Google made huge waves in the smartphone market when they released the Google Nexus 5, and the newer model, the flagship Nexus 6, pushes the boat even further, although it also pushes the wallet a bit further too.
What we think
With a huge screen, amazing camera, massive processing speeds, and the latest updates of pure Android available as soon as they are available, the Nexus 6 is an impressive bit of tech. Although it is quite pricey, it is still good value for what you get.
The most noticeable thing about the Nexus 6 is its size. A 5.96 inch display shows that Google has taken the idea of the phablet and ran full pelt with it. Overall, it measures 159.3 x 83 x 10 mm, (which translates to 6.27 x 3.27 x 0.40 inches). Despite its large size, it weighs just 184g.
A front facing camera and two speaker bars (one above the display, one below,) adorn the front of the phone, while the back holds the primary camera, flanked by two LED lights (which act as the camera flash and the torch). These are located just above a small, circular indent, which is embossed with the ‘M’ Motorola logo. This dent, while appearing fairly insignificant, surprisingly helps when holding the phone. Being so large, it is good to have some form of tactile indicator to help you balance the phone and hold it more sturdily.
The top of the phone holds the headphone jack (3.5mm aux) and the Nano-Sim card slot, while the bottom holds the charging port and microphone. The volume rocker and lock/power button are on the right hand edge of the phone, easily in thumb-reach of the right hand, a change made from the Nexus 5.
The display is an AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, capable of multi-touch, with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The 16M colours are arrayed over 1440×2560 pixels, and it is beautiful. Not on the level of Apple’s Retina Displays, of course, but close enough.
With the brightness cranked up, the colours are vivid and bright, as well as crisp and clear. It loses a bit of its splendour with the brightness down low, which is likely a necessity to save battery. However, the Android OS makes it super-easy to adjust the brightness at any given point through the always-accessible drop down menu.
- Huge, clear screen
- Fantastic camera software
- Super-fast charging
- Impressive processing power
- Can struggle to fit in a pocket
- Limited battery life
The Android operating system is one of the most commonly used across the mobile market, running on a huge range of devices. However, the Nexus models are designed to run pure Android, giving the best experience with the OS.
Google led the way into a new era of application design. Bringing out Material Design, a style of app which focuses on user experience when using apps and navigating around the phone, the tech giant had a huge influence on UI design across the globe. The effects can be seen in lots of different apps, and it has helped to make navigation more intuitive and familiar in a wide range of apps.
Over time, updates to Android have made the controls and settings more easily accessible and more intuitive to use. For example, the quick settings menu, which drags down from the top, even when running a full screen app, now includes a torch button, which toggles the LEDs on the back. Just a couple of years ago, using a phone as a torch usually required a third party app, but now it is right there in the native OS.
Similar little touches like this across the phone’s system make it great to use on a day to day basis. A similar example is being able to respond to a lot of notifications from the lock screen(subject to privacy settings). You can reply to a text without having to unlock the phone.
The addition of the Google Cards was a big step for Android. The idea that the phone automatically supplies you with useful little virtual cards when you need them is nifty, and surprisingly useful, although some may find themselves with a dilemma over privacy. In order to generate the cards, Google Now has to gather a lot of data on you, scanning through emails, and tracking your movements throughout the day.
Every weekday, the Nexus will give me a little card about 40 minutes before I leave work, giving me a traffic rundown of my commute home, suggesting alternatives if it is unusually bad. Google Now can give you updates on websites that you often visit, or give you information gleaned from emails when it becomes useful, such as flight times.
The primary camera on the Nexus 6 is brilliant. 13MP, 4128 x 3096 pixels, it has an autofocus and optical image stabilisation. The best bits, however, are in the software.
You can adjust the brightness and balance of the images you take by tapping different areas of the screen. Tap a dark section of the image, and the picture will brighten, tap a bright or washed out section, and it will darken to improve the image. Practically, this means you just tap where you want the main focus to be, and the rest of the image adjusts to make it perfect.
It comes with an impressive HDR+ option, which produces great quality pictures by using clever camera software. It takes several pictures all at once, and combines them, picking and choosing the best bits from the many pictures and combining them all into one great looking shot.
It makes dark pictures look better without adding the noise that a traditional extended exposure usually would. Similarly, the mode helps to reduce the glare of any light too bright that would otherwise obscure the picture.
What this gives you is sharper images, which look great and have a good balance to them, images that can be blown up quite far before they begin to lose quality. Even better, HDR+ doesn’t take noticeably longer to take photographs, taking just a few seconds to process the images after it is taken. It does this in the background, not affecting the shutter rate if you want to snap several pictures quickly.
