Hands-on Google Nexus 6P: Better than Google’s Pixel?
Google finally gets the phablet right with the Nexus 6P, delivering the best big-screen Android experience under £450.
Is now the best time to buy a Nexus 6P? Quite possibly. It might be a year old, but considering Google’s latest smartphones, the newly-announced Pixel and Pixel XL, start from a whopping £599 and go all the way up to £819 for the top-price Pixel XL model, the Nexus 6P could be the way forward if you’re looking for a top-notch Google phone without breaking the bank.
It doesn’t come with Android Nougat out of the box, but, being a Nexus phone, it’s definitely in line to receive one in due course, so you won’t be left behind on the latest software features. Likewise, you’re still getting a metal-clad smartphone, a top-notch camera and a super-fast fingerprint sensor.
The only thing you’re really missing out on is support for Google’s Daydream VR. I’ll have to wait and see how this fares against other mobile VR systems, such as Samsung’s Gear VR, once we get both the phone and Daydream View headset in for review, but if you’re just after a great smartphone, then the Nexus 6P is still a great buy.
While the Nexus 5X is made by LG, Huawei has stepped up to the plate for the Nexus 6P, bringing top-class design and excellent build quality. It’s a gorgeous all-metal beauty, made out of aeronautical-grade aluminium and only 7.3mm thick. The Nexus 6P is a world away from the soft-touch plastic of the Nexus 5X. Its sculpted rear feels great in the hand, and its chamfered edges and textured power button also add a touch of class to help give it that premium look and feel.
It’s clearly a phone that’s built to last, although it remains to be seen just how scuffed its slightly protruding camera bar along the back of the phone will get during repeated table bashings. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of how the camera bar looks, but at least the lip is reasonably subtle and nowhere near as prominent as I thought it would be. You certainly don’t notice it once you’ve got it in your hand, and it gives the phone a distinct look, especially when it’s accompanied by the Nexus 6P’s circular fingerprint sensor.
This sits just above the flush, matt Nexus logo, and I found it was just the right height for my forefinger when I was holding the phone in one hand. I didn’t have to adjust my grip to carry on using the phone either, as the rest of my hand was already in prime position.
The sensor supports multiple fingerprints, too, so you can register multiple fingers on either hand for extra convenience. It’s perhaps not quite as neat and elegant a solution as Sony’s power button implementation on the Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact, but the Nexus 6P has the added convenience of being able to unlock the phone straight from sleep (in little more than a second, no less) without having to press the power button first.
The fingerprint sensor isn’t just for unlocking your phone, though, as it will also be compatible with Android Pay, Google’s contactless payments system, when it launches in the UK. This will let you pay for in-app purchases with your fingerprint as well as physical goods via contactless terminals, but Google has yet to announce which banks and stores will be supporting it. In all likelihood, it’s looking like we won’t see Android Pay in the UK until at least the second half of 2016. Either way, it should help bring Android phones up to date with Apple’s iPhones, but I’ll update this review with more concrete information nearer Android Pay’s official launch date.
Either way, it all adds up to make the 6P the best-looking Nexus phone to date, but the real star is the 5.7in, 2,560×1,440 AMOLED display. I was disappointed with the screen on the old Nexus 6, as its default colour temperature was just far too warm, despite its 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage. There was no way to change it either, so everything ended up looking oversaturated as a result.
Thankfully, the Nexus 6P’s display is a vast improvement. It still covers 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, but colours look far more natural and accurate this time round. It still has that slightly warm tinge that haunts most AMOLED handsets, creating some rather yellowish-looking whites – especially when you compare it side by side with the whiter-than-white whites on the LCD-based Sony Xperia Z5 – but it’s certainly no worse than other AMOLED screens I’ve seen recently, such as the HTC One A9 and Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
The screen isn’t quite as bright as the Nexus 5X, admittedly, but with a peak brightness of 356.91cd/m2, the 6P is still perfectly usable outdoors. Likewise, with pure 0.00cd/m2 blacks and a contrast ratio of infinity:1, images just look more pleasing to the eye, as shadows are darker and there’s a greater level of detail.
Huawei has fitted the Nexus 6P with the latest v2.1 model of Qualcomm’s octa-core, 2.0GHz Snapdragon 810 processor, so it shouldn’t get quite as hot as other handsets with older versions of the same chipset. I’ve never had too much of a problem with 810s overheating, but the 6P was noticeably cooler to the touch during testing than, say, the Sony Xperia Z5.
Paired with 3GB of RAM, the Nexus 6P is comfortably one of the fastest Android phones around. Android 6.0 Marshmallow felt super smooth on the 6P, and its GeekBench 3 scores of 1,207 in the single core test and 4,301 in the multicore test only confirmed this further. Admittedly, the Nexus 5X scored higher in the single core test, but its multicore result is almost a full 1,000 points slower, proving that the 6P is the more efficient multitasker.
Admittedly, neither result is enough to beat the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, but the 6P does feel noticeably smoother than the Sony Xperia Z5, HTC One M9 and LG G4 in everyday use. Likewise, web browsing was super smooth on the 6P, and its Peacekeeper score of 1,460 puts it right up there with the S6 Edge+.
