Google Nexus 6 review:

Google's first phablet foray delivers pure Android on a huge display

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars 14 user reviews

The Good The Google Nexus 6 has a razor-sharp and expansive display, a powerful Snapdragon 805 processor, the Android Lollipop OS and an OIS-equipped camera that takes great photos.

The Bad Broad and bulky, the Nexus may be too big -- in size and price -- for some users.

The Bottom Line The Nexus 6 is a powerful plus-sized Android handset, though the slimmer Samsung Galaxy Note 4 delivers superior overall performance and native productivity features.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0

As the first plus-size smartphone from Google, the Nexus 6 represented a major departure from the now discontinued Nexus 5 when it was introduced in November 2014. Straddling the line between phone and tablet, the Motorola-manufactured Nexus 6 features a huge, gorgeous quad HD display as well as a powerful Snapdragon 805 processor and a nimble camera that takes ultrasharp photos.

It's also the first and only handset (for now) that will support Google's Fi wireless service. For $20 a month, Google Fi provides voice, text, Wi-Fi tethering, and international coverage in more than 120 countries; data services cost an additional $10 per gigabyte. The service is currently invite-only; you can request an invite here.

Nevertheless, the Nexus 6 isn't inexpensive and, despite its large size, comes up short in a few key areas.

Review Update: Spring 2015

The Nexus 6 is a very big phone that delivers a pure Android experience, meaning that Motorola has been forbidden from making tweaks to the user interface or underlying software. When it debuted in late 2014, the Nexus 6's support for Lollipop 5.0 gave it a significant edge over Android models stuck with an older version of the OS. Google's rollout of the newest version of Lollipop to an expanded field of handsets erases that advantage.

Another factor to consider is the handful of new flagship phones announced at Mobile World Congress in March 2015, including the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 . If you're looking to buy a new phone in the next few months, know that the competitive landscape will soon be shifting.

If you're looking to buy a larger phone or phablet more immediately, we think there are better options than the Nexus 6. The iPhone 6 Plus is an elegantly crafted device that features a fantastic camera and user-friendly OS. The Moto X is quite similar to the Nexus 6 but smaller and less expensive. For now, our favorite Android phablet remains the Galaxy Note 4 . It features a slimmer design than the Nexus 6 at a comparable price point (with some variability by vendor) as well as a powerful processor that performs equally well, a superior suite of native productivity tools, and a powerful built-in S Pen stylus.

Availability

In the US, you can order an unlocked Nexus 6 from the Google Store for $649 (32GB) and $699 (64GB). Prices vary among the carriers that stock the device, which include T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and US Cellular; Verizon added the Nexus 6 to its lineup in March 2015. The handset is sold in 28 other countries, with 4G LTE variants both for the Americas and countries on other continents. In the UK, it costs £499 (32GB) and £549 (64GB). The 32GB model costs AU$869 in Australia and the 64GB model is AU$929.

Hardware and key components: The guts of the operation

The phone is powered by a quad-core, 2.7GHz Snapdragon 805 processor from Qualcomm, which is the same CPU found in other powerhouse devices like the reworked LG G3 Cat 6 for Korea, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Motorola Droid Turbo . The processor includes the Adreno 420 GPU for smooth graphics rendering and gameplay.

Giving the Nexus 6 its juice is a non-removable 3,220 mAh battery. Similar to its predecessors, the battery has wireless charging capabilities, and can supposedly regain 6 hours of power after 15 minutes of charging with a specialized Turbo charger that features Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 technology. We'll detail how these components perform later on in the review.

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Powering the handset is a powerful Snapdragon 805 processor. Josh Miller/CNET

The handset has a 13-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash that encircles the lens and a 2-megapixel front shooter. Additional goodies include 3GB of RAM and 16 or 32GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, there is no option to insert a microSD card for additional memory.

Design: AKA, the Motorola Moto 'XXL'

The Nexus 6 looks a lot like the second-gen Motorola Moto X -- but on steroids. It has the same curved back, an aluminum trim that dips down into the backplate at the top edge, and a branded M-dimple, for Motorola.

Size and weight

Google Nexus 6 Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Dimensions 6.27 x 3.27 x 0.40 inches (159 x 83 x 10.1mm) 6.04 x 3.09 x 0.34 inches (154 by 79 by 8.5mm) 6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches (158 x 78 x 7.1 mm)
Weight 6.49 ounces (184g) 6.2 ounces (176g) 6.07 ounces (172g)

The Nexus 6 is a big device, and at 3.27 inches across, it may be too wide for some users to grip comfortably. Weighing in at nearly 6.5 ounces, it's also heavier (and thicker) than both the Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone Plus 6.

It also doesn't feel as well built as those other devices. The handset doesn't look cheap in any way - we appreciate the dark aluminum trim and dual front-facing speaker grilles - but it comes up short next to the Note 4's glossy, contemporary aesthetic and iPhone 6 Plus's lightweight all-metal quality.

The Nexus 6's plastic back also calls attention to fingerprints. We reviewed the Midnight Blue variant and had to constantly wipe it down to clear away smudges; every time we did this, the plastic rear made crackling noises as we pressed and rubbed against it. This isn't enough to turn us away from the Nexus 6 altogether, but for a $650 device, it was still unnerving to hear. Prints may be less visible on the Cloud White version.

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Although the arched back works well for the Moto X, it doesn't do much for the Nexus' large body. Josh Miller/CNET

Display: Going big for a reason

The great benefit of the handset's larger profile is the enormous screen. Vibrant, razor sharp, and immersive, the phone serves up nearly six inches of media-viewing goodness. Web pages, HD videos and graphics-intensive games all looked buttery-smooth, with dynamic colors and fine details.

