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All-metal Nexus 6P flagship phone showcases Android 6.0 Marshmallow on huge 5.7-inch screen (hands-on)

Google's brawny new Nexus comes on strong with hardware goodies and the freshest unadulterated Android software. It also brings to the forefront a phone-maker you may not recognize: Huawei.

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Of Google's two new Nexus phones launching today, the 5.7-inch, all-metal, Huawei-made Nexus 6P is the larger, brawnier device compared to LG's Nexus 5X. It also has the more interesting story of the duo.

For you, the buyer, the Nexus 6P overflows with promise for the Goldilocks combination of its high-reaching specs, debut Android 6.0 software build, and reasonable price tag (skip to the end for pricing). But for Huawei, being the company behind this year's flagship Nexus design is a big, fat break.

Huawei is the world's third-largest smartphone-maker (by units shipped), according to research firm IDC, but in many regions, it's hardly known for being a purveyor of high-quality phones -- if it's known at all. Held aloft by Google's popular, time-tested Nexus line, Huawei now has a rare chance to impress a pantheon of established Nexus fans with its top-tier hardware. Customers who like the Nexus 6P could very well be converted into Huawei loyalists, or at the very least draw precious attention to the brand. Here's an early look at how it stacks up to the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S.

The Nexus 6P versus the Nexus 5X. James Martin / CNET

For now, though, you Nexus buyers have an important decision to make: should you go for the slightly smaller, less costly Nexus 5X, or the larger and pricier Nexus 6P? Here's what the 6P has to offer.

Huge, all-metal design

  • 5.7-inch screen with 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution
  • USB-C charging port
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Stereo forward-facing speakers
  • Dimensions: 6.3 by 3.0 by 0.29 inches (159.3 by 77.8 by 7.3mm)
  • Weight: 6.3 ounces (178 grams)

Big and metallic with rounded edges and a fingerprint reader on the back, the Nexus 6P embraces quite a few trends of the day.

Now playing: Watch this: Google unveils 6P, the first all-metal Nexus
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With a screen a scosh larger than the 5.5-inch iPhone 6S and right on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+, the Nexus 6P embraces the ultralarge display in a big way. Its high-resolution display, sometimes referred to as 2K, fits in with the times as well. We think this resolution is plenty for a screen of this imposing size, and during our brief time with it the screen was bright and sharp. However, Sony is already pushing boundaries with its world's-first 4K display (which is probably overkill in most scenarios but one).

Corning's Gorilla Glass 4 protects the delicate display below; this is a type of chemically-strengthened glass that helps resist breaks and scratches, the downfall of too many phones.

You'll find the typical power/lock and volume buttons on the right spine, but on the bottom edge is something pretty new, a USB-C (also called Type-C) charging port. Like Apple's proprietary Lightning connector, this one is reversible, so you won't have to worry about plugging in your charging cable the "right" way up. That isn't its only benefit, though. Fast-charging is Google's claim to fame with USB-C here. Only one other major phone on the market has this right now: the OnePlus 2.

On the back, a camera and flash sit in black strip along the phone's upper edge. Below that, a divot in the backing houses the fingerprint reader, which is meant to be in an ergonomic location that's easy for your finger to find (other phones keep it on the home button or power-lock button).

Google has actually named this for the phone, and calls it the Nexus Imprint. It will supposedly recognize your print in less than 600 milliseconds and when we tried it to unlock the phone, it worked quickly and smoothly.

The Nexus Imprint fingerprint reader. James Martin / CNET

The device incorporating a unibody build and is a typical trade-off in full-metal phones. In the hand, the handset is dense and feels solidly built. The metal aesthetic lends a more premium and elegant look than its smaller 5X counterpart. There's no microSD card slot for extra storage, and the 6P doesn't include wireless charging support (a few phones do, but this isn't by any means uncommon).

You can pick up the Nexus 6P in three colors: Aluminum (which looks like silver), Graphite (black) and Frost, which is white and was our favorite of the trio. There was a rumor that Japan would get the phone in gold, but Google hasn't corroborated that yet.

