Google Nexus 6P review: Best-ever Nexus sets new standard for big-screen Android value

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The Good One of the first two Android 6.0 phones, Google's metal Nexus 6P has a sharp, high-resolution screen and a solid camera, an accurate fingerprint reader, loud speakers and works with every major carrier. Its lower cost makes it a good top-tier value buy.

The Bad It's big, a bit boxy and top-heavy, the fingerprint reader's position isn't always convenient and the 6P ditches the wireless charging of previous models.

The Bottom Line The Nexus 6P doesn't have the most inspiring design, but when it comes to hardware prowess, value for money and Google extras, this best-ever Nexus is hard to beat.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 7

Fall 2016 update

Google has scheduled an event for October 4 at which it is expected to launch the next generation of its Android phones. Breaking away from the Nexus name, which has served as the company's in-house phone brand since 2008, the phones will be called the Pixel and Pixel XL, according to a report by Android Police, with pricing reportedly starting at $649.

Back in April, veteran leaker Evan Blass reported that HTC was building devices that would run Android Nougat, Google's recently released operating system. He also reported that there would be two models -- a larger phone, equipped with a 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display with a 2,560x1440-pixel resolution; and a smaller device, featuring a 5-inch full HD display with a 1,920x1080-pixel resolution. (CNET's rumor roundup contains additional speculation and hearsay.)

Though we can't say how the new phones will stack up against Nexus models currently on the market, not to mention the recently released Apple iPhone 7, phone shoppers looking to make a purchase in the near term will likely have an expanded lineup of choices come October 4.

Editors' note: The original Google Nexus 6P review, published in October 2015, follows.

In my mind, there are two things that a Nexus-branded phone is supposed to do, and the Google Nexus 6P does them both very well. First, it's meant to showcase the very newest Android software. Check! (So does the cheaper, smaller LG-made Nexus 5X.) Second, it should package together very capable hardware for a lower sticker price than more familiar brand-name competitors. Yep, that it does. (See our pricing chart below.)

And then the weighty, 5.7-inch Nexus 6P goes further. It adds a metal frame (a Nexus first!) and a crisp, high-resolution display; a spot-on fingerprint reader; a capable 12-megapixel camera; and strong stereo speakers. It also introduces China-based Huawei, which made the phone, to a whole new audience of people, Google's Nexus fans. (Although I have to say, this breakthrough, while significant for Huawei, is only a passing curiosity for a buyer who's focused on finding the right handset.)

This year's Nexus phones are also compatible with most major carriers, which is terrific, and support Google's own unique Project Fi wireless service -- meaning you can switch among carrier plans without swapping your SIM card or phone. You don't actually need Fi to do that, though, you can seamlessly carrier-hop on your own without Google's specialized SIM card, too.

Here's what I'm saying: the 6P here is the most ambitious and advanced Nexus phone Google has put its stamp on, and it comes closer than previous Nexus devices at meeting and beating premium handsets, big and small -- like the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Edge+ , Sony Xperia Z5 and Z5 Premium -- with its combination of internal performance and relatively low cost.

Like all phones, this one isn't without flaws. It's still a large, heavy device. I'm not wild about the design, which is completely fine, but a little generic. The position of the fingerprint reader isn't always convenient. The native camera has fewer options and controls than many rivals. And unlike the Nexus 6 and other Nexus phones, this refresh lacks wireless charging, which would be extra useful backup if you leave your new Type-C charger at home. The 6P also won't have the Note 5's stylus, the Edge+ curves or the Xperia's waterproofing. You have to decide how important those finishing touches are to you.

A little warning for those who want to buy the 6P to mine the Android 6.0 Marshmallow software for all its goodies: while the new operating system brings a few interesting and somewhat useful tools -- like contextual searching through the Now on Tap feature and battery life boosting that works quietly in the background -- the 6P's real take-home value is less about the wonders of Android 6.0 and more about your total bang for the buck.

Android 6.0's nice-but-not-astounding bag of tricks may not have been as successful as past Nexus' braggable features ( Android 5.0 Lollipop was quite the overhaul), but the 6P's Marshmallow status still nabs you certain advantages, like fewer preloaded apps ("bloatware") and being first in line to receive Google's forthcoming software updates. "Pure" Nexus phones are also free from vendors' custom take on Android, which can be good, bad or neutral depending on your stance. On the one hand, custom layers eat up storage space and delay upgrades, but on the other, they can also add handy features and snazzy design layouts.

