For the past five months I’ve divided most of my small screen time between the iPhone 6S Plus the Nexus 6P. And Google’s latest flagship can stand tall: Here, truly, is an Android handset that can take on the best that Cupertino has to offer.
Before jumping in, a few things have changed since I wrote my Google Nexus 6P + Google Fi First Impressions article in late December 2015.
First, the Samsung Galaxy S7 has shipped, making its own claim to the crown of Android handset superiority. I don’t have one, so I can’t really make that comparison, but it does indeed appear to be an amazing option.
Second, Project Fi is now available to anyone; when I first started evaluating the service, it was pretty much invite-only, though Google was pretty good about onboarding people who expressed an interest. (That said, Project Fi is still only available to a very limited range of devices, including my Nexus 6P, the Nexus 5X, and the older Nexus 6.) I’ll be reviewing Project Fi separately from the Nexus 6P, however.
And third, Microsoft recently revealed that it will mirror Android notifications on Windows 10-based desktop PCs. This capability makes the “Android or iPhone?” question a bit more clear-cut for what I call the Windows guy: If you want the best Microsoft experience on mobile, Android is the way to go. And thus, my “Android for the Windows Guy” posts have taken on a new urgency.
During these five months, the Nexus 6P has been my primary window into the world of Android, and for the past two of those five months, I’ve been using pre-release versions of Android N, the next Android. (I also have a previous-generation Nexus 5, which I’ve kept on Android M, and a Nexus 9, which I only rarely use.) Were I to go Android completely, the Nexus 6P would be my choice.
But this is where uncertainty enters the story. For a variety of reasons related to what I do for a living, I can’t really go Android at the expense of other mobile platforms. I still need to keep up with iOS, for example, and with Microsoft’s app releases and updates on that platform. And I keep my Lumia 950 updated with the latest Windows 10 Insider builds for mobile because, heck, you never know.
But testing is an excuse. Were I forced to choose one phone—and, seriously, it’s a bit comical imagining such a scenario, but whatever—I would still choose the iPhone 6S Plus over the Nexus 6P or any other Android handset. For all the gains that Google has made, hardware-wise with the 6P, and software- and services-wise with Android M and N, I still find the iPhone to be a bit cleaner, more reliable, more consistent, and … just generally better.
There are two caveats to this situation. Notably, the Nexus 6P is the first the only Android device I’ve ever used that stands up to the iPhone and isn’t embarrassed in any way: This is a solid, wonderful handset. And again, that notification mirroring feature is never coming to iPhone unless Apple opens up iOS in ways that no one now imagines. So if that is a big deal to you as a Windows guy, my feelings about Android’s perceived deficiencies are perhaps less relevant.
So. What’s it been like using the Nexus 6P for five months?
It’s been pretty fricking great.
The hardware is impressive across the board, and the Nexus 6P is the first, and I think only, Android flagship that can face down the iPhone from a quality of build perspective. The body is high-quality aluminum, with tiny plastic antenna strips on the edges, much like today’s iPhones. In fact, many people mistake the Nexus 6P for an iPhone, which is perhaps telling.
The only major physical difference between the Nexus 6P and the iPhone 6S Plus is the black camera bump at the device’s top rear. This bump is not as big as it appears in photos, and is in no way awkward. But it stands out a bit on the silver body style I chose. With any phone this big, there are issues of top-heaviness, but I don’t find the Nexus 6P any more top-heavy than the iPhone 6S Plus. They’re both a bit hard to use one-handed, and that’s true even of my large hands.
On the front of the Nexus 6P, you’re treated to a 5.7-inch WQHD (2560 x 1440) AMOLED display with stereo speakers on the top and bottom, or on the sides when holding the device in landscape orientation as you would when viewing video content. And it is a treat: The screen is slightly bigger, and has a much higher resolution and pixel count , than the display in the Phone 6S Plus, despite being contained in an almost identically-sized body. Both screens are excellent overall, but the AMOLED unit in the 6P is richer, with colors that really pop. When I view the same photo side by side in Google Photos on both phones, for example, the 6P delivers a more satisfying display every time. It’s very noticeable.
Like recent iPhones, the Nexus 6P also ships with an integrated fingerprint reader, and it is excellent, with lightning-quick authentication. Unlike the iPhone, however, this fingerprint reader is on the back. And that has both positive and negative effects.
On the good news front, when you pick up the phone normally, your index finger naturally finds the sensor on the back and—bam!—you’re signed in, with no lock screen or pauses to get in your way. (If you do want to see the lock screen, just press the power button.)
