The Nexus 6 inherits design elements from Motorola's Moto X and is a well-made device, congruous with its premium price. Its perimeter is framed in aluminum and the inner support frames for the mainboard and screen are plastic. This combination gives it a rigid feel, eliminating the creak and flex of some all-plastic designs, and keeping weight under control, both extremely important for a large six-inch phone.
The front is all glossy black with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 from edge-to-edge. Motorola smartly keeps all buttons on-screen rather than extending the lower bezel with physical buttons. The company also confines its branding to the back of the device, which we appreciate considerably.
Those slim bezels give the Nexus 6 a 74.1% screen-to-body ratio, almost matching the LG G3’s 76.4%. If there’s wasted space on the Nexus 6, we couldn’t guess as to where it might be. The screen is this Nexus' biggest hardware feature (pun intended), and Motorola's design does well to emphasize it.
That large 5.96-inch display is flanked top and bottom by stereo front-facing speakers. This is definitely a feature we appreciate, especially since larger phones like this are great for watching video. The front camera is to the right of the upper speaker, with a couple of sensors discreetly placed below the cover glass to the left. Hidden behind the speaker grille is a non-functional LED light. If you don't mind rooting your phone and want to enable this little gem for notifications, here are some instructions.
The plastic back is glued into place and has a smooth, non-glossy finish. There's a gentle curve, but this is probably to accommodate the thickness of the rear camera module rather than for ergonomics. Due to its width, holding this phone in one hand means you end up using your fingertips to press the lower corner into your palm, and the back of the phone never really touches the rest of your hand. The curvature isn't that noticeable when holding it with two hands.
Surrounding the rear camera, which is centered near the top edge, is a clear ring. Dual LEDs live inside this ring on either side of the lens creating a flash ring of sorts, which is pretty cool. I initially thought there was a small chip in the edge of the ring, but apparently this is where the noise-canceling microphone is located.
Below the rear camera is a shallow divot the same diameter as the camera flash ring and adorned by Motorola’s logo. The recessed, lower-case “nexus” branding carries over from the Nexus 5, but now with silver-colored inserts. The landscape orientation of this identifier makes more sense on the Nexus 6, since it will see significant two-handed use.
Interestingly, this reviewer’s sample arrived from the Tom’s Hardware labs with noticeable scuffing on two corners and the straight line of the “u” in “nexus” missing. This may not bode well for long-term cosmetic endurance.
A microUSB port and some faint FCC markings are on the slightly-tapered bottom edge.
Just above center on the right side is the volume rocker and power button. This is our preferred button layout for phablets, since it simultaneously places them within easy reach and prevents inadvertently squeezing the power button when changing the volume, which can happen when they're placed on opposite sides. Button presses are fairly shallow and soft; it would be nice to have a more definitive "click", but we're nitpicking here. A lined texture on the power button differentiates it from the volume controls below.
The top edge is tapered like the bottom, with some of the aluminum edge spilling over onto the back. The headphone jack sits in the center with the SIM tray alongside to keep it company.
With the physical description complete, let's talk size—the elephablet in the room, if you will. At 159.3 x 83.0 x 10.1mm and 184g, the Nexus 6 is a beast. I made the mistake of stashing it in a sweat-jacket pocket, and it jiggled right out all on its own during a walk. Back pocket? No way, it’s too long and rigid, making it dangerous to sit on. Front shirt pocket? Won’t fit. So where do you put it? We have no idea. Maybe one of those leather billfolds with a stylus and slots for your credit cards, but then you’re still stuck carrying it around and forgetting it on tabletops everywhere you go. A purse or briefcase would work, or maybe one of those cool packs you wear around your waist—a fanny pack I think they're called.
Despite its larger screen, the Nexus 6 isn't much taller than the iPhone 6 Plus thanks to its smaller bezels. However, height isn't the real issue. Width is. This author wears a men’s XL glove size, and I found one-handed operation continuously annoying. Yes, you can operate the Nexus 6 with one hand so long as you keep the pad of your index finger nestled in the little divot on the phone’s back. It’s a stretch. Your thumb won’t cover the whole screen unless you’re freakishly flexible. But Google’s new Android 5.0 OS anticipates this and gives you the chance here and there to double-swipe and essentially drag the feature you want down to your thumb. The device’s center of gravity leaves the majority of its weight on your index finger, where you’re strongest, but still distributes well over the remaining three fingers, especially when you nestle its lower-right corner just above the heel of your palm. It’s a more stable arrangement than you’d think, but I never grew comfortable with it. You know how it’s possible but awkward to cradle a notebook in one arm and type with the other hand? It’s stable, and for short bursts, it’s not too annoying, but you’d never want to work that way for more than a minute or two. Inevitably, I ended up switching to two-handed use for anything requiring more than a quick glance. You’re fine using one hand to check for new emails, but you’ll want two hands to actually interact with them.
Don’t let these quibbles give the impression that we didn’t like the Nexus 6. If you accept the baggage that goes with its physical dimensions—and you should if you’re going to own it—then it remains handsome and effective.