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The latest entry in the Nexus line of reference devices comes with a steep, $650 price tag. Along with its Apple-like pricing, the Nexus 6 sports outstanding specs, the latest version of Android and touchless controls – but does the ginormous phablet size and premium price warrant a purchase?

Comparisons

Compared to similar smartphones in the $650+ range, the Nexus 6 comes with advantages and disadvantages. The iPhone 6 Plus (our review) iPhone 6 Plus Review and Giveaway iPhone 6 Plus Review and Giveaway The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is Apple's latest and perhaps strangest addition to its range of tablets and smartphones. Read More  offers similar specs, but without touchless controls. In hardware performance, the 64-bit A8 series Apple-designed processor leads all rivals. In comparison, the $550 Motorola Moto X (2014) falls behind in all categories, although its cheaper price and pocket-friendly 5.2-inch form factor may justify its existence. Against Samsung’s Galaxy Note, the Nexus 6 falls short in battery life – and in many other domains – but comes out ahead in software features.

nexus 6 size comparison

 

Aesthetics and First Impressions

Unlike the Nexus 9 (our Nexus 9 review HTC Nexus 9 Tablet Review and Giveaway HTC Nexus 9 Tablet Review and Giveaway Read More ) no visible deformities or production flaws mar the Nexus 6. It comes in two colors: navy blue and white. It employs metal volume-rocker and power buttons, along a metal bezel, which doubles as an antenna for both Bluetooth and WiFi.

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The power button is designed with ridged potato chip-like texture, allowing users to differentiate between power and volume buttons, just by feel. Although I prefer the black ceramic buttons used on the Nexus 5 (our Nexus 5 review Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Approximately a year after Google released the Nexus 4, the company behind Android has come out with its successor -- the Nexus 5. Read More ), the Nexus 6 comes out ahead in overall design. It also uses a hard plastic shell that’s become standard among Motorola’s recent phones.

While the plastic shell feels nicer to the touch, the soft matte-plastic used in the Nexus 5 and 9 offer a better grip.

nexus 6 bezel

 

Hardware Specifications

  • Chipset: Snapdragon 805 with quad 2.7 GHz Krait 450 CPU cores and Adreno 420 GPU
  • RAM: 3 GB RAM
  • Storage: 32 or 64GB SanDisk eMMC module (spec unknown)
  • Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC
  • Data: All carriers, including LTE on bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 19, 20, 28 and 41
  • Display: 5.96″ AMOLED screen at 2560 x 1440 pixels; 493 PPI
  • Cameras: 13MP with OIS (optical image stabilization) rear-facing camera and 2MP front-facing camera
  • Dimensions: 159.3 x 83 x 10.1 mm
  • Weight: 184 grams
  • Additional features: Gorilla Glass 3 and water resistance
  • Battery: 3,220 mAh Li-Po with wireless Qi charging and Turbo Charge technology

Component Review

By all accounts, including iFixit’s glorious teardown, the parts within the Nexus 6 range from good to great– but it’s by no means the fastest Android device on the market and it fails to offer the best per-dollar value.

The Snapdragon 805 chipset – while not on the razor edge of development – offers solid performance. The AMOLED screen (what’s an AMOLED screen? Common Mobile Display Technologies You Should Know Common Mobile Display Technologies You Should Know When you're comparing different mobile devices, whether they're phones, tablets, e-readers, or laptops, one of the differentiating features can be the display technology. But do you know the differences? Read More ) compares with the best on the market, although falls behind that of the Samsung. Its single sore-point: The 32GB (or 64GB) SanDisk eMMC module I believe uses last year’s eMMC 4.5 standard, rather than the cutting edge iNAND currently in production from SanDisk. This is unfortunate, as the 805 chipset supports the latest standard in eMMC.

nexus 6 screen

 

Making Use of the Nexus 6

I used the Nexus 6 daily for over a week with a Karma wireless hotspot (our Karma review Karma Mobile Hotspot Review and Giveaway Karma Mobile Hotspot Review and Giveaway With its lack of expiration dates, bonus data scheme and low data costs, Karma possesses the potential to change the mobile hotspot landscape. Read More ). Unlike the Nexus 5, the Nexus 6 includes touchless controls, most of which fall into a veritable maze of complex legal agreements from Qualcomm and Motorola’s patent portfolios. This complexity likely led to the removal of tap-to-wake.

