Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Review: Updated: Google Nexus 6

Review: Updated: Google Nexus 6

Introduction and design

  • Our Google Nexus 6 review has been updated to include the new Google Project Fi information.

Google Nexus 6 is a supersized version of the new Moto X that has been given a two-handed booster shot and appropriately received a post-surgery Lollipop. The results? It's among the best phones in 2015.

This phablet-sized smartphone was the first to run Android 5.0 Lollipop and, really, there's no better way to experience all of the changes Google has made to its operating system.

It parades the colorful new Material Design interface on a massive 6-inch display, moves seamlessly between apps thanks to one of the latest Snapdragon processors and 3GB of RAM, and lasts all day in most cases with a Qi-chargeable 3220 mAh battery.

These Nexus 6 specs are enough to edge-to-edge out Apple's mighty iPhone 6 Plus. It feels better to hold in my hand, and typing is easier thanks to Androids always-superior keyboards options.

Nexus 6 review

Google Now, still one swipe to the left, is more personal than ever, which shows this phone is willing to go the extra .5 inches to please without BendGating over backwards.

Nexus 6 isn't for everyone, especially one-handed texters who think the 5.2-inch Moto X pushes the limit, or anyone who can't live without the presence-sensing Moto Active Display. It's also not as flashy as the newly launched Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge or premium feeling as the all-metal HTC One M9.

That said, Motorola has built one of the best Android phablets with very few feature misgivings.

Availability and price

Google Nexus 6 is now available worldwide on just every major carrier following its initial early November release date in the US, and the upgrade to Android 5.1 is underway.

At first, it was limited to AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, but Verizon began selling the Android phone with VoLTE enabled on March 12, four months later. In the UK, Vodafone and O2 were first to launch it.

At $649, £499 unlocked (AU$869), it's pricier than past Nexus phones. And that's just for the 32GB model. Google is selling the 64GB version for $699 in the US, £549 in the UK and AU$929 in Australia.

On-contract, it's $249 down in the US and in the UK plans start at as low as £32.50 a month with a free phone upfront. Yes, it's big in every way imaginable.

Google Fi

Nexus 6 is the first - and so only - phone to support the search engine giant's experimental Google Project Fi cellular network, currently in beta.

The invite-only program bounces between the signals of third and fourth place US carriers T-Mobile and Sprint with more forgiving and far cheaper plans for data usage.

It could shake-up the overpriced service of traditional US carriers and, hey, Android updates wouldn't be as much of a problem since it's a network operated by Google.


It takes two hands to properly operate the Nexus 6, but this Android phone feels better in my increasingly ambidextrous grasp for its size.

Motorola's design, borrowed from the Moto X, gives it a sturdy BendGate-free aluminum metal frame and palm-pleasing gently curved back.

Nexus 6 review

It's sloped, so while the contoured sides run as thin as 0.15 in. (3.8mm), the thicker hump is 0.39 in. (10.1mm). The height and width are a normal 6.27 in. (159.3mm) x 3.15 in. (83.0mm).

Nexus 6 pushes an edge-to-edge display with no physical buttons, so the - by comparison - "small" 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus isn't too far off: 6.22 in. (158.1mm) x 3.06 in. (77.8mm).

At 6.49 oz. (184g), it weighs more than the new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Note 4. But there's a good chance that if you can fit Apple's biggest smartphone in your skinny jeans, you're also going to be able to squeeze this oversized Android into a pocket too. You... might not always be able to get it out as easily, especially when driving or sitting down.

The curve feels natural against my hands, and the back, while made of hard plastic, is at least smooth. It doesn't try to mask the material with fake leather stitching or bumpy plastic.

Google Nexus 6 review

Nexus 6's shell is different from the rubberized Nexus 5, but I found it a lot easier to grip than its "premium," but far-too-slippery competitors that feature an all-metal design from top to bottom. With the iPhone 6, I felt like I needed a sleek-design-defeating case not to drop it.

This is a familiar Motorola device almost all of the way through, down to the dimpled logo on the back where my finger automatically rested when on a call. But it skips out on the Moto Maker customizations like wood finishes and far-too-supple leather backs.

Nexus 6 colors are limited to two: either Cloud White or Midnight Blue with the advantage of both being compatible with Qi wireless chargers, a feature all of those tricked-out Moto X phones don't support.

Nexus 6 review

It's also missing the Moto Active Display functionality. Waving my hand above the three IR sensors of the Moto X triggered a mostly unlit screen with just the current time and notification icons. Pressing down on these icons revealed more information like email teasers.

Active Display is nowhere to be found here, even though it was a great a battery-saving idea that made notifications very glanceable. Instead, there's the less reliable Ambient Display mode that provides a greyed-out lockscreen whenever you lift the phone up suddenly. This doesn't always work.

