While the Nexus 6 received plenty of praise when it debuted last year, it also got its fair share of flack. Why? Because it was just too big. For many, the Nexus 6 was the size of a tiny giant, with its 5.96-inch display and 10.1mm-thick profile that dwarfed smaller hands. Additionally, it started at $649, whereas the previous-gen Nexus 5 cost just $349. Not wanting to disappoint its customers, Google decided to release two handsets instead of one this year: the pricier 5.7-inch Nexus 6P (made by Huawei and starting at $499 for 32GB) for those who do indeed want a larger phone, and the cheaper 5.2-inch 5X (made by LG and starting at $379 for 16GB) for those who wanted a sequel to the original 5. While it may certainly be the smaller and lower-end device of the pair, I found the 5X to be far better than I anticipated, delivering plenty of value for the money.
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Gallery: Nexus 5X review | 28 Photos
Gallery: Nexus 5X review | 28 Photos
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ProsGreat value for the moneyQuick and accurate fingerprint sensorAndroid 6.0 is a fantastic upgradeCompatible with Google's Fi network
ConsMediocre battery lifeNo microSD card slot
The Nexus 5X is by no means a premium smartphone. Its polycarbonate, lightweight shell and vanilla design make it feel more sporty than posh; more family sedan than luxury sports car. Compared to the larger, all-metal 6P, the 5X and its plastic hardware seem downright homely. Still, taken on its own, the 5X isn"t exactly lacking in the looks department. On the contrary, it"s rather adorable, with gently rounded corners, a slender profile and smooth, curved edges that lead to an incredibly comfortable feel in the hand. I like the look of the creamy white backplate -- which also comes in a beautiful robin"s egg blue and the standard black -- especially in contrast with the black front frame. Sure, it won"t win any design awards, but for an affordable phone, the 5X"s simple style is more than acceptable.
Part of the 5X"s appeal is its smaller size. While there"s certainly a growing trend toward larger phones like the Nexus 6P, there"s still a segment of the population that is much more comfortable with something more pocket-friendly. Measuring 147 x 72.6 x 7.9mm, the 5X is definitely tinier than both the Nexus 6 and the 6P, and would likely please anyone who was a fan of the original Nexus 5. As someone with relatively small hands, I have to say I appreciate the form factor. I could easily tap through apps while holding the phone one-handed and it fits into my back pocket with only a tiny bit sticking out. And although it might be small, the 5X still manages to squeeze in a roomy 5.2-inch display, thanks to some relatively slim bezels.
Much of the phone"s hardware doesn"t seem too different from other Android phones -- there"s the volume rocker and power button on the right side and a SIM card tray on the left. Sitting above the aforementioned screen is a 5-megapixel, front-facing camera plus an ambient light sensor. Underneath the display is the front-facing speaker grille, which hides an RGB LED indicator behind it. At the bottom is a headset jack plus a USB Type-C port, which is newly supported by Android 6.0 Marshmallow. For the uninitiated, USB Type-C is a reversible connector that will fit in the port no matter how you put it in, and it promises to transmit data at faster speeds too. This is great, but Google has only included a USB-C-to-USB-C cable in the box. That means you"ll need to get an additional USB-C-to-USB-A cable in order to charge the phone with most computers. Of course, you can just use the included USB Type-C power adapter to charge the phone, but it"s less convenient.
Flip the phone around and you"ll find the 12-megapixel camera along with a broad-spectrum CRI-90 dual flash and an infrared laser-assisted autofocus sensor (You"ll find more thoughts on the camera below). Underneath that is something brand-new to the Nexus line of phones, and that is the Nexus Imprint fingerprint reader. To start using it, rest your fingertip inside the metal ring. The phone will then immediately launch the fingerprint setup wizard, which requests that you touch the sensor a few times in different positions so that it can read your fingerprint accurately. And voila -- from then on, you can just rest your finger on the reader to unlock your phone. The entire process is easy and straightforward. The reader itself works really fast -- it takes less than a second for it to trigger. And, similar to Touch ID on the iPhone, the sensor can also be used to authenticate payments via Android Pay.
As far as internals go, both the Nexus 5X and 6P have something called the Android Sensor Hub, a low-power, always-on co-processor dedicated to data from sensors like the accelerometer and the gyroscope. The idea here is that it"ll automatically gather data for fitness stats like steps and distance without you having to wake the phone and without involving the device"s main processor, potentially saving you quite a bit of battery life. Additionally, it"ll know when you"ve picked it up and will automatically display the time and any missed notifications without you having to press anything.