When it comes down to details, the Nexus 6 only adds a larger, more impressive screen than what’s available on the Moto X 2014 edition. While the size makes the Motorola a tight fit in skinny jeans, its handling properties don’t damage its utilitarian value. Making calls won’t require any extra effort. The phone doesn’t weigh much more than a smaller sized mobile.

I have average sized hands – and a nearly six-inch phablet (a portmanteau for phone-tablet) fits comfortably between my fingers. The outer shell feels slick and it screams out for a case – otherwise, it’s a great smartphone without any serious shortcomings. For mobile browsing, gaming and email, it feels extremely snappy.

Unfortunately, Android 5.0 broke Miracast wireless display compatibility with my Netgear PTV3000 wireless display adapter.

Touchless Controls

Of the Nexus 6’s most distinguishing features, touchless controls stand out. Two primary forms of touchless control allow for a more ergonomic, fluid interface with the Android operating system: Ambient Display and screen-off Google Now.

Ambient Display (which is equivalent to the Moto X’s Active display) allows users to switch their screen on, just by nudging the phone. Like in the Moto X series, the phone’s accelerometers stay active when idle. When the phone’s sensors perceive abrupt movement – such as when the device is removed from a pocket – the screen turns on. It’s a similar gimmick to Android Wear – screen activation through particular kinds of movement – and it’s amazing. On the downside, Ambient Display’s implementation on the Nexus 6 is inferior to the Moto X’s version. It’s unreliable and triggers frequently, with very little contact.

The other feature – screen-off Google Now – hits that sweet spot between fluid productivity and technology simplification. As the name suggests, users can access Google Now, even when the phone is turned off. I find this feature highly useful for both productivity and convenience. It also helps being able to navigate and send text messages while driving. The voice detection trounces the Nexus 9, although it still falls short compared to the Moto X.

The overwhelming utility of touchless controls is efficiency: repetitive actions – such as hitting a power button – waste time. Over the lifespan of the phone, button presses add up. Touchless controls eliminate wasted time spent flipping through menus or fumbling with buttons. No other competing phone possesses anything like the features available in Motorola’s flagship devices. However, the implementation of touchless controls on the Moto X series feels snappier and more reliable than on the Nexus 6. The Moto X series employs more sensors and microphones, making it far better suited as a touchless platform.

nexus 6 screen

Screen Quality

The second outstanding feature of the Nexus 6: Its enormous pixel-per-inch (PPI) resolution on an AMOLED screen. In theory high PPI screens look great. In reality, enormous pixel densities provide a marginal upgrade over 1080p screens and come with major trade-offs. The greater a phone’s PPI, the more power it sucks up while active. Also, screen burn-in has been more frequently reported on some of the higher PPI AMOLED screens, such as the 2014 Moto X. In my experience, 1080p represents the sweet-spot between battery life and image quality.

nexus 6 close up of screen

Unfortunately, reports emerged that the screen used in both the Moto X, 2014, and the Nexus 6 suffer from burn-in. Burn-in is when an AMOLED screen retains a frequently displayed image — in the case of Android, the buttons at the bottom of the screen. Erica Griffin, of XDA-Developers, posted a video showing the defect on a Nexus 6 (on a device only a few days old):

Wireless

Along with Bluetooth 4.1 and 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac wireless, the Nexus 6 also handles all the major wireless bands – that means it works with T-Mobile, US Cellular, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. It’s the first all-carrier Nexus model with LTE support. Technically both the Nexus 4 and 5 could jump networks, but experienced difficulties on CDMA networks. The Nexus 4 offered LTE, but it required root access (how to enable LTE on the Nexus 4 How To Enable LTE on The Nexus 4 (It Can Be Done) How To Enable LTE on The Nexus 4 (It Can Be Done) Did you know that the Nexus 4 actually has LTE functionality? The absolute truth is that yes, it does in fact have LTE, no matter what Google or anyone else may try to tell you.... Read More ).

