Google I/O 2015 came and went, and I thought a good way to celebrate would be to post my thoughts on Google’s current flagship phone, the Nexus 6. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Google’s mobile phone lineup, allow me to provide a little bit of a primer.
Android began in 2003 as Android, Inc., a small company whose purpose was to develop “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences” (Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android, Inc. and former head of the robotics division at Google).
In 2005, Google purchased Android, Inc. for $50 million, a move that had industry analysts buzzing with talk that Google was about to enter the mobile communications market which, at the time, was an open playing field; not even Apple had entered the game yet. Rumors and speculation built to a fever pitch by December 2006, with press and Internet media all confirming “news” that Google was going to become a player in the mobile technologies game.
But in January of 2007, Steve Jobs and Apple unveiled the iPhone, forcing Google to respond with an unusual move: they started the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of 34 (now 84) members including hardware manufacturers, software developers, and telecom carriers; and they placed the new Android operating system at the center of the Alliance. Companies like HTC, Motorola, Sony, T-Mobile, Sprint-Nextel, eBay, Nvidia, and Samsung Electronics all joined Google in forming the Alliance. They all played a part in the formation of Android.
Google focused on making Android an open operating system, allowing developers to shape the OS into almost anything. While it provided a blank canvas for developers to play with, it created a problem that exists in Android to this day: fragmentation. Because of this, Google started a project called Nexus.
It began in 2008 with the T-Mobile G1 by HTC (also known as the HTC Dream). It was the first phone designed by Google and provided the prototypical Android experience. Then in January 2010 the Nexus program was unveiled in its full form with Google’s Nexus One by HTC. In December 2010, Google released the Nexus S by Samsung, a phone that was based on the hardware specs of Samsung’s Galaxy S phone. The following year, Google unveiled the Galaxy Nexus by Samsung, also based on Samsung’s Galaxy SII.
In 2012 Google switched manufacturers and released the Nexus 4 by LG. The manufacturer returned for the following phone: Google’s Nexus 5 by LG.
Which brings us to 2014 and the current Nexus phone: Google’s Nexus 6 by Motorola.
The first thing I noticed when I got the phone was that it was no longer in the same price tier as the previous two Nexus phones. One of the things that set the Nexus apart from other flagship smartphones was its price. Off-contract, the phone was retailing for anywhere between $250 and $400. Compare that with the iPhone’s price breakdown, which starts at $650 and goes up to $950. So I was definitely surprised to discover that the Nexus was retailing for $650. I was no longer able to purchase my phone outright; I had to sign up for an installment plan with T-Mobile.
The second thing I noticed was the size. This phone is massive. As much as I hate the word, this phone is a phablet. I’m no stranger to large-screen phones, either. I previously used a OnePlus One, and despite that phone’s screen size (5.5″), the One felt quite comfortable in the hand. This thing is monstrous. While I don’t personally mind the size, I do consider it a drawback. As much as I like it, it’s way outside what most people would feel comfortable using. It dwarfs even the iPhone 6 Plus.
The screen is gorgeous though. It’s the first time I’ve used a phone with a QHD screen coming in at a seriously dense 2560×1440 (not to be confused with a qHD screen, which is a mere 960×540), and everything is vibrant and rich. The screen is AMOLED, which surprised me a bit since IPS tends to produce much better colors than AMOLED does. That said, IPS will never be able to produce the rich blacks that AMOLED is capable of, which really works in this phone’s favor.
The design was a bold move by Google; it’s heavily influenced by Motorola’s design scheme. The most recent Nexus phones had much more understated designs than this. Not that it’s a bad design, but it’s a bit flashier than I expected for a Nexus. It has a distinctly rounded curve and the trademark Motorola dimple along with the Nexus logo emblazoned across the back of the phone. Above and below the screen are two front-firing speakers that produce fantastic sound and really makes me wonder why no one other than HTC designs their phones with front-facing speakers.
Where the Nexus 6 really shines is in its operating system. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, which is an incredibly advanced version of the Android OS. The Material Design UI looks stunning on the phone, and everything runs buttery smooth.
While the hardware certainly feels more premium than the previous Nexus phones (thanks to the raised price tag), it’s a confusing package. The unattainably large phone seems an odd decision given Google’s apparent desire to make the Nexus more accessible. Lollipop is lacking almost nothing (I say, “almost,” because there are some issues I have that the forthcoming Android M will be fixing), and it runs beautifully on the Nexus 6, as it should.
To conclude, the Nexus 6 is a great phone with an extremely small audience. Phablet enthusiasts will enjoy the large screen, but the lack of any large-screen features will probably be a turn-off for this crowd. The average smartphone user will probably not even bother due to its size. The only group that will fully appreciate this phone are the Google enthusiasts like myself who love the pure-Google-flavored Android experience and demand to be first in line for every new update to the operating system. Other users need not apply.