Bill Bennett


Nexus 6P: Huawei and Google show Android potential

Google uses its Nexus brand to show the world how good Android phones can be. The Nexus 6P is Google’s flagship phone. For now it is the best Android phone you can buy.

Like many top phones the Nexus 6P is a 5.7-inch metal-glass slab. There’s nothing plastic about it.

The dimensions make it a big phone, but it doesn’t feel big in the hand. Perhaps it’s thinness helps, the Nexus 6P is just over 7mm thick. It’s also lighter than other big phones at around 180g.

Inside is a Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor, a 12.3-megapixel main camera and an Oled display. It’s QHD which means 2560 by 1440 pixels.

Phone specifications are meaningless to most people when written that way. Let’s cut to the chase. It looks goods and feels like a premium phone. More to the point it looks and feels better than the Samsung Galaxy S6.

Main specs

The Snapdragon 810 processor is fast. So fast you never think about processor speed. Everything happens smoothly without lag. Geeks might find apps to push the processor beyond its limit, the rest of us won’t. Having 3GB of Ram helps this performance.

Storage starts at 32GB. You can buy 64GB or 128GB models, there’s no expansion option. This has always been how Apple sells phones. Samsung now does the same. It seems nothing quite says premium phone as much as the lack of a memory slot.

Huawei’s 12.3-megapixel camera is OK for casual pictures. It’s not outstanding. If photography is your thing, go and find a different phone.

The QHD Oled display is stunning, but then so is every other top-end phone display these days. We’ve reached the point where phone makers have nowhere else to go with displays.

Huawei’s display shows 551 pixels per inch, that’s more than Apple’s iPhone Retina screens, but I can’t tell the differences. It seems screens can’t get better in any way that a human eye would notice.

A USB-C port supports fast charging, something I’ve not seen on any phone to date. There is a fingerprint reader on the back which works as well as Apple’s Touch ID.

Beyond specs

The specs are important, but something else matters more. Nexus 6P showcases the latest Android version: Marshmallow. You get raw Marshmallow. There are no overlays, crapware or bloatware.

While the Nexus shows off Android, it also shows what Huawei is capable of. The result is a premium smartphone that does more than equal Samsung’s best.

Google’s decision to use Huawei to build its flagship speaks volumes about the phone maker’s status.

Huawei is already China’s top selling phone brand. By most measures it is the worldwide phone maker behind Samsung and Apple.

We’ve already seen a first-rate Huawei phone in New Zealand: the P8. The Nexus 6P marks Huawei’s arrival in the phone premier league.

Premium Android, premium price

It also Huawei’s first significant premium price phone. In New Zealand the 32GB Nexus 6P sells for NZ$1100. NZ$1200 buys a 64GB version. That’s the same price as the 32GB Samsung Galaxy S6, the 16GB iPhone 6S model and Sony’s Xperia Z5 with 32GB.

You can pay more for a phone. The gimmicky Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is NZ$200 more. A fully laden iPhone 6S Plus is NZ$1800.

Those phones are not directly comparable. Few buyers would weigh up the Nexus 6P against a 128GB iPhone 6S Plus. On the other hand, many considering a Galaxy S6 or Sony Xperia Z5 should consider the Nexus 6P.

Nexus 6P – Android at its best

There’s a contradiction here. The thing that draws me, maybe you too, to the Nexus 6P is the lack of so-called added-value features. Google has packed all the best things in the Android world into a single device, then made it even better by knowing when to stop.

We don’t often see Android at its best because phone makers wrap Google’s operating system in their own software. They also load phones with pointless bloatware.

Marshmallow doesn’t feel like a big departure from earlier Android versions. It does some things smarter. Most users might never notice. A lot of the improvements are in the background.

Marshmallow sips battery life

The software sucks less life out of batteries when you aren’t using the phone, so you get a little more battery life. You get more security when downloading apps or click links.

One reason geeks love Android is they can tinker away for hours fine-tuning everything to their satisfaction. Much of this pointy-headed stuff is impenetrable to everyday users. Worse, fixing wrong fine-tuning choices is an ordeal for most people. Marshmallow does much to hide Android’s complexity for those who don’t want it while keeping it accessible for those who do.

Huawei’s powerful hardware combined with an Android version not sullied by an awful overlay like Samsung’s TouchWiz means everything flies. I never saw a moment’s lag anywhere on the Nexus 6P, this wouldn’t be true on a Samsung. For my money TouchWiz subtracts value.

Now on Tap

The big noticable change in Marshmallow is called Now on Tap. Hold down the home button and the software will look for extra information about whatever is now on display. In theory it will, say, find a phone number to call or an email address if you use it while looking at a company website.

In practice, Now on Tap results are random and sporadic. There’s a reason for that.

Android is, at heart, a data collection point. The more data your phone has the better the results you’ll get from Google services like Now on Tap. Results improve over time as Google collects more data. The downside is you give away your privacy to get there. Many users are comfortable with this. I’m not, but that’s another story.

Is this phone for you?

If you’re looking for a new Android phone this is the one to get. You won’t get a better Android experience. The phone is great for work and productivity apps.

The only worthy rival I’ve seen in recent months is the Sony Xperia Z5. If photography is important choose the Xperia Z5, its camera beats the Nexus 6P by a country mile. You can also get far better sound if you buy the add-on noise cancelling earphones.