Unlike the iPhone, which many carriers used duplicitous means to lock into their networks, the Nexus 6 does permit users to hop across carriers. But telecoms never give up: once onto another network, the carriers then force bloatware onto the Nexus. You can uninstall many of these apps, fortunately.

antenna

The most modern component in the Nexus 6 is its Broadcom BCM4356 wireless-AC (and Bluetooth 4.1) module, unique to the Nexus 6. The chip purportedly improves energy efficiency and performance degradation from background wireless transmissions. I tested the module by attaching three simultaneous Bluetooth device (a keyboard, mouse and smartwatch) and noticed no performance loss.

Cameras

The Nexus 6 front-facing camera won’t impress anyone. Motorola went with an optically stabilized 13MP Sony IMX214 camera module – the same used in the One Plus One. Motorola surrounds the camera lens with a dual-LED ring-flash, also used on the Moto X. The Snapdragon 805 claims to provide better image processing than competitors. In reality, all modern smartphone cameras perform about the same: great in broad daylight, and awful in low-light conditions.

camera close-up

For those who want the minutiae: the Nexus 6 beats the Nexus 5’s camera in low-light conditions – and it can shoot in RAW format (or DNG), meaning users can apply superior post-processing effects. But if you demand image quality from a smartphone camera, take a harder look at the iPhone 6, which (for the same price) offers marginally better mobile photography in low-light conditions. I should note that Lollipop’s camera can shoot better low-light photos than the KitKat camera. This is due to software and not hardware.

The worst feature is the 2MP front-facing camera: a firmware bug seems to render the front-facing camera completely unusable at times. In a room with low-light, the camera records almost complete darkness.

front facing camera nexus 6

Battery Life

With “always listening” enabled, the Nexus 6 battery life comes out as average among high-end smartphones. While its idle-state battery performance ranks among the best I’ve seen, its screen-on time (the raison d’être of battery life metrics) fails to beat the competition in the high-end market. this is partially due to the high-density AMOLED screen’s propensity to consume larger amount of power than lower resolution screens.

GSMArena.com ranks the Nexus 6 as offering midrange battery performance in web browsing, video playback and talk time. PhoneArena.com also ranks the Nexus 6 as falling right in the middle. Most flagship phones with AMOLED screens scored in a similar fashion. In truth, the battery life of the Nexus 6 is average for a flagship phone, despite its large battery. Carat reports the Nexus 6’s battery life as 62 – a score placing it right in the middle of the pack.

Battery Mode, introduced in Lollipop (what’s Lollipop? Android 5.0 Lollipop: What It Is And When You'll Get It Android 5.0 Lollipop: What It Is And When You'll Get It Android 5.0 Lollipop is here, but only on Nexus devices. What exactly is new about this operating system, and when can you expect it to arrive on your device? Read More ) can extend battery life at the expense of performance. Unlike the Nexus 9, the Nexus 6 takes a big performance hit when battery mode is enabled. The Motorola uses a steep CPU underclock, from 2.7 GHz to 1.5GHz, crushing gaming framerate.

screen grab of nexus 6 cpu

I should note that the idle battery performance of the 805 chipset is excellent. In general, its reception in usually low-reception regions compares favorably with Samsung’s Exynos chipsets. This contributes to longer battery life as the phone needs to spend less time scanning for a signal. Additionally, the 805 chipset uses a fifth core, which deploys only when the phone idles. The fifth core operates at a lower frequency and handles background tasks, such as voice recognition.

When the Nexus does require charging, it can use a feature known as Turbo Charge which restores roughly 8 hours of battery life in 15 minutes.  I tested the turbo charge feature: At 7:13 PM I began charging with 15% battery remaining. 15 minutes later I had around 35% battery life. That’s about 20% every 15 minutes. Keep in mind that charge speed always slows down as a battery reaches its maximum capacity. Actually charging from near-zero to full took just short of two hours.

turbo charger

Performance

The performance-on-paper of the Snapdragon 805 is good, but not the best in the 800 series. It employs four Qualcomm Krait 450 CPU cores, an evolution on an older but still high-performing architecture. Several phones by Samsung already made the leap to newer architectures (such as the Cortex A57 on one variant of the Galaxy Note 4).