But the fingerprint sensor’s position on the back means that you can’t easily sign-in to the phone if you leave it sitting on a table top or other surface. This means you may need to fumble around for the power switch or double-tap the screen and then—quelle horreur!—type in your PIN like the unwashed masses.
Speaking of double-tapping the screen, the Nexus 6P has a Lumia Glance-like screen that will please Windows phone expatriates. You see this screen, which includes various white-on-black notifications like recent emails, Skype messages, and the like, when you double-tap the screen or just lift the phone while the display is off. And when you select a notification, that notification appears over the standard lock screen so you can deal with it as you would normally.
(Here’s another tip for former Lumians: You can double-press the power button to launch the Camera app. It’s not as good as having a real Camera button, of course, but as long as you remember the trick, it’s pretty convenient.)
As a Nexus device, the Nexus 6P of course comes with the clean Google Android image, much like a Microsoft Surface or Signature PC comes with a clean Windows image. The device ships with Android M, which is far prettier and more cohesive than previous Android messes, though as noted I’m currently on the Android N pre-release train, which is similar.
Overall, performance is snappy, thanks to the Nexus 6P’s high-end Snapdragon 810 processor—which runs at 2 GHz and provides 8 processing cores—and its 3 GB of RAM. I never see performance lags in the Android UI per se, though screen rotation—admittedly an issue on virtually all of my devices, especially when it happens inadvertently—is a bit slower than I’d like. Switching between apps, loading and running apps, all of the normal phone operations happen acceptably quickly. That said, the iPhone 6S Plus outperforms the Nexus 6P, overall, in side-by-side tests of app launches, even using Google’s own apps. Not universally, but usually.
The Nexus 6P also gets a thumbs-up for its realistic storage allotments–32 GB in the base unit, with 64 GB and 128 GB options—compared to iPhone, which starts at a laughable and unusable 16 GB. But like iPhone, the Nexus 6P offers no microSD expansion, which I think is a mistake. So you’ll need to plan accordingly at purchase time.
Battery life has been excellent. I don’t really have a good way to compare its longevity compared to other devices, but it has lasted complete days when required, and new Android features like Doze combined with a honking 3,450 mAh battery seems to do the trick. (The iPhone 6S Plus has a 2750 mAh battery, by comparison, but it’s lower-resolution screen is less demanding too.)
As you may know, camera quality is a primary concern here at Chez Thurrott. But here, I have little to say: Overall, the camera in the Nexus 6P delivers photos that are about as good as those on the iPhone 6S Plus. Which is to say, excellent.
That said, each phone has its advantages. Nexus 6P photos tend to be more saturated than those taken with the iPhone, and that’s true whether you’re viewing them on the phone or elsewhere. And the iPhone 6S Plus (but not iPhone 6S) features optical image stabilization, which I find to be key for image quality overall.
In a mission critical test last weekend—my daughter’s annual dance recital—both cameras delivered some great shots from about 10 rows back, plus a bunch of blurry duds, but reliability issues on the Nexus 6P eventually forced me to stop the test and just use the iPhone.
All that said, the only serious issue I’ve experienced regularly with the Nexus 6P camera is a Lumia 950-like slowness when post-processing auto-HDR photos. Oftentimes, I take a shot and wish to share it (Facebook, text messaging, whatever), but when you view the photo immediately, you see a “processing” message that you must wait on. It’s annoying and, I think, unnecessary.
But again, overall, it’s a wash. And barring any late minute shenanigans—a new Moto Z, perhaps—I suspect I’ll be taking many vacation photos this summer with the Nexus 6P.
Should you buy the Nexus 6P? Hell yes.
This is the flagship Android handset you’re looking for, and best of all it’s reasonably priced. It is unlocked and offers universal wireless carrier support (yes, including Verizon), and it starts at just $500. At that price, you have a choice of silver, graphite, frost, and matte gold finishes and 32 GB of storage. If you want to step up to 64 GB, which I recommend, the price jumps just $50 to $550. (Take that, Apple: A similarly configured iPhone 6S Plus costs $850, or $300 more than the Nexus 6P.) A 128 GB version will set you back an also-reasonable $650. These are fantastic prices for a fantastic flagship device.
And that, folks, is called the sweet spot. The Nexus 6P hits it, and while there are still some platform niceties that make me personally prefer the iPhone, the gap is now smaller than ever. The Nexus 6P is highly recommended.