Review: Google Nexus 6P
Editor's Note: Since the Nexus 6P runs the exact same version of Android as the Nexus 5X, portions of the text below have been carried over from our review of the 5X. Rest assured, we tested every feature and adjusted our commentary when and where appropriate.
The new lock screen in Android 6.0 Marshmallow is hardly different from the Lollipop lock screen. However, the Nexus 6P lets you use your fingerprint to unlock the phone.
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The 6P suggests you register at least one fingerprint during the setup process. Google's Imprint — the software Google uses to manage your fingerprint — is lightning quick. Training the 6P to record a fingerprint consumed less than half the time it takes to do the same on the iPhone 6s or Galaxy S6. It's incredibly fast. Along with a fingerprint, the 6P suggests users set up a backup password, PIN, or pattern. I never needed to rely on them. The fingerprint reader is so fast, it unlocks the 6P in an instant. While first-generation fingerprint readers were often slow and inaccurate, the newer hardware reaching today's phones gets the job done in short order.
The information made available on the lock screen varies a bit depending in your preferences. Like Motorola's Ambient Display, the Nexus 6P will push monochrome alerts to the dark screen, such as the presence of new emails, new messages, or missed calls. This means you will occasionally see alerts when the phone is at rest. The screen won't wake when tapped like an LG G4, or if you wave your hand over it, like the Moto X.
Waking the screen with the lock button reveals the clock and a list of notifications below it. These notifications can be customized to reveal their content or not, such as the text of a message. There are shortcuts to Google voice search and the camera in the bottom corners. The Quick Settings screen is also accessible from the lock screen.
The Android 6.0 home screen — which, on Nexus handsets, means the Google Now Launcher — is more or less carried over directly from Android 5.0. A single home screen is active when you first boot the phone, and it has several shortcuts added to the dock at the bottom, and several folders chock full of Google's apps and services. As always, you can arrange these however you wish, add widgets and change wallpapers, and add more home screens. The app drawer is now arranged vertically, rather than horizontally, and places different app suggestions at the top of the screen. The settings menus are unchanged when compared to Lollipop.
The Google Now screen has been refreshed a little bit with smaller, more proactive cards. Now lets you customize your home/work locations, the types of sports, stocks, entertainment, and news you care about, as well as your favorite method of personal transportation (biking, driving, public transport, Tauntaun.)
The Google Search bar is now more colorful (to match the new Google logo) and offers handy suggestions about voice commands you can give. As noted in our review of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Google Search is able to handle far more voice-based queries and commands. You can easily open the calendar and set appointments and/or reminders; open music apps and listen to songs; and of course dictate messages. The 6P allows you to train it to respond to a catchphrase, which means you can say "OK Google" and search from just about any screen.
Now on Tap is one of the marquee features of Marshmallow. A long press of the home button will cause the 6P to perform a quick search based on what's on the display and offer information/suggestions as a result. Now on Tap is best used when discussing plans or seeking other, contextual information about people, places, locations, events, and so on. It works as long as there's something interesting on the screen that you want to know more about. Now on Tap performed a bit faster on the 6P when compared to the 5X.
Speaking of performance, the 6P has an octa-core processor. The Snapdragon 810 is joined by 3GB of RAM and either 32 or 64GB of storage. The 6P performs like a banshee escaping the bounds of hell. It screams through everything. Not once did it stutter, lag, or feel slow; it was fast across the board and blew the 5X out of the water.
The 6P doesn't have a dedicated camera button, but a double press of the lock button will rouse the camera from slumber.
The camera represents the most significant difference between the 5X and 6P in my opinion. Where the 5X is agonizingly slow, the 6P is fast and nimble. The juxtaposition of performance is like night and day.
The camera software itself is the same between both phones. The 6P's camera app has a fairly basic feature set. Controls are spread out all over the place. The shutter button, user-facing camera, and gallery are all positioned along the right side of the screen. There are simple tools along the top for setting a timer, setting HDR to on/off/auto, and setting the flash to on/off/auto.
There are four shooting modes: auto, photo sphere, panorama, and lens blur. The first three are old hat. Lens blur lets you create shots where the subject is sharp, but the rest of the image is out of focus (also called the bokeh effect). This shooting mode actually requires some technique, as you have to move the camera (but not too fast!) while shooting the image. This allows the camera to gather some perspective data and then render the image. Rendering on the 6P is less than half the time of the 5X, which means about 4 seconds as opposed to 12 seconds or longer. After the image has rendered, you can adjust the point of focus and how far out it spreads. Google's version of this feature is inferior. Other companies have produced easier-to-master bokeh tools that deliver dramatically superior results.
There are three ways to capture regular images: press the screen lock button, press the on-screen button, or press the screen first to focus and then press the shutter button. The 6P focuses and captures images in a blink. It's on the same level as the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It beats the 5X's camera speed by a country mile. The camera is painless to use, which is how it should be.
Need to shoot video? Swipe the screen and the 6P will jump to video mode. There aren't too many video options. You can shoot at 30 frames per second in 4K, 1080p, or 720p, or up to 120 frames per second (for slow motion results) in 1080p or 720p. That's about it.
The Nexus 6P and 5X supposedly use the same 12-megapixel sensor. Even so, I think the images produced by the 6P are marginally better than those coming from the 5X. It's not clear what's responsible for the disparity, but the results are real.
The majority of images were sharp, free of grain, and showed accurate exposure/color. I found the 6P produced good pictures in good and poor shooting conditions alike. The only minor issue I saw here and there was white balance — which is easily corrected in editing. I can't give you a measurable quantification of how much better the 6P's images are compared to the 5X's: they just are, by a bit. That said, the 6P is still out-shot by the iPhone 6s, LG G4, and Samsung Note 5 / S6 Edge+, by a small margin.
I'd say the majority of folks — including power users — will be happy enough to use the 6P as a daily shooter.
Don't bother shooting 4K video with the 6P. It's not that it doesn't produce good results, but with 32GB of storage (or even 64GB), that footage will munch down memory in short order. Moreover, it's useless without a 4K TV or monitor. Stick with the 1080p capture mode, which does well enough to satisfy the bulk of users. I was pleased with the 6P's video footage and think it will suffice as a daily shooter for regular Joes and power users alike. I'd rate the 6P's video capture powers on par with those of the 5X.
The Pure Android Experience offered by Nexus phones means you don't get any bloat, just lots of Google stuff. There are 29 apps installed on the 6P out of the box, which is about half as many as are typically packed onto phones sold by the carriers. The lack of bloatware and junk is one of the many appealing things about owning a Nexus handset.
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