Amidst the chaos of the Nexus 6 launch we’ve been testing out the new flagship Android Lollipop smartphone. Here's our full in-depth review of the Nexus 6.See also: Best smartphones 2014.
As with every Nexus device, Google has teamed up with a partner to produce the Nexus 6. Following on from LG making the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, the job has been given to Motorola which Google previously owned before selling it to Lenovo. Interestingly, Google chose HTC for its new tablet, the Nexus 9, possibly because Motorola wasn't an option: it doesn't make tablets any more.
Nexus 6 review: Price, availability and competition
Previous Nexus devices have offered outstanding value for money, undercutting rivals with similar hardware by a large amount. Google may have even been making a loss on those sales to entice more people to Android. For whatever reason things are different now and the Nexus 6 is a big jump in price compared to its predecessors.
The Nexus 4 launched at a bargain basement £239 (for the time) and the Nexus 5 was still a very affordable £299. This time round you'll need much deeper [and bigger!] pockets as the Nexus 6 starts at £499. This puts it in the same ballpark as flagship devices from the likes of Sony, Apple, Samsung and HTC. £499 buys you the base model, but if you want to double the storage you're looking at £549.
When the Nexus 6 was announced, Google said it would go up for pre-order and then go on sale in the UK in November. This never happened and despite retailers suggesting a release date of 1st December, stock shortages have meant delays across the board and at the time of writing many still don't know when it will start shipping. So many thanks toMobileFun for supplying a Nexus 6 for us to review.
The 6in screen and higher price of the Nexus 6 means it isn't simply the Nexus 5's successor, and isn't an obvious upgrade for existing owners. It means that it can name the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 among its direct rivals. Both smartphones are more expensive starting at £619 and £599 respectively making the Nexus 6 look like good value. See also: Nexus 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus comparison review.
However, let's not forget some of the other competitors, including Motorola's own Moto X - the smartphone the Nexus 6 is so obviously based on. It costs a lot less at £419. A potentially bigger problem for Google is LG's excellent G3 which was the first Quad HD smartphone to hit the shops earlier this year. It still sits atop our best smartphone chart and - amazingly - has dropped to under £300 at some retailers. That's hard to beat for value.
A slight bonus on the price front - if you can get hold of a Nexus 6 this year - is a six-month subscription to Google Play Music All Access. It only applies to new subscribers and the free trial is normally one month so at £9.99 per month, that's a £50 freebie. Whether you want it or not it another matter.
Nexus 6 review: Design and build quality
In terms of design, the Nexus 6 is a super-sized Moto X with a slightly less fancy Motorola logo and the addition of the Nexus brand stamped on the back. It would have been nice to see at least some differences in terms of style and identity. Compared to the Nexus 5 (and most phones), the Nexus 6 is a giant and you really do need to try one out before making the jump from a smaller smartphone. See also: Nexus 5 vs Nexus 6 comparison: why Google's latest smartphone isn't necessarily a natural upgrade.
There's no two ways about it, this is one of the bulkiest phones around, a phablet, really. It's a chunky 10.4mm thick by our measurement although that is the absolute thickest point. The curved rear, just as with the Moto X, feels good in the hand and tapers to 6.2mm at the edges. We thought the Note 4 was heavy but the Nexus 6 is even weightier at 183g.
Again, it's important to try one out since if you have small hands, you may well find it unwieldy. Even some people with large hands whom we asked to try out the '6 said it was too big. The dimensions are similar size to the iPhone 6 Plus – even bigger in fact, if you can believe it. If you go for the Nexus 6, be prepared to use it two-handed all of the time.
Moving away from the black and white of previous Nexus smartphones, the Nexus 6 is available in 'midnight blue' and 'cloud white'. Our white review sample looks distinctly light grey. Carphone Warehouse claims to have the exclusive on this model even though ours came from MobileFun.
Build quality is a step up from the Nexus 5 with a precision-machined aluminium frame running round the edge – just like the Moto X and reminiscent of the HTC One (M8). It doesn't meet the Gorilla Glass 3 front but does sit perfectly flush with the plastic band which separates the two.
That plastic rear cover feels nice although isn't as grippy as the Nexus 5. The Motorola logo sits in a dimple providing a nice place for your index finger to rest – although it's quite easy confuse it with the camera lens. Both physical buttons sit on the right side and the power button has a textured surface a bit like a metal file (but not as harsh). Cleverly, the front facing speakers have plastic strips which stick out meaning there is gap between the screen and the surface if the phone is placed face-down.
There are some positive points here but the overwhelming size of the Nexus 6 is quite off-putting.
Nexus 6 review: Hardware and performance
What's impressive is that the Nexus 6 manages to cram in a 6in screen (5.96in to be precise) while being barely larger than the 5.5in iPhone 6 Plus. The scree is also bigger than the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 which are 5.5in and 5.7in respectively and the largest we've reviewed apart from the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, which has a 6.4in display.
Google and Motorola have matched its Android phablet rivals with a Quad HD screen meaning a whopping pixel density of 1440x2560. The pixel density is a little lower because of the screen size at 493ppi but at this end of scale it really makes no difference.
The AMOLED screen is gorgeous offering amazing viewing angles, popping colours which make Android Lollipop look even better and decent brightness. This is a top-quality display but the big problem is the size. Even attempting a text message using the swipe feature of the built-in keyboard is almost impossible one-handed.
