Nexus 6P review: This is the way Android phones should be

Look out Samsung and LG. The best premium Android phone on the market is Google's own.

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Yes, it’s powerful

I know what you’re thinking: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 again? But you needn’t groan here. The Nexus 6P did not throttle or get insanely hot during benchmark tests, though the results were a bit inconsistent. Some of the Nexus 6P’s scores were oddly lower than we’d expected from a second-generation Snapdragon 810, while others were right on point. Thankfully, that didn’t translate into shoddy performance while actually using the device. The Nexus 6P is a speedy device and you shouldn’t let the Snapdragon 810 scare you off.

nexus 6p benchmarks pcmark

PCMark tests for general smartphone use, like browsing the web and editing docs. Weirdly, the same Snapdragon 810 performed considerably better on the OnePlus 2.

nexus 6p benchmarks vellamo

Vellamo tests the CPU. The Galaxy S6 still eclipses the Nexus 6P’s Qualcomm-made SoC here.

nexus 6p benchmarks gfxbench

GFXBench 3.1 tests the 3D graphics capabilities of the device. Again, the Nexus 6P is trailing behind the OnePlus 2 and the Galaxy S6. LG’s G4 performed as we expected, since it runs on a lower-powered Snapdragon 808.

If it’s a powerhouse you’re looking for, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and its related family members are still the devices to beat. The Nexus 6P trailed behind Samsung's top-tier phones in most benchmarks.

Of course, benchmarks are still just numbers, and the true test of a smartphone is how well is holds up over time, and in regular everyday use. From my anecdotal experience, the Galaxy S6 Edge has had quite a few meltdowns during the six months I’ve been using it. I’m curious to see how Android 6.0 performs on the new Nexus devices throughout the next few months, though it’ll likely fare better just because there isn’t bloatware and a heavily modified interface to contend with like on Samsung and LG’s devices.

nexus 6p benchmarks battery

Fortunately, the Nexus 6P’s 3450mAh battery pack can get you through a day of heavy usage.

The Nexus 6P’s battery benchmarks show it beating most other flagships, particularly those in the same price range. In our PCMark battery tests, the 6P’s 3450 mAh battery lasted six hours and 22 minutes—about an hour less than the Note 5’s 3000 mAh battery pack. I figured battery life benchmarks would be better, because the Nexus 6P lasted through a day of heavy usage, but Samsung's latest phones are outliers in those tests. In real-world use, the situation favors the 6P more, and I was able to get through a day of pretty heavy use without recharging. You can also feel comforted by the fact that it comes with a fast-charging USB Type-C charger in the box, so you can cart that around to give the phone quick energy boosts throughout the day. I managed to rack up 80-percent battery life in just an hour.

Let’s talk about the camera

In my experience, Nexus devices have typically shown lackluster camera performance. They’ve either shot photos that appeared blown-out or, in the case of last year’s Nexus 6, lacked the ability to take a decent photo in low light environments. Fortunately, the Nexus 6P’s camera is exponentially better than those of its predecessors. 

nexus6p sample2

Bored, lazy cat indoors.

nexus6p sample

Pumpkins indoors.

2015 10 17 18.55.59

My backyard after sunset. I like that this photo didn’t come out grainy and used the patio lighting to set the scene.

The 12.3-megapixel rear-facing camera sensor on the Nexus 6P is manufactured by Sony, which also supplies camera sensors for plenty of other OEMs. However, this particular sensor differs in that it features 1.55 micron pixels, which are about four times the size of normal pixels in other camera sensors. This is supposed to help the 6P capture more light in darker environments, though it still falls short compared to Samsung and LG’s 16-megapixel camera sensors.

nexus6p highlightcomparison

In our bright light lab tests, the Nexus 6P performed better than the Nexus 6, and even the G4. 

nexus6p lowlightcomparison

In our low light lab tests, the Nexus 6P struggled to keep up with Samsung and LG’s camera sensors, which have the best low-light performance on the market right now. 

There are a couple of caveats with this new and improved camera sensor. For one, the Nexus 6P’s rear-facing camera does not support optical image stabilization (OIS), so you’re going to shoot some slightly blurry photos in low light without it, which happened to me a few times. Check out these pumpkins, for instance: 

2015 10 17 23.41.30

These pumpkins came out blurry because, as I quickly snapped them in low light, the long exposure allowed my shaky hands to move phone a little while the shutter was open. Optical image stabilization would have helped here, if the Nexus 6P had it. 

nexus6p hdrornot

On the left is a shot taken without HDR, and on the right is a shot taken with HDR. Dang that’s a difference. 

