Google's Nexus line has always been about showing off the best of Android. Frustrated with its partners' insistence on developing custom UIs and loading up their phones with bloat, Google decided to create a showcase collection of devices to hopefully serve as inspiration. After a string of mainstream successes, Google went high-end last year. The Nexus 6 was the largest (and most expensive) of all Nexus smartphones till then, and not everyone was thrilled.
This year, Google is putting out two models: the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P. This allows it to show off a flagship-class all-metal phone with a massive screen as well as serve the mainstream market which needs more of a workhorse. Google is of course pushing these out to demonstrate just how it thinks Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) devices should look and feel. They both come with Nexus Imprint; Google's native Android fingerprint recognition framework, which is a headlining Android 6.0 feature.
Today we're reviewing the LG Google Nexus 5X, which is meant to be the more reasonable, restrained option of the two. Let's see if it can make the same kind of impact on the market that its predecessors had.
Look and feel
The Nexus 5X looks pretty utilitarian. The most distinctive thing about it, when seen from the front, is the large loudspeaker grille below the screen which matches the earpiece grille on top. While the look is slightly reminiscent of Motorola's Moto X series phones, you don't get stereo sound - the earpiece is just that and nothing more. Interestingly, the notification LED is hidden in the lower grille. There's a slightly raised ridge running around the periphery that helps keep the screen from getting scratched when the phone is lying anywhere face down, but as expected it felt a little uncomfortable when we held the phone up to our ears.
The 5.2-inch screen nearly comes up to the sides of the Nexus 5X's body, but it's still a wide phone and not all that easy to hold in one hand for long durations. The power button is on the right edge, and it's high enough to fall right under a thumb or forefinger depending on which hand you're holding the phone in. The volume rocker is right below it.
There's a single Nano-SIM tray on the left, and there's no provision for a second SIM or a microSD card. We had a little trouble with the tray, which first wouldn't fit smoothly and then wouldn't come out. The 3.5mm socket is on the bottom, but far more interesting is the brand new USB Type-C port. It's finally time for the venerable Micro-USB Type-B port to start being phased out, and this is one of the many phones that will release this year with Type-C.
Nexus 5X buyers will have a little trouble with compatibility, as the simple joy of being able to use any charger anywhere is sacrificed. Note that the cable that comes with the phone has Type-C on both ends, so you'll need an adapter or a Type-A to Type-C cable to use other chargers and to transfer data to or from pretty much any current-day computer. Google currently lists these on its store website for Rs. 909.99 each, though they aren't available for purchase at the time of filing this review. Oh, and the phone still operates at USB 2.0 speed for data transfers - don't confuse the Type-C connector with the USB 3.1 standard.
The rear of the phone isn't removable and so the battery is sealed in. This phone has one of the busiest backs we've ever seen. There's a twin-LED flash and a small window for the autofocus laser next to the rather prominent camera mound; the Nexus Imprint fingerprint sensor; an enormous Nexus logo, an LG logo and some regulatory text. The plastic has a soft matte finish, but our white review unit picked up smudges very easily.
Overall, we weren't too thrilled with the Nexus 5X in terms of ergonomics. While many phones have gentle curves, this one has pronounced edges where the sides meet the back. The camera bump is a bit too prominent for our liking, and we unintentionally smeared the lens multiple times a day when trying to feel around for the fingerprint sensor, though that problem will likely go away as you get used to the phone.
The Nexus 5X is supposed to represent Google's vision of the ideal balance of power, style and cost, leaving all the indulgences to its premium cousin, the Nexus 6P. To that end, the phone has a Qualcomm Snaprdagon 808 processor with six cores running at 1.8GHz and integrated Adreno 418 graphics. There's 2GB of RAM which might seem low these days, but that's because it has become a gimmick to stuff 3GB or 4GB into even low-cost phones. You can choose between 16GB and 32GB of storage at the time of purchase, but it isn't expandable. You plug in a USB-OTG device (Type-C, of course) but Google is probably hoping you'll use its cloud services instead.
The screen measures 5.2 inches across - not comically oversized, but still big. The 1080x1920-pixel resolution gives us an effective density of 423ppi, and sure enough, everything looks crisp and clean. There's a 2700mAh battery, Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with GLONASS, NFC, and Category 6 LTE which will work on all bands needed by Indian carriers.
You get a 12.3-megapixel rear camera with a twin-LED flash and laser-assisted autofocus. The camera is identical to the one in the Nexus 6P, but this phone's processor will only allow 120fps slow-mo recording while the latter can do 240fps. The Nexus 5X's primary camera also supports 4K video recording at 30fps.
In what might be a disappointment to many, the Nexus 5X does not support wireless charging. Google has stated that the feature would have added to the phone's bulk and cost, though many long-time Nexus users hoping for an upgrade have expressed that they wouldn't have minded the tradeoff. Google says wireless charging shouldn't be missed because USB Type-C and its own Fast Charge feature are more convenient, which doesn't quite make sense: a reversible connector isn't better than no connector at all.
Speaking of which, the Type-C connector needs to be clicked firmly into place and also takes a little more effort to disengage than standard Micro-USB plugs do. The charger that ships with the phone is also unusually bulky and has a non-standard spec of 3A/5V. Interestingly, this is not Qualcomm's standard QuickCharge implementation.
One of the biggest appeals of Nexus devices is Google's pure Android experience, and on this device it's Android 6.0 Marshmallow right out of the box. Not very much is different on the surface compared to Lollipop, but dig deeper and you'll find there's a lot to like. You now scroll vertically through the app drawer and it's a single list, not broken into pages.