Both the Nexus 6 and the Galaxy Note 4 have a higher resolution and pixel density than the iPhone 6 Plus, with the latter having the most pixels packed per inch among the three. Though the specs vary slightly, all the screens look equally crisp and well defined.

Display resolutions, compared

Google Nexus 6 Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Display 5.96-inch AMOLED (2,560x1,440) 5.7-inch Super AMOLED (2,560x1,440) 5.5-inch LCD (1,920x1,080)
Pixel density 493ppi 515ppi 401ppi

We noticed some differences with regard to color, however. Given the iPhone's LCD screen and the other two's AMOLED display, there are obvious distinctions in temperature, with green, blue and red hues appearing more saturated and rich on the Galaxy Note 4. The iPhone shows the purest and brightest whites, which are especially apparent next to the Nexus 6, whose whites look faintly yellow. The deepest blacks are produced by the Note 4; Apple's phablet displays black with an almost bluish tone; and the Nexus ranks in the middle.

In general, it's a matter of personal preference. The Galaxy Note 4's screen, for which you can adjust display tones, delivers the greatest punch, though some colors, especially skin tones, appear unrealistic. Though the iPhone's display looks a tad muted, its colors are more true-to-life. The Nexus 6 is a good compromise. It has better color representation than the Note 4, but isn't as vibrant. It's more vivid than the iPhone, but its colors aren't as accurate. Bottom line: all of these devices deliver an engaging and expansive viewing experience.

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With a 1440p resolution, the phone's display is ultracrisp and bright. Josh Miller/CNET

Software features: Oh lolli, lolli, lolli

Android 5.1 Lollipop addresses some known issues and adds a handful of new features; check out our report here.

Living in a Material world

Prior to the , Android 5.0 introduced a completely redesigned interface called Material Design. Animated, playful and colorful, Material reaches just about every corner and crevice of Android -- from the dialer, to the notifications shade and even the hotkeys for back, home and overview (previously known as recent apps) have changed into simple geometric shapes.

Animations are a big part of Material; nearly everything that you interact with via touch moves in some way. Sometimes it's a transparent gray shade that ripples outward with every tap or a small wave that moves as you drag your finger across the screen. When you launch the app drawer, its circular icon expands into a big rectangular window; and when you're at the unlock screen, texts zoom in and out.

These animations make your Android handset seem very dynamic and almost alive. Some CNET editors like the effect, but others say that the animations appear to slow the device's performance.

google-nexus-6-dialer-and-app.jpg
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Material Design's new dialer (left) and app drawer. Screenshots by Lynn La/CNET

Another part of Material is cards. Notifications, the app drawer and text in many apps have their own designated card that's layered on top of the background. Calendar features whimsical, full-colored seasonally-themed backgrounds for each month, and can add relevant images to events using key words entered by users such as "dinner." These graphics pop up through a parallax scroll effect. You can turn them off if you want, but we found them quite charming.

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Gmail (left) and the Calendar app in the Lollipop interface. Screenshots by Lynn La/CNET

Notifications, overview and quick settings

Notifications can be viewed on the lockscreen, similar to Apple iOS and Moto Alerts on Motorola devices. Tapping a notification will launch the relevant app; swiping dismisses it altogether. Users can also control how much information apps display, which is useful for sensitive emails and messages.

Long-pressing a notification card in the menu shade reveals individual settings, but Google has included an "app notifications" master list inside the settings menu as well. Alerts for phone calls, alarms and texts may pop up while you're in the middle of a smartphone task; these are called "heads-up," and you can tap to launch or swipe to dismiss.

Recent apps and multitasking capabilities, referred to as "overview," are activated by the square hotkey located at the bottom right of the display. Tap it and you'll see all the active apps that are running the background. Laid out like a stack of cards, overview also shows you multiple tasks within individual apps. With Gmail, for example, two overview cards appear if you have your inbox open while you're drafting a new message.

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Notifications appear on the lockscreen (left), and Overview displays more than one tab per app. Screenshots by Lynn La/CNET

Overview gives an informative preview of and context for recently-used apps, though they can add up quite quickly. The addition of multiple tabs per app also piles on more windows. It's unfortunate there is no "clear all" button that closes them all at once; a user must swipe or tap cards individually. The quick settings menu, accessible with a two-finger downward swipe at the top of the screen, features auto-rotate and Bluetooth toggles as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles.

Additional goodies

Google's 2014 "Project Volta" initiative set out to improve battery life, giving developers more control over how their apps impact run time; the OS features a battery-saver mode that turns off background data and decreases the CPU clock speed when power reserves are running low.

Lollipop lets users unlock their smartphone via Bluetooth. If the Nexus 6 detects a known Bluetooth device nearby, such as a Motorola Moto 360 or LG G Watch , the phone will automatically unlock itself.

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Mass migrating apps and accounts from your previous Android phone is easier with the Nexus 6. Josh Miller/CNET

The OS also features screen pinning, which restricts others to only one screen (like an app or game), and a guest mode, which lets others access the phone's Google apps, camera, messages, and dialer.

If you're moving from another phone to the Nexus 6, Google makes it simple to migrate your apps, wallpapers and account settings; turn on NFC on both devices, tap the backs and wait until the handsets connect. The loading process takes only a few minutes depending on how much content you have on your old device, and makes the migrating process easy.

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