Review: Google Nexus 5X
I’ll just put this on the table right now: The Nexus 5X is my new favorite Android phone. It’s not huge, which I like. It’s also not expensive, which I really like. And despite the fact that it lacks the nicer-on-paper internals of premier devices that cost hundreds more, it performs admirably.
Google Nexus 5X
A thoroughly modern Nexus device for a sensible price. 5.2-inch screen is sharp, vibrant, and just the right size. Same camera as the Nexus 6P; images look boss. Fingerprint sensor on the back is accurate and fast. Unlocked; use it anywhere. Super light at 4.78 ounces.
Battery life disappoints. 16GB base config makes me suspect Google and LG are trolling us. USB Type-C charging cable means you now have a drawer full of useless microUSB cables and exactly one cable that works with your new phone. Camera software is slow.
Surprisingly, even at the 5X’s low price (it starts at $379 unlocked), there are very few places where Google and LG cut corners in a way that diminishes the device’s value. The partners included a fast and accurate fingerprint sensor. They threw in the same camera that’s in the Nexus 6P, Google’s flagship device. They also built the 5X with an excellent screen, not some down-market less-than-perfect display. And at the heart of the machine is Android Marshmallow, the most thoughtfully designed and visually appealing version of Google’s mobile OS so far. Marshmallow is rich with features of convenience, including the Now on Tap contextual search tool and easy-to-manage battery preservation settings.
I wasn’t sold on everything in Android Marshmallow, nor was I fully impressed by the 5X’s hardware. But there’s enough goodness here (especially for the price!) for me to recommend the 5X to anyone wanting a not-huge phone that still has many of the trimmings of upper-class devices.
Let’s Get Small
The phone is exceedingly light. That’s the first thing everyone notices. Right after commenting on the breezy weight, they start cooing over the screen. It’s gorgeous and vibrant, but it’s also small—not annoyingly small or 2011 small, but sensibly and refreshingly small. It’s a 5.2-inch screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution at 423 ppi. Sharp, sharp, sharp. And sized for normals. I had forgotten how much of a treat it is to use a phone with a screen that isn’t too large to navigate with one thumb.
My favorite hardware feature though, the thing that really made me love this phone, is the fingerprint sensor on the back. The ring-shaped sensor is placed in the center of the phone, just below the camera. It’s easy to find with your index finger when you pick up the handset, and it unlocks the screen with lightning speed when you touch it. More importantly, it’s deadly accurate—in five days of constant use, the sensor never once failed to recognize my finger, and it’s never opened for anyone else who’s tried to unlock it. Every phone should have a fingerprint sensor, and every phone should have one that works as well as this one.
I have one big complaint. It’s not the build quality, which may seem flimsy to sticklers (the device does have a thin plastic back) but did not bother me since the 5X is so light and since trade-offs are an actual thing. I had no big beef with the camera, which is very good by any measure: a 12.3-megapixel sensor that can shoot 4K video at 30fps. It’s the same camera as the one on the back of the Nexus 6P, which means it has the same focusing system that’s too slow indoors, but is otherwise excellent. The processors are a Snapdragon 808 with an Adreno 418 GPU supported by 2 gigabytes of RAM (a step down in performance from the 6P) but aside from generating a lot of heat during videos, I experienced no problems. So no quibbles with the horsepower.
No, my only real hang-up is the battery life. This is a smaller device, so it has a smaller 2,700 mAh battery. With a phablet like my iPhone 6 Plus, I can tap and swipe all day and still go to bed without seeing a “low battery” warning. With the diminutive 5X, I start getting nervous by mid-afternoon. And since the charger is of the USB-C variety and about as rare as a kitten that shits gold nuggets, I have to carry the power cable all times. (If I bought this phone, I’d buy two chargers.) The battery life under normal use sits at about seven hours, though beware of games: I managed to demolish 50 percent of a full charge in a single two-hour session of Crossy Road.
The Nexus 5X comes in two system configurations: 16 gig for $379, and 32 gig for $429. There’s no microSD slot, so this is a choice you’ll have to live with for the life of the phone. I would strongly recommend you just buy the 32GB version and avoid the terrible frustration of constantly running out of room, having to delete apps, or being forced to regularly prune your photos and videos.
However, I will say this: When I got the 5X for testing, I indiscriminately installed all of my key apps. Twitter and Instagram, Sonos and Rdio, VSCO and Shazam. I’ve filled one homescreen with apps, and so far I’ve only eaten up 3 gigabytes of the phone’s storage. Granted, I’m storing no media on the phone—I’m streaming all of my music, and all of my photos and videos are being sent straight to Google’s cloud. But if you’re the type who uses only a dozen apps and streams or clouds all your songs and pictures, 16GB will be fine. Otherwise, spend the extra fifty dollars.
And yes, $429 is actually a very good price. The cheapest new iPhone is $650, and the Samsung Galaxy devices start at $600. The 5X with 32 gigs is also just a tad cheaper than the similarly sized (and also unlocked) Moto X Pure Edition. These are the kinds of numbers we’re going to have to get used to as carriers in the U.S. move away from subsidized pricing models. Now that the days of the $200-with-an-asterisk phone are waning, $429 is a great price for a capable, sensibly sized, unlocked phone running pure Android.
If you want the best ‘droid on the market, get the 6P. Even though the 5X is my personal favorite, the 6P is the more powerful phone, and the one better equipped to serve your every need throughout a long and busy day. But if the 6P is too big or too costly, the 5X is your top choice for a Marshmallow device. You’ll have more room in your pockets, too.
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