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Nexus 6 Review: A Sweet Treat for Those Who Crave Big Phones

Is bigger better?

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Every year, Google releases a family of devices meant to showcase the best of Android and lead the way in innovation for the rest of its hardware partners. They’re sold under the Nexus brand, and they often coincide with the launch of a new version of the Android operating system.

This year, Google added three new members to the family: The Nexus 9 tablet, the Nexus Player set-top box and the Nexus 6 smartphone. I’ve been testing the latter for the past week and a half, and found it to be a powerful device deserving of its flagship status.

Made in collaboration with Motorola and available this week, the Nexus 6 is the first handset to ship with the latest Android 5.0 software (a.k.a. Lollipop) — a beautiful and smart update to the platform. It also improves on its predecessor, the Nexus 5, with a faster processor and better camera. And it features a massive 5.96-inch touchscreen.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

But in a departure from previous models, the Nexus 6 carries a heftier price tag. The Nexus 5, for example, started at $350 without a contract. The Nexus 6 is going for $650 unsubsidized for the 32 gigabyte model, and $700 for the 64GB model.

Google says this is because the phone includes more high-end features — something its customers were asking for — and if you were to compare the Nexus 6 to the unlocked price of the iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note 4, it’s still cheaper.

Also for the first time, Google is offering the Nexus 6 from all major U.S. carriers, either with a two-year contract or through device financing. This is all in the hope of reaching more consumers. But I don’t think the Nexus 6 is going to be the one that does it.

As powerful and full-featured as the phone is, the Nexus 6’s large size limits its appeal.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Bonnie, get over it. ‘Phablets’ are here to stay, and some people like big phones.” And I completely get that. In fact, the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 are in my rotation of phones, and I’ve gotten used to their size. But not so with the Nexus 6.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

At 6.27 inches tall by 3.27 inches wide by 0.39 inches thick, the Nexus 6 is taller, wider and thicker than either of those phones. In some cases, we’re only talking about 0.05-inch of a difference, but it does have an impact. It was difficult to wrap my hand around the phone. Also unlike the Apple and Samsung devices, the Nexus 6 doesn’t offer any features that make one-handed operation easier. Nor does it have multi-window view or a stylus, if you’re into that kind of thing.

That isn’t to say the design is all bad. The curved back is nice when resting the phone in the palm of your hand. The aluminum construction also gives the Nexus 6 a much more premium feel than previous models.

Of course, the reason for the large size is the 5.96-inch touchscreen. The iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, by comparison, have a 5.5-inch and 5.7-inch display, respectively. The screen resolution of the Nexus 6 is 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, which puts it on par with the Galaxy Note 4, and betters the iPhone 6 Plus, which has 1,920 by 1,080 pixels.

The Nexus 6’s display was bright and sharp, showing lots of details, especially compared to the iPhone 6 Plus. It was great for reading text, watching videos and playing games. This is also the first Nexus model to feature front-facing stereo speakers, and I found that they produce impressive sound.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

On back, there’s an upgraded 13-megapixel camera. With more advanced features like optical image stabilization and an LED flash ring, photo quality was better than the Nexus 5. Images were sharper, and colors were more vibrant. Shots taken in indoor environments still looked a bit dim, but better than some other camera phones I’ve tested. One downside is that there is no microSD card slot for extra storage.

One of the biggest highlights of the Nexus 6 is the new Android 5.0 Lollipop software. Lollipop brings a new design aesthetic called Material to the OS. It’s cleaner, flatter and more user-friendly. Lollipop also promises to provide a more consistent user experience across all Android devices — phones, tablets, TVs, smartphones and more — though I didn’t get a chance to test that in person. Like other Nexus models, the Nexus 6 is a pure Android phone, meaning there isn’t any customization from carriers or device makers.

Lollipop is a pretty major update, and there are a lot of new features. But I wanted to highlight a couple of my favorites. The first is notifications.

While you can still swipe down from the top of the screen to view all your notifications, they also now appear on your lock screen, where you can take immediate action. You can swipe down on a card to see more information, double-tap a notification to open the corresponding app, or swipe to the right to dismiss it

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

While Android is in some ways playing catch up to iOS in this department, it’s still a welcome addition, and I like that there’s an option to filter notifications by priority.

Another area that’s improved thanks to Lollipop is multitasking. Previously, if you wanted to switch between open apps, you would have to scroll through a vertical list of all your recent apps. Now, they’re in a 3-D carousel that shows more at a glance and allows for easier scrolling.

With a Qualcomm quad-core processor, the new software ran fine on the Nexus 6, and performance overall was smooth and snappy. But I’ll be curious to see how the new OS runs on an older device.

Voice calls made on the Nexus 6 over Verizon’s network in San Francisco sounded clear. While I didn’t run a formal battery test, the Nexus 6 lasted about a day and a half with moderate use. Lollipop adds a new battery-saving mode that turns off most background data and reduces performance to help conserve remaining power. Like the Galaxy Note 4, if you use the included Turbo Charger to power your device, you can boost your battery life in a fraction of the time it takes with a regular charger.

The Nexus 6 is one of the best Android smartphones on the market, but I can’t help but think, “If only it were just a tad smaller.” Still, if you love big smartphones, the Nexus 6 should be at the top of your list.

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