The Best Nexus Yet: Huawei Nexus 6P, Hands-On Impressions

Google first started offering its Nexus-branded phones in 2010. They are designed to showcase its vision for what an Android phone should be, by combining powerful hardware with the latest version of stock Android. However, despite being considered by many as the "best" Android phones, on the hardware design and spec side of things, the Nexus phones have never really been able to compete with other Android OEM's flagships. There were always some compromises made to keep them affordable, which ensured that the Nexii were never great, just good, despite running arguably the best software.

Last year, Google tried to address this gap with the Motorola-made Nexus 6. Although it was a big step up in build quality, materials, and internal specs, its 6-inch screen made it too big for most, and it was much more expensive than any previous Nexus phone (it launched at $650). Consequently, it wasn't nearly as successful as its predecessor, the Nexus 5, to which we gave our Elite award.

For 2015, it looks like Google learned its lesson and has made the new Nexii affordable again. Yes, that's right, we used the plural, because this year there are two models. The Nexus 5X is a 5.2-inch Snapdragon 808-powered device roughly analogous to the Nexus 5, and the Nexus 6P is its premium device, an all-metal 5.7-inch Snapdragon 810-powered phone made by Huawei. The 6P is Huawei's first major smartphone release in the North American market, and its selection by Google to make a Nexus phone is a big vote of confidence in its abilities.

Specifications

SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 810 v2.1 64-bit octa-core processor
(4 x Cortex-A57 @ 2.0 GHz and 4 x Cortex-A53 @ 1.55 GHz),
Adreno 430 GPU
Display5.7-inch WQHD AMOLED (2560 x 1440, 518 PPI) with Gorilla Glass 4
Memory32/64/128 GB eMMC ROM, 3 GB LPDDR4 RAM
CameraRear: 12.3 MP Sony IMX377 Exmor R, 1.55 µm pixels, f/2.0, IR laser AF,LED flash, 4K UHD video

Front: 8 MP, 1.4 µm pixels, f/2.4
Battery3,450 mAh (non-removable), USB Type-C fast charging with included
15W (5V/3A) charger
Operating SystemAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Size & Weight159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm, 178g
Network4G / LTE cat. 6 / HSPA+, Nano SIM

LTE Bands 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 29, 30
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4G + 5 GHz (2x2 MIMO), Bluetooth 4.2LE,
USB Type-C, NFC
BiometricsNexus Imprint fingerprint reader
AudioFront-facing stereo speakers
MaterialsMetal, plastic, Gorilla Glass 4
ColorsAluminum, Graphite, Frost
Retailers/CarriersU.S.: Unlocked from Google

Canada: Unlocked from Google. Carriers: Bell, Rogers, Telus, Wind Mobile and Videotron
PricingU.S: 32 GB model $499, 64 GB $549, 128 GB $649

Canada: 32 GB model $699, 64 GB $749, 128 GB $849. $100-220 on a 2-year term for 32 GB carrier model

Hands-On Video

Hands-on With The Huawei Google Nexus 6P Smartphone

The Most Premium Nexus Yet

Design hasn't been the forte of previous Nexus phones. Up until the Nexus 6, Google's phones were plain, utilitarian-looking devices (well, apart from that bright red Nexus 5), which suited their image as almost developer products rather than something for the mass market. Thanks to Motorola's influence, the Nexus 6 was a much better-looking phone, and it incorporated metal into its design, but still had a plastic back.

The Nexus 6P is an (almost) all-metal phone with a unibody construction, and it comes in three very attractive finishes: Aluminum, Graphite and Frost (white). Although we've only been able to check out the Graphite model in person, the other two colors look great, too, in pictures. At the bottom of its back is a small plastic cover that is unfortunately not finished in the same shade as the metal body, and at the top is a camera bump covered in curved glass that extends across the width of the phone. The 6P's overall design is excellent, and in my opinion it's the handsomest Nexus device released so far.

The 6P is quite slim, even though it packs a big battery, and it has metal power and volume buttons on the right side. As a 5.7-inch device, it isn't exactly a small phone, but it has a respectable screen-to-body ratio of 74 percent. Although that's not as good as the Note 5's 76 percent, that still means that the 6P is compact for a phablet. Impressively, Huawei has managed to include front-facing stereo speakers without significantly compromising the 6P's size.

The WQHD 5.7-inch screen is an AMOLED panel that naturally has deeper blacks and more saturated colors than an LCD screen. Although we haven't been able to formally test it yet, one thing we can comment on is that its maximum brightness isn't as high as the output of class-leading devices like the iPhone 6s and Galaxy Note 5. One neat trick you can do if you turn on the developer options in the 6P's setting menu is to activate an sRGB color mode for the display that tones down its colors, which you can see in the image below.

Nexus Imprint: Biometrics Natively Come To Android

On the back of the Nexus 6P is the circular Nexus Imprint fingerprint reader. Although fingerprint readers have been available on other Android phones for a few years now, most notably on Samsung's Galaxy handsets, Android itself hasn't natively supported biometric authentication. Only with the release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow has Google added full support for it, and with the Nexus 6P and 5X being the first devices to ship with Marshmallow, naturally they'd be the first phones to showcase this feature.

