(Pocket-lint) - Having spent two weeks using the Nexus 5X - the Google device made by LG - we think it's a great little Android phone. You'll hear people talk about how plasticky it feels and so on, but really, who cares about that? It's a mid-range phone, but one capable of high-end performance thanks to its stock Android Marshmallow operating system.
The 16GB base model starts £339 (or $379 in the US, unlocked), which places the Nexus 5X in direct competition with the Moto X Pure Edition and even the forthcoming HTC One A9. The latter is certainly offers far better build quality than the Nexus, but it's also a far pricier handset.
With that in mind, you're probably wondering which to buy at this price point: the Moto X Pure Edition, HTC One A9, or Nexus 5X?
Nexus 5X review: Design
The Nexus 5X isn't a huge phablet. It's not super pricey. It has several flagship-like features, including a fingerprint scanner and USB Type-C charging, and the same 12-megapixel camera that's in the Nexus 6P (Google's other Nexus phone - made by Huawei instead of LG), a crisp Full HD display, and is rich with standout Android Marshmallow features such as Now on Tap.
But that's not all: it's super light (due to the plastic shell) and is compatible with both GSM and CDMA networks, meaning you can slot in a SIM card from any cellular carrier in the world, including the big four networks in the US and several regional and prepaid carriers, and it'll work.
More and more companies are unveiling two versions of their annual flagship smartphones. Apple has the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, for instance, and even Samsung has the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. When the Nexus 6 launched last year, we moaned and groaned it was too big and expensive when compared to its predecessor, the Nexus 5. So, this year, Google has launched two Nexus phones: the huge and pricey Nexus 6P arriving alongside the small and affordable Nexus 5X.
Although it's cheaper in price, look and feel, the 5X is packed with solid specs. And with dimensions of 147mm x 27.6mm x 7.9mm it's totally usable in one hand, making it a lot like the 2013 Nexus 5, which was praised by users and critics alike. At 5.2-inches, it's what most people would consider a normal-sized phone, weighing 136g - so about 7g less than the iPhone 6S. We're not talking about a big phone: it's a device you can easily throw into your pocket or bag and then forget
We reviewed the white unit (it comes in either white, black, or blue), and although we like the silky-smooth feeling of the "premium injection molded polycarbonate", it's plastic at the end of the day. This isn't a premium, all-metal device, so you won't feel bad about dropping it. That's a plus for those of you who are clumsy. Gone are the days of worrying whether you'll dent your phone's expensive metal casing.
Speaking of the plastic white back, it's "oleophobic" - which means it's supposedly resistant to fingerprints. Yeah, sure. We wish that claim would be true - just once, please! Other plastic bits include the power button and volume rocker on the right edge, which both feel sturdy enough when pressed, and the edges of the phone which jut out a bit.
On the front at the bottom is the speaker grille. It's a single mono speaker, and its sound output it pretty gross: tinny and shrill and small and just ugh. You will need to plug in a pair of headphones into the 3.5mm jack if you want decent sound from the 5X.
Our favourite design feature is the fingerprint scanner on the back, which is called Nexus Imprint. Let's say your phone is in your pocket, you can pull it out while placing your finger over the scanner, and it'll automatically turn on the screen and unlock your phone in about half a second. Brilliant. It never seems to fail and can even read a partial print. This is the way fingerprint scanners should work. It beats Apple's iteration, and even the one found in the OnePlus 2, which is supposed to be faster than Apple's Touch ID.
The fingerprint scanner is positioned near the top-centre of the 5X, right below the camera. It's a relatively new place for manufacturers to put this type of scanner (Huawei has dabbled with it in the Mate S), as most tend to embed it into the home button. We like the position as it falls naturally to the hand; your index finger perfectly sits over the scanner whenever you pick up the handset, though you might find yourself touching the camera occasionally by mistake (despite the fact it protrudes).
You can also use Nexus Imprint with Android Pay or to buy stuff from the Google Play Store. We're waiting for Google to open it up so third-party app developers can integrate functionality as well. We saw, for instance, during Google's event, that 1Password mentioned as a list of upcoming partners.
Nexus 5X review: Display
The Nexus 5X boasts a 5.2-inch IPS-LCD display with a 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution (423ppi). It even has Corning's Gorilla Glass 3 to protect it from scratches. Sure, the 5X doesn't sport a fancy Quad-HD screen, but it's still plenty crisp enough.
Budget phones tend to launch with cheap screens, but that's not the case with the Nexus. The display has a peak brightness output of 487 nits - over 30 nits more than the iPhone 6S averages - and it looks pin-sharp and colourful no matter the lighting condition.
LG may have technically skimped out on the build of its latest Nexus, but it certainly made up for it in the display department.
Nexus 5X review: Cameras
Cameras is another area where LG has splurged.
The Nexus 5X features a 12.3-megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, as well as a 5-megapixel front camera. The rear is capable of 4K video at 30 frames per second and slo-motion video at 120 frames per second - both features, of which, are becoming standard among the latest and most expensive smartphones.
What's really remarkable about the Nexus 5X's camera setup is its use of the Sony IMX377 sensor to the rear, which means large pixels (1.55-microns) and a laser autofocus system. It's the same camera found in the Nexus 6P.
Not only does the rear camera look good on paper, but it performs well out in the wild. We got bright and rich shots in mediocre lighting, though we did notice low-light photos can be a bit noisy, and overcast days tend to look more grey in photos then they do in real-life. If we had to nitpick even further, we'd wish for optical image stabilisation. It's really useful for those of you (aka us) who have shaky hands.
