Living with Google Nexus 6

How Google’s biggest smartphone changed my perspective about phablets’ immense proportions.

It all started with the 4.7-inch HTC One X Android phone. I thought it was big enough for everything compared to the iPhone 4 I had previously. Then I upgraded to the 5-inch Galaxy S4 Google Edition. I missed the premium build quality and good battery life, so I settled for the HTC One M8 Google Edition.

Then my brother bought his first Galaxy Note phone. At 5.3 inches, this was the first phone that truly brought some of a tablet’s features to the table, most notably the stylus. As phones got bigger, I came to realize that owning a tablet was no longer a necessity. Well, at least taking photos with a phablet didn’t look as silly as using a 10-inch tablet. When Apple released the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, big phones were no longer as strange as science fiction itself. Credit goes to Samsung for taking such a bold move back in 2011.

When Google announced the Nexus 6, the world already knew that this was the phablet to compete with the iPhone 6 Plus. Unlike previous Nexus models, where affordability was key, this time it was no longer a humble flagship for developers to toy around with. Everything was high-end, from the internals to the externals. Now, ladies and gentlemen, Google was with a lot of O’s.

Big Motorola’s dimple for a big phone.

Disclaimer: I fought a hard battle with local retailers to get this phablet from the beginning, but availability is now wide open.

The hands-on experience isn’t something I need to write about again here, but let’s just say, for the sake of this post being complete, that this is a really BIG phone. No surprise given how big the screen is, at 5.96 inches with a Quad HD Amoled display. Unlike the Galaxy Note series and most Android phablets, such as the OneTouch Hero, there is no stylus to be found on the Nexus 6.

I have to admit it felt like an unfinished product at first. They must have rushed it into production to meet the deadline without thoroughly testing it. Again, it’s a Nexus, and as far as I know about Google, they don’t have anything called ‘stable’ production on the channel. But on the bright side, they have been pretty consistent with improvements over time, and after the 5.1 updates, this phone started to shine.

Moto G 2013, Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

Sometimes people ask me, “Is this a Google phone or a Motorola phone?” To keep it simple, it’s the Google Nexus 6 made by Motorola. Since Google is not a hardware company, they go around and ask an original equipment manufacturer partner to build one according to their own specifications. My guess is that since they don’t stress hardware design too much, that’s why the Nexus 6 looks like a larger version of the Moto X 2014. Or let’s just say, the Google Edition of the Moto X Pro, which is now sold exclusively in China.

Every Nexus model released by Google is meant to demonstrate the capabilities and features of the latest Android operating system, and with the Nexus 6, it’s Android 5.0 Lollipop. Truth be told, as much as I like Material Design and love every bit of it over the previous version, Android 5.0 still leaves a lot to be desired. There are no specific phablet features to improve handling like Reachability, which is really useful on the iPhone 6 Plus. But again, software updates will bring much-needed improvement from time to time.

Even without specific features to take advantage of having such a big screen, the Nexus 6 comes with dual front-facing speakers, which are awesome for media consumption. No more awkwardly amplifying the sound coming from the back or bottom of your phone using your hand. While HTC’s Boomsound is packed with big bass and fun factor, the Nexus 6 focuses on overall clarity. It’s good for watching documentaries, but you still need those Beats Pill for a party.

Gaming performance isn’t an issue here as I played several games like NFS Most Wanted without any stuttering, and it’s a lot better playing those games with this beast. Video playback is also great. This is definitely the device you would want, especially if you’re flying. I would prefer having the 3.5mm audio jack located at the bottom of the phone. But again, as standard Motorola design language, some users might prefer to keep it at the top instead.

When I say they threw everything into this phone, the camera module isn’t an exception. This is the first Nexus phone that takes really good photos, courtesy of the Sony Exmor IMX214 CMOS sensors with dual LED flash ring. The very same sensors can be found on the OnePlus One and Motorola’s own Moto X 2014, minus the optical image stabilization (OIS) that’s present inside the Nexus 6. I strongly believe that this should be standard, as it really helps to capture precious moments without having to hold your breath like a sniper. Especially when the Nexus 6 is capable of recording in Ultra High Definition 4K format.

Even with those great sensors, Google should put more effort into bringing out the best in them. While the Google Camera app is good enough for everyday point-and-shoot, it’s just too simple. Things like switching to the front camera shouldn’t take more than 2 taps, and switching from camera to video mode shouldn’t require the user to slide and choose. Image processing turned out okay in terms of quality, but it’s largely due to the 13MP sensors that preserve most of the details and colors. Zooming in will reveal how much improvement it really needs. It’s not that bad, but not as good as the Galaxy S4 I owned before.

Selfie addicts might not be happy with the 2MP front camera, but the 1.4µm sensor brings enough details for Instagram’s narcissism sessions. I like it better compared to the 5MP wide sensors found on the One M8. Megapixels aren’t everything.

As a standard for the phablet category, the Nexus 6 comes with an ample 3220mAh battery to power that big 5.96-inch screen and the powerful Snapdragon 805. In my daily usage with Google Now and Ambient Display turned off, I manage to get an average of 4 hours of on-screen time with all-day battery life. If I really need to stretch the last 5% or 15% of remaining battery, I can switch on Battery Saver mode at the expense of the usage experience.

Charging is not a painful process, as Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 comes in handy, especially when you need to juice up real quick. 15 minutes of charging promises up to six hours of operation, but still, that number might vary depending on usage. It took about 1.5 hours for me to fully charge this device from 5%, which is fast enough given the large-capacity battery built into the Nexus 6. I’m not interested in wireless charging due to slow charging, but it’s good to know that if I happen to find a spot, I can easily take advantage of it.

Personally, I wish Google could have settled down with a 1080p Full HD display to extend the valuable battery life. But again, there is no reason not to take advantage of the latest technology available to date.

In general, I think Google has done a tremendous job with Motorola in bringing the Nexus 6 to life. Maybe the drawback is the price, but you will get what you’ve paid for. I’m having a hard time deciding between keeping the M8 or the Nexus 6, but in the end:

Once you go phablet, you never look back - Vic Gundotra

So here I am, happy with my ridiculously big phone. I look forward to all the good things to come from Google as this is my last purchase for the year. If you’re looking for a phablet running on stock Android, then you will be as happy with the Nexus 6 as I am.

Posted April 9, 2015