Nov 30th, 2014 publishUpdated   Feb 23rd, 2015, 1:06 pm

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Since the release of the Nexus One in January 2010, Google has made the Nexus line of devices some of the most important devices across the entire Android community. Nexus devices represent Android as a whole and in theory pack everything that Google has to offer, acting as somewhat as a reference device for the Android ecosystem. With the launch of Android 5.0 Lollipop the device set to tackle the daunting task of showcasing Google’s ‘sweetest’ update to date is none other than the Motorola made Nexus 6.

When Google purchased Motorola Mobility for 12.5 billion dollars in 2011, many Android fans became elated as Motorola has often been seen as an industry leader when it comes to design, quality, and performance. The thought was that someday we’d see a Motorola made Nexus phone and we’d see a marriage of hardware and software to the tone of something that only Apple could accomplish. While Google has since sold Motorola to Lenovo, we’re still seeing that dream come true in the form of a Nexus.

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In the past, Nexus phones may have lacked or had a subpar feature, such as battery life or camera quality, and it was generally accepted due to the phones extremely wallet friendly pricing. That isn’t the case this time around. Google didn’t focus on aggressive pricing as they did with the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, but have accomplished something that’s possibly even more important to the average consumer, launching on every major carrier here in the United States. With top tier hardware and carrier support, Google’s strategy with the Nexus 6 differs from previous devices not only with quality, but with pricing and availability.

Before we get started, it’s worth mentioning that I was pretty critical of Motorola’s “Shamu” when rumors started to surface surrounding the Nexus 6. We were flooded with credible reports stating that Google and Motorola were working on a phablet, a term that just makes me shudder. I very publicly stated that a smartphone of this size would not be something on my wishlist, in fact, I stated it would be the first Nexus phone that I didn’t want at all. I’ve never owned a phone that sported the “phablet” (shudder) moniker as my daily driver until now.

How have my thoughts changed over the past 5 months, from rumor, to actually using the massive phone? Let’s get started with the Nexus 6 review below.

Nexus 6 Specifications

  • Price: $649 / $699 from Google Play Store
  • SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805
  • CPU: Quad-core 2.7GHz Krait 450
  • GPU: Adreno 420
  • Display: 1440 x 2560 5.96″, 493PPI
  • Memory: 3GB RAM
  • Storage: 32GB / 64GB (no microSD)
  • Cameras: 13MP rear with dual-LED flash / 2MP front
  • Battery: 3220mAh
  • Gorilla Glass 3
  • NFC
  • Qi Wireless Charging
  • Ports: MicroUSB, 3.5mm Audio
  • Dimensions: 159.3 x 83 x 10.1 mm
  • Weight: 184g

Hardware Design and Feel

The overall design of the Nexus 6 is somewhat different than what we’ve seen from previous Nexus phones and tablets over the past couple years, even including the new Nexus 9. The Nexus 6 doesn’t sport a flat back as other Nexus devices. In all honesty, it’s literally a blown up Moto X 2014, from the speaker grills, to the SIM tray, to the back, and to the metal edges that encompass the phone.

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There are some differences between these cousin devices though. Unlike the Moto X from this year, the Motorola dimple on the back of the Nexus 6 is more akin to the style of the original Moto X from last year. The power buttons have been slightly moved too from the smaller Moto X design, moving them down more towards the middle of the phone to accommodate the larger size.

The Nexus 6 is a very solid feeling smartphone that just feels great in the hand albeit it’s massive size. The curved backing of the Nexus 6 allows the phone to fit and feel very comfortable in the palm of your hand. That said, not all tasks can be completed one handed all of the time. I find myself attempting to use the Nexus 6 one-handed, which does work for many short termed tasks as I mentioned, but ultimately using the phone two-handed for longer interactions is the way to go as it’s much more comfortable.

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The phone does fit in my front pocket without any issue, though I do find myself having to adjust my tighter jeans a little bit before I sit down. It’s nothing that’s out of the ordinary as I’ve had to adjust for a large set of keys from time to time, so that I do no stab myself in the leg. It’s something you get used to and eventually it’s a task that becomes second nature. And sometimes, I’ll just take the phone out of my pocket before I sit down too.

