This is why the Nexus 6P is the Android phone you want next

Why would anyone buy a so-called "flagship" phone from one of Google's partners when this physical embodiment of Android Marshmallow is so crazy-freaking good?

nexus 6p nexus imprint button
Adam Patrick Murray

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The Nexus 6P is the first smartphone I’ve ever wanted to evangelize. I mean, literally. It makes me want to pull people aside at parties, lean in with almost uncomfortable intimacy, and tell them in my most emphatic quiet voice, You need to get this phone.

I was skeptical at first. Nexus-branded phones run pure Android—the operating system as Google intends it to be—but so many previous versions have been underwhelming. Plus, the 6P is manufactured by Huawei, a company that’s still mostly known in the States for budget phones. It’s not a name that immediately inspires trust.

But the Nexus 6P isn’t just a kick-ass Nexus phone. I believe it’s the best Android phone you can buy today. Huddle up closely, and let me tell you why.

No compromise design

I need a big screen. If it’s smaller than the 5.5-inch display of my previous daily driver, the LG G4, then I just won’t be happy. Enter the Nexus 6P, whose display measures 5.7 inches. This gives me a little bit of extra screen real estate, but the phone’s overall width remains perfect for one-handed operation. This is critical because last year’s Nexus 6 from Motorola, measuring about 5 mm wider than the 6P, just never felt comfortable.

nexus 6p vs nexus 6 Adam Patrick Murray

With an aluminum unibody, the Nexus 6P might be the best-looking Nexus phone ever. It’s certainly more sophisticated than last year’s Nexus 6 (right)

Huawei’s 6P is also thinner than last year’s Nexus 6. At 7.3 mm, it’s as thin as the iPhone 6s Plus. But even more importantly, the Nexus 6P, clad in an aluminum unibody, looks and feels like a premium device. Finally: a Nexus phone with legit flagship aesthetics. Its graphite black finish looks expensive, and harkens back to the HTC One M8.

This is the kind of industrial design panache that a Nexus phone has always needed to deliver.

Lightning-fast fingerprint unlock

Google calls its fingerprint authentication technology Nexus Imprint, and once you start using it, you’ll never tolerate caveman-caliber unlocking methods ever again. It’s fast, OK? It’s fan-freaking-bloody fast.

nexus 6p nexus imprint Adam Patrick Murray

The speed of Nexus Imprint’s fingerprint unlock will give you whiplash.

Turn off your phone. OK, now touch the fingerprint sensor. Boom. You’re looking at your home screen. There’s no delay. There’s no detour to your lock screen. Google says Nexus Imprint is 600 milliseconds fast, and learns more about your fingerprints over time to improve accuracy even further. The technology can also be used for Android Pay at checkout terminals, and there’s an API that let’s third-party apps use Nexus Imprint for authentication too.

Highly attentive and always aware

OK, this is where it pays to have a pure Android experience, because the highly customized flagship phones from Samsung, LG and the like won’t always give you the operating system features that Google dreams up in its labs.

One of my Googly favorites is Ambient Display. When you toggle it on, the Nexus 6P will wake up and display a dimmed version of your lockscreen notifications whenever a new notification arrives. It’s a similar concept to Ambient Mode in Android Wear, and comes in handy if you leave your phone in plain sight when you’re kicking back on the couch or typing at your desk: As soon as you hear a notification ping, you can see the content of the alert. Ambient Display also comes to life when you lift the 6P off a flat surface.

nexus 6p ambient display Adam Patrick Murray

Ambient Display wakes your screen into low-power mode the moment a new notification comes in. And, yes, it can be toggled off for privacy.

Because it’s a pure Marshmallow device, you can also set the 6P for “always on” Google Now commands. The upshot is that even when your phone is sleeping, it’s always ready to do your bidding with an “OK Google” prompt. From across the room I can send a text to my girlfriend without ever touching my phone.

While that’s lazy as hell, it’s also sort of magical.

Google Now penetrates deep

Via the Android Marshmallow update, Google Now—the platform that delivers contextual information cards at just the right time and place—is now available in other apps. Simply long-press your home button, and the new Google Now On Tap feature will scan what’s on your screen, and deliver contextual search suggestions when available.

Let me throw some scenarios at you.

Let’s say a coworker sends a text with a dinner invite. She says everyone is meeting at Rich Table at 6 pm. Long-press for Google Now On Tap, and you’ll get one card for creating a 6 pm calendar event, and another for a full set of links to the restaurant. The depth of information is impressive. For Rich Table, I got obvious links, like ones for navigating to the restaurant, calling its main phone line, and checking out its Yelp profile. But there were also direct links to its menu and even a walkthrough of its interior space, via Google Maps.

nexus 6p google on tap Adam Patrick Murray

Google Now On Tap scans for keywords, and then surfaces links to relevant information and resources.

Google Now on Tap basically scans on-screen text, and then susses out context and relevance. Reading a Reddit post on performance cars, it gave me information cards on the two cars mentioned first. It also works in Spotify: Summoning Google Now On Tap while a song is playing will trigger an information card on the band, and from there you can navigate to the band’s YouTube channel.

This is exactly why I wanted a Nexus phone: To get Google’s latest Android features as soon as they’re available.   

Pure, uncompromised Android

The Nexus 6P is packed with 3GB of RAM and a zippy processor. It has a great camera, and charges quickly thanks to USB-C. I’ll let Florence Ion explain more about the hardware when we publish her full review soon. But even if the hardware experience wasn’t quite so good, I’d still recommend the 6P hands-down because it runs pure Android without the heaving bloat of manufacturer customizations.

The Marshmallow interface is beautiful, intuitive and devoid of superfluous “features” that manufacturers impose to “improve” user experience. It’s also lightning quick—a nice fringe benefit when you avoid stapling unnecessary software onto a perfectly good OS. And you can rest assured that if Google announced a particular design element, performance enhancement, or search trick at its last I/O keynote, then all those improvements will appear on the latest Nexus phone first.

android marshmallow figurine Jason Cross

It’s Marshmallow and we love it.

In this respect, owning a Nexus 6P is like owning an iPhone. When you update your OS, you get the entire software experience—and nothing else—just as the system developers intended.

And of course you also get system updates and security updates as soon Google makes them available, ensuring your Nexus 6P will always be on the cutting-edge of features in the Android universe. Seriously, with a phone this capable, I can’t find any reason to buy one of the current flagships phones from Google’s Android partners. Some might offer a nice little addition here and there (I’m thinking about LG’s camera software and Samsung’s charging features), but the Nexus 6P beats all of them as a sublimely integrated hardware/software package.

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