(Pocket-lint) - There's a certain mystique surrounding Nexus devices, a certain je ne sais quoi that often sees the Nexus elevated to the status of the Android Supreme Being.
Previous generations of Nexus smartphones and tablets have always brought bang for your buck: whether a large display, stacks of power, or super-high resolution (Nexus 10, we're looking at you, that 2560 x 1600 pixel panel seemed almost unnecessarily high for 2012), it's all been par for the course.
With the Nexus 6, however, Google goes extra large, stepping into phablet territory with a 5.96-inch screen offering that's far bigger than last year's Nexus 5. Add the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system and it's a device that will have big appeal for Android fans.
After a week of use it's clear the Nexus 6 may be the most accomplished Nexus smartphone ever, but it's also the least practical. How can it exist in this contradictory state?
Moto X-panded design
Heralding from Motorola, the Nexus 6 follows the design of the Moto X, a phone that we really like. It has the same construction, with a metal frame holding in a polycarbonate back and a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 topped display to the front.
We can't fault the looks or the construction. The subtle curve at the very edges of the display, the sculpting top and bottom, the texture of the standby button all make this the highest quality Nexus we've seen.
There's a curve to the back that on the Moto X fits really nicely in the hand, but on the Nexus 6 with its near 6-inch display, it's a little more difficult to handle. That's simply down to the width: at 83mm wide, it's difficult to use one-handed as it's a stretch to get around the display.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (with its 5.7-inch display), is only 78.6mm wide and, at these extremes, every millimetre makes a difference. But we're also in the zone where the curve is less useful than it might seem. We're all for sculpted backs on smartphones for a comfortable grip, but with the Nexus 6 we want to lay it down on a table and interact with it, but it's always rocking around.
Personal preference, perhaps, dictates what works at this size and what doesn't. We like that fact that it is a water resistant phone, we like how solid it feels; but for many, it will just be too large. We said the same thing about the HTC One max in 2013, and the same applies here. If you're the sort of person who is usually at a desk, then that won't be such an issue. But if you need to rapidly respond to emails whilst hanging off the side of a train, or wrestling with a child, the size becomes a barrier.
Perhaps that's why Google has retained the Nexus 5 in the range (at least for now). But for us, it elevates the Moto X further: that device offers an almost pure Android experience and great design, but is a lot more pocket friendly.
One thing that might be surprising though is the weight. At 186g, yes, it's pretty heavy, but not that heavy given the proportions.
But where practical usability takes a hit, the domain of the phablet is dominated by big displays. It's not really about one-handed use, it's about how much glorious screen space you have to play with and the experience that comes with that.
The Nexus 6 has a 5.96-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 (493ppi). It's not only large, it's pixel-packed too. Before you start hopping around, it's worth noting that the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4 has the same resolution, as does the LG G3's 5.5-inch display, with higher pixel densities given their respective sizes.
When we first reviewed the LG G3 (pictured above), we stated that although glorious, it didn't really push those pixels to the max. With the Nexus 6 that resolution is now firmly on developers' radars, and we're sure to see more in the future that takes advantage of the potential that's on offer.
Using AMOLED technology, the Nexus 6 display is rich with colours and offers deep blacks, but it's warmer than the likes of the G3. Whites aren't as clean and some colours, like reds, are venturing off into the unrealistic. This position in the LCD vs AMOLED debate is well known and it continues here.
AMOLED seems to suit Android 5.0 Lollipop's material design however. The bold use of solid colours really get a lift from the display's vibrancy. We've found the auto brightness to work well, and we like the deep black of the Ambient display setting - when you pick the phone up, you'll be able to glance at notifications.
Although Android 5.0 natively supports tap to wake, that's not a feature offered by the Nexus 6. We really miss it too, as we find it really useful on large devices. Otherwise, we like the wide viewing angles and the amount of space on offer. Watching Full HD movies on this display, or playing graphically rich games like GTA San Andreas, looks fantastic and feels immersive.
Nexus has embraced front-facing speakers on the Nexus 6 as it did on the Nexus 9. These aren't the BoomSound branded efforts of the tablet (carried over from HTC, the company that makes the Nexus 9), but again follows the lead of the Moto X.
