Hands on with the Nexus 6: A Nexus phone Google hopes is one for the masses

Google introduced the Nexus 6 smartphone earlier this month and today I had my first chance to actually see and use the device. I met with several Google Android team members who demonstrated the new handset and answered my initial questions.

With news that five U.S. carriers will sell the device directly — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon — this is the first Nexus phone that Google hopes everyday consumers will choose; a far different approach from the more limited distribution of prior Nexus phones. And if people can get past the large size, there’s a lot to like here in what I’d initially call the first no-compromise Nexus phone.

Nexus 6

Carriers will announce their own pricing but [company]Google[/company] is selling an unlocked GSM version directly to people through the Google Play Store. Expect to pay $649 for a 32 GB version or $699 for the 64 GB model. Neither has a memory expansion slot. The company loaned me a Cloud White, 32 GB model that I’ll be using for a limited review period. For now, here are my first impressions after some hands-on time with the phone.

  • There’s no doubt about it: This is a big phone due to the 5.96-inch (Come on Google, can we just say 6-inch?) display. It’s very much a super-sized Moto X phone with the same design cues. That’s a good thing though as Motorola is good at surrounding large phone displays with small bezels to minimize the overall size of the phone. Even so, this handset measures in at 82.98 millimeters wide x 159.26 millimeters tall, or 3.27-inches by 6.27-inches. The power and volume buttons are moved down on the right side so you don’t have to reach too far.
  • Although it’s big, I like how the matte plastic rounded back feels. The phone is lighter than you’d expect as well, weighing 184 grams or 6.49 ounces. The beveled edge where the slightly rounded screen meets is aluminum, giving the phone a pretty premium look and feel.
    Nexus 6 side
  • The Nexus 6 has a pair of front-facing speakers at the top and bottom — or left and right when held in landscape mode — and they’re noticeably loud. Google representatives said they wanted a “big” sound from the phone so that you wouldn’t need external speakers for music or videos. To my ears, HTC’s Boom Sound may be a tad bid louder with slightly more bass but the Nexus 6 speakers are louder than most.
  • “This is the best camera we’ve ever put in a Nexus device,” I was told when meeting with Google. With just a few snapped images, I can vouch for that although I’d cautiously say that prior Nexus phone cameras didn’t set the bar high. Still, the 13 megapixel sensor with ring flash looks very capable so far.
    Nexus 6 photo app
    Google added an HDR+ software algorithm for even better white balance and contrast. Images also snap very quickly and auto-focus is fast as well. I’ve seen faster but it’s pretty good.
  • Did I mention this is a big phone?
  • Helping to make the phone a fast performer is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chip running at 2.7 GHz. That, combined with 3 GB of memory and a pure Android 5.0 Lollipop experience keeps the phone moving quickly no matter what I’ve thrown at it so far. Opening, using and switching apps is a near-instant experience as you’d expect.
  • Speaking of Android 5.0, that’s clearly the star of the software show as Google built the Nexus 6 to showcase Lollipop. I’ll have more to say in my full review but I like what Google has done here. The new “material design” approach is seen throughout, giving a consistent and intuitive user experience. I see far more customization controls for notifications, sounds and more as well.
    Nexus 6 notification controls
  • All of the standard Google apps you’d expect are here of course, but there are also a few more. Google Fit, which officially launched yesterday, is installed and ready to track your steps and other health related data from the phone sensors, an Android Wear watch or other compatible device: We saw a Withings scale demonstration that worked with Google Fit. Google Express is also installed; this looks like a home shopping and delivery service. My zip code in the sticks of Pennsylvania is outside of the delivery zone though. Lastly is Helpouts, an app that can connect you to a live person over video that can assist with a question on a range of topics, either for free or for a per-minute charge.
  • Like the original Moto X, the Nexus 6 has an always listening mode. You can say “OK Google” and immediately do a voice search or say a command. The handset also uses an AMOLED display like last year’s Moto X, so the screen displays notifications without lighting up the entire display, which saves power.
  • Google said the 3220 mAh battery can run for 24 hours of mixed use. I haven’t tested that yet, of course. Included with the Nexus 6 is the Turbo Charger, which can add 6 hours of run time in as little as 15 minutes. However, most of the speed boost is noticed when the phone’s battery is nearly dead; the charge rate slows as the battery gains more of a charge. The Nexus 6 can also be recharged wirelessly with a Qi-compatible charger.
  • It’s a big phone.

Obviously, I’m joking about size of the Nexus 6 here. But it’s worth the multiple mentions if only because of the expected mass appeal of this Nexus phone. I wonder if it’s just a little too big for your average customer that might shop in a carrier store. One thing is for sure: That 2560 x 1440 resolution screen — and its 493 pixels per inch — is really nice to look at. Time will tell if consumers will be willing to carry it around.