here, £499 for the 64GB and £579 for the 128GB. That makes it the most affordable 128GB phone to date. Nice.
It’s quality memory too, with read speeds of 170MB/s and writes of 107MB/s making it way faster than most memory cards.
Those on a budget should look at the Nexus 5X too, but the 6P is still a bit of a bargain compared to the iPhone 6s Plus. Apple’s big boy starts at £599 for the paltry 16GB version and rockets up to £789. There’s a refreshing fairness to Google’s prices, don’t you think?
You also need to consider that the Nexus 5X is actually well under £100 cheaper. The 32GB Nexus 5X costs £379, the 32GB Nexus 6P £70 extra at £449. The lower-end model only seems dramatically cheaper because it comes in a 16GB flavour. Both are good deals.
Tasty Android sweets
The other bit you have to love about a Nexus phone is its use of totally bloat-free software. The Nexus 6P is here to show off Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and there’s zero Huawei influence in the software. That’s a good job when a lot of people really don’t like Huawei’s Emotion UI software.
Marshmallow looks a fair bit like good old Lollipop, but messes with the apps menu so that it’s a single vertical scroll rather than a series of pages. You can actually get this look without a Marshmallow device, as the Google Now look is actually separate from the core software these days and has already been injected with Marshmallow goo.
The bits exclusive to Marshmallow phones like the Nexus 6P include things like Google Now on Tap, a turbo-charging of the Android digital assistant that lets it scan whatever’s on the phone screen and fling related info cards your way as part of a display overlay. You can do it at any time, while you’re using any old app.
All you have to do is long-press on the Home soft key. It works particularly well for bands, restaurants, famous people and films. Anything that might be a trivia subject in a quiz, basically.
P for performance?
What I’m currently appreciating the most about the Nexus 6P software, though, is how fast everything feels. The Nexus 6 with Android 5.0 felt a bit like a step down in gears after the ultra-snappy Android 4.4, but this latest version combines the liquid feel of Lollipop with the responsiveness of KitKat. Although it’s actually closer to the feel of Windows phone if you ask me. The way everything scrolls by at 1000 miles an hour has been pilfered right out of Microsoft’s labs.
Whether that’ll be true of bargain basement £50 phones running Android 6.0 or not, the Nexus 6P certainly feels extremely nippy. That’s with it using hardware we’re already very familiar with. Power-wise it doesn’t outdo any of this year’s top flagships.
The Nexus 6P has a 2GHz Snapdragon 810 octa-core CPU with 3GB of DDR4 RAM. In Geekbench 3 that gets you 4424 points, very similar to the results from the HTC One M9 and Sony Xperia Z5. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and its brothers still significantly outperform the 6P in benchmarks.
Still, every game I tried runs like a dream on the Nexus 6P, and as you can see from the images of my apps library here, I’ve been trying a lot. Under pressure the Nexus 6P does get a bit warm, but I found the Xperia Z5 to be significantly worse. 10 minutes of playing a demanding 3D game like Goat Simulator does cause the back to heat up a bit, and thanks to the aluminium casing this does work its way down the whole back in time. However, it’s only really when pushing the processor and using the mobile internet connection at the same time that the heating-up factor becomes really obvious.
Google says the 6P uses the ‘latest’ version 2.1 of the Snapdragon 810, but it’s ultimately still not as efficient as the Exynos chipset of the Galaxy S6 or the Apple A9 of the iPhone 6S. It’s what Google and Huawei have to work with right now, short of jumping in bed with MediaTek and its X20 CPU, which we’re yet to get our hands on.
An iPhone-style camera
The CPU may be familiar, but the Nexus 6P has a totally different camera to the other top Android phones. Rather than piling on the megapixels, it uses a large but mid-resolution 12.3-megapixel sensor on the back, paired up with a two-tone flash.
Google’s idea is to bring down the resolution so that the sensor pixels are a bit larger. Each measures 1.55nm rather than the usual 1.1nm, giving them more area on which they can harvest light. It’s the same thing the iPhone 6S does, basically, but to an even greater extent. And it’s also what HTC was banging on about with its UltraPixels back with the HTC One and One M8.
Continuing the Nexus 6P trend of picking all the best bits from all the mobile component makers, it’s a Sony IMX377 sensor.
So, is it any good? Yes, there are just a few ‘buts’.
The Nexus 6P camera software isn’t as smart as the best out there, but if you know the tips and tricks to get ahead it can take great, consistent photos.
The main issue is metering, judging how ‘bright’ to make a photo. Where cameras like the iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S6 always use a pretty intelligent approach to exposure, the Nexus 6P reverts to spot metering as soon as you pick a subject. As a result it’s dead easy to make your images look quite under or over-exposed just by using touch focusing.
One way to get over this is to use the HDR+ mode. This is Google’s take on high dynamic range photography. As well as taking over the exposure metering, it works pretty well in maxing out dynamic range while keeping a natural look too.
It’s just a bit slower than normal photo shooting, and using both HDR and non-HDR modes feels fast. The only major issue I’ve found is that you can only take a burst of three HDR shots in a row before the Nexus 6P actually stops you from taking any more images.
Most of the processing in the Nexus 6P’s HDR shots is done after shooting, and it takes a solid five seconds per shot. There is an Auto HDR mode, designed to switch over to HDR shooting when it’s needed. A good example if when you’re shooting right into the sun, or papping a sunset.
However, it’s nowhere near as good as the Auto HDR modes Samsung and LG use these days. It just doesn’t seem to do all that much a lot of the time, where rivals use a degree of dynamic range optimisation in every single shot. As has always been the case for the Nexus series, the camera app lets the side down a bit.
