It just works. It’s a line we mostly use to talk about Apple, but it’s really the story of the Nexus 6P. This is Google’s new flagship phone, one of two it made this year to show the world just how good Android can be. It’s the best hardware Google (and its partner Huawei) can make, and the best software, all in a single slick package.

Google Nexus 6P



Proof that Google really cares about design! A Nexus phone finally has a great camera. Decent battery life, and crazy-fast charging. Now On Tap is a great idea.


Now On Tap doesn’t work that well. USB Type-C is great to use but hard to find. Android apps, generally speaking, aren’t as good as iOS apps.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Barely functional; don’t buy it
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10A solid product with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless, buy it now
  • 10/10Metaphysical product perfection

For once, a Nexus phone isn’t about wacky superlatives. It’s not holy-shit big, or holy-shit fast. It pushes a few boundaries, but mostly it cobbles the best things from the Android ecosystem into a single location. It’s finally a Google phone you don’t have to think about, or make compromises for. It’s finally more than a developer playground, more than a black box. It’s finally easy to tinker with and easy to use.

There is absolutely no reason not to buy this phone. None. Zero. The Nexus 6P is the closest thing there’s ever been to a perfect Android device. Is the best Android device better than the iPhone? That’s a different question. It has to do with security, app quality, customer service, accessory markets, and much more. The allure of the iPhone always has been about more than the camera. But finally, someone has solved the hardware part.

Figures it’d be Google.


The primary role of Nexus devices has always been to show off the latest version of Android. The 6P is Marshmallow minus skins, minus bloatware, minus whatever weird things Verizon does to your phone before you get it. It’s a developer tool, and a chance for Google to show off a little.

Marshmallow mostly does small things. It’s smarter about how your phone idles, for instance, so you should get longer battery life. Many of these changes, as always, are invisible to you.

The most important parts, though, are the ones where Android becomes just a bit more intelligible. Now when you download an app, you get a clear sense of the permissions it’s requesting—and you can turn off anything that gives you the willies. When you click a link, you don’t get the paralyzing “Where do you want to open this?” nearly as often. If you do, and you tap that “Always” button and regret it, changing the phone’s default behavior is something you can do without a master’s degree in computer engineering.

The best thing about Android always has been how much you can do with it—everything is customizable, malleable, personalized. The worst thing about Android always has been how much you can do with it—everything is overwhelming, complicated, impenetrable. Marshmallow finally takes steps to rectify this. You can still change and tweak everything. But if you don’t want to, you won’t have to. You can just tap on the link, and the browser’s going to come up.

The only big system-wide enhancement in Marshmallow is Now on Tap. When you press and hold the home button (the circle at the bottom of the display), Now on Tap scans your screen and tries to provide additional information about what you’re looking at. If you’re talking about a restaurant, it’ll pop up the phone number. If you’re researching a hike, maybe you see pictures of your destination. Great idea, right? It really is. But the execution is wildly inconsistent. It’s not just that it’s wrong sometimes, it’s that there’s no rhyme or reason to when it works. It’s not like it’s a giant problem every time it fails to notice you’re looking at The Weeknd’s site, but it should work.

Like all Google products, though, it’ll get better with more data. Now on Tap’s a good idea, it just needs time. And even without its supposed headlining feature, Marshmallow remains the friendliest, least complicated version of Android ever. That’s what Google needs to take on the iPhone, and to make the Nexus lineup something your mom might consider buying.

Well, that and a few other things.

Once Again, With Feeling

Last year’s Nexus 6 existed for a single reason: to see just how big was too big for smartphones. Well, Google, congrats: you found it. The Nexus 6 was too big.

The 6P’s screen is only slightly smaller—5.7 inches, 2560×1440—but the phone as a whole is shockingly easier to use. Lots of design changes contribute, but two stand out: the 6P is nearly as tall as the 6 but not nearly so wide, which means you can actually wrap your fingers around it. Its back is flat, too, not like the bulbous Nexus 6. This is a big phone you can actually use. It’s probably as big a phone as you can actually use, which is good to know.

Having a metal body isn’t technically necessary in a high-end phone, but it makes a big difference. The 6P is slim and polished, more carefully created and assembled than any Nexus before. I don’t love the giant NEXUS logo along the phone’s spine, or the Huawei logo at the bottom of the back, or the periscope-looking, Gorilla Glass stripe up top where the camera lens and antennas are. But I love the way the display curls into the edges, and it feels like it’s milled from a block of metal. Mostly, I love that this phone feels like something someone actually cared about. And the all-black review unit I’ve been carrying seems like something James Bond might carry in his jacket. He’d slide it out, slip his finger over the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, and then, I don’t know, use Chromecast to display and steal someone’s state secrets.