Graphics performance was also excellent, outstripping nearly every flagship smartphone of 2015 with a score of 1,399 frames (or 23fps) in GFX Bench GL’s offscreen Manhattan test. Again, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 family continues to reign supreme here, and it’s also pipped to the post by Sony’s Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact, but this is still one of the best phones for gaming you can buy today, and everything from Threes! to Hearthstone ran beautifully.
Battery Life and USB Type-C
Of course, long gaming periods will drain the phone’s battery quite substantially, but the 6P should easily be able to get through the day before having to return it to the mains. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed that its huge 3,450mAh battery only lasted just two minutes shy of 12 hours in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to 170cd/m2, but this still beats the Xperia Z5, Moto X Style, LG G4 and HTC One M9. Interestingly, Huawei’s more recent Mate 8 had an almost identical battery life at 11h 54m.
More importantly, the Nexus 6P supports fast charging courtesy of its USB Type C port. This is really handy, as it not only means you can top up your phone quickly during the day, but its reversible connector also means you don’t have to faff about working out which way to put the cable in. It took just 15 minutes to get to 20%, and 40 minutes to get to 50%. In an hour, I had 72%, but it took a little longer to get back up to a full 100%, taking just over an hour and a half in total. Still, this is pretty quick considering the size of its battery.
Another thing to consider is that the Nexus 6P doesn’t have a microSD card slot, so you’ll need to think carefully about how much storage you’ll need before you buy one. It comes in 32GB, 64GB and 128GB versions, though, so there’s plenty of choice on offer. My sample was the 32GB version, of which around 25GB was available to use
On the back, the 6P’s rear camera actually uses the same 12.3-megapixel sensor as the Nexus 5X. Using large 1.55um pixels, its overall picture quality and low light capability should be nigh on identical, but the 6P’s camera does come with a few extras.
These include 240fps slow-mo video over the Nexus 5X’s 120fps slow-mo video, and Smart Burst mode. This lets you capture burst images at 30fps, and you can select the best image from the series or use it to create makeshift GIFs. On the front is an 8-megapixel camera, which has a wide f/2.4 aperture for those all-important selfies.
Outdoors, the Nexus 6P produced excellent photos. The resolution may not be as high as other flagship phones, but every images was packed with detail. Individual bricks and roof tiles were captured with expert precision, and I could hardly see any signs of noise or overprocessing. Colours were also pleasingly neutral, and it kept contrast levels high without making images appear too dark and dingy.
^ It might only have a 12.3-megapixel sensor, but the quality of the 6P’s photos easily rival those on other smartphones with larger resolutions
Indoors, the colour temperature was once again spot on, as it was able to distinguish between lots of different textures without smoothing over fine details like the wood grain or fur in our still life. Shadows areas were a little rough in patches under low lighting conditions, but it’s by far one of the better smartphone cameras I’ve seen this year.
^ In bright light, the Nexus 6P performs admirably indoors, capturing plenty of contrast, bright, vivid colours and tonnes of detail
As for Smart Burst mode, all you need to do is hold down the onscreen shutter button and the 6P will capture multiple images in just a few seconds. I managed around 23 shots in five seconds, but you can also set it to capture the best eight in the main settings menu to save you having to find the ones you want to keep manually. You can also set it to create makeshift GIF-like videos from your Smart Bursts, giving Android its very own version of Apple’s Live Photos, albeit without any sound. Admittedly, they’re not great in motion, as it struggles to focus when you’re moving the camera about, but it will no doubt be useful when taking family shots if you’re trying to avoid closed eyes or grumpy smiles.
Its looks may be a bit divisive, but it all adds up to make the Nexus 6P a top-class smartphone. By virtue of having stock Android, it’s easily Huawei’s best phone yet, and the high-end specs make it a much better buy than the similarly priced HTC One A9, which is currently the only phone outside of Google’s Nexus devices to run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Other handsets will get an update in time, but if you’re after Marshmallow now and want something a bit classier than the Nexus 5X, then the 6P is an excellent choice.
For those that don’t mind waiting a bit for Android Marshmallow, the Nexus 6P faces stiff competition from the equally large Motorola Moto X Style and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+. However, the Nexus 6P still comes out on top in my book, as the Moto X Style’s terrible battery life and slightly underpowered specs make the 6P a much better buy.
The Galaxy S6 Edge+ is faster and has better battery life than the 6P, but it’s also much more expensive, coming in at £550 SIM-free or £37.50-per-month on contract with an upfront cost of £30 from Carphone Warehouse. This makes the 6P a bit of a bargain by comparison, starting at £440 SIM-free or £35-per-month on contract, and the simplicity of stock Android is another big draw.
Right now, you can actually pick up the gold 32GB model SIM-free direct from Google for £414, down from the usual price of £449, which is particularly great provided you like the colour. With no Galaxy Note 5 to fill the void either, the Nexus 6P is by far the best value phablet you can buy today, even when compared to Huawei’s more recent Mate 8. While the Mate 8 had impressive performance, it was ultimately let down by an abysmal camera. You also have to contend with Huawei’s Emotion UI. In the end, it means the Nexus 6P is still our Best Buy.