Like the speakers on the Moto, they offer above average performance, really bringing a boost to games, videos or music. They aren't quite as adept as the BoomSound speakers on the HTC One, as they get a little shrill and distorted at higher volumes.
We found the calling experience to be good, with callers coming through loud and clear. We also found the mobile connection to be nice and strong.
The Nexus 6 is one of the first smartphones to launch with the 2.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chipset, following in the footsteps of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It's partnered with 3GB of RAM, making for a loadout that's slick and fast in operation. That follows the Nexus trend, offering plenty of power: at the time of launch this is one of the most powerful Android handsets around.
That makes it a great performer, no matter what you throw at it. Moving around Android 5.0 Lollipop's interface is lovely and slick, but we'd expect nothing less. There's a wonderful fluidity to everything and plenty of speed.
We've found some compatibility problems with apps (probably due to screen size-resolution, an issue that both Note 4 and LG G3 also suffer), but that's becoming the norm when a new device specification and Android version appears. We've seen many of the Nexus 9's problems ironed out with app updates, so we suspect the Nexus 6 will quickly follow suit. Sadly, that meant we had to take a break from Real Racing 3 for the duration of this review due to incompatibility. *cry*
There's the option of 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, but no option for microSD card expansion, so you'll want to choose wisely. This is where other Android device manufacturers win out, but the lack of card expansion is a now familiar downside of Nexus handsets.
In the earlier Nexus 5 we thought that battery performance could have been better, but with the Nexus 6 and its 3220mAh battery - matching the capacity of the Galaxy Note 4 - there's a good display of stamina. However, in the Nexus 6's sealed body you don't get the chance to swap it out for a spare, and in our experience the Samsung is the better performer when it comes to staying power.
It might be a blow for flexibility, but the Nexus 6 doesn't have a significant endurance problem. Getting through a day of normal use is pretty easy. That's becoming the norm at the flagship level, with impressive performance from most quarters in 2014. What Lollipop doesn't offer, however, is the sort of granular power management that other devices offer, such as the Sony Xperia Z3. Yes, the Nexus offers straightforward power saving, but it's a far cry from Sony's excellent array of settings.
The Nexus is equipped with Qi wireless charging which is a win for convenience, as well as supporting Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 which, as the name suggests, is a quick charging feature that can squeeze 60 per cent charge into a battery in just 30 minutes. This features is in a number of devices, but the compatible charger usually isn't. In the case of the Nexus 6, it is, so you'll get faster charging from the off. Additionally, this Motorola Turbo Charger (as it is branded) will fast charge other Quick Charge-enabled devices that you might have.
Sweet software treats
Android 5.0 Lollipop made its debut on the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9 and is one of the things we like the most about the Nexus 6. The pure, unfettered Android operating system delivers rich integration with the Googlesphere, but in many cases, that's not unique to the Nexus: the productivity apps, mapping, Gmail, and so forth, are all available on any Android device.
But Lollipop feels like it's now reached the stage where you don't need so many additions. Things like faster access to the settings, to seek out Wi-Fi connections, or turn on the torch/flashlight make life with stock Android more consumer than it has been before.
The consistency of animation and a new approach to how some tasks are handled make Lollipop a pleasure to live with day-to-day. Returning to the slightly cluttered skins of Samsung, LG, HTC or Sony, acts as a reminder of just how much additional software is so often added that you don't need.
However, Android 5.0 Lollipop feels like it's ready to be updated and indeed there is 5.0.1 in the works. In our time reviewing the Nexus 6 we've had the occasional random reboot and, as mentioned, there are some apps that won't run, so there are some bugs to be ironed out.
Then there are some additional niggles: media volume, for example, isn't readily accessible. You have to change the volume once your media app or game is open, or else you have to drill down into the settings to get to it. But, generally speaking, the Lollipop performance has been solid.
While the Nexus 6 sits in this smug microcosm of Android purity, we return to the Moto X. Fast to update, the experience on Moto's smaller handset is a close-run comparison. The real question is how much of Lollipop will remain in new devices in 2015. If the smartphone giants are clever, they'll preserve the sweet new elements of Android rather than obliterate them.
