Review: Google Nexus 6

16 pictures

Gizmag reviews the big, beautiful, Lollipop-running Nexus 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Gizmag reviews the big, beautiful, Lollipop-running Nexus 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com). View gallery (16 images)

At what point does a phone get so big that it becomes a tablet? Whether you call it a huge phone, small tablet or just a "phablet," Google's Nexus 6 is a beast. Read on, as Gizmag reviews one of the best ... mobile devices of the year.

The Nexus 6 has an enormous screen – even by 2014 standards. The latest Galaxy Note, a brand once synonymous with jumbo-sized phones, has a 10 percent smaller display. Measured diagonally, the Nexus' display is the same size as a Kindle e-reader screen (below). And it's almost as big as three iPhone 4s displays combined.

Fortunately, though, this isn't some gimmicky phone that exists just to push size boundaries. Its razor-sharp and color-rich Quad HD AMOLED display is the perfect showcase for the new Android 5.0 Lollipop, with its Material Design makeover. This is an ideal marriage of hardware and software: Lollipop's flat design and lively animations coupled with that big and beautiful display.

The biggest advantage of buying any phablet is that they're not so much phones as they are tiny tablets that you always have in your pocket. They can potentially void any need you had for a mini-tablet. The Nexus 6's bigger screen takes that same strength and pushes it a little farther than rivals like the Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus do. They all have big screens, but the closer they get to tablet size, the less you need something like an iPad mini or Kindle Fire.

Build quality is good, even if it isn't one of the Nexus 6's highlights. There's a metallic band running around its edge that helps to give the phone a higher-end feel, while its backside is made of a smooth, almost metallic-feeling plastic that reminds us of the LG G3. We'd recommend using a case with the Nexus 6: this is a huge phone with a slightly-slippery finish. If you aren't careful, it could end up on the losing end of a showdown with the nearest ceramic floor.

The phone itself is also huge, but, considering how unusually large its screen is, not as big and heavy as you might expect. It has a 19 percent bigger screen than the iPhone 6 Plus, but is only 7 percent heavier. Its front face uses its space economically: it's almost all screen, with narrow bezels above and below.

On paper, the Nexus 6 looks like a thick device, but its 10.1 mm (0.4-in) depth is a little deceiving, as that only counts the thickest point of its rounded back. Its edges are much thinner than that, and the sloped back feels comfortable in hand.

The Nexus 6's 13 MP camera isn't breaking any new ground, but it also doesn't give you anything to worry about. Compared to other high-end 2014 flagships, it falls smack dab in the middle of the pack. Image quality is great outdoors and respectable in low-lit conditions. It has a dual-LED flash to make flash shots look more even and colorful, Optical Image Stabilization to cut down on the effects of shaky hands, and shooting/focusing speed that could be faster (the iPhone 6 and LG G3 are much better in this respect). In a phone full of positives, camera quality is ... positive enough.

Battery life is good. In our stress test, where we stream video with brightness set at 75 percent, it only dropped 12 percent per hour. On average, that has it streaming video for around 8.3 hours before conking out. With more typical use, this is an all-day device with room to spare.

The Nexus 6 also uses Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 technology to quickly get its battery back to a respectable state. If the Nexus 6 is running low on juice, 15 minutes on its included charger is all it takes to add an extra (roughly) 6 hours of battery life.

The Nexus 6 has front-facing stereo speakers, and, though they sound better than most phones' speakers, we wouldn't recommend getting rid of your headphones just yet. The speakers on the HTC One (M8), which are also front-facing, sound much crisper and more powerful than these. They're a solid bonus, but not a selling feature.

In terms of quality, the high-end smartphone market is more competitive than ever. The last few months have been especially kind: the latest iPhones, Galaxy Note 4 and 2nd-gen Moto X can each make a strong claim to the "best smartphone" title. Throw in wild cards like the Verizon-only Droid Turbo and oldies-but-goodies LG G3 and HTC One M8, and you have a tough decision on your hands. And yes, you can now add the Nexus 6 to that list.

Why would you choose the Nexus 6 over these other drool-worthy handsets? Two reasons: that bigger screen and Lollipop. The new version of Android marks Google's best UI design by far (I think it's even better-looking than iOS 8), and the Nexus 6's humongous Quad HD screen is the best device to showcase it.

The Nexus 6 is a whale of a phone (aptly codenamed "Shamu" during development) and its absurd size will probably push away more than a few customers. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it's that smartphone shoppers like "bigger." If you're still searching for the holy grail of bigger (not to mention better), then the Nexus 6 is where it's at right now.

There is one big difference with this year's Nexus: Google axed the budget pricing that we saw on the last two models, and is pricing the Nexus 6 like a flagship (US$650 full retail, $250 on-contract). But compared to its competition, we still think it stacks up pretty well:

Consider that when buying at full retail, the Nexus 6 is $50 cheaper than the Note 4 and $100 cheaper than the iPhone 6 Plus (it's also $50 cheaper than both on-contract). We love all three phones, but the Nexus has a bigger screen, only takes up a little more space in your pocket and costs less. "Nexus" may no longer be synonymous with "bargain," but in those ways it does still give you more bang for your buck.

Gizmag recommends the Nexus 6 to anyone looking for a powerful phone with a gigantic screen, quite possibly the most beautiful mobile software to date, and seamless performance. Its build quality isn't on par with the iPhone's, and it doesn't use a stylus like the Note, but if those aren't your priorities, you could easily argue that it's the best huge phone/small tablet you can buy today.

The Google/Motorola Nexus 6 is available now (though supplies are constrained), starting at $650 off-contract or $250 on. For more on its software, you can hit up Gizmag's Android 5.0 Lollipop review.

Product pages: Google, Motorola

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