We're not totally sold on Google's stock camera app either. Actually, it's pretty lame. It's very slow, especially when in HDR mode, freezes quite often, and is entirely bare-bones. It lets you take photos while recording video, but it doesn't offer any manual controls whatsoever.
The only thing the app's got going for it is three photo tricks it offers: photo sphere, panorama, and lens blur. Oh, and the 4K and slow-mo video recording options we mentioned earlier. But overall Google needs to rethink this app.
As far as selfies are concerned, they're alright. A 5-megapixel sensor can only do so much, right?
Nexus 5X review: Performance
Performance is the other area that makes the Nexus 5X well worth looking at - because it carries a 1.8GHz six-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor backed by 2GB of RAM, an Adreno 418 GPU, and 16/32GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, there's no microSD card slot - so, if you hoard pics, you'll want to get the 32GB model.
Despite that, we think this phone runs pretty smooth and quickly. The 5X has the same chipset found in the LG G4 and the Moto X Pure, and in day-to-day use, you won't notice too much lag or any hiccups when switching between apps. We did notice some heat issues when watching a few videos though - but not the kind of Snapdragon 810 issues found in the Sony Xperia Z3+.
This phone isn't as powerful as its flagship sibling, the 6P, but for a mid-range handset, it's certainly stacked. If it had another gig of RAM, it would probably be considered high-end. All that said, the Nexus 5X does take a minute to boot up, and launching new apps seems to take longer than it should.
Other specs include all the usual connectivity features, including GPS with Glonass, Bluetooth 4.2, dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, NFC, etc. So, absolutely no worries there.
One thing we haven’t mentioned yet is the Nexus 5X is one of three phones that support Project Fi, Google's cellular service. In the US, Google offers the Nexus 5X for as low as $15.79 per month on a 24-month installment plan, as long as you sign up for its Project Fi cellular service. Google also offers Americans a two-year warranty against accidental damage and mechanical failures, called Nexus Protect, which costs $69 for the Nexus 5X. You can read more about Nexus Protect here.
Nexus 5X review: Battery
Here's where the Nexus 5X really shows its mid-range value: battery life.
The Nexus 5X has a 2,700mAh embedded battery that lasts a day - if that. If you're planning to watch videos and gaming with this phone, expect to carry around the USB Type-C charger and plug it in by afternoon. We're not kidding.
Luckily, because this is one of the first phones running Android Marshmallow, there's a Doze mode, which puts the phone in a sleep state when in standby, so you can get a full day with milder use.
Going back to charging, while the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P don't feature wireless charging (unlike last year's Nexus), they do feature that USB Type-C connector, which is phasing out micro-USB. With this technology, your charging cables are reversible, so it doesn't matter what side you're jamming the cable into the port, and on some devices, the USB-C port allows for fast data transfer and video output. The 5X doesn't do the last bit, though, but it can charge speedily - we were able to reach 30 per cent in under 15 minutes.
Nexus 5X review: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
As we said, this is a Google Nexus smartphone. So it comes with the latest and bloatware-free version of the Android operating system: It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and has all the fancy Marshmallow features you've been hearing about, including the Doze battery-saving function we mentioned.
You'll also notice a new app drawer. It scrolls vertically instead of horizontally and makes finding apps much easier in our opinion. Plus, there's a handy search bar at the top of the apps tray. Other Marshmallow-only features include a new app permission system, so you can designate which apps can access your camera, location, and other information, and Google Now on Tap, which is probably one of our favourite new software features.
In a nutshell Now on Tap lets you Google search stuff without having to navigate away from an app you're currently using. Say, for instance, you're looking at clip in the YouTube app, just hold down the home button, and then Now on Tap will serve up the a related IMDB page or maybe relevant links and videos. It's all about contextual search.
However, it can be sort-of gimmicky. Now on Tap doesn't always work correctly or fast enough, and so we often find ourselves neglecting to use it altogether (in favour of doing a traditional Google Search manually or via "OK Google" - the latter which is always-on anyway).
After all that we get the feeling the earlier Nexus 5, from 2013, looks and feels much better than the current Nexus 5X. Sure, the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner and 1080p display make the 5X worth upgrading to, but it hasn't quite got the X factor in all areas.
There's no support expandable storage, no wireless charging, battery life isn't great, and the construction is plasticky (we don't actually mind, but some will). At this sub-flagship level there's increasing competition too.
If you really loved the soft-touch rubber finish of its predecessor, the Nexus 5, as well as the 5's ceramic buttons, wireless charging and decent speaker audio-quality, but don't want to spend a lot, then you might want to look sideways at the Moto X Pure Edition. The pricier HTC One A9 is a far better-built alternative too.
Still, there's just something about owning a Google device and the stock Android Marshmallow install. For Americans it's one of just a few phones to work with so many different carries, plus offers Nexus Protect and Google Project Fi. For the rest of us, the Nexus 5X has its other hot points: USB-C fast-charging, a decent rear camera, and the affordable price point.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20, What3Words CEO, and Withings Sleep Analyzer reviewed - Pocket-lint podcast ep. 65
Overall the Nexus 5X is great in some areas, lacklustre in others. But it's a Nexus - and boy oh boy, do we love Nexus. However, the larger Nexus 6P offers much more, albeit on a much larger scale.