Google has made some improvements, though, such as putting HDR and flash controls right up at the top level of the camera app. It’s getting somewhere, just not fast. Other than those little tweaks, the camera app feels much as it has been for the past few years, with a pull-out tab that lets you use gimmicky modes like Photo Sphere and Lens Blur, where the camera tries to blur out the background of your shots. With mixed results.
Supremo sensor pixels
I have a lot of respect for what Google has done with the camera hardware, though. Even if it does amount to copying Apple’s style. Big as phone makers may claim their camera sensors are these days, they’re still tiny in the wider camera world. And sticking to 12-megapixel resolution has both benefits for noise handling and native dynamic range.
Coming from the crazy-high resolution images of the 23-megapixel Sony Xperia Z5, the Nexus 6P’s shots look a lot cleaner close-up, with low noise in most conditions and not all that much evidence of super-aggressive noise reduction either. This can often make shots look a bit ‘painted’. But here you get pretty neat-looking grain that holds onto a natural look no matter the light conditions.
The level of detail captured is fairly good too, although if you end up using digital zoom half the time you’ll get better results from the LG G4 or Samsung Galaxy S6. I also found that the Nexus 6P tends to be a bit conservative with its exposure metering as standard, although that’s not helped by having to test through one of London’s classic unrelenting grey skies phases: not five minutes of the blue sky the whole time.
The big benefit of the Nexus 6P’s larger camera sensor pixels is that it can snap the camera that bit faster compared to something like the Galaxy S6 when not working with good light. In fairly ropey but not flat-out dark light where, say, the iPhone 6S Plus might use a 1/9 second exposure, the Nexus 6P uses 1/24.
So what? It’s the Nexus 6P’s excuse for not fitting in optical image stabilisation, making it that bit easier to take low-light shots that aren’t totally blurry. While in certain conditions it’ll slow the shutter down all the way to 1/10 second, requiring a very steady hand, this is a camera that’s pretty fun to use in just about all conditions. In the end I switched to using the HDR mode 24/7. It’s an easy route to decent photos.
Would I still rather use a Samsung Galaxy S6, though? Yes.
On the video side, you can shoot at up to UHD (4K-ish) resolution, or 1080p with the front camera, and at slo-mo settings of either 150fps or 240fps. The latter one will turn fast action into a slow-motion ballet. It’s a basic on-off mode here, though, rather than allowing the on-the-fly editing look you can get with an iPhone. It’s not actually the rear camera that impressed me the most, though.
The Nexus 6P has without doubt one of the best front cameras ever put into a phone. Its selfies are fantastic, with the sort of detail that lets you check out how your pores are looking, even when you shoot indoors.
White balance and colour fidelity absolutely destroy most of the competition, and while the whole spot metering issue with the front camera still stands, there’s much less need to tap-to-focus. Even though, unlike many front cameras, this one does offer autofocus. Selfies just look natural, no effort required. It’s as if (spoiler warning) Huawei has actually packed a proper camera onto the front of the Nexus 6P.
The one bit you might want to consider is that unlike Huawei’s own phones, the Nexus 6P doesn’t sugar-coat the results with a Beauty mode that pumps up your eyes, thins out your cheeks and wipes out those wrinkles. It’s really going to show you what state your mug is in, for better or worse.
Still, if you want selfies worth printing out, the Nexus 6P is the phone to get. For those who want the numbers, the front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2.4 lens. That doesn’t sound standard-setting, but it has oversize sensor pixels just like the rear camera, with 1.4 micron sensor pixels making that extra resolution worthwhile.
Bring on the hydrogen fuel cells
As someone who ends up with their eyes closed in most portraits, it takes a lot to impress me with a selfie camera: but the Nexus 6P has done it. Battery life, though, is a little more ordinary.
The price of this year’s progress is that even a 3450mAh battery in the Nexus 6P only gets you decent stamina, nowt more. Left to play a 720p video on loop, the phone holds on for 10.5 hours. The phone is in the same league as the LG G4 and HTC One M9 in this respect. Part of this is down to Qualcomm, as chipsets like the Snapdragon 808 and 810 (used here) just aren’t as efficient as the rivals from Samsung and Apple. The Galaxy S6 lasts for 15 hours in the same video test, after all.
In general use, though, I do find that the Nexus 6P’s real-life stamina is better than that of the LG G4. I never found that the level dropped little a stone in quite the same way.
Still, despite the impressive-sounding milliampere count, I found the Note 5 lasts a fair bit longer.
The Nexus 6P does at least offer pretty fast charging. It’s one of the first phones to use a reversible USB-C port rather than the usual microUSB socket, and it pumps charge through at 5V, 3A. It charges from flat in about two hours. It’s fast, but the voltage-shifting system of the Motorola Moto X Style seems a bit faster still.
There are some convenience issues you need to accept too. First, you can’t use any old microUSB charge cables you might have lying around. Second, you can’t even use the bundled cable in any other USB plugs either as the Nexus 6P uses an infuriatingly forward-thinking double-ended USB-C cable. And, yep that means you can’t charge from your computer either unless you have a USB-C MacBook. It also rules-out being able to drag and drop your photos onto a laptop. Nightmare.
Every shift in how we hook up out gadgets comes with the odd headache. Google could have made the migraine a bit better by not throwing out everything apart from USB-C. We’ll wave goodbye to microUSB without a tear, but there’s nothing too wrong with full-size USB.
Google Nexus 6P Verdict
The Nexus 6P gets the Nexus series back on the rails. It’s a good-value phone that offers good or great results in just about every area.
Camera? Design? Performance? Software? All get a thumbs-up. Stand-outs include the finger scanner and the front camera, which are among the very best available at any price.
While the Note 5 might have the edge in (main) camera and battery life, plus screen accuracy, that the Nexus 6P costs so much less makes it easy to recommend to those out for a large-screen phone.