Panoramic shots can be taken via the camera app, through a system that makes the end photo less likely to have the weird blurs and mismatched sections (often resulting in a floating head or a third arm) which are common to amateur panoramic photos.
Rather than taking one long photo while the photographer pans the device, the camera app creates a virtual space, adorned with a grid of dots, that you line the camera up to. When it is aligned to one, it will take a picture, and you move onto the next. This results in a canvas of overlapping, individual pictures, which the software then stitches together into one continuous image.
The results are usually good, and produces a better image than an iPhone 5s. However, it can be a bit difficult to get perfect if the scene is busy with a lot of people moving. It also takes a bit longer than an iPhone 5s, and requires a bit more patience to get a perfect image, but the great quality helps to balance this out.
Similar to the panoramic shot, the camera app can also create a photosphere, which creates a ball-shaped panorama, but with the camera at the centre. This is the same sort of thing as used on Google’s Street View photospheres, and it can turn the phone into a window through which to view the photosphere.
The secondary camera is a lot more average, with just 2MP, and no fancy modes. Photos can be set to automatically back up to your Google Account.
As part of having a Google Account, not only do your photos get backed up, you can also access your own Google Drive space. This can back up any data or files, which can then be immediately accessed on a web browser or an Android device.
Furthermore, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides have been designed with cross-device use in mind. These productivity apps are incredibly useful, and easy to read on the large screen of the Nexus 6.
Gmail and Inbox are the two email apps created by Google, with Inbox the intended replacement for the older Gmail. Inbox is more integrated with the Google Card and Google Now features, making everything more streamlined, accessible, and there when you need it.
You can also easily run a Google search of either the web or the contents of your phone using the speech trigger “Ok, Google” and vocalising your search.
Furthermore, certain command prompts will carry out other orders. For example, saying “Send a message to Lewis” will trigger the phone to set up a text to the person in question and to then ask “What do you want to say?” You can then use voice input to create the message and send it. Another example is “Wake me up in 2 hours” to immediately set an alarm, or “Remind me to go and buy milk tomorrow” to set a reminder.
The speech recognition is useful at times, but slightly bordering on gimmicky. I wouldn’t use it in public, and it is only accurate roughly nine in ten times.
The battery is not removable, and in fact, the phone doesn’t come apart at all. The SIM slot is accessed from the outside by using a SIM card ejector tool, or similar pin-like object. It is a Lithium polymer 3220 mAh battery.
The updates to the Android system seem to significantly alter the length of the battery life, so how long it will last between charges depends on which version of the software you are running. At its worst, the battery has struggled to see me through until the end of the work day (8:00 – 17:30) with moderate to intense use. At its best, it has lasted from 8:00 to 22:00 (running Android 6.0 Marshmallow).
However, although this is not a great daily life-span, the Motorola Turbo Charger that comes with the phone as standard, can charge the phone up very quickly. You can get a significant portion of battery back from just 10-20 minutes of charging, which is brilliant for a quick pit stop before heading out again.
Memory and processing
Available with either 32Gb or 64Gb memory, the Nexus 6 also has 3Gb RAM, and uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805-core processor, running at up to 2.7GHz per core.
I encountered very few problems when running the phone. It is difficult to run out of memory, and the processor has rarely struggled to run an app, even when having to heft animations round the colossal screen. Sometimes, it can begin to lag if it has a huge amount of apps open, and a “close all” button would be nice, but it isn’t too hard to shut them all from the app selection screen, even if it is one by one, and even if it becomes a problem.
Furthermore, the phone has suddenly shut off a couple of times, an issue I believe is related to the cache of the phone and of individual apps becoming too full. After clearing these out, the issue disappeared.
The price of the Nexus 5 was one of the big selling points, as well as its impressive specifications. It brought a high end smartphone to people at an affordable price. However, the move to the Nexus 6 saw the series suffer an increase in price to go with the increase to the screen size.
On release, the phone was available for just under £500 for the 32Gb version, and the 64Gb version had a slightly heftier price tag. Now, however, the price has dropped to below £300 for the 32Gb version.
Conclusion and verdict
The Nexus 6 is an incredible device. It has the power and memory to handle everything you need it to, and it can easily handle multi-tasking. The camera is superb, as is the backup and support offered by Google, and the pure version of the Android OS is a pleasure to use on a daily basis.
The screen is bright, looks good, and is big (really big), so you can play games, view videos and look at pictures without having to squint and get in close.
It is a shame that the price for value ratio isn’t as good as it was for the Nexus 5, but it is still better priced (and with a bigger screen) than its rival, the iPhone 6 Plus. Overall, a great buy.