Aside from that, the Nexus 5X has pretty solid specs for a sub-$400 handset. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 1.8GHz hexa-core 64-bit processor, an Adreno 418 GPU and 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Unfortunately for media hoarders, you won"t find a microSD card slot here -- you"ll have to make do with either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage.
The Nexus 5X is compatible with all major US carriers as well as most networks around the globe thanks to its wide-range band support. Of note here is that just like the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 6P, the 5X is one of a few phones to support Google"s new Fi carrier service. As a reminder, the service relies mostly on WiFi for calls and data, and it piggybacks on top of both Sprint"s and T-Mobile"s networks, alternating between the two when necessary. The genius behind Fi is that it"s very affordable -- you only need to pay $20 a month for the basic plan. So if you buy both the budget-friendly 5X and sign up for Fi, you could get away with a very good deal.
Display and sound
Considering the 5X is a more mid-range phone, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of its display. Sure it"s not a WQHD AMOLED like the 6P, but the 5X"s 5.2-inch LCD is still lovely in its own right. It boasts full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080), resulting in a pixel-dense 423-ppi display that"s brilliant, sharp and pops with rich colors. Darks are deep and whites are practically blinding if you max out the brightness. The screen is perfectly usable in direct sunlight and the viewing angles are wide. Topping it off is a sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which has been treated with an oleophobic coating that supposedly wards off fingerprints and smudges. Although it doesn"t prevent streaks 100 percent of the time, I will admit it does a good job of keeping the panel blemish-free.
As for sound, well, all you"ll get with the 5X is a single front-facing speaker, so don"t expect to replicate a stereo system here. Even at max volume, the audio is terribly tinny, metallic and shallow, with almost no bass or depth to speak of. Still, at least it"s pretty loud, which should be useful for the occasional conference call.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
As with every new Nexus, the 5X ships with the very latest in Android versions, which in this case is Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It brings several innovations to the party, which we"ll soon detail in a more extensive review. For our purposes today, however, I"ll run through some of the key highlights of the most recent in Google"s candy-named OSes to give you a brief overview of the new software.
First, there"s a new UI. It was actually introduced to the Google Now launcher in September, so it might not be so new to some of you. The app launcher features an alphabetical list that you scroll through vertically instead of side to side. At the very top of the launcher is a row of four shortcut icons leading to your most oft-used apps -- this list changes dynamically depending on what you happen to be using at any given time. In my experience, the phone is pretty smart at guessing what apps I"m obsessed with (which is mostly Gmail, Facebook and Instagram). A dynamic quick-launch bar also sometimes appears when you"re typing in a keyword in the Google search field, automatically listing any app that begins with the corresponding letters.
But one of the most standout features of Android Marshmallow, by far, is Now on Tap, which lets you dive deeper into anything you"re reading or watching by bringing up additional information. So, for example, if you"re watching The X-Files on Google"s Play Movies app, you can hold down the home button to bring up the show"s IMDb page as well as links to Google search results, YouTube videos, Facebook pages and other assorted images and links associated with the show. On a restaurant page on Yelp, Now on Tap would bring up navigation instructions, the establishment"s phone number, the menu, Street View and any other related links or images. It"s essentially a smarter and faster way to find the information you"re looking for, without having to do a search.
App permissions are also now a lot more flexible and customizable. You can selectively choose what permissions to allow, and whether or not you"d rather have those permissions on all the time or just for certain periods. A verified security boot feature shows whether or not the firmware has been modified and there"s a new Direct Share function that lets you easily send and receive files with your favorite contacts. I"m also a fan of Auto Backup for Apps, which (as the name suggests) automatically backs up everything in your phone, even certain system settings. This makes it so much easier to switch out Android devices. Indeed, I transitioned to the 5X from an older Nexus 6 that had Android Marshmallow on board, and with just a few taps, I had all my apps installed.
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A few of Android Marshmallow"s features are tied to hardware. It allows for the Nexus Imprint fingerprint sensor as well as the support for USB Type-C. It also boasts better power management; there"s a Doze mode that puts the phone in a sleep state when it"s not in use, and apps that don"t get much use will be put in App Standby so that they don"t take up too much power.