I’m also a bit bothered by the fact that the rear-facing camera is on auto HDR by default—it’s as if Google’s cheating its way into better photos. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love the photos it produced, but I wish there were a live view of it, like on the Galaxy S6 and G4’s camera apps, so I can decide whether I want to use it. If you do shoot in HDR, you won’t see the end result until the app is done processing, which can take a few seconds.

nexus6p selfie

Do the weird-face selfie because posing seriously for a review is kind of awkward.

I’m happy to report that selfies are better on the Nexus 6P, especially since the Nexus 6 performed dismally in our Android phone selfie shootout. The selfies taken with last year’s Nexus made me look either too yellow or too dark. Thankfully, the Nexus 6P boasts a fabulous 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which works well in all sorts of environments, though the end result can be a tad shaky in low light.

For those of you wondering about video, the Nexus 6P shoots in 4K at 30 frames per second (fps), and in slow motion at 120 fps or 240 fps. You can play the video above to get a sampling of how it records outdoors in 1080p at dusk.

2015 10 21 20.54.35

The Android camera app is now simple—a little too simple.

The Nexus camera app interface has been overly simplified so that you don’t have to worry about making adjustments before snapping a photo. I like Google’s philosophy behind this, though I would have liked to see a manual mode of sorts to set up a long exposure for nighttime shots, for instance.

nexus6p fun

Instant GIFs with just the push of a button!

At least there’s a burst mode, which you can use to make instant GIFs, which are way easier to share with friends than the iPhone’s silly and proprietary Live Photos. You can also quickly launch the camera with a double-press of the power button, though it’s not as responsive as the Galaxy S6’s double-press mechanism, and you’ll still have to unlock your phone to move beyond the camera application.

Overall, I was really impressed with the Nexus 6P’s camera performance. It was consistent (even given some of its shortcomings), easy to shoot with, and reliably fast. This is easily the best Nexus camera I’ve ever used.

Delicious Marshmallow

gph 001 41 Adam Patrick Murray

Android Marshmallow is tasty.

I’m going to admit here that I’m not typically an evangelist of the stock Android lifestyle. I’m actually more of an OEM sympathizer, and if you’ve followed along with my reviews in the past, you’ve read how I’ve advocated for why skinned Android is sometimes better than stock. However, the Nexus 6P has made it really hard for me to switch back to my Touchwiz-laden Galaxy S6 Edge. I’m sick of the blue hue and I want more of whatever this Nexus has going on.

2015 10 21 20.54.39

Marshmallow is, quite simply, one of the best versions of Android in a long time.

Part of my renewed love of stock Android has to do with Marshmallow, which is amazing even in all of its plainness. It boasts a ton of new, minor features, all of which have helped make this version of Android seem like the most cohesive ever. You can read the full rundown of Marshmallow in my review.

If you’re not running a stock Android device, you’ll have Marshmallow eventually. But you won’t have access to the ambient display feature that the Nexus 6P has, nor can you take advantage of the “always on” Google Now commands. Also, bear in mind that Google has promised to update its Nexus devices more regularly with security updates and support them with software updates for at least two years, whereas some manufacturers are still figuring out their update plans.

Seriously the best Nexus ever

gph 001 19 Adam Patrick Murray

This is it. The best Nexus ever.

The Nexus 6P is a seriously awesome phone and I never thought I’d feel this way about a Nexus device. I’m not typically a Nexus person and I’ve always looked to other manufacturers to pave the way for the Android ecosystem, but Google’s at the tip of the spear now and I’m glad to see it.

This amazing phone is also good news for Huawei, which is still looking to make its grand entrance into the U.S. smartphone market with a flagship device. If this Nexus takes off, that’ll be a big win for the Chinese-based company, and it can leverage this good will to entice Android enthusiasts toward a Huawei phone next time around.

Of course, the Nexus 6P isn’t entirely perfect. It’s missing a few flagship features, like wireless charging and OIS. But those aren’t deal breakers. If it’s the pure, premium Google Android experience you’re looking for, and you can handle its larger 5.7-inch size, you’ll want the Nexus 6P. And for about $200 less than the current crop of high-end phones, you’re getting a phone directly from Google that works on any cellular network.

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At a Glance
  • With its stellar camera performance and premium build, the Nexus 6P is the best device Google's ever commissioned.


    • Best low-light performance of any Nexus camera
    • Bright, beautiful AMOLED display you can see outside and at night without hurting your eyes


    • No OIS for the rear-facing camera
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