It took me nearly a week to get used to the fingerprint sensor being on the back of the phone rather than under the screen. The muscle memory has finally taken over, and now every time I pull my phone out of my pocket my index finger instantly starts searching for the round divot on the back. By the time I’m looking at my phone, it’s unlocked and waiting for me. Fingerprint recognition is ridiculously fast, and hardly ever requires two tries to work. When my phone’s on my desk, it’s still a pain to swipe through my pattern every time I want to check my email—but at least there’s the neat Nudge feature that blinks notifications when I poke at the phone.

Google’s trying to push its design forward, and to champion new ideas about the way the future should work. It’s still trying to make a crazy-powerful phone, too. The 6P is powered by the Snapdragon 810 processor, still the cutting-edge in smartphone chips—it has a tendency to run a little hot, and so does the 6P, but it’s nothing to worry about. There’s also 3 gigs of RAM, and between 32 and 128 gigs of storage. That’s all nice, but it’s also table-stakes for a device like this one.

The 3,450mAh battery inside is more than enough to last through a day, but not any more than that. It has a USB Type-C charger, which is good and bad. It’s hard to find accessories and cables to replace yours. But on the flip side, holy hell does this thing charge fast. Twenty minutes on the charger, and you’re good to go for the evening. Until we get truly ground-breaking battery improvement, ultra-fast charging will have to do.

Lens Is More

Where Google really went above and beyond was the camera. Nexus cameras traditionally have fallen somewhere between bad and worse—not where things should be for what is, to most users, the single most important feature. The Nexus 6P (and 5X) went all-in on the camera. It has a 12.3 megapixel sensor, which is big; its pixels are 1.55 microns each, which also is big. The combination of the two is huge. Using this camera forced Google to design its phones around it—the hump on the 5X, the stripe on the 6P—and make it the centerpiece of the whole experience.

Good thing, too. The Nexus 6P is one of the best smartphone cameras I’ve ever used. At points, I’d have called it the best, but the truth is it’s ascended into the space where all that matters is personal preference. I like the slightly saturated colors; you might prefer the iPhone’s more muted look, or the slight brightening you get from the Galaxy S6 Edge. That’s all fine! What matters is the 6P, like those other phones, takes excellent pictures.

If you read its spec sheet, the 6P sounds like it might be particularly great in low light—those big pixels take in more light, which means shorter shutter speeds, which means sharper pictures at night. That’s true, a little, I guess, but not really. For the most part, this camera shoots like every other camera in bad lighting. Which is to say, not well. Sometimes it over-brightens shots, or takes street lights and blows them up to look like an alien spacecraft shining light from above. Sometimes it just over-processes and softens all your photos. It’s still among the best low-light smartphone cameras, but it’s not reinventing any wheels here.

The app doesn’t really help the cause. It’s simple and easy to figure out, even when you’re doing crazy things like shooting Photo Spheres, but the app is just slow. Weirdly slow for such a fast phone. Focusing takes a little longer than it should (especially when the flash is on), and there’s basically nothing in the way of manual controls. It’s a decent starting point but you’ll quickly want a more advanced app.

It’s Not About the Hardware

Don’t lose sight of the big point here, though. Google and Huawei made a phone that has exactly zero problems. It’s well-made, it’s fast, it has a great camera, it has great software. The Nexus line has always existed to show the best Google can do. For the first time, maybe ever, this feels like it.

There’s only one problem: Google doesn’t control everything. Where the 6P falls short of a competitor like the iPhone is in all those other parts. The apps are the most important one. No matter the number of apps in the Play Store, it’s hard to deny that the iPhone’s apps are almost universally of a higher quality. Android apps don’t work the same way—some use the back button one way, others another, some have their own back button, some I’m still not sure. They don’t look as good, or work as well. Apple’s fanaticism over its human interface guidelines may feel dictatorial, but it makes the iOS experience much better. Add in the constant security issues with Android that just don’t plague the iPhone, the difference in customer service between Apple’s Geniuses and basically everyone else, and there are just too many holes.

The Nexus 6P is absolutely the best Nexus phone ever. Hell, it’s the best Android phone ever. And at $499 unlocked, it’s even cheaper than nearly all its competitors. Everything Google could do, it did. It proved how good Android can be—that an Android phone can be better than the iPhone. Now it needs a few developers to pick this thing up, and build something worthy of the smartphone of the future.

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Review: Google Nexus 6P