Google’s Nexus brand is a fickle beast, hopping from one manufacturer to the next. After a successful stint with LG, the latest recipient of its blessing is Motorola. That makes some sense as the company was Google-owned until its recent shift to Lenovo. The Nexus 6 is undoubtedly a Motorola device, being a dead ringer for the excellent Moto X (2nd Gen). It’s bigger, though, much bigger. Its titular 6in screen puts it among the largest smartphones we’ve ever seen, bigger even than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at 5.7in. But is bigger better?
We’ve already waxed lyrical at length in our admiration for the new Moto X’s design, and the same applies here. The rear is a delightful collision of lines and curves, all tapering to narrow edges that terminate in an aluminium frame. It feels very tough and rigid.
The smooth, slightly-soft rear panel is a pleasure to hold. The headphone socket, camera lens, Motorola and Nexus logos, and the USB port all fall perfectly in line down the centre of the handset. The ridged power button sits neatly under your forefinger; you’ll need it, too, as there’s no double-tap to wake, which we saw on the HTC Nexus 9 tablet.
The front of the phone is a gloss black and largely featureless. There are slim bezels, around 3.5mm, on either side of the screen. At the top and bottom are forward-firing stereo speakers, for watching videos in landscape aspect, but despite this there’s still little in the way of bezel above and below the screen.
There are no physical buttons here, as on Galaxy handsets or iPhones, with everything dealt with using onscreen buttons instead, which we prefer. There’s no rim or edge around the screen either, it simply curves away to meet the metal frame on the edge. The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and so should stay largely scratch free, it has a slightly more resistant feel when you slide your finger over it than usual, which might bother some.
In terms of measurements, the 6in screen makes it understandably a bit larger face-on than the 5.7in Galaxy Note 4 – 159x83mm compared to 154x79mm. On paper it’s a tad chunkier as well, being 10.1mm deep compared to the Note 4’s 8.5mm. In practice though there’s nothing in it, with the nexus 6’s slender edges and subtly bulging rear panel feeling just as slender as the Note 4’s slim slab.
Of course, the sheer size will put some off. Our largest members of staff found they could still grasp the phone one-handed and reach across the display, but not to the opposite corner. Your average person is really looking at using this two-handed, especially given there’s no provision made to one-handed use, as with the resizing screen space on both the Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus.
However you tackle it, the screen is truly huge at a massive 6in across. The AMOLED display has the now-typical, but still absurdly detailed, 2,560×1,440 resolution we’ve seen on the Note 4 and LG G3. The sheer screen size does drop the pixels-per-inch figure to a mere 493, which is a tad below that of those other handsets, but not noticeably.
As important as raw resolution claims are the number of subpixels being used for each claimed pixel. The Note 4 uses Samsung’s latest AMOLED technology, which utilises a new diamond shaped pixel structure, with fewer of the larger red and blue pixels and more of the smaller green ones. The Nexus 6 looks to use an older subpixel structure with simpler bar-shaped subpixels. In practice that means the Note 4 is slightly sharper-looking. We’re splitting hairs here though, given how fine the detail is on both screens.
Colour is a far bigger issue for the Nexus 6. AMOLED screens have long suffered from inaccurate colour reproduction compared to their LCD cousins, though that has been offset by their far superior contrast. Now the two are converging, with contrast improving on LCDs and the Note 4 showing itself capable of good accuracy; largely thanks to multiple colour temperature settings, of which the ‘Basic’ setting accurately tracks sRGB.
After that, the Nexus 6 is a big step backwards. Despite having 100% sRGB coverage, the colours are way off the sRGB standard in our tests, being far too saturated and garish. Purists will hate it, but those who like their TV sets as they come from the shop, full of vibrant hues, won’t be overly put off. In our experience most people prefer something a bit livelier and warmer than sRGB but this is still over-egging it somewhat.
All that said, it’s hard not to enjoy watching downloaded iPlayer shows on the 6in display on the commute. A peak brightness of 286.91cd/m2 is slightly brighter than the Note 4, giving it the edge in terms of AMOLED screen brightness. For those who watch a lot of video on the go, or who want to watch around the home without reaching for a tablet, this is a satisfyingly big screen, with deep blacks and plenty of detail.
^ It’s not easy to see the difference here, but you should be able to make out the oversaturated red/orange shades at least, in real life it’s far, far more pronounced
The Nexus 6 has a pair of forward firing stereo speakers, one on each side of the screen in landscape. We’ve seen such sepakers before, mainly on HTC’s handsets, and they’re always welcome. The ‘upper’ speaker also doubles up for as an earpiece for voice calls, while the lower one integrates the microphone, all very neat.
The volume is well graduated with lots of options in the middle of the range, and then fewer at the low and high ends, which makes practical sense. Audio quality is way ahead of anything with bottom- or rear-positioned speakers. It main rival is theHTC One M8, the M8’s speakers were more balanced with more lower-mid, but the Nexus 6 was louder and sounded more expansive. It’s hard to pick between them here, but for watching video clips the huge 6in screen on the Nexus wins out anyway.
^ The front firing speakers hugely increased our enjoyment of movie trailers and the like
The Nexus 6 comes with Android 5.0, one of the first phones to do so. If you want to read about the new operating system in detail we suggest you head over to ourAndroid 5.0 review, but we’ll cover the basics here.
The operating system has a fancy new look and lots of lovely new animations, called Material Design, where everything is simpler and flatter than before. The homescreen works much the same as ever, which is still more flexible than the competitions in terms of placing things, widgets and folders. A new app switcher lets you cycle through a rolodex of previous applications, and multiple Chrome tabs appear here, so it’s easier to get access to everything.
Notifications have been turned into Google-Now style cards, and you can see these on the lockscreen if you want, so you know what’s going on at all times. The Nexus 6 supports an ‘Ambient Screen’ mode where these lockscreen notifications appear (in black and white) whenever you pick up the phone or take it out of your pocket. There’s also great new tool for backing up and restoring your handset. You can choose to restore all your apps and homescreens exactly as they were, letting you do a full reset whenever you like without having to reorganise everything afterwards.
There are numerous other tweaks, but it’s largely familiar stuff to look at. Beneath all that is a whole new codebase, with improvements to performance and battery life, plus support for 64-bit processors.
The big problem here is that Android 5.0 is just that and nothing more. On the Nexus 9 the new Gmail app has a tablet mode with a preview pane, but apparently the Nexus 6 isn’t big enough for that and there’s no setting to force it on. In fact there are no phablet enhancements here, such as being able to run two apps side-by-side on the Note 4. Plain Android is great, but sometimes you want more.