Google's New Phones Are The Best Android Phones Yet

Photo: Courtesy Google.
Like a first date, you usually "just know" if a phone is going to be good or not within the first 10 minutes of interacting with it. And with Google's new Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, the feeling was instant attraction. These phones are beautiful, easy to use, and packed with compelling features.

The Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P are Google's new flagship handsets, and they're currently available for pre-order. The 5X is smaller. Made by LG, it's got a 5.2-inch display and its smooth polycarbonate outer casing comes in three colors: black, white, and ice blue. The 6P, made by Huawei, features a 5.7-inch display and an aluminum casing that comes in white, silver, and black. Like the old iPhone 5 and 5s, the edges of this phone feature a "chamfer" — a cutaway that removes the sharp corner, and (since it's made of aluminum) adds a subtle sparkle when you turn the phone this way and that.

Both phones are preloaded with the latest version of Android: Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The interface is straightforward. You've got your home screen, where you can customize the arrangement of folders, apps, and information-revealing widgets; a search bar, where you can quickly access Google Now at the top of the screen by tapping out a query or saying "Okay Google;" and you can swipe to the right to pull up your Google Now cards, which show relevant information, like traffic about your daily commute, what's next on your agenda, and news stories it thinks you will enjoy. The icons for all of Google's built-in apps (Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, etc.) have been redesigned with a flat, colorful aesthetic that makes the OS feel very cohesive and a little playful.

The two handsets also feature fingerprint sensors, quick charging, and stellar cameras. We've been using the phones for roughly a week. Read on to learn what it's like to actually use the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Unlocking With A Touch
An iPhone is normally my default handset, so I'm used to picking up my phone and pressing my thumb to its home button to unlock the screen. The new Nexus handsets also have a fingerprint reader, but as the phones have no physical home button on the front, it's located on the rear of the device, just below the camera on the Nexus 5X (pictured). The positioning is incredibly natural — that's where your forefinger typically goes when you pick up a phone. So instead of having to pick up the phone and then unlock it (two movements), you unlock the Nexus 5X and 6P as soon as it's in your grip.

In my use thus far, this fingerprint sensor is faster and produces fewer false negatives than Apple's Touch ID sensor. Sometimes it does give you a "You moved too fast" error, but it's always resolved before I've even had a chance to read the entire error message.

The only time this rear biometric sensor's positioning is problematic is when your phone is sitting on a surface. Then, you've either got to use your backup unlock method (entering a pin code or swiping an a pattern onscreen) or pick up the phone to unlock it.
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Photo by Christina Bonnington.
Unlike the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which are almost exactly the same phone but in two different sizes, the Nexus 5X and 6P are slightly different, both on the outside and inside.

The 6P is more powerful and handles graphics slightly better — it's got a 2 GHz Snapdragon 810 processor compared to the 5X's Snapdragon 808. On the 5X, you get some lag scrolling through applications like Twitter, or a stutter when opening the camera app (the latter is definitely disappointing if you're trying to quickly snap a picture). There's no such lag on the 6P. It is incredibly fast.

Both phones have beautiful high resolution displays: the 5X, a 1080p (1,080 x 1,920, 424 pixels per inch) display; and the 6P, a 518 PPI 2,560 x 1,440 display. Photos, videos — everything — look rich and pixel-free.
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Photo by Christina Bonnington.
The Cameras
There was a period when Android phones seriously lagged behind Apple in terms of camera technology, but that is certainly not the case anymore. The 6P features a 12.3-megapixel camera on back and an 8-megapixel camera on the front. Its selfie camera was so good it shamed me into putting some makeup on my face during test shots — If you remember what HD did for movies (Holy crap, I can see their pores!) that's what this camera does for selfies, for better or for worse. The front camera does not have a flash, so while it takes super-detailed, rich images in full light and good photos in partial light, if you're at a dimly lit bar, the photo will be super grainy. The 5X has a more forgiving — but still excellent quality — 5-megapixel camera on front (the iPhone 6s also features a 5-megapixel selfie camera).

On the 5X, the camera app can be sluggish opening, or when switching settings.
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Photo: Courtesy Google.
The 5X (pictured) and 6P both include 12-megapixel rear shooters that can record 1080p or 4K video. Both video levels look terrific on their respective screens, but as the displays aren't 4K level, the naked eye can't actually tell the difference between the two degrees of HD. You can record slow motion video with both phones: 120 frames per second on the 5X, 120 or 240 FPS on the 6P, like you can on an iPhone.

On the 5X, the camera is a circular protrusion above the fingerprint sensor. Every once and a while, I'd accidentally place my finger over the lens instead of on the fingerprint sensor, and that's pretty much the only time the "fingerprint sensor" didn't work properly (d'oh, and then I'd need to wipe it clean, too).

I tested a white model and the polycarbonate white ring around the lens did seem to pick up some dirt or paint from sitting on my black desk, so if you like your phone pristine, that's something to watch out for.
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Photo by Christina Bonnington.
Super-Fast Charging
While both phones will easily last you a full day on a single charge, the 6P gets slightly better battery life than its smaller counterpart.

And speaking of charging, both models take less than two hours to go from 0 to 100% charged. Both phones use a USB Type C connector for charging and transferring data. One of the big benefits of this: It can charge your phone up in half the time it would take to juice up an iPhone 6s Plus. And it does. It takes around an hour and a half for the larger 6P to go from around 10% battery to full (The phones give you a low battery warning when you hit 15%). And using a USB Type C to microUSB cable, you could use your phone to charge another phone, if you were so gracious.

If you totally forget your charger though, Android Marshmallow's Doze feature ensures that your phone won't die without a fight. With Doze, your phone saves more power by shutting off extraneous app updates and other processes when it's not being used. If you don't plug it in at night, you won't find it suddenly dropped from 20 to 0% — it'll only lose a couple points.
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Photo: Courtesy Google.
Android Marshmallow
As I mentioned in the introduction, these Nexus phones run the latest version of Android — and it's stellar.

Nearly all major apps these days offer both iOS and Android versions, and while in years past, that Android version may have been a shoddy shell of its iOS counterpart, thanks to Google's design guidelines, these apps now perform well, look attractive, and also look like they belong on the Android platform.

Google Now, which is built into the experience, is intensely handy, and always accessible. Just say "Okay Google" and you can search for whatever you need.

The only thing I really don't care for is the camera app icon (in the lower right of the Nexus 6P home screen pictured). I just kept forgetting that's what its camera icon looks like, so I'd have to hunt around for it. Luckily, you can bypass this by accessing the camera with a double tap of the power button, instead.

Overall, the experience feels polished and well-executed, but the app icons also make it feel fun.
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Photo: Courtesy Google.
The Nexus 5X is a solid phone for those that want an excellent handset, but appreciate value (and how well it fits in your hand) over having all the latest bells and whistles. While the overall experience isn't quite as smooth and lightning fast as its larger counterpart, it's still a significant bump over a phone that's a year or three old. And it starts at only $380.

If the 5X and 6P were in a race, the 5X would definitely land on the podium, but the 6P would take gold. The Nexus 6P has everything you could want out of a smartphone in 2015, including 32 GB of storage in the $500 base model. The display, performance, and cameras are all top of the line. My biggest complaint about this phone was that, particularly in the black model (which I reviewed), I often had trouble figuring out which side was up and which side was down when I picked it up — on the front, the top and bottom are symmetrical except for the front-facing camera lens on the upper left of the top.
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Photo: Courtesy Google.
If you've grown tired of Apple's ecosystem or are looking for a new Android upgrade, going with one of Google's 2015 Nexus flagships is an excellent way to go.