Cons:The camera’s lack of optical image stabilization leaves evening shots prone to slight blurriness.Verdict: The Nexus 6P concedes a smidge of under-the-hood power to its pricier competition, but for all-around capability, you can’t buy a better smartphone.
Google’s Nexus 6P is one of the best smartphones you can buy right now.
The idea that Nexus can surpass some other phones on the market is mind-boggling. Google first released them as reference devices, phones the company could point to and say, “This is what Android can be.” Developers use Nexus phones to test their apps, and fans get them so they always have access to the latest versions of Android. But you can only buy a Nexus from Google; they’re not available from carriers, and in terms of popularity, that’s usually enough to count most phones out.
The Nexus 6P has a speedy processor, a great camera and the best battery life we’ve seen from any modern handheld. With fun and useful extra features and Android Marshmallow to top it all off, it’s no wonder the 6P earns our admiration.
Given its 5.7-inch, 1440p display, the Nexus 6P is a phablet, about the same size and thickness as Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus. Despite its size, it wasn’t uncomfortable to hold in our testing – a consequence, we suspect, of the ever-so-gentle curvature of its back cover and the perfect placement of its Nexus Imprint scanner. This is a premium phone with a premium build, every bit as impressive as a Samsung or Apple flagship.
In fairness, though, it’s not as unique. The Nexus 6P is built by Chinese manufacturer Huawei and the 6P feels like an amalgamation of its competition. The aluminum frame and display are reminiscent of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 and Motorola’s Moto X. Fortunately, the back cover remains distinctly Huawei. The backside of the 6P has slick aluminum, the Nexus logo and fingerprint scanner. Of course there is also includes a camera and sensor bump that really can’t be found on any other device on the market.
That sensor bump is a real oddity. Bold, black and flattened out like a mesa above an aluminum plain, it immediately draws the eye, if not in the best way. The Nexus 6P isn’t an ugly phone by any means, but the black bar is distracting, especially when you first unbox the device. It does make orienting the phone a lot easier, and after extended use, we found we didn’t mind it.
Of course, the real joy of any Nexus device is access to a pure version of the latest Android platform – in this case, Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Marshmallow comes with several improvements. Most functional is probably Doze, a battery-saving feature that shuts off all non-essential functions in the phone when it’s put down, then brings them back online as soon as you pick the device up again. This means with Doze, forgetting to plug in your phone to charge at night allows you to wake up and find that the battery’s only ticked down a couple percentage points.
Most big phones have the space to fit OIS’s larger camera electronics, so it’s usually an auto include; the tech’s absence here is curious. Google argues that by putting bigger pixels into the 6P’s sensor, the camera can drink in more light in a shorter timeframe. This means the shutter doesn’t have to be open as long, which itself helps to reduce blur.
It’s not a perfect solution. We still managed to take plenty of slightly blurry photos by not being careful as we lined up shots. Taken as a whole, the Nexus 6P easily outshines huge swaths of the competition. With a mild amount of care, its 12.3MP sensor grabs sharp details that are color rich without being overly noisy. You can capture 4K video at 30fps, and at lower resolutions, the phone can manage 240fps video, which translates into brilliantly incredible slow-motion shots. Even the front-facing camera is impressive, an 8MP sensor that can shoot 1080p video.
Beneath the hood of the Nexus 6P, Huawei’s installed the latest version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor. We ran the octa-core system on a chip (SoC) through over 100 separate benchmark tests using 10 different suites, and it proved to be a workhorse. Apple’s iPhone 6s remains our reigning speed champion, but the Nexus 6P came close and beat out Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Note 5 in our graphics tests.
Given the size and power of the 6P, it’s perhaps most apt to compare it with the bigger, more expensive 6s Plus. In essence, you can get a phone that’s the same size and shape as the iPhone 6s Plus with twice the storage for hundreds less. There’s a staggering price difference, and it makes the Nexus 6P an amazing value pick.
The Nexus 6P has two noteworthy features that set it apart from the competition: a USB Type-C charging port and Nexus Imprint. Despite its improvements to the USB standard – a reversible plug, bi-directional charging and fast charging, to name a few – USB-C can actually be something of a nuisance. Most will already have a full set of regular micro-USB charging cables that don’t work with the new standard. Eventually, USB-C will be standard, but until then, you’ll be finding yourself switching from USB 3.0 and USB-C.
Type-C is a fun extra, but the real gem here is Nexus Imprint. The Nexus Imprint is one of the best fingerprint scanners around. It’s impressively fast, needing just a simple tap to recognize your identity and unlock the phone. The circular indent on the back of the phone makes finding it easy. It is also positioned at a comfortable point so no stretching or reaching is necessary.
The Nexus 6P is an oddity. It’s a flagship phone that costs hundreds less than its competition. It has a massive camera bump that doesn’t pack optical image stabilization yet still manages to take impressive photos. Its starting model includes bountiful storage, its battery lasts ages and its processor burns through benchmarks. Still, it’s not available from any of the major carriers, and it’s made by Huawei – a manufacturer that, to this point, has been unproven in the American market.