There's one thing that really sticks out to us though: there's nothing on the software front that really makes use of the Nexus 6's huge display. Judged purely as a phablet, the Nexus 6 doesn't offer the sort of skills that you'll get from the Galaxy Note 4 and its included stylus (something the Nexus lacks). There's no split screen, no adaptations to make it easier to use one-handed or anything else. That might not bother some, but it means there are still plenty for other big phone manufacturers to offer.
The Nexus 6 comes with a 13-megapixel camera on the rear and a second 2-megapixel camera to the front. The rear camera is surrounded by a flash, rather than it being a separate element, which makes for nice tidy design.
The rear camera offers optical image stabilisation, as well as 4K video capture, so you're not being left out in the cold when it comes to the camera.
The Nexus 6 runs with the stock Android camera app, which doesn't quite have all the extras you'll get from the likes of HTC or Sony, but the essentials like HDR (high dynamic range) are included and a convenient single tap away. You get reasonable close-up macro focusing and capture is pretty fast.
The Google Camera app also works faster than it does on some other devices. We tested it against the same stock Google Camera app on the LG G3, which is much slower. Therefore the experience is better in the latest Nexus, but it's still not comparable to the latest as greatest third-party apps: flick the G3 back to the LG camera app, and it runs rings around the Nexus.
However, the rear camera is a pretty strong performer given good conditions, with colour-rich and sharp shots achieved in good light. It's worth bearing in mind that the phone shows images as slightly more saturated than they really are, so they will typically look better on the phone than on a different screen.
As the light drops, so does the speed of the camera. Shooting indoors reveals evident image noise in snaps, but it's controlled well enough so shots are usable. As things get darker still, shooting becomes more of a problem, with much more image noise and much slower performance.
Overall, however, the camera isn't as poor as some previous Nexus devices, which will be a welcome relief to some.
The front camera will grab a reasonable selfie, but it falls into the realms of average rather than superior - not that you'll probably be too bothered about that.
Price and competition
One of the core values of Nexus is pricing; it's always been the place to go for a great handset at fair, almost bargain prices. It's perhaps ironic, then, that now Google has paired with Motorola - the new king of the Android affordability - that the Nexus 6 is no longer a budget phone per se.
Priced at £499 it isn't cheap, but then again it's good value for money as a phablet with 32GB of storage. The Note 4 is £599, while the iPhone 6 Plus is £619 for 16GB. For this sort of quality, you're still getting a lot of phone for your money, even if it's no longer at the cheaper end of the spectrum, like the £299 Nexus 5.
The competition, however, is fierce. The Galaxy Note 4 is the most accomplished phablet around and offers a great deal more in terms of functionality and makes much better use of the display it offers. It's unquestionably the better device when it comes to going big.
Even the Quad HD LG G3, with a 5.5-inch display, offers dual-screen options and is a little cheaper, which sets the Nexus 6 in the big-but-not-always-so-useful corner.
The Nexus 6 is a great quality device, the first phablet that we've seen wearing a Nexus badge. It offers plenty of power, good all-round performance and has a solid build and attractive design. It's the launch platform for Android 5.0 Lollipop, which is much more polished than previous versions, leading to a great overall experience. In that, it's the most accomplished Nexus yet.
Given its phablet size, however, it faces challenges that might be too difficult to surmount. Android Lollipop doesn't natively offer anything that takes advantage of the big display: watching movies and playing games might be fantastic, but we really want to be checking Twitter while looking at Google Maps. We want to be extra productive, we want a clever advantage that comes with size, not just the extra inches.
And the Nexus 6 isn't just big, it's bordering on too big. This isn't the 5.5-inches of the iPhone 6 Plus or the slimmer 5.7-inches of the Galaxy Note 4, it's bigger than both, to the point that it's less friendly in your pocket and awkward to use adroitly with one hand.
There's no doubting you get a lot for your money, but if you're after the best big screen experience then we don't think the Nexus 6 takes that crown.