Nexus 6 review: Google's big beast has just had a Black Friday price cut
Google's flagship smartphone is big and bold, but it can't quite live with the best large-screen handsets around
Update: As part of Black Friday, Motorola has cut the price of the Nexus 6 on its online store. You can now pick up the 32GB model for just £250, with the 64GB handset setting you back just £310. That's a saving of £149 on the 32GB model and £169 on the 64GB version. Not bad.
The changes don’t change my overall opinion of the phone, which you can read about in the review below. I still like it a lot; it's just that with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 now also available for around the same amount of money, it still isn't quite cheap enough. Still, if you like your phones big - and, make no mistake, the Nexus 6 is certainly that - it’s more tempting than before, and currently it's the only choice if you like to tinker with early versions of Android.
The Nexus 6 heralds a new era for Google's flagship mobile devices. Previously, its phones have packed plenty of hardware in at great prices, but sometimes at the expense of slick design. This year, its new phone goes all out, upping the price, the specifications, the size and the design. Google wants the Nexus 6 to be a no-compromise competitor to the best smartphones on the market.
How big is it?
Google made a bad start to this brave new world with the Nexus 9 – its design and build quality were distinctly underwhelming for a premium device – so I was hoping the Nexus 6 would be an improvement. I wasn't disappointed: it’s a sumptuous and luxurious piece of personal technology.
To be fair, that’s hardly a surprise. The Nexus 6 has been manufactured in partnership with Motorola, a company with a good (recent) record of producing attractively designed Android smartphones. The Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.) in particular stands out, and the Nexus 6 is effectively the same design, just bigger.
And when I say bigger, I really mean it. The Nexus 6’s screen measures an enormous 5.96in across the diagonal. That’s 0.5in larger than the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, 0.3in bigger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and it gains nearly an inch on its cousin, the Moto X (2nd Gen.).
It’s a real handful of a phone, measuring 83mm across, a huge 159mm tall and 10.1mm thick. And it weighs a not inconsiderable 184g – making it the heaviest phone I’ve laid hands on in quite a while. Overall, it feels larger than all those phones, although the iPhone 6 Plus is slightly taller.
The Nexus 6 is most definitely a phone for those who favour cargo pants over skinny jeans, and who don’t mind texting with both hands. Unlike some recent larger-screened smartphones, there’s no software function to shrink apps down or move them within reach of a single thumb.
For us, the size of the Nexus 6 is a step too far, but I do recognise that the scale of your smartphone is a very personal thing. Others might well find it’s the ideal size for them – the perfect compromise between compact tablet and smartphone.
It's also well worth remembering that, if you're teetering on the edge of whether or not to buy such a huge phone or not, using Google Now mitigates this problem somewhat. Since it's a Nexus device, Google's voice-control and dictation system can be activated using the key phrase "OK Google", which means you don't even have to tap the microphone icon in the search box to instigate voice control.
Even if one hand is occupied with a shopping bag or suitcase, this means all you need to do to dial or text a friend, search the web or even find a nearby coffee bar, is drag the phone out of your pocket, unlock it and speak. And the efficacy of the Google Now system and the Nexus 6's microphones means that this works with a remarkable degree of accuracy, and in even the noisiest environments.
In fact it's so good, and the Nexus 6 so big, that I've increasingly found myself turning to Google Now instead of using the onscreen keyboard to enter simple search phrases, because it's less effort and more accurate.
Design and other key features
Aside from its size there’s a lot to love about the Nexus 6’s design. There are no fancy customisation options – it’s only available in "midnight blue" or white – but elsewhere the design language is all Moto X (2nd Gen.), and that’s very much a good thing.
The phone is surrounded with a gently curved silver aluminium frame, which feels great in the hand. The smooth matte-plastic rear isn’t soft to the touch like the Moto X, but it doesn’t give an inch and feels pleasant under the finger. The Nexus logo is emblazoned in silver lettering across the back, lending the phone a touch of class. The screen, which is topped with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3, is slightly curved at the edges, so thumbs and fingers slide on and off it without catching.
Above and below that screen sit a pair of stereo speakers that have to be among the loudest I’ve ever come across on a phone – they really pound out the volume and showed no sign of distortion, even with the volume turned all the way up. That makes the Nexus 6 a great phone for listening to podcasts and radio in the kitchen although, as you might expect, music still sounds rather tinny.
One feature the Nexus 6 has that the Moto X (2nd Gen.) can’t boast of just yet is Android 5 (Lollipop), a revamp that represents the biggest leap forward for Google’s mobile OS I’ve yet seen. Its colourful flat icons, updated core apps, notifications and lockscreen all hang together just as well as they did on the Nexus 9, and the whole shebang feels superbly responsive.
In terms of UI design, Lollipop is Google’s finest hour, and it really puts other manufacturers’ custom efforts in the shade.
Nexus 6 review: display
Fundamentally, the Nexus 6 is really all about the screen. Why else would someone put up with such a giant smartphone if not for all that extra space? So it's important to nail this critical element, and the Nexus 6 gets off on the right foot. Motorola has employed an AMOLED panel behind the Gorilla Glass frontage, so the black level is deep and contrast superb.
Using AMOLED technology should allow the phone to keep power demands to a minimum when using Android Lollipop’s “Ambient display” mode – where notifications appear when the phone is in standby. This is a great feature, but you might want to think about switching it off. Google quotes up to 250 hours of battery life with it on, a figure that leaps to 330 hours with it off – a significant 32% longer.
As has become the norm for larger flagship smartphones of late (the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and LG G3 come to mind), the resolution of this enormous screen is Quad HD – that’s 1,440 pixels across and 2,560 down.
This gives a faintly ridiculous pixel density of 493ppi, and though I remain unconvinced that even a 6in display needs that many pixels, there’s no denying the screen is sharp, with crisp text and sharp images all round.
In terms of colour and brightness performance, I'm less impressed. The main problem is that the Nexus 6 employs content-based dynamic contrast that cannot be disabled. Even with “adaptive brightness” switched off in the settings (this adjusts brightness depending on the ambient lighting conditions), the Nexus 6 constantly adjusts the brightness according to what’s displayed onscreen.
Thus, while white text on a dark background looks gleamingly brilliant, the white background of a web page will look slightly dim. In fact, brightness can swing by as much as 70cd/m2, an adjustment that’s particularly noticeable when opening up the Settings menu (which has a white background), from a homescreen with a dark background.
That makes any definitive judgement over colour accuracy impossible, since it’s effectively in constant flux. Even by eye, however, the colours on the screen look slightly off, and in many cases a little overenthusiastic, even lurid. One thing is clear: this screen isn’t a patch on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s or the iPhone 6 Plus’.
Nexus 6 specifications
|Processor||Quad-core 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805|
|Screen resolution||1,440 x 2,560|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Wireless data||4G (Cat6 up to 300Mbits/sec download)|
|Size||83 x 10.1 x 159mm (WDH)|
|Operating system||Android 5 (Lollipop)|
|Price SIM-free (inc VAT)||£400, 32GB; £479, 64GB|
|Price on contract (inc VAT)||Free, £30/mth, 24mths|
|Prepay price (inc VAT)||None available at time of writing|