Impressions: Nexus 6

As my preference for Android phones strongly leans towards the 'Google Experience' flavour of Android, the number of phones available to me in the UK is relatively few, we don't have the Google Play Experience phones, we have the Nexus devices and now Motorola's Moto X/G devices.

As it is seemingly difficult to get an Android phone that has the same high baseline hardware experience across the board as an iPhone, the chances of one of those Android devices also hitting my requirement of "Google Experience" or close enough (e.g. Moto X) seems unlikely.

For this reason, I was ready to be disappointed in the Nexus 6. I don't think I have really high standards for individual components of the phone, but I have high standards for the package. One weak component or characteristic (e.g. screen, build, camera, etc) can ruin my satisfaction with a device.

But upon delivery, I was pleasantly surprised with this package. The build quality is really great, it's solid, hefty, no creaking, no odd seams, I'm really happy with that aspect. The screen is good, the camera is good enough and the battery life is a massive step-up from my HTC One M7 (GPE). Perhaps my low expectations are playing a part in my satisfaction with this device, but I feel the analysis of the individual components is inline with my actual expectations for a phone.

The screen

However, the big story with the Nexus 6 is its gigantic, nearly 6", screen. A few years ago, I was among those who laughed at the absurd size of phones with screens much smaller than the 6" on the Nexus 6. Phones with 5 - 5.5" screens were just too big! My limit was 4.7", which then moved to 5", that was my "limit" for quite a while.

But I realised something. I realised that I carry around an iPad Mini with me (in my coat pocket) along with my phone. There's a whole lot of duplicated functionality there and just unnecessary weight to carry around and the entire reason is just for the larger screen size (for a more comfortable reading/browsing/watching experience whilst commuting).

I managed to adjust to the larger screen size rather quickly, it is of course, no longer viable in most scenarios to use with one hand, but I find two handed use most comfortable for any semi-extended use anyway.

The larger footprint of the device, larger screen size, results in a more pleasant experience for extended use. Where I’d usually get fatigued in many ways on the smaller HTC One from extended use, I can sit for a long time using the Nexus 6 with no significant discomfort.

The screen itself is reasonably good, it isn’t the best AMOLED screen I’ve seen and isn’t as good in many ways as some of the best phone LCDs. But it is good. The higher resolution (2560x1440) isn’t a significant increase over the 4.7” 1920x1080 display I came from, but it is noticeable, sometimes.

General experience

Android 5.0 (Lollipop) is beautiful, amazingly smooth and all around delightful to use. The phone has top of the line specifications, so the phone is very quick in most scenarios. There were reports of significant decrease in performance in IO intensive operations due to the enforced full system encryption.

I was worried about this, but I think I may have come out well in the NAND lottery as I am still noticing a decent speed boost over my HTC One. However, this doesn’t excuse the rather shitty implementation.

For whatever reason there is little or no hardware acceleration for the full disk encryption. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 in the Nexus 6 has the hardware to deal with this, but it isn’t working properly. Apparently the issue is Google doesn’t include the proprietary code required to utilise the cryptographic module on the 805 in AOSP (understandable), but also doesn’t include it with the Nexus 6 factory image.

I hope there aren’t reasons for this that aren’t impossible to get around and Google do manage to improve this, because it seems like a waste of money and a missed opportunity to make a product better in a way that pretty much every other phone will do. Enabling full disk encryption by default is a good thing, but doing so in such a way seems ridiculous and a half-arsed attempt to appear to be doing something in this current conversation of data privacy.

If you’re going to do it, do it properly. Apple called out other companies for not doing what they were doing, a fully encrypted iOS system, and Google fulfilled the base requirement of that by enabling encryption by default. But Apple did this in a way that was transparent to the user, in a way that was efficient and sensible. Google did not.

Conclusion

This is, from what I can tell after 2 days, the closest the Nexus line has seen to a complete package. It still has some annoying compromises, compromises that shouldn’t exist in a phone that costs £499 unlocked. But the compromises aren’t as severe, so I’m happy.

That’s a better rating than the previous Nexus phones I have owned or used and even a better rating than the HTC One M7 (GPE), which I felt was as close as I’d get to my ideal Android phone (but had a few really annoying issues).