With Now on Tap, Google Now has gained more power, and you can bring up contextual results for anything you're doing on any screen just by long-pressing the Home button. You can also start searching from the home screen and you'll see matches from your apps, Chrome history, contacts, and media. Your four most frequently used apps are pinned to the top of the list. You can turn this off for privacy, but we would have liked a way to set our own favourites as a safe middle ground.
The phone is always listening for the "OK Google" voice command, and it worked well for us even in our noisy office. We're also happy that Google has finally sorted out its messy app permissions system, though few of the ones we tried on the Nexus 5X had been updated to take advantage of it.
The Nexus 5X has what Google calls Ambient Display, which is a way to see notifications on screen without using much power. The phone is supposed to detect when you lift it and turn the screen on in a monochrome mode. In practice, this didn't work well. It took a sharp jerk for the Ambient Display to kick in, and we found it easier just to reach for the power button instead.
Android 6.0 introduces native support for fingerprint authentication, which Google has leveraged for its Nexus Imprint feature. It's extremely simple to set up a fingerprint, and you can touch the sensor at any angle for your print to be recognised. You can of course unlock your Nexus 5X with a fingerprint, and you can authorise Google Play store purchases as well. Android Pay transactions can be authorised with a fingerprint and apps can also be locked if they're updated to support the feature. However, there are no additional tricks which some other Android OEMs have offered before, such as unlocking the phone directly into specific apps.
Marshmallow also claims to improve device battery life with a new Doze mode, which means your phone will detect when it isn't being used actively and will go into a lower power state, preventing apps from running background tasks and pulling updates. There are also a lot of little changes that just add polish to the experience and fix typical Android quirks. There's only a single Photos app now; the Gallery with all its duplicated functionality is gone. Google Settings also disappears from the app drawer, where it never should have been. You can double-press the power button at any time to jump into the camera app. Even the initial setup process is more streamlined.
However, there are also new quirks. You can't easily enable the battery percentage readout anymore, and if you do, it's too tiny to see without squinting. The notification LED is turned off by default for all practical purposes - you'll only know it's there if your battery is running critically low, unless you manually tweak its settings.
The camera app is improved over previous versions but is still very barebones compared to what some OEMs ship with their custom UIs. It isn't immediately clear how to switch between modes, but at least none of the major settings are hidden away. Anyone who wants to play with advanced composition tools or fun filters should search through the Play store for a third-party alternative.
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The Nexus 5X also did really well when it came to actually taking photos. Textures were richly detailed, with only very slight evidence of compression. We were able to take some stunning close-up shots in daylight. Colours were vibrant and exposure was usually spot on. Even at night, the camera managed to take great shots unless the subject was completely in shadows. Noise was only visible when reviewing photos at actual size, though focusing was somewhat less accurate. The front camera should be good enough for video chatting, though you'd always want to use the rear one for anything more than casual shots.
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The Nexus 5X was consistently pleasant to use. With this kind of hardware, it's impossible to feel any stutters or lag when moving around the operating system. Some might feel that 2GB of RAM is too little, now that 3GB is becoming more common even in the budget segment, but this really isn't going to affect real-world performance in any meaningful way. Our 32GB review unit reported 24.9GB as user-accessible, which means that the 16GB model will not have much room for installing large apps and games.
The screen was a pleasure to use in all conditions except the harshest direct sunlight. It can get really bright and really dim to suit all kinds of settings, which we really liked seeing. All our sample video files look good on the Nexus 5X. Sound from the front-firing speaker was also great with the phone lying on its back. Music, games and movie dialogs had depth and clarity, but there was slight distortion at maximum volume.
Benchmarks showed that the Snapdragon 808 processor is very capable. GFXBench ran at 38fps and 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme nearly maxed out with a score of 9,304. We also logged 41,909 in AnTuTu and 19,326 overall in Quadrant. The Nexus 5X clearly has more than enough muscle to drive games and heavy apps even on the 1080p screen, which was more than evident when playing Asphalt 8.
We didn't have much trouble with the phone heating. It did feel a bit warm after 20 minutes of gaming, but not so much that it was uncomfortable to use. We were able to hold on to LTE networks consistently, and voice calls also sounded great.
We were able to run our video loop battery test for exactly 9 hours, 30 minutes before the battery died on us, which is good but not spectacular. We never had to reach for the charger before late night when using this phone normally, including a lot of 4G data usage and casual gaming. Even so, we can't help feeling that a larger battery would have propelled this phone to another level.
All of Google's recent Nexus phones have been widely loved, and the new Nexus 5X is especially important to a lot of people who were disappointed that last year's model was not only much bigger but also much more expensive than the ones that had come before. Those looking to upgrade from a Nexus 4 or 5 should be quite happy with this new model.
By launching the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P together, Google has for the first time fragmented its vision of the ideal Android phone. The Nexus 5X is clearly meant to be the more economical of the two, and so those who want premium build quality and lots of storage will have to deal with a much bigger and more expensive phone.
The pure Android experience is intact, and with Marshmallow, it's more polished than ever before. Google has managed to fix one long-running Nexus complaint, which is poor camera quality, but on the other hand there's still no microSD support. You will also have to deal with being a USB Type-C early adopter - and too bad if you'd gotten used to wireless charging.
The Nexus 5X is a great phone, but priced at Rs. 31,900 for 16GB or Rs. 35,900 for 32GB, it might seem a bit too expensive. The reality of the Android market today is that a lot of very capable models with similar features and specifications cost much less. Even if you're comfortable at this price level there are other options, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 (Review | Pictures) which is a superb buy at its current price of Rs. 36,000 - and that's for a 32GB model with an all-metal body, QHD screen, and flagship-class camera.
Disclosure: Gadgets 360 is a retail partner for the LG Google Nexus 5X.