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As someone that has never used a phone that’s even close to this size before, I will say that after a week I didn’t mind the large size anymore.

Display

The 5.96 inch display of the Nexus 6 is truly one of the better displays you’ll find around thanks to the AMOLED panel. The 1440 x 2560 resolution with 493 pixels per inch provides an incredible viewing experience and a great amount of detail. On some lesser dense displays I can see the pixels. On this display, I could not. The display on the Nexus 6 is very vibrant with color and provides excellent viewing angles.

Where the glass meets the side of the phone, the minimal bezels and sweeping design allow for easy side swiping navigation gestures as your fingers very naturally glide over the edges. While this does help, no matter how you look at it, the Nexus 6 is a huge phone and navigating the large display will not be for everyone.

WiFi, Bluetooth, Data, and Call Quality

Motorola is known far and wide throughout the Android world as providing some of the best radios in the business. The Nexus 6 backs up those claims with ease. I had great WiFi performance, connecting to my 802.11AC router at home with impeccable speeds. The Bluetooth 4.1 radio connected fine to my Bluetooth speakers, Google Glass, and Moto 360 without hiccups. I live in an area that has very poor cell reception, but the Nexus 6 performed well while on Straight Talk via AT&T’s network. At home my dBm ranged from about -100 to -119 (not the phones fault) and I had much better service around town with a dBm in the -90’s.

Call quality on the Nexus 6 is on par with the rest of the device’s hardware. Voice comes in loud and clear, without the need to strain your ear to hear the person on the other end of the call.

Speakers and Audio

Thankfully, the Nexus 6 sports two front facing speakers and not just two front facing speaker grills like the Moto X 2014. The Nexus 6 has not only great audio quality, but produces sound that is actually quite loud. In fact, I found myself turning the volume down a notch or two during frequent jam sessions with the Nexus 6 around the house.

I have a fairly long commute and often listen to Google Play Music while in the car. With every smartphone I’ve owned, I found myself subconsciously reaching for the volume button on my steering wheel to crank up volume. My car doesn’t haven’t Bluetooth support, so sadly this doesn’t do anything. With the Nexus 6, I found myself not yearning for louder music as often as I had with other smartphones. Simply put, I’m quite pleased with the speaker performance of the Nexus 6 which is a night and day different when being compared to the Nexus 5.

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Additionally, the speaker grills on the Nexus 6 aren’t flush with the display surface, jutting out ever so slightly. You’ll either love or hate this. Personally, I like this feature as the speakers ever so slightly lift the display off of the surface if you happen to place the phone face down, helping to prevent minor scratches.

Camera

Another pain point for Nexus users has often been the camera. There’s no easy way to say it: Nexus devices generally have subpar camera output, especially in low-light. However the Nexus 6, with it’s focus on hardware quality and design, performs just as well as the rest of the package in the camera department, and I’m quite impressed.

The rear camera on the Nexus 6 sports a 13 megapixel shooter with auto focus, optical image stabilization, and dual-LED “ring” flash, which is powered by the Sony IMX214 CMOS sensor.  The rear camera is able to capture 4K video at 30FPS.

The front facing camera on the Nexus 6 comes in the 2MP HD flavor and is able to capture video at 1080P.

My impressions of the Nexus 6 camera are quite positive as mentioned above, producing great photos in normal mode, eye popping vibrant photos in HDR, and performing quite well in low light scenarios. However, the occasional HDR overprocessing does exist and sometimes normal photos can seem a bit washed out. These very minor issues can most likely be tweaked with software. Overall, the quality and detail of the Nexus 6 camera is a major improvement over previous Nexus offerings.

Everyone has different expectations when choosing a mobile camera. Take a look for yourselves at the images above before you make a decision on the camera. You can also view all of my photos taken with the Nexus 6 here.