Personally, I like the the Nexus 6P quite a lot -- it does everything right and very little wrong. While it doesn't grab me the way the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge's unique design does, it's still a phone I'd heartily recommend. As a utilitarian workhorse, the Nexus 6P does the job for less cash, and that's smart.

Pricing and availability

The Nexus 6P is available for pre-order in the US, UK, Ireland and Japan from Google's online store, and will be ship in October. Check out pricing for the US, UK, and Australia 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

To sweeten the deal, Google tacks on a 90-day subscription to Google Play Music (plus a $50 credit for its Play Store for US buyers).

Google also wants to sell you a two-year warranty that covers breaks and water damage, which it's calling Nexus Protect. It costs $89 in the US. If something goes wrong, you can get a new device as soon as the next business day.

In the US, the Nexus 6P works on all major carriers. It'll also support Project Fi , the company's SIM card that uses Wi-Fi hotspots for a network connection, falling back on T-Mobile and Sprint networks.

Specifications versus top rivals

Specs comparison

Google Nexus 6P Nexus 5X Apple iPhone 6S Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
Display 5.7-inch AMOLED with 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution 5.2-inch LCD with 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution 4.7-inch IPS with 1,334x750-pixel resolution 5.7-inch AMOLED with 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution 5.5-inch IPS with 3,840x2,160-pixel resolution
Pixel density 515ppi 423ppi 326ppi 518ppi 806ppi
Dimensions (imperial) 6.27x3.06x0.28 inches 5.78x2.86x0.31 inches 5.44x2.64x0.28 inches 6.03x2.99x0.29 inches 6.07x2.99x0.31 inches
Dimensions (metric) 159.4x77.8x7.3mm 147.0x72.6x7.9 mm 138.3x67.1x7.1mm 153.2x76.1x7.6mm 154.4x76.0x7.8 mm
Weight 6.27 ounces (178 grams) 4.80 ounces (136 grams) 5.04 ounces (143 grams) 6.03 ounces (171 grams) 6.34 ounces (180 grams)
Mobile operating system Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow Apple iOS 9 Android 5.1 Lollipop Google Android 5.1 Lollipop
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Camera, video 12.3-megapixel, ultra HD video (4K), 240fps slow motion video 12.3-megapixel, ultra HD video (4K), 120fps slow motion 12-megapixel, ultra HD video (4K), 240fps slow motion video 16-megapixel, ultra HD video (4K), 120fps slow motion video 23-megapixel, ultra HD video (4K), 120fps slow motion video
Optical image stabilization No No No (only 6S Plus) Yes Yes
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 5-megapixel 5-megapixel 5-megapixel
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 1.8GHz 6-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 64-bit A9 chip with M9 Octa-core Exynos 7420 Octa-core Snapdragon 810
Storage 32GB, 64GB, 128GB 16GB, 32GB 16GB, 64GB and 128GB 32GB, 64GB 32GB
Expandable storage No No No No Up to 200GB
Wireless charging No No No Yes, PMA and Qi No
Battery Nonremovable 3,450mAh Nonremovable 2,700mAh Nonremovable 1,715mAh Nonremovable 3,000mAh Nonremovable 3,430mAh
Starting price $499, £449, AU$899 $379, £339, AU$659 $649, £539, AU$1,079 ~$700 (but varies), N/A, AU$1,100 N/A, £630, AU$1,200

Google's first metal Nexus

  • 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 aluminium with rounded edges and a fingerprint reader on the back, the Nexus 6P embraces quite a few trends of the day. The 5.7-inch display is a skosh more sizeable than the 5.5-inch iPhone 6S and right on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ . Its high-resolution AMOLED display, sometimes referred to as 2K, fits in with the times as well, lending the 6P a sharp and clear screen, with high contrast. (Sony is already pushing boundaries with its world's-first 4K display , which is probably overkill in most scenarios.)