Cameras

  • Camera: 12-megapixel Sony sensor
  • 8-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 4K video capture support
  • Slow-motion video

Google really dug in to the Nexus 6P's camera sensors and technology during the phone announcement. First, there's an easier way to launch the camera than pressing a button on the screen. Now, you can double-tap the power button to launch.

A sample photo taken with the Nexus 6P's rear camera. Lynn La / CNET
A sample image from the Nexus 6P's selfie camera. Lynn La / CNET

The tech titan also talked up its Sony-made rear camera sensor, which claims serious indoor optimization and improved low-light technology. In a demo, photos taken after sunset looked better and brighter than a competitor device. Google says that its camera sensor size dwarfs that of the iPhone 6S Plus, with 1.55-micron pixel size on the 6P, versus 1.22-micron pixels on Apple's jumbo phone. The bigger the pixel, the more light can stream in. In the world of photography, more light is generally better.

Google has also added smart burst mode to the camera, a new-to-Google feature that captures photos at a rate of 30 frames per second. And yes, you can turn a stream of photo bursts into an animated GIF.

On the video side, the Nexus 6P will shoot 4K video, and a brand-new built-in feature, slow-motion video, can capture up to 240 frames per second, with editing capabilities. This is something we've seen in other phones, say by Samsung for example, but this is indeed a first for a Nexus device.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow makes its phone debut

  • "Pure" Android software
  • Google Now on Tap
  • Android Pay support
  • Doze function saves battery

A Nexus phone is always the first to debut Google's latest Android software. In our case, that's the Android 6.0 build, code-named an ooey-gooey Marshmallow. It promises, as always, to be faster and smoother than the previous generation and filled with more tricks and treats.

The most luscious of these is Google Now on Tap, which is a mumbo-jumbo description for bringing you context-sensitive information based on what you're looking at on the screen. The classic example is asking Google simply "Who sings this?" when listening to any given song, without having to specify the track's title. When we tried it, we had the Chrome Web browser opened to news article about the real estate developer and current presidential candidate, Donald Trump. After long pressing for Now on Tap, Google called up a search query of Trump as well as several other names included in the article.

Google Now on Tap highlights contextual information. Juan Garzon/CNET

Mobile payments featuring Android Pay also lights up; this is Google's repackaged Google Wallet system, which rivals Apple Pay and the newly launched Samsung Pay.

Here's a convenient one: you'll be able to launch Google's voice actions directly from the home screen.

Saving you battery life, Android 6.0's Doze feature sips less power when apps slip into standby mode, promising to help the phone last up to 30 percent longer than it otherwise would.

We'll update with our hands-on impressions of the brand-new OS on the Nexus phones. In the meantime, read more about Android 6.0 Marshmallow here.

Hardware muscle: Processor and battery life

  • Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 processor, version 2.1
  • 3,450mAh battery

At the heart of the operation, the Nexus 6P uses a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, version 2.1. On paper, its 3,450mAh battery is larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5's 3,000mAh ticker, though you never really know how much battery you'll get until you test it, even without Android 6.0's Doze feature enabled.

Pricing and availability

You can pre-order the Nexus 6P immediately in the US, UK, Ireland and Japan from Google's online store. Check out pricing in this handy chart below:

Google Nexus 6P pricing

32GB 64GB 128GB
US $499 $549 $649
UK £449 £499 £579
Australia AU$899 AU$999 AU$1,099

Both new Nexus phones start shipping, unlocked, in October. To sweeten the deal, Google tacks on a 90-day subscription to Google Play Music (plus a $50 Play credit for US buyers).

Google also lays out an add-on two-year warranty that covers breaks and water damage. If something goes wrong, you can get a new, whole device as soon as the next business day. Nexus Protect, as it's called, will cost $89 in the US for the Nexus 6P.

Check out all of the secrets revealed at the Google Nexus event here.

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