Phones

Google promises Nexus 6P tweak to improve video

The upcoming flagship smartphone lacks a technology called optical image stabilization, which counteracts blurry or shaky images. But improvements are on the way.

Nexus 6P is Google's new flagship smartphone. CNET

Google will use software to compensate for the most significant feature left out of its upcoming flagship Nexus smartphone.

When the Mountain View, California, Internet giant unveiled the Nexus 6P on Tuesday, it almost immediately highlighted the improved camera, a move designed to help broaden the smartphone's appeal beyond its techie niche. But tarnishing the announcement was the lack of a technology called optical image stabilization, or OIS, which can counteract blurry images or shaky videos shot by unsteady hands.

In a Reddit question-and-answer session on Wednesday, Google engineering vice president Dave Burke said a software improvement is on the way for the Nexus 6P. The phone already includes an alternative technology called electronic image stabilization, or EIS, which tries to reduce problems by processing video as it is captured, but the company still plans to improve the processing algorithm.

Smartphone video is increasingly important as people document more of their lives with smartphones and share experiences online. People upload more than 400 hours of video to Google's YouTube every minute, and Facebook is a growing power in personal video, too. Camera quality is one of the top priorities for consumers buying smartphones.

Image stabilization is a competitive feature. DxO Labs, an independent camera consulting and technology company, gave the Nexus 6P camera high marks overall in a test of a preproduction model but criticized its lack of stabilization. One day later, it gave its highest DxOMark score yet for a mobile phone to Sony's Xperia Z5, partly due to its OIS system. Apple's iPhone 6S Plus includes the feature for video, but the smaller iPhone 6S doesn't.

In the Reddit Q&A, Burke and Android leader Hiroshi Lockheimer addressed a number of other issues related to the Nexus 6P, which is built by China-based Huawei, and its 5.2-inch companion, the Nexus 5X built by South Korea-based LG. Here are some of the topics raised, as well as Google's responses:

  • Lack of wireless charging. Google dropped the wireless-charging feature in Nexus products after three years of supporting the tech because the new reversible USB Type C charging port is easier to use than earlier USB cables, Lockheimer said. USB Type C charges faster than its predecessor. Also, wireless charging components would have made the phone a bit larger.
  • Slower transfer connection. Even though the new USB connector is on board, the Nexus phones still use the slower USB 2.0 technology, which at 480 megabits per second is about 10 times slower transferring data than the new USB 3.0 tech and 20 times slower than USB 3.1. The USB port also can't send video to a TV over an HDMI connection, but Burke suggested buying one of Google's new Chromecast devices that set up a wireless link for showing video.
  • Samsung in the mix. The Korean electronics giant built the Nexus 6P display, a component with 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution, through its latest manufacturing process. "It was important that we use the most cutting-edge panel technology available," the Nexus team members said.
  • Slow-motion video. The image sensor used in the main camera is Sony's Exmor R IMX377, Burke said. According to Sony's specifications, the sensor is able to capture slow-motion video with rates as high as 300 frames per second, although Google offers only up to 240fps on the Nexus 6P and 120fps on the Nexus 5X.
  • Bulked-up security. Fingerprint data, used for security, is encrypted in the smartphone and stored in a secure part of the memory. This means Google doesn't have access to the information and the fingerprint data never leaves the device, Burke said. You can also find, lock or erase your phone remotely using Android Device Manager.