Nexus 6 misses the boat when it comes to a fingerprint scanner to rival Apple's Touch ID. Apparently, the iPhone-maker is inadvertently responsible for killing Motorola's biometric design plans because it bought supplier AuthenTec.

You won't find a working LED light indicator here either. Recently, a developer discovered that the phone does emit one of these notifications pulses, but it's disabled. Turning it on requires a rooted phone.

Also missing, or at least inconsistent, is the Nexus 9 tablet's knock-to-wake feature. It actually works sometimes and turns on that greyed-out screen, but other times I get no response at all. "Hello, is anyone home?," I keep asking. Maybe a firmware update can resolve this in the future but that hasn't arrived in the months since the original launch.

Nexus 6 review

Nexus 6 does, thankfully, inherit the new Moto X's ridge-filled power button. This helped me differentiate between the right-side located power and volume buttons in the dark. More phone manufacturers need to steal this design idea. I won't tell.

Phablet manufacturers also need to take note of these front-facing speakers. The stereo sound is almost as good as BoomSound technology found in the HTC One M9 because it points the sound in the right direction. I'm tired of backward-facing speaker grills.

Nexus 6 review

At the top of the Nexus 6, at its frame's thickest point, is a 3.5mm headphone jack along with the nanoSIM card slot. Sadly, there's no MicroSD slot to speak of. You're locked into 32GB or 64GB configurations.

It's also not waterproof like other IP67-certified Androids. It's merely "water resistant" and has Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the 6-inch AMOLED display that I'll peer at next.

Key features

Nexus 6 pushes my fingertips to the limit with a 5.96" AMOLED display that is as big as it is gorgeous. You won't find a globally-available Android that matches its size.

Sure, it's only an inch bigger than last year's Nexus 5 and half an inch larger than this year's biggest iPhone 6 Plus, but its meant for two hands and therefore makes it seem extra large.

Nexus 6 review

Google fills all of that space with a bright picture and a 1440x2560 resolution, which equates to 493 pixels per inch on the nearly 6-inch screen.

Its quad HD and doubles down on Apple's "full HD" screen, though the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 have higher pixel densities care of their smaller display sizes. But not by much.

Watching videos on the Nexus 6 made me skip pulling out the Nexus 9 more than once. The phone is just three inches shy of Google's new tablet and has a more video-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio.

This is Google and Motorola's first quad HD smartphone and it's a head-turning sight to see.

Beefier specs

At the heart of the Nexus 6 is a 2.7Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor that has an Adreno 420 GPU. It's a top-of-the-line chip for Google's largest Android phone yet.

Backing that up is 3GB of RAM and a reasonable 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. Notice, there's no silly 16GB model to cheapen the value.

Nexus 6 review

All of these Nexus 6 specs aren't overkill. It's important for the lightweight, but feature-filled Android Lollipop update that's pre-installed on the phone.

Android does more things than ever in the background: it runs multiple apps, receives notifications that hit the new lockscreen non-stop and makes the instantly accessible Google Now available with one swipe to the left. Voice searches are also on demand whenever I say the "Okay Google" prompt.

13-megapixel camera

Around back, there's a 13-megapixel camera that seems to be on par with that 13-megapixel Moto X 2014 snapper that just came out. It's not.

Nexus 6 review

Nexus 6's camera has a better Sony IMX214 CMOS sensor with a wider f/2.0 aperture and optical image stabilization.

This trumps the Moto X camera specs that comprise of an older sensor and lacked OIS. It's not perfect, but it's far superior to what we got with the 8-megapixel Nexus 5 camera last year.

Android 5.0 Lollipop

The LG G3 has beaten the Nexus 6 to the punchy colors with a sooner-than-expected update to Android 5.0 Lollipop, but Google's new phone was still the first with it pre-installed.

First, last, whatever - the "Material Design" theme is far more inviting than what I experienced on the Nexus 5. Flat layers of bright colors bring out the best on this 6-inch display.

Nexus 6 review

Android Lollipop is also more functional with lockscreen notifications and a new pulldown quick settings menu. It does go overboard though, adding an unnecessary new Messaging app.

More new features will be arriving any time now too, with Android 5.1 set to add support for multiple SIM cards, Device Protection and high definition voice calls.

You can find more of what TechRadar thinks of it in our Android 5.0 Lollipop review.

Qi and Turbo Charging

Google and Motorola spared me the embarrassment of toting around the ugly USB 3.0 Micro-B cable employed by past Samsung smartphones, but the pair still allow for a faster charging method.

Nexus 6's secret sauce is that it uses a Turbo Charger, a larger-than-normal plug that juices the phone with six additional hours of battery life in just 15 minutes. It uses a normal micro USB cable to transfer the juice.

Nexus 6 review

This is made possible by the same Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 technology that the Moto X 2nd generation and a handful of other Snapdragon CPU-powered Android phones have.

