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Nexus 6P review: the best Android phone

Nexus 6pThe Nexus 6P is built on a frame of aluminum, and it's a big, solid slab of a phone. Instead of smooth, rounded curves, the 6P has chamfered corners and 90-degree angles — but they're done well enough that it doesn't feel rough in the hand. You can get the phone in white, silver, or black (well, "graphite"). Everybody always worries about aluminum phones being too slippery, and I can't really say that the 6P is better or worse than anything else in that regard.

The design has a sense of unity, coherency and almost inevitability

Phones designed this way have a sense of unity and coherency, and the best of them also have a sense of inevitability — as though you couldn't imagine a phone looking or feeling any other way. The 6P doesn't quite get there, but it gets very close.

The reason it doesn't is that there's a glass bulge on the back where Huawei has crammed a bunch of components like the camera, flash, autofocus laser, NFC, antennas, and who knows what else. Calling this little panel a "bulge" is unfair, though, because it doesn't stick out all that far — it looks far bigger in photos than it does in person.

Don't sweat the bulge: it gives the 6P a visual identity and doesn't hurt anything; it doesn't make it feel tippy, either — its weight is evenly distributed. And yes, the phone is big, much bigger than the Nexus 5X. It's nearly the exact same size as the iPhone 6S Plus and noticeably taller than the Note 5 — so I do wish that it were a little bit shorter. Most importantly, it feels just as well built as both of those phones.

There is plastic here, too: subtle antenna lines on the sides and a tiny rail between the screen and the body. Pay them no mind. More annoying is a plastic panel on the rear bottom of the phone — again for antennas. It doesn't exactly match the color or texture of the aluminum, at least on the graphite model. But it does have a benefit, I'm getting much better wireless performance on the 6P than I ever did with the Nexus 6.

Nexus 6pBut I quibble. The Nexus 6P feels solid, whole, and balanced. The glass on the front symmetrically frames the 5.7-inch screen with dual speakers and a blessed lack of logos. And heck, if you want, you can turn on an RGB indicator light for notifications, located in the upper lefthand corner.

The screen on the Nexus 6P is a 5.7-inch, 2560 x 1440 AMOLED display, which works out to a "you'll never see the pixels" 518PPI. It's sharp and bright, and like many AMOLED displays, it has its color saturation settings cranked up pretty high. I actually don't mind that, but if you do, you can turn on developer settings and set it to the sRGB color mode.

The other thing I like about the screen is that Huawei nailed the little details that are often all screwy on AMOLED screens. It doesn't show any weird banding when you look at it from an angle. Even better: when you turn the brightness way down, it doesn't turn whites into a hideous shade of maroon. I'm also happy with the adaptive brightness settings on the 6P, which is not something I can say of every smartphone.

If you compare it to last year's Nexus 6 (appropriately codenamed "Shamu"), it's simply no contest. The Nexus 6 is like an A10 Warthog, all big and bulbous and kind of silly. It has not aged well. The Nexus 6P is an F22, sleek and toeing the line of looking aggressive without crossing it. It's a beautiful object.

There's one more design element on the 6P to talk about: the fingerprint reader. Google calls it "Nexus Imprint" because the impetus for companies to Brand All The Things knows no bounds. But luckily, the scanner itself is designed to look subtle and restrained: it's just a simple recessed circle on the back of the phone.

Nexus 6pGoogle's decision to put it there instead of on the power button or a physical home key leads to some hassles. You can't use it when the phone is set on a table, for example. And if you're the kind of person who walks with your hands in your pocket, get ready to be annoyed. I cannot count the number of times the 6P read my palm in my pocket and briefly vibrated to let me know that I had not, in fact, unlocked the phone.

A ridiculously fast and accurate fingerprint reader

But all of those hassles pale in comparison to how well Nexus Imprint actually works. It's perfectly positioned for your index finger when you're holding the phone, and like Dan with the Nexus 5X, I've gotten used to just tapping it as I pull my phone out of my pocket. It's so fast it's uncanny, simultaneously unlocking and turning on the screen with a single tap. Training it is fast, too; it only takes about five or six taps to get it set up. Google says that it continues training itself as you use it, and I've yet to have anything but the most glancing touch fail to unlock the 6P.

Separating the fingerprint sensor from the power button on the side also makes sense, because you get two different functions. If you have notifications on your lock screen, you can hit the power button to quickly glance at them and interact with them or just tap Nexus Imprint to jump directly into the phone. It's great.

Speaking of the power button, it has a new trick: double-tapping it launches the camera. From a powered-off state, it's crazy convenient. From a powered-on state, it's crazy annoying. That's because the first tap of the power button locks the screen, and so the camera launches in a locked mode. For whatever reason, Android 6.0 isn't smart enough to just let me unlock the phone with Nexus Imprint while in a locked camera mode, so I end up bouncing back to the home screen to interact with the photos I just took.

You can also use Nexus Imprint to authorize Android Pay and buy stuff in the Google Play app store, and beyond that Google has set it up so third-party app makers can use it, too. I haven't found any that do yet, but I saw 1Password on Google's list of partners at the announcement event, and I can't wait for it to be updated.

And now, at long last: the camera. It's the most fraught part of any Android phone review and certainly of any Nexus phone review. We live in a world where you can buy any number of phones with beautiful (or at least passable) hardware, with decent speed and great screens, and with about a day of battery life. Really, it's an embarrassment of riches. But until this year, all but a very few Android phones have fallen short of where they really ought to be when it comes to the camera.

This year, things have changed and the bar is set much higher. Samsung, Sony, and LG have shown that you can produce a great camera that gives you great results without making you fiddle with manual settings. Even Motorola has done a much better job than in years past. If Google couldn't step up and finally produce a Nexus phone with a good camera, tables would be flipped.

Nexus 6p Nexus 6p Nexus 6p
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