ned Productions Consulting

Technology musings by Niall Douglas
ned Productions Consulting
(an expert advice and services company based in Ireland)

Tuesday 8th December 2015 5.11pm

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Been using my new Nexus 6P for a week now, so time for some personal observations as someone who gets a new Nexus phone every two years just before the major firmware updates cease, so I'm coming from the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in 2011, to the LG Nexus 5 in 2013, to the Huawei Nexus 6P in 2015.

First impressions: this is a very good phone indeed, in fact I cannot identify any design deficiency nor compromise at all except for its size (it's too big) and its price, which whilst not as expensive as the Galaxy Nexus was in its day (€800 or so in today's money), at €700 for the 64Gb edition it is not cheap either. As a comparator, right now the most expensive iPhone the 6s Plus is €870 though this phone runs rings around the iPhone in spec - a much closer spec is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus (including an identical 5.7 inch AMOLED screen panel) which retails for around €900, so this phone is a good 20-25% cheaper for a very similar spec to the top of the line Samsung. Still, it's 20% more expensive than the Nexus 5x, and I'll come back to that.

Most noticeable gains over my Nexus 5 (2013):

+ Much smoother to operate. The CPU is actually little faster, but the memory bandwidth is nearly double and the 3Gb of RAM prevents app memory thrashing. 2Gb of RAM isn’t really enough for an Android phone to run smoothly nowadays.

+ Screen is noticeably nicer, which was surprising - I didn't think I'd notice the jump from full HD (1080p) to quad HD (1440p), but text is even more like the printed page, the extra colour gamut makes photos “pop” like they did on the Galaxy Nexus (also OLED screen), and this phone is amazing for Google Cardboard, it's a far superior VR experience to even the Oculus which I only tried a few weeks ago and whose resolution is much inferior.

+ Battery lasts two days instead of one day, expected as the Nexus 5 has a small battery. And it charges from mostly empty to nearly full in half an hour, though with the right charger you could do the same in 45 mins with the Nexus 5.

+ Unlike the Nexus 5, the battery doesn't noticeably count downwards while the screen is on, you always felt on the Nexus 5 you were on borrowed time if the screen was on. Not this phone which only sips 250mA as I type this with the screen on but otherwise idle. Screen off power usage improved enormously in android 6.0 of course, but this phone also has four low power CPU cores to complement its four high power cores, so in situations like now when little CPU is needed one gets superior power consumption with the screen on. It makes a big difference to usability - I no longer need to watch my screen on use time carefully.

+ I listen to a lot of radio since Clara was born and as much as the speaker on the Nexus 5 is pretty good, it is highly directional and can only go so loud before distorting - so forget about listening to the radio in the shower for example. The 6p has two stereo speakers on its front which deliver a far superior sound and fill a room with clear audio, so even on 75% volume I can listen perfectly to the radio in the shower.

+ I don't use the camera on phones much, but I have noticed this phone focuses instantly in the dark unlike the usual focus hunting around and getting it totally wrong. That's thanks to the laser focusing which requires no light. The camera is also enormously faster, and can take multi second rapid bursts of shots at the full 12MP with no loss of detail.

+ Finally, fingerprint unlocking is very clearly the only way to unlock phones forever from now onwards. It just works, and being on the back means you can unlock as you take the phone out for use in a single movement.

- Six inches is too big for a phone. You can put it into a jeans pocket but unlike a five incher which feels safe in there, a six inch phone necessarily flexes more than I feel comfortable about simply due to size. Six inches makes it poke above my jacket pocket too where there is a scratchy zip just waiting for it, also not helpful. Six inches is also more annoying for single handed usage. Six inches means it falls out of the cup holder in my car where I used to keep my phone when driving. None of this is a fault with this particular phone though, it's just the form factor: five inches is big enough for a phone, and six inches is too big.

- The aluminium unibody is great and everything, but nobody absolutely nobody isn't going to be slapping this phone straight into a case, so I ask why waste the money and create all the engineering hassle with getting radio signals through a metal back? I think this is the iPhone’s fault - they have generated a totally pointless and value detracting expectation in the consumer that all metal implies a superior phone. Either way, Samsung have it right here: metal frame, non-metal back.

- The loss of wireless charging is a shame. We have wireless chargers beside our beds which are now redundant. The very fast charging does mean you're ready to go for the day after breakfast and getting Clara ready and if you forget one morning the battery is big enough to keep you till next morning, but it still is a loss you notice.

- I'm unsure if the value add of the 6p over the 5x is worth the money. For a 32Gb model the 6p is 20% more money which gets you a much better screen, 50% more RAM, 25% more battery, better sound and I suppose an all metal body. It is however physically much bigger which is inconvenient, both have identical cameras and laser focus, and in the end 500 euro is psychologically a lot less than 650 euro for a phone which in my mind should not exceed the price of a car.

- A rather more interesting comparison is to last year's Motorola Nexus 6 (2014) which is now available new for the same price as the Nexus 5x. It's a lot bigger and fatter, has a markedly worse camera plus no fingerprint unlock, and I suspect its idle power usage will be worse. However if you manually disable the encryption as soon as you buy it I think it's probably a great alternative, so long as you realise you are more buying a small tablet than a phone.

- Finally it’s a small thing and the fault of Google’s subcontractor and neither Google nor Huawei, but the very nice €50 leather folio case off the Play Store has a showstopping flaw - it is nigh on impossible to ever remove the phone once installed which prevents you using the phone for VR. I returned mine after watching a Youtube video on how to get it out without damaging the phone - I wouldn’t recommend the otherwise very nice case as a result. Stilgut have, as usual, a lovely real leather folio case for €30, and which doesn’t have this deficiency.

So am I happy with my purchase? Yes.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes.

Would I recommend it over alternatives? No: if they had put the same phone spec into a 5 inch body and replaced the metal back with wireless charging and maybe a 10% price drop, the 6p would be the hands down undisputable best phone on the market in my opinion, even at the higher price. As presented, the Nexus 5x or even last year's Nexus 6 both have a lot going for them at 20% cheaper - indeed even my previous 2013 Nexus 5 still stands up well, unlike how the Galaxy Nexus was demolished by the Nexus 5 which was leaps and bounds better in almost every respect AND at half the cost.

In the end, I think anyone buying a Nexus 6P will be pleased with their purchase. It’s just they won’t be thrilled as they were with the Nexus 4 (2012) and Nexus 5 (2013) both of which were really great phones for the money.