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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
|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)|
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.
Android 5.1 Lollipop addresses some known issues and adds a handful of new features; check out our report here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Take the Nexus 6's 13-megapixel camera outside into the light and it will reward you with plenty of crisp, balanced images that rival those captured by other top phones. Lighter hues are bright and blacks are dark and vivid colors flood the eye, though whites bleached out in some scenarios and low light shots aren't as good as those taken by rival phones like the Microsoft Lumia.
HDR mode may benefit some landscape environments, especially when combatting harsh sunlight angles, and indoor pictures are generally good quality. We found that the lens wouldn't always focus on extreme closeups, fuzzing around the edges. Front-facing photos taken with the 2-megapixel camera look good both indoors and out, producing faithful color representation and sufficient detail.
Android Lollipop offers basic layout options and tools for the native camera including Panorama and HDR mode, a lens-blur feature, and photo sphere; and advanced menu gives you access to grid lines and manual exposure settings. Though you can't access filters and white balance presets in the default controls, the Photos gallery features a full set of tools including auto-editing, cropping, brightness, and saturation as well as filters, tilt-shift, and HDR Scape. One quibble: we wish the Photos app had a simple, clear way of separating photos from screenshots.
Here's a sampling of the Nexus 6 image quality below. You can click images for full resolution, but be forewarned: they're large.
The phone's UHD 4K default capture delivers high quality video. Color and sharpness is spot on, and the way the software adjusts to changes in the light is impressive. When 4K video files are too large for your needs, you can also drop down to 1080p or, the minimum, 720p resolution.
Similarly, the front-facing camera supports 1080p HD, though you can downgrade to 720p or 480p for smaller, less sharp videos that are easier to share.
We tested the Nexus 6 in our San Francisco office using T-Mobile's network. Call quality in both indoor and outdoor settings was great, with no calls dropped, consistent audio, and no buzzing or static. On our end, the call sounded clear with no distortion and adequate volume. We were told that we sounded clear on the other end, with no background noise even during a conversation conducted outdoors near a busy street and heavy construction.
The audio speaker delivered quality similar to that of the in-ear speaker, though with a lower maximum volume; we could hear our calling partner clearly, though relatively softly, even when we cranked the volume all the way up. We also had to hold the device relatively close (no more than a foot and a half away) to hear the handset. This was surprising, since the phone has dual front-facing speakers grilles that play songs and video loudly.
Data speeds on T-Mobile's LTE network are decent, and consistent with what we've seen before. (It's important to keep in mind that data speeds depend on a number of variables, such as location and time of day.) According to Ookla's speed test app, the Nexus' delivered an average rate of 10.11Mbps down and 8.97Mbps up; it also took about 2 minutes and 53 seconds for the 43.70MB game Temple Run 2 to download and install.
The device took 10 seconds to download CNET's desktop site. Both the mobile and desktop site for the New York Times needed about 7 seconds to load, and ESPN's mobile and desktop site finished loading after 4 and 15 seconds, respectively.
|Average 4G LTE download speed||10.11Mbps|
|Average 4G LTE upload speed||8.97Mbps|
|Temple Run 2 app download (43.70MB)||2 minutes and 53 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||10 seconds|
|Restart time||1 minute and 16 seconds|
|Camera boot time||2.48 seconds|
Equipped with a Snapdragon 805 processor, the phone is lightning fast with basic tasks like opening the app drawer, scrolling through Web pages, and navigating around the homescreen. In our tests, graphics-intensive games such as Riptide GP 2 and Kill Shot loaded in a reasonable amount of time and delivered high frame rates and smooth graphics.
Benchmark diagnostics reflected the results of our hands on testing; this phone is powerful and holds its own against its rivals. Though the Galaxy Note 4 edged both the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in our tests, the scores should be taken with a grain of salt, as manufacturers have been known to optimize their devices for benchmarking software.)
In our 3D Mark Ice Storm (unlimited) app test, the Note 4 scored the highest, delivering faster performance and higher frame rates. In our Geekbench 3 tests of both single-core and multi-core scores, the Nexus ranked between the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus.
The Nexus 6 turned in a very low score on our Quadrant benchmark, which was odd, given its competent performance in every other test. Its best multi-thread Linpack score was 386.85 MFLOPS in 0.44-second. On average, it took the phone about 1 minute and 16 seconds to power off and restart and 2.48 seconds to launch the camera.
The 3,220 mAh battery delivers an estimated 8.5 hours of Internet browsing on Wi-Fi and 7 hours on LTE, with a reported talk time of up to 24 hours and a standby time of 300 hours. In our battery drain test of continuous video playback, the phone lasted 11 hours and 56 minutes. Anecdotal observation showed that with moderate usage on LTE, with brightness cranked to the max, the phone still had 30 percent of its battery power at the end of the work day.
With the included Turbo charger, the Nexus recharged a fully drained battery in 1 hour and 50 minutes. According to FCC radiation measurements, the device has a SAR rating on 0.93W/kg.
With the Nexus 6, Google increased the size of its flagship phone by a whole inch; it was a bold move. It took what had been a charmingly affordable handset and turned it into a big-ticket, big-screen phablet, expanding the Nexus line without advancing it all that much.
For users looking for a big phone, a huge screen, and a pure Android experience, the Nexus 6 delivers with only a few minor drawbacks. Still, we prefer other comparable models. The iPhone 6 Plus is an elegantly crafted device with a fantastic camera and user-friendly OS. If you're loyal to Android, the Moto X is a good and less expensive alternative that's powerful, reliable, and highly customizable. Still, our favorite in the category remains the Note 4 . It has a slimmer design than the Nexus, a powerful processor that performs equally well, a suite of native productivity tools, and a powerful built-in S Pen stylus.