The Nexus Imprint reader on the 6P resides exactly where your index finger rests when holding the phone, which at first seems to be an unusual position. On other devices, the fingerprint reader is commonly found under the screen on the front of the phone and is usually activated by your thumb when you pick it up. With the Nexus 6P, you only need to lightly rest your index finger on the Imprint reader as you hold the phone to both wake it up and log in.

The Nexus Imprint reader is very fast, and Google claims that it can recognize your finger in under 600 milliseconds. The only issue we have with it is that due to its location, you can't unlock the phone without picking it up, if, say, it is lying on a table. Google's new mobile payment solution, Android Pay, fully supports the Nexus Imprint reader, but because I am located in Canada, I was unfortunately not able to test the 6P with Pay.

A Tamed 810, A Big Battery, And USB Type-C

The Nexus 6P's specs are pretty standard for a 2015 phablet, but we were surprised at first to see that it came with a Snapdragon 810 SoC after all the negative press this chip received for its overheating issues. Google does specifically say that the 6P uses v2.1 of the 810, and during the time that we've been using the 6P, heat hasn't been an issue. We've also been testing out the new Sony Xperia Z5 (another new 810-powered phone) without any heat issues, so it appears either that Qualcomm or the OEMs have managed to tame the 810. Of course, we will still need to verify this when we formally test the 6P, but buying a phone that uses an 810 shouldn't be of concern anymore.

Huawei has impressively been able to fit a huge 3,450 mAh battery into the 6P. Our initial impressions are favorable. The Nexus 6P and 5X are also some of the first smartphones to ship with a USB Type-C connector for charging. Although the 6P doesn't support Qualcomm's Quick Charge technology, it does support fast charging through the Type-C port when using the included 15W (5V/3A) charger.

Finally, A Nexus With A Good Camera

One of the biggest weaknesses of previous Nexus phones has been their cameras. Last year's Nexus 6 did have a much better camera than previous efforts, but our testing showed that its performance was only average when compared to its leading competitors. For its 2015 models, Google seems to be determined to offer devices with not just good, but excellent cameras, and on paper the Nexus 6P certainly delivers.

It uses the 12.3 MP Sony IMX377 Exmor R sensor that has large 1.55 µm pixels and an f/2.0 aperture lens. This means its low-light performance should be excellent, perhaps even class-leading. If you look at the sample image above, you can see that it does take great shots even in the darkest conditions. It also has fast laser autofocus, but unfortunately, there is no OIS. Google claimed that it isn't necessary due to the sensor's large pixels, so we'll have to put that claim to the test when we properly evaluate the camera.

Google's Latest Confection

Of course, the raison d'être for the Nexus phones is to showcase the latest version of Android, which is now Android 6.0 Marshmallow. At first glance, though, 6.0 doesn't look significantly different that Lollipop. However, when you look closer, you can see that there are quite a few improvements, both to the UX and under the hood.

We won't go into great detail here -- that's something to evaluate with a full review -- but there are a few features worth highlighting. One is a new vertically scrolling application drawer that shows your most frequently used apps at the top, support for fingerprint readers like the Nexus Imprint, an improved application permissions model, a new power-saving Doze mode, and "Now on Tap," which adds in-app contextual search.

This Is The Android You're Looking For

Our initial impressions of the Nexus 6P are favorable. In fact, we'd have to say it is a contender for the best Android phone of 2015. Huawei has crafted a beautiful metal device and equipped it with top-of-the-range internal specs and the best camera of any Nexus smartphone. The Nexus Imprint fingerprint reader is fast and accurate, and the 6P is one of the first phones to come with a future-proof USB Type-C charging port.

Along with its design and performance, the Nexus 6P is also excellent value for the money. It is a flagship device with flagship specifications priced like a mid-range phone. In the U.S., the Nexus 6P is sold only by Google and is $499 for the 32 GB model, $549 for the 64 GB, and $649 for the 128 GB model. In Canada, the pricing is a little higher, at $699/$749/$849 CDN for each storage level. In the Great White North it is also sold by carriers -- specifically Bell, Rogers, Telus, Wind Mobile and Videotron, starting at $100 CDN on a 2-year term.

Alex Davies is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Smartphones, Tablets, and Virtual Reality. You can follow him on Twitter. 

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6 comments
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  • Zebble
    Got the 6P in my hands today as well as an upgrade from my Nexus 5. The 6P is a beautiful device. Feels great in my hand. Quality is excellent, and performance is significantly better than the Nexus 5. Well done Google!
  • cknobman
    Everything looked gravy until I saw the non-removable battery.

    Some can say its not a big deal but when you have a phone just over a year old and the battery dies in it you will think otherwise.

    Yeah it happened to me and it helped me learn never to buy a phone with a sealed battery again.

    Specs on this phone are not too far off from my Lumia 950xl (which is amazing).

    The 810 is lightning fast and I have not had overheating issues, but I am not sure how much that has to do with the custom heat pipe cooling solution on the Lumia.
  • Sean_80
    The phone looks great, but I really am too worried about the bending and shattering pane on the back.