The gaming performance is good. The Snapdragon 805 includes the cutting-edge Adreno 420 GPU, which ranks among the better GPUs with 4K resolutions. You will notice little or no stutter while playing the most modern mobile games. However, compared to the HTC Nexus 9 tablet, apps launch more slowly, perhaps owing to the botched roll-out of disk encryption (see subsection “Encryption” for details).

gaming performance nexus 6

AnTuTu rates the Nexus 6 as scoring among the highest of today’s phones (keep in mind that AnTuTu scores are merely ball-park measurements):

performance nexus 6 antutu

Encryption

The Nexus 6 comes with out-the-box encryption (and it probably shouldn’t have). This proved a poor decision on Google’s part, as full-disk encryption requires that all data, before being written to disk, be encrypted. This hits disk performance like a sledgehammer. Unlike the latest Apple devices, the Nexus 6 lacks effective hardware accelerated encryption. I should note that Qualcomm does include cryptographic support in its hardware, but either Motorola omitted this feature or it’s simply ineffective.

Without hardware acceleration, the encryption overhead offloads onto the CPU, rather than through a custom, on-chip solution. As it stands, the Nexus 6’s disk speeds experience significant performance loss. According to Anandtech, the disk-write speeds fall short of the Nexus 5.

It is possible that Google may update the Nexus 6 to improve its disk performance, but the probability remains low. In the long-run, users will notice slower performance for many disk-intensive activities, compared to the Nexus 5.

Hackability

Like all Nexus devices, the 6 carries with it ultimate hackability. Despite Motorola’s (likely a legal reason) decision to remove tap-to-wake, rooted Nexus 6’s can receive a mod which re-enables and improves the feature – you can even set it so that a single tap wakes the phone.

Already the Nexus 6 has been unlocked and rooted. The mod community has created several custom ROMs., but keep in mind that unlocking the bootloader will disable future firmware updates from Google.

Conclusion

Previous iterations of the Nexus series introduced bleeding-edge features and/or low price-tags. The reduced barrier to entry combined with novel hardware allowed developers an efficient development platform. The sixth iteration of the Nexus program performs no such feat. It instead packages some of the best features of the Android ecosystem into a single device. With the Nexus 6, we get touchless controls, a high PPI AMOLED screen, wireless Qi charging, Turbo Charging and a great deal more. But the trade-off is pricing.

The $650 price-tag kills the Nexus 6 for budget-oriented consumers. Its premium price targets those would otherwise purchase a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (and don’t mind its TouchWiz skin) or an iPhone 6 Plus. Its primary advantage over the competition is a wider range of hardware features and touchless controls, but sadly its overall performance falls short of the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy Note 4 due to a shoddy implementation of full disk encryption.

For most consumers, the LG Nexus 5 or even the One Plus One offer better overall value over the Motorola Nexus 6. For those desperate to have touchless controls, the original Moto X sells for around $300 and I just got a 2nd edition Moto X for $360.

MakeUseOf Recommends: Don’t buy it. The Nexus 6 is a remarkably good smartphone, but the alternatives provide similar features. While it stands tall among the best phones in today’s market, the Nexus 6 doesn’t differentiate itself enough from the Moto X to warrant its fantastic price-tag. The screen-burn in issue is just awful. Developers, however, should consider the Nexus 6 as it can simulate the screen sizes of most phones, phablets and even some tablets.

How Do I Win The Nexus 6?

Nexus 6 Giveaway

The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.

Send your products to be reviewed. Contact James Bruce for further details.

  1. Sergey
    January 2, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Beautiful machine. It is necessary to replace my old Note1.

  2. Dima
    December 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    The Nexus 6 Phablet is super sexy, and pure google phablet.

  3. Martynas Gelumbauskas
    December 27, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Please i really want this :)

  4. Pamela Davis
    December 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    So much offered in such a beautiful compact instrument!

  5. eli
    December 24, 2014 at 10:30 am

    its mine ,im sure. :)
    its GreaT...!

  6. Tamara Lawson
    December 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    I like your site

  7. Pietro Scalzulllo
    December 21, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Motorola has always been synonymous with high technology

  8. neilmarlo tapia
    December 20, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    hope i win iwant to change my phone nokia 3315 with scatch tape T_T...

  9. paquin
    December 18, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    I love the bigger tablet type size phones - perhaps because I am older, but they
    are more comfortable for me to use.