Battery Life

The final pain point of Nexus users or Android users as  whole surrounds battery life. The battery life portion of the review is always quite hard and highly subjective as each user has quite the different setup, including usage habits, applications installed, and even signal strength can play a major role in overall longevity.

The Nexus 6 is equipped with a 3220mAh battery, which depending on who you are, might seem a little small seeing as the battery has to push a QHD display and a beefy Snapdragon 805 processor. The battery optimizations done in Android 5.0 Lollipop gives the Nexus 6 respectable battery life, maybe even great battery life depending on your use cases.

As I sit here writing this review, my Nexus 6 is at 17%, has been off the charger for 24 hours, and has a little over 2 hours of screen on time. Based on my usage the past day, the battery meter is telling me that I have about 10 hours left until I’m fully drained.

Throughout the past week I’ve had similar experiences, able to gain 4+ hours of screen on time during 18-20 hours of use or 3 hours of screen on time with about 28-30 hours off the charger more than once. That’s not always the case though. On two occasions I had my battery die in about 14 hours, with only 3 hours of screen on time, however I do believe the severe lack of service was to blame for one of those days and the other was due to an odd Google Play Services bug which kept my phone awake for 3 hours straight.

Performance

And speaking of bugs, let’s talk a little bit about the performance of the Nexus 6. I’m not going to read a lot into benchmarks or numbers as I don’t feel they’re worth all that much in the grand scheme of things. I’m much more concerned with real world scenarios. Additionally, some benchmark applications aren’t updated to support the hardware properly or even the latest version of Android properly. For those that like big numbers though, here they are:

The Nexus 6 takes a very long time to start-up, I’m talking a little over a minute. I wouldn’t say this is that big of a deal, because most people don’t reboot their devices all that often. It’s just mildly annoying. That said, once your device is up and running the Nexus 6 is extremely fast and responsive.

Moving around the Google Now Launcher I see no jitteriness or lag moving from home screen to home screen or launching the application drawer and swiping through the pages. The animations on the Nexus 6 don’t hinder performance or slow down the devices hardware unlike other OEM devices. I don’t see any lag while launching the Overview (Recents) or when tapping the Home button.

Sometimes opening the camera can be a little slower than I would prefer, this seems to be a random occurrence though. No matter if the camera opened slow or fast, shooting a photo is always instant, unless doing HDR, which does take an extra second to begin processing, which then takes about 3 seconds itself. You can continue shooting more photos while they’re being processed in the the background.

Shooting video in 4K seems to work quite well, unless you’re moving around. As you move the phone around you’ll notice a slight hiccup from time to time, skipping a frame. This doesn’t always translate to what is recorded when you’re watching the video as you can see in the sample above. My guess is the display is having trouble keeping up with what’s being recorded. Once again this is most likely a software bug that can be fixed in the future.

When it comes to stability, the stock firmware on the Nexus 6 is very stable, with only minor hiccups. I’ve had the Google Camera app on the Nexus 6 crash on me a few times and I’m not quite entirely sure what caused the issue. I believe this happens when switching from HDR to normal and back and forth again over and over while also looking at photos as they’re queued up to be processed. I’ve also had Google Cloud Print crash on me a number of times and I’ve never even attempted to print anything from my Nexus 6. So there’s that. Everything else is very reliable and very fast though.

Android 5.0 Lollipop

The Nexus 6 is the very first phone to ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop and will act as a reference device for the entire ecosystem. I won’t go too far into all of the ins and outs of Lollipop nor will I touch on some of the more prominent features as these aspects of the platform have already been covered in Phandroid’s previous articles.

The Nexus 6 comes with encryption enabled out of the box and you won’t be able to turn it off unless you’re into tinkering with your Nexus. This is a new feature of Android 5.0 Lollipop and will be enabled on all future new devices. While this is a great step forward in terms of security and privacy, some will argue that encryption hinders the device’s performance. I haven’t tested this theory, but there’s plenty of supporting evidence out there.

Android 5.0 Lollipop also allows carriers to automatically install their bloatware applications if you activate your phone with their SIM card inserted at the time of activation. These applications are generally for account management and can easily be uninstalled to remove their blemish from your stock Android experience.

