Google's newest smartphone doesn't have a whole new number, but it's got more than a few upgrades on the Nexus 6. With a fingerprint sensor, 4K-capable rear camera and Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the Nexus 6P - announced last night along with the Nexus 5X and Pixel C tablet - looks geared up to take on high-end rivals like the iPhone 6S Plus and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.
We got our hands on the freshly unveiled device at the London leg of Google's worldwide launch event, and came away impressed.
The Nexus 6P isn't exactly small - it measures 159x78x7.3mm, well into phablet territory - but, crucially, doesn't feel heavy or bulky. In fact, at 178g, we were surprised by just how light it feels. This doesn't seem to come at the cost of build quality, either, as it hardily resisted our attempts to bend and flex it.
This is probably down to the aluminium unibody, which also provides a suitably premium feel. This, sadly, doesn't extend to including expandable storage, and the Nexus 6P neglects to feature a microSD slot like so many Nexus devices before it.
On the bright side, the USB port has had some attention and is now a USB Type-C. This is a risky move in some ways. USB-C hasn't proliferated to the point where spare cables can easily be found, which might catch out frequent travellers. But then again, it does offer much faster charging and data transfer times than the usual microUSB. Google said that 10 minutes of charging will translate into seven hours of battery life, a lofty claim about which we're fairly sceptical (and didn't get to test), but potentially game-changing if true.
Another big addition is the circular rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Huawei built the Nexus 6P and nowhere is that more apparent than here. The sensor is located in the same place, and is just as fast at unlocking the phone as the top-quality sensors on the Huawei Mate S and Honor 7.
Even with a huge 5.7in screen, the Nexus 6P's 2560x1440 resolution ensures that it looks beautifully crisp and sharp. AMOLED tech also means that colours appear vibrant and bold, without tripping into the oversaturation to which Samsung's Super AMOLED displays are prone.
Indeed, there's very little to criticise at all about this screen. Besides looking superb and performing responsively, it uses Corning's latest Gorilla Glass 4, giving it a reassuring sturdiness. It was not entirely immune to the glare of the bright event lights, but we had no problems with reflections when using the Nexus 6P on a high brightness setting.
Operating system and software
First access to new Android versions has long been an attractive element of the Nexus range and, although the upcoming Android 6.0 Marshmallow will have already launched by the time the Nexus 6P starts shipping, the latter will, of course, arrive with the former pre-loaded and free from custom skins.
This was also our first time going hands-on with Marshmallow and, like the Nexus 6P, it's highly promising. We had much deeper control over which permissions installed apps could access, and there's a handy new search bar in the apps drawer. This is perfect for tracking down individual apps among the pile, as is the added A-Z indexing system. Most importantly, all these features were easy and lightning-fast to use.
The lack of a custom skin is more good news, as we couldn't find any bloatware or pre-installed apps beyond a couple of games Google had loaded for demonstration purposes. Without other manufacturers' firmware to get in the way, we can expect the Nexus 6P to receive future Android updates as soon as they are released.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor is known for two things: being a speedy high-end chip, and occasionally but disastrously overheating. Fortunately the Nexus 6P, which includes the Snapdragon 810 alongside a hefty 3GB of RAM, never got too toasty when we were using it. It also ran a reasonably intensive-looking 3D golf game well, never stuttering or dropping in framerate. This was, we should add, while also dealing with well over a dozen apps in the background.
Unsurprisingly, then, it didn't have any trouble opening apps quickly or smoothly when flicking through menus. It will take some more thorough benchmarking to see whether the Nexus 6P can stand up to Samsung and Apple's top-end phones, but it's worth remembering that the Snapdragon 810 previously powered the Sony Xperia Z3+ to a highly respectable Antutu score of 49,999.
Next to the Nexus 6's 13MP, the 12.3MP rear camera on the Nexus 6P seems like a slight downgrade on paper. However, 4K video recording more than makes up for it, and the captures - both videos and stills - looked nicely detailed, even in poor lighting conditions. Shutter speed isn't as rapid as we've seen on other high-end smartphones and phablets, but the result was minimally blurry when we took a picture while moving the handset.
The 8MP front camera isn't quite so sharp. It does seem to require an extremely steady hand to take clean shots, and colour balance is noticeably more washed out than on the main camera. Still, it seems good enough for the odd video call.
The lack of microSD stings, but even the cheapest Nexus 6P model has a very decent 32GB of internal storage - enough for personal and light work use. Pricier models come with 64GB or 128GB.
Google is also pushing its Google Photos cloud storage service by more closely integrating it into Android 6.0 Marshmallow's camera and gallery apps. This potentially saves storage space, although we suspect that it will really help only serious photography fans, as apps and music tend to take up as much if not more space than pictures.
Nexus smartphones have never been the most thrilling devices, but the Nexus 6P's combination of hardware upgrades, solid performance and a new and improved OS at least looks like a recipe for a supremely functional Android handset. With added security from the fingerprint sensor and crowd-pleasing features like the 4K camera, it could well turn out an all-rounder of acclaim when it launches in late October.
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