The premium theme continues with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 SoC – that's quad-core 2.7GHz Krait 450 with an Adreno 420 GPU. There's also a generous 3 GB of RAM and although the 805 is not 64-bit – an odd decision since Android Lollipop now supports it - we weren't surprised to find the device out-pacing rivals in raw benchmark numbers – as you can see in the table below.
Galaxy Note 4
iPhone 6 Plus
It's no real surprise to see the Nexus 6 virtually identical to the Note 4 which also uses a Snapdragon 805 and the iPhone 6 Plus wins on graphics because it uses a lower Full HD resolution.
Benchmarks aside, the Nexus 6 is a slick performer from a real-world user perspective. It's lightning fast almost all the time – only the camera app is a little slow to open but that's the same on any smartphone.
The Nexus 6 is available in 32- or 64GB models which is double the Nexus 5 and means it comes with more storage than the cheapest iPhone 6 Plus. At the time of writing, the 64GB is nowhere to be seen and looks like it might be a while before it's available which isn't good. It's also a shame to see Google still leave out a microSD card slot.
When it comes to wireless, the Nexus 6 packs 802.11ac Wi-Fi (with 2x2 MIMO), Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, NFC and Cat 6 4G LTE. It also has various sensors including a barometer and magnetometer. The latter is also on the Nexus 9 tablet and is for detecting magnetic cases although we haven't seen any for the Nexus 6 yet.
Compared to some phones, the Nexus 6 might seem a little lacking with no IR blaster, fingerprint scanner, heart-rate monitor or other gadgetry but Google has included wireless charging which is still a fairly rare feature. Whether that's a better feature for you compared to the others depends on how you use your phone.
Google Nexus 6 review: Battery life
On top of wireless charging, the Nexus 6 will charge quicker than most phones thanks to the included Turbo Charger. Google says you can get up to 6 additional hours of battery life from a 15 minute charge. In general it will take about 45 minutes to charge the device to 50 percent which is good considering its large 3220mAh capacity (matching the Note 4). It's worth noting that the battery is non-removable.
Wireless charging and the Turbo Charger are good features and will help you keep the Nexus 6 topped up with juice. You'll want to make use of them too as a full day of usage without a quick refill will eat up about two thirds of the capacity or more. It may last longer that an day if you avoid any video playback or gaming but is unlikely to last two.
Lollipop may have a battery saver mode to help you get more from the phone but it's buried fairly deep in the settings menu and we're used to seeing 'Ultra Battery Saving' modes now so Google hasn't done enough here for us.
Nexus 6 review: Cameras
The Nexus series of smartphones has been a consistent let down on the photography side of things but Google has tried to address this on the Nexus 6 with a 13Mp rear facing camera which is a step up from the Nexus 5's 8 Mp camera in more than just resolution.
That's because the camera benefits from optical image stabilisation (something sorely missing from the Moto X), a dual-LED ring flash and the ability to record 4K video at 30fps. There's also HDR which combines multiple images for a better result but takes them all at the same exposure rather than different value (so it's pseudo-HDR, rather than the real thing). This is available on the Nexus 5, though.
Like most phones do, the Nexus 6 crops in on the image if you want photos with a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning you get 9.7Mp instead of the full 13Mp when you switch to 4:3. Image quality is a big step up from the Nexus 5 with OIS making a noticeable difference particularly in video recording and low light.
Nexus 6 test photo with HDR .
Nexus 6 test photo using Lens Blur.
Modes on offer include the usual Photo Sphere, Panorma and a new one called Lens Blur which offers touch to refocus. It's a little gimmicky and takes an age to process and render but works fairly well, if not as good as rivals like the HTC One M8.
At the front is a decent, but not outstanding 2.1 Mp camera which can record Full HD video.
Having completely stock or 'vanilla' Android has always been a selling point of the Nexus range, offering the interface as Google intends without the extra stuff which manufacturers slap on top.
We love Lollipop and we're not going to go into massive amounts of detail here because you can read our full review. It's worth keeping in mind that the update is already available for the Nexus 5.
Lollipop's Material Design looks great on the AMOLED Quad HD screen of the Nexus 6 but the size of the screen makes it difficult to use. For some strange reason, the device doesn't support the double-tap-to-wake feature which is found on the Nexus 9 but does show you the time when you pick it up – which you can then tap to access the lockscreen.
Lollipop is great but not flawless and the change to show multiple cards in recent apps (now called overview) for apps like Chrome and Gmail can get annoying (although some people prefer it). Quick settings is still available with a two-finger swipe from the top (or two consecutive regular swipes) and has auto-rotate and flashlight options but we'd like to be able to customise what's shown here.
Although Google made the switch to Hangouts for SMS messages, there's a new app pre-installed on the Nexus 6 called Messenger. Hangouts is still present so you can choose which you prefer or install a third party alternative.
Buying Advice There are some good things about the Nexus 6 including build quality and some top-end hardware such as the screen, processor and camera. However, it's simply too big, unwieldy and expensive to warrant awarding it anything higher than four stars and really get behind it (unless we wanted to hid from something). In the phablet market, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is simply better even if it is pricier and the excellent LG G3 at less than �300 is another thorn in the Nexus 6's side.