Lollipop also has a new feature where a device will verify the subscription status when a user attempts to use the built in WiFi Hotspot functionality. I’m using Straight Talk via AT&T’s network and my Nexus 6 wants me to visit AT&T’s website or call AT&T’s customer support while trying to enable the built-in WiFi Hotspot. Since I’m not an AT&T customer, that warning message that’s display is of little value to me. I do find it slightly annoying that I can no longer tether, which I only used in very rare situations, but it’s technically not supported on Straight Talk, so I’m okay with it.

One of the better features of the Nexus 6 and Lollipop surrounds notifications. Ambient Display on the Nexus 6 or Lollipop in general is Google’s take on what Moto X users have been accustomed to for a while. The screen will pulse in a low power state when the phone has active notifications ready to be seen. Whenever you touch the screen, the display lights up, ready for action. Additionally, when there are no notifications to be seen and you’d like to see the time, picking up the Nexus 6 and bringing it into the upright position displays the time. Then, just a simple upwards flick of your finger across the screen unlocks the phone and you’re ready to go.

There is no Tap to Wake functionality as seen on the Nexus 9, however with Ambient Display and the Nexus 6 waking upon picking up the device, I really see no need for it and did not yearn for that feature at all.

Again, the Nexus 6 is a massive phone. Normally devices in this category have some sort of functionality to help users deal with the extra screen real estate. Apple offers reachability and Samsung offers split screen or windowed mode. While not everyone uses those features on their respective devices, it would have been nice if Google would have implemented a feature or two into Lollipop to take advantage of the extra screen space.

Conclusion

Coming from the Moto X 2013, then the Moto X 2014, and disliking extremely large phones in general, I was quite apprehensive about Google’s Nexus 6. If I haven’t made myself clear, this is an insanely large phone that just will not work for everyone. However, given the chance to use it for over a week, I don’t mind it’s size and every other phone feels extremely tiny now. Even though the Nexus 6 is one of the larger flagship phones currently available, Motorola has done a fine job at maximizing the display, producing a device with minimal bezels, and more importantly, the Nexus 6 feels extremely solid and well put together in your hand.

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The only problem right now seems to be actually obtaining the Google’s “Unicorn” device. They’re still back ordered and many are still awaiting shipment details. And to top it all off, the Nexus 6 isn’t available on all carries at this time. Only Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile are selling the Nexus 6, besides the Google Play Store and Motorola’s online store.

At the beginning of my review I mentioned that the Nexus 6 is supported on all major carriers in the US, while that is technically true, it does come with a major asterisk. At the time of writing, you cannot purchase the Nexus 6 from Verizon nor can you activate a new SIM / account with the Nexus 6 in mind. You need to go through a few small hoops, such as buying a new SIM, activating the SIM in another Verizon device, then taking that activated SIM out of that phone, and finally popping it into the Nexus 6. If you’re already a Verizon customer with a nano-SIM all you need to do is transfer the SIM from your current device to the Nexus 6 and you’re all set. This really only causes issues for those looking to move to Big Red and will continue to do so until Verizon officially supports the device.

If the Verizon debacle doesn’t apply to you, I urge you to head into a store and check out the Nexus 6 before purchasing it. It’s a very large device that just won’t work for everyone. If you can handle all that Shamu has to offer, the Motorola built Nexus 6 is probably one of the top designed phones available on the market right now.

As for me, I was wrong. I won’t be going back to the Moto X after all. The Nexus 6 has superior battery life, a superior camera, and will receive the latest bug fixes and enhancements for Android 5.0 Lollipop before the Moto X. And after all, the Nexus 6 is Motorola made. It screams quality from every angle of the device, just as we’ve been hoping for years. We finally have our Motorola made Nexus and I couldn’t be happier.Nexus_6_Midnight_Blue_Cloud_White-2

Be sure to leave us a comment  below and let us know what you think of the latest Nexus phone and don’t forget to drop by our official Nexus 6 forums for additional tips, tricks, and information.