Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Nexus 6 initial impressions

In a world filled with several variations of the Android experience, the Nexus brand stands out as the brand for purists, tinkerers, and fans of Google's own vision for Android. I myself prefer the Google experience. I got a taste for it back when I got the 2012 Nexus 7. I then flashed a stock custom ROM on my HTC One X, and eventually replaced it with my current Nexus 5. Unlike most enthusiasts, I don't buy a new phone every year, so the Nexus 6 was never on my radar. In addition to that, my Nexus 5 is still a very good phone despite being a year old, so I'm happy to keep using it. My only concern before the Nexus 6 was released was how tempting it would be to replace my Nexus 5 with it. Luckily for me, that concern was thrown out the window as soon as rumours that the Nexus 6 would be a 6" phone started going around. When the phone finally did launch, there was a lot about it that I did like, but also a few things I didn't. Which is normal, since the perfect phone just doesn't exist. So like usual when it comes to my initial impressions posts, here are some of my thoughts about the Nexus 6 based on what I've seen and read online.

The good

Great specs all around
Over the past couple of years, Nexus smartphones weren't known for their beastly specs. Most of the specs were indeed high-end but there were some compromises, namely battery capacity. But when you look at the Nexus 6, it's hard to pinpoint any hardware component which is a clear weak link. 1440p display (I still think it's unnecessary, but it's there), 3GB of RAM, a 3000+ mAh battery, 13MP camera with OIS, front facing stereo speakers, you get the point. The Nexus 6 is easily one of the best phones of the year on paper.

Front facing stereo speakers
HTC and Sony have had front facing stereo speakers on their flagships for a couple of years now, and even the current Moto G does as well. As the reference device made by Google, it's great that the Nexus 6 has front facing speakers as it implies that Google thinks that all Android devices should have front facing speakers. This just makes sense as more and more people are using their devices for media consumption, as evidenced by the fact that 50% of YouTube views come from mobile devices

Wireless charging and OIS
I love wireless charging. It's my default charging method for my Nexus 5. And I think having OIS is much more important for a smartphone camera than megapixel count, since you know, when you have your phone you're mostly on the move, and having an optically stabilised camera lens can really be helpful. The reason why the presence of these two features (and front facing speakers too actually) on the Nexus 6 is so important is because they are not found on the Moto X, which is what the Nexus 6 is based on. Similar to my earlier point about front facing speakers, the fact that Google is keeping wireless charging and OIS on the Nexus 6 (the Nexus 5 had both as well) despite the Moto X not having them is indicative of how Google wants these two features to be mainstream in the Android ecosystem. The more phones that have wireless charging, OIS, and front facing speakers, the better.
Wireless charging is awesome. Image: YouTube

Ambient display
Any method to wake the device without having to press the power button is a win for me. Double tap to wake like on the Xperia Z3, LG G3, and HTC One (M8), waving your hand over the proximity sensor to wake the device like on the Moto X, and picking up the device off the table or taking it out of your pocket, like on the Nexus 6 (and the Moto X too). Our phones really should be smart enough to know when we want to turn the display on. Tapping the screen is cool, but not having to is even cooler. Ambient display, where the Nexus 6 display lights up when a notification comes in, or when you pick the device up is really smart, and really cool. The fact that it is now in Lollipop bodes well for future Android smartphones.
Ambient display is a smart feature that should be in more smartphones. Image: 9to5Google

The bad

OMG the size
We have to deal with the elephant whale in the room first, the size of the Nexus 6. There's just no way to get around it, it's a massive phone. It's even larger than the Galaxy Note 4. Everyone's previous benchmark for large phones. I have always been critical of the size of current flagships, and just because this phone has the Nexus branding on the back, doesn't mean I'm gonna turn a blind eye. For many, it's just too damn big.
Too big of a jump for me. Image: PhoneArena

AMOLED display
I know the AMOLED display is necessary for ambient display to make sense, but I still prefer LCD displays. After just a few weeks we are already seeing some reports of slight burn-in, a problem which in all likelihood could get worse in a few months time. In the end, it's all a matter of preference, and I just prefer LCD displays. But an AMOLED display is definitely a "necessary evil" to make ambient display work.

The design of the back plate
The back of the Nexus 4 was really elegant with its shimmering grid of pixels. The Nexus 5's back was understated with the subtle Nexus branding across the back and nothing much else. The back of the Nexus 6 seems, a little too crowded for my liking. The Nexus logo looks like it was just forced in there in the last minute, being placed on the lower area of the back. I'm not a fan of the ring flash either. The only thing I do like is that we have the old Moto dimple rather than the newer dimple. I definitely feel like it could've been designed better.
Not really feeling it. Image: Computerworld

Disabled LED notification light and tap-to-wake
Sometimes Google makes some weird decisions. With the Nexus 6, two come to mind. It has an LED notification light behind the top speaker grill, but it's disabled by default and you can only get it working with root. Another is tap-to-wake, which was originally planned to be made available on the Nexus 6 (like it is on the Nexus 9) but Google decided to remove it. Redundancy has been identified as a possible reason for these decisions. Ambient display alone is enough to handle the tasks that both the LED and tap-to-wake are meant to, so it's possible that Google removed them because of that. Still would've been nice to have them though.

I can understand why Google decided to make a phablet this year. With everyone doing so, it would be naive for Google to ignore the current trend of the industry. I just think that Google didn't have to be so gung-ho about it. A 5.5" device would've easily been much more acceptable to many people, myself included. As it stands, if you want the newest Nexus phone by Google, you're going to have to adapt to using both hands on this large 6" beast. Luckily though, Google decided to keep selling the Nexus 5 this year, and it's still a very good phone. So there is an alternative if you want a more moderately sized Nexus phone.