  10. paquin
    December 18, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    I love the bigger tablet type size phones...perhaps because I am older, but
    they are more comfortable for me to use.

  11. ivanlai
    December 18, 2014 at 5:35 am

    thanks make useof, great giveaway for nexus6. top perfomance smartphone, good luck to my self and everyone too :)

  12. Mani
    December 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I dunno. Seems too big to use. Not a big fan of tablet sized phones.

  13. Richard Yang
    December 17, 2014 at 4:48 am

    Hope i win

  14. Alfred Chan
    December 16, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    A good upgrade for my current phone. :)

  15. Krishna v
    December 16, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Nice phone! Looks almost like HTC one, but has a more curved back, I hope that will make it comfy to hold.

  16. Manolis Saviolakis
    December 16, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Nexus 6.The Best.I want it.Maybe i ll win

  17. Kiera
    December 15, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Do i have to login only by one of either email or facebook or twitter ?
    Or Do I have to login by all three of them ?
    Can anyone please answer this query of mine ?

    • Julio
      December 15, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      You log with one, they give you three option to choose :D

  18. Joel Ennis
    December 15, 2014 at 4:15 am

    That is one nice phone. But yeah, I would be concerned about screen burn too. That's something I haven't had to worry about in a few years lol...

    • Kannon Y
      December 17, 2014 at 5:58 am

      The screen burn in is happening within a couple days on medium brightness settings, with light use. At least, that's what Erica Griffin reported (and there's a video of it in the article).

  19. Charlotte Anderson
    December 15, 2014 at 12:48 am

    OH HOW I WANNA WIN. IT WOULD BE MY FIRST CELL PHONE AND I DON'T KNOW HOW I HAVE SURVIVED THIS LONG WITHOUT ONE.

  20. Ashraf Mohammed
    December 14, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    hope i win thank a lot .

  21. Angelica Nightingale
    December 14, 2014 at 11:15 am

    This would be so much fun

  22. Maricel
    December 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I would like to win this amazing phone. G+ and watch a video on you tube is not working please fix this there is no button.

    • Kannon Y
      December 17, 2014 at 5:57 am

      Are you using Adblock? Or NoScript? Those are known to cause problems with videos.

  23. pceasies
    December 13, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I'm still rocking the Nexus 4. The 6 would be a nice upgrade

  24. Madhav Phophaliya
    December 13, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Hope to finally get my reward from the best tech site @makeuseof.com for being their best subscriber

  25. Lance
    December 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Cool phone, I want it! :)

  26. David Wallech
    December 13, 2014 at 9:50 am

    This would be such a wonderful gift as we do not have a Christmas gift this year. We usually get something for our home but our love is what we are giving as we have the past 20 years. I have just been to the doctor and EKG showed heart problems. I would love to have this phone to reach out to family as I am to take it easy and be in my recliner. This would be ideal to relax and hear from family and reduce stress as cannot go and visit them but could reach out and we could talk on this and it would make my Christmas for myself and my wife. We are on Medicare and money is spent on medicine and doctor bills so no money left for a phone.

  27. David Wallech
    December 13, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Never had a cell phone and am looking to have one but financially on Medicare does not allow this as medicine so expensive and to buy food and pay mortgage does not leave money left for this so would love to win this so we can reach out to our children and grandchildren!!

  28. Howard Steeley
    December 13, 2014 at 3:00 am

    Great gift

  29. D.Johnson
    December 12, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Would love to win this.

  30. J Kirst
    December 12, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Would make a great Christmas present!

  31. Anonymous
    December 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    great gift ! :D

  32. Maarten De Winter
    December 12, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Indeed nice Giveaways at MUO! Great job guys!

  33. rabhi
    December 12, 2014 at 11:22 am

    cool nice one

  34. rabhi
    December 12, 2014 at 11:22 am

    cool

  35. SHASHI SHARMA
    December 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

    AMAZING...............................

  36. Daniel Eluvathingal
    December 12, 2014 at 1:32 am

    I wish this was my perfect christmas Gift.

  37. Darren Charles
    December 11, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Great phone
    Merry xmas everyone!!!!

  38. m cook
    December 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    w00t! great giveaway guys, merry christmas and happy new years to evry1 !!

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