The Nexus 6P is a solid slab of aluminum, a Nexus first. Josh Miller/CNET

Shape-wise, the Nexus 6P is smaller and narrower than Motorola's 6-inch Nexus 6. Still, it's a two-hander. Not the easiest jumbo phone (or, phablet, if you prefer) for my smaller hands to hold. Its slim, straight sides challenged hands larger than mine when I passed the phone around. Some combination of the straight edges and smooth back made the 6P seem unwieldy, slippery, even a little top-heavy. The similarly sized Samsung Galaxy Note 5, S6 Edge+ and iPhone 6S Plus seem proportioned and contoured to fit my mitts better.

Its unibody build means you won't be able to access the battery, and there's no microSD card slot for extra storage either. This is a typical trade-off in full-metal phones. During some of my testing, the Nexus 6P's backing felt warm to the touch, but not dangerously or uncomfortably so.

Since I grip the bottom half of the device to use it, the placement of the Google Imprint fingerprint reader was often a stretch; I sometimes had to shift my grip in order to unlock the phone. If you have larger hands, you probably won't have the same concerns.

Double-click the power button to launch the camera. Josh Miller/CNET

I like that double-pressing the lock key launches the camera, but I'm not a fan of the haptic jiggle that confirms you've opened it, and I haven't found a way to turn it off.

You can pick up the Nexus 6P in three colors: aluminum (silver), graphite (black) and frost (white), our favorite of the trio. Japan gets it in gold, too. My all-black model looks nice in a generic way, with subtle chamfered edges around the rims, though the design isn't inspired.

Loud stereo speakers

Audio quality from the dual front speakers was pretty great for a phone. I played a lot of music videos from YouTube. The highest volume setting filled a room, and songs sounded clear. Compared to a set of good headphones or a decent Bluetooth speaker, though, the 6P's audio still sounded jangly and two-dimensional, where my over-ear In Case headphones sounded rich. But the 6P is still notably better than you'll get from the default speaker in most rival smartphones.

Type-C marginally better

I like the reversible USB Type-C charging port in theory, and once more phone-makers start using it, charging cables will be easier to come by. If you forget the Type-C to Type-C fast-charger and Type-C to USB cables that arrive in the box, you'll be hard-pressed to find one lying around -- it's not compatible with your other devices' cables. Wireless charging would be a convenient backup here, but unlike the 2013 and 2014 Nexus models, that feature is absent.

Better keep an extra Type-C cable. Josh Miller/CNET

If you get the 6P, prepare to also buy a few extra chargers and a micro-USB to Type-C adaptor that fits over the tip. (For Type-C fans, keep in mind that the Nexus 6P uses the Type-C charging shape, but not all the features that also support faster file transfers and charging for other devices. Read more about that here.)

Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Now on Tap is not great

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

A Nexus phone is the first to debut Google's latest Android software. Always. In our case, that's the Android 6.0 build , codenamed 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 enticing of these is Google Now on Tap, which is an obscure name for an extra layer of software that lets you more deeply interact with whatever's 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.

Google Now on Tap is essentially a shortcuts bar within Android 6.0. Josh Miller/CNET

Let's say you're on a restaurant menu and you press and hold the home button. Mini "cards" pop up on the bottom half of the screen with buttons you can press (shortcuts) to search on Google, open a menu, make a reservation, call the business, navigate there and see Google Street View. You can also use voice search to ask for additional information ("show me her tour dates" for example) without having to reframe the question.

CNET will do much more Now on Tap testing, but in my initial tests, I threw a barrage of questions and commands at it, and opened the Now on Tap cards from a variety of Web pages. Some scenarios seem to work better than others. For example, contextual voice searches usually worked, but interrupted the songs I asked about, which made for a pretty disruptive listening experience, since getting search results on-screen essentially stops the music, at least with YouTube.

Other times, Now on Tap presented useful information, like a restaurant menu link and icon shortcuts to other apps, other times, I didn't get what I wanted. Also keep in mind that clicking a link from Now on Tap whisks you away to a new page. Either way, Now on Tap cards took about two seconds to load, which felt slow.

This search bar in the apps tray is new to Nexus. Josh Miller/CNET

Don't worry, the usual Google Now is still there -- which proactively surfaces information about the weather, sports scores, transportation time home and flight information -- now you swipe right from the home screen or press the "G" icon from the Now on Tap screen. With the ability to add stories and notifications from websites and apps, it operates much more as a typical newsfeed this way.

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