The difference here is that the Nexus 6 comes with the square-shaped plug, while most other QuickCharge smartphones sell it as an accessory.

Nexus 6 can also be juiced up with the Nexus Wireless Charger or any Qi inductive charger, though the wire-free base station is sold separately in this case. More on how this holds up in the battery life tests page.

Interface and performance

Nexus 6 sets new standards for both interface and performance among Androids with few exceptions. It's once again Google's standard bearer for other manufacturers to follow.

It's colorful and bright on the outside thanks to the debut of Android Lollipop, and it's a beast on the inside due to top-of-the-line internal specs.

Of course, even Google's new champion for the better part of 2015 has its challengers. The once fragmented competition is coming together to raise the stakes.


Stock Android remains one of the best reasons to own a Nexus device. Its software is void of the often unnecessary third-party overlays and pre-installed apps that simply get in my way.

Nexus 6 review

Sure, skins like Samsung TouchWiz, LG Optimus and HTC Sense look and run better today than they did two years ago, but pure Android is the way to go.

There's no getting around the fact that Nexus devices, like all Google Play Edition devices, receive future Android updates almost immediately without carrier intervention. That matters as much this year as it does next year.

Right now, it's all about Android 5.0 Lollipop, this year's pre-installed version of the operating system. It sports a flat, yet layered theme among its menus and apps.

Google calls this "Material Design," and it sort of lifts 2D layers to the third dimension with a combination of shadows cast by key and ambient lights.

The new look also dials back the visual non-essentials, but punches up the color. Menus aren't as dark as they were on Android 4.4 KitKat, and apps share in this same geometry-focused design and splash of color.

So far this applies to Google's slate of apps like Gmail, Google Play Movies & TV and Google Maps. The company is driving a simplified, unified layout throughout its ecosystem.

There's also a big difference to how Android 5.0 Lollipop functions. I didn't even have to unlock my Nexus 6 to see the very first change - it was right there on the lockscreen.

Nexus 6 review

Lockscreen notifications bring the hidden notification panel to the forefront with email alerts, text messages exchanges, app updates and so forth. It's all easily glanceable like on iOS 8.

Such a move would normally introduce a privacy problem. Google, however, nipped that issue in the bud within the "Sound & Notifications" settings menu.

With nothing to hide, I can "Show all notification content," keep certain items confidential via "Hide sensitive notification content," or turn everything off with "Don't show notifications at all." Better yet, I can block notifications on an app-by-app basis through this same handy menu.

Priority Mode is Google's more advanced take on Apple's Do Not Disturb feature. It silences the Nexus 6 indefinitely or in intervals ranging from 15 minutes to 8 hours.

Like the lockscreen notifications, certain apps and callers can be allowed or disallowed via whitelisting. I've since ditched my third-party Silence app for this new, system-wide feature.

Priority Mode isn't part of Quick Settings like I had expected. It's activated by pressing the volume key in either direction and following the on-screen toggles.

Quick Settings does have some new additions, however. The pulldown menu doesn't require two fingers simultaneously. That still works, but now you can do one swipe for notifications, then another swipe to reveal this hidden quick settings menu. It's a lot less awkward.

It's still impossible to add to or rearrange the quick settings. What you see is what you get. Thankfully, new buttons alongside Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Airplane Mode include Flashlight and the Chromecast "Cast Screen" button.

A brightness slider, while not necessarily new, is no longer hidden behind its own submenu. One less step is what quick settings is all about.

New features are already on the way too, with Android 5.1 set to roll out any moment at time of writing. That brings support for multiple SIM cards and high definition voice calls to the Nexus 6, as well as a new Device Protection mode, which keeps a lost or stolen handset locked until you sign in with your Google account.


Nexus 6 running Android 5.0 Lollipop clears all but one rival smartphone when it comes to benchmarks: the recently released Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

It's awful close, and that's no surprise. Google's specs mirror it chip-for-chip with a 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, Adreno 420 GPU and 3GB of RAM.

Nexus 6 aces Geekbench 3 benchmarking tests with an average multi-core score of 3294. It's significantly faster than the smaller iPhone 6 Plus (2911) and Samsung Galaxy S5 (2905).

Alas, the Galaxy Note 4 eeks out a win with a benchmarking score of 3,352. A real overachieving nerd with an pocket-protected S-Pen in its frame, if that's what you want. Though you can expect the recently unveiled Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 to upstage it too.

All of these numbers translate into stellar performance from the Nexus 6. Google's phablet is venturing into tablet territory. The new Nexus 9 slate averaged 3,492 in the same tests.

It's pushing the boundaries of more than just physical size. The one and only slowdown I saw was during the boot-up process. It took 1 minute 33 seconds to start this thing up.

Slow start times seem more like a glitch that can be addressed in a post-launch firmware update. Right now, streaming movies and playing CPU-intensive games hasn't slowed this phone down one bit.

That's a good sign

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