Google has released roughly one Nexus smartphone per year since 2010. This year the company is breaking the mold by launching two new Nexus phones: the premium Nexus 6P and the smaller, more affordable, and slightly less powerful Nexus 5X.
But while the Nexus 6P has a faster processor, more RAM, and a few camera features that its smaller sibling lack, the Nexus 5X has a charm all its own: this is the spiritual successor to the popular 2013 Google Nexus 5.
Like the 2013 model, the Nexus 5X is manufactured by LG. And like the 2013 model, it’s designed to offer high-end specs at an affordable price: you can buy a Google Nexus 5X for $380 and up.
On paper the new phone has a more powerful processor, a bigger battery, a better camera, and a few other features which should make it a big upgrade from the original Nexus 5X. In practice… it’s mostly an upgrade. But after spending a few days with the Nexus 5X Google loaned me, there are definitely a few things you should know before trading in your Nexus 5 for a Nexus 5X.
The Nexus 5X has a 5.2 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core 64-bit processor with Adreno 418 graphics, 2GB of RAM, 16GB to 32GB of storage, and a 2,700 mAh battery. It’s also one of the first phones to ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow software.
But here are the features that really make the new phone stand out from its predecessor: it has a Nexus Imprint fingerprint sensor, a USB Type C connector, support for fast charging, and significantly better front and rear cameras. It also supports ambient display notifications.
I’ll explain these features a bit more in the next section.
There are some things that haven’t changed much: the Nexus 5X has just 2GB of RAM. It’s not available with more than 32GB of storage. And while the speaker has been moved to the front of the phone, the Nexus 5X still has just a single speaker.
There’s a notification LED built into that speaker. When you first start up the phone, the light won’t do anything, but if you dig into Android’s notification settings, you can enable the light so that it glows when new messages come in.
Other features include 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, and support for 4G LTE networks. Google sells one version of the Nexus 5X which should work on any major US wireless network. The phone has a single nano SIM card slot.
The phone has 3 microphones, with one on the front, one at the top, and another on the bottom.
Measuring 147mm x 72.7mm x 7.9mm, it’s noticeably bigger (although a little thinner) than the original Nexus 5, which has a 5 inch screen and a body that’s 138mm x 69mm a 8.6mm.
The new model’s also a tiny bit heavier, at 136 grams, compared with 130 grams for the Nexus 5.
On the back of the phone there’s a small bump by the camera, making that part of the phone a little thicker than the rest. Honestly, I kind of like the look, but some folks seem to hate camera bumps, so make what you will of the design.
The power and volume buttons are both on the right side of the phone, and they’re position low enough that they should be easy to reach if you’re holding the phone in one hand with your fingers wrapped around the back of the phone
There’s a headset jack on the bottom of the phone, which would probably bother me more if I hadn’t started using Bluetooth headphones a few months ago. While some folks like having a jack on the bottom of the phone, I find it can make things awkward if you’re trying to use headphones while the phone is in your pocket.
While the front of the Nexus 5P is black, Google offers three color options for the back: “carbon,” “quartz,” and “ice.” Most of us would probably call that black, white, and light blue.
Here’s the good stuff: the Nexus 5X has a pretty great camera (at least compared to my aging Nexus 5). It gets decent battery life. The battery charges pretty quickly. And the fingerprint scanner is really, really nice.
Honestly, I kind of thought fingerprint scanners were gimmicky unless you wanted to use your phone for mobile payments, but now I’m sold: the Nexus Imprint sensor makes it super easy to unlock the phone or to login to apps like LastPass that take advantage of Google’s fingerprint recognition system.
In a nutshell the fingerprint sensor lets you add a layer of security to your phone and select apps without requiring you to spend a lot of time entering passwords, PINs, or swipe patterns.
While the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P aren’t the first phones with fingerprint sensors, they are the first to take advantage of the native support for fingerprint authentication built into Android 6.0.
The phones are also the first I’ve had a chance to test extensively, and I’m impressed.
But the fingerprint sensor is only one of the new features in the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.
Nexus phones have never been known for their stellar cameras. But they’ve gotten better in recent years. When the stars are in alignment, I’ve been able to get some decent shots from my Nexus 5, and the 2014 Nexus 6 had a higher-quality camera that made it a little easier to snap good-looking images.
This year Google’s getting serious about camera quality, and the company has outfitted both the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P with 12.3 megapixel rear cameras with 1.55 µm pixels, allowing the cameras to do a better job of finding light in dimly lit environments.
The upshot is that not only do the new phones have cameras that are capable of taking good shots in direct sunlight, but you should be able to get halfway decent photographs at nighttime or in poorly lit areas.
Google has also added a feature that lets you launch the camera by double-pressing the power button, whether the screen is on or off. The phones support 4K video recording, and the new version of the Google Camera app lets you quickly switch from still photos to video by swiping across the view finder.
In my experience, the camera performs better in some situations than others. Here are a few photos shot with the Nexus 5X, including one selfie shot with the front-facing 5MP camera.
Photographing a black cat can always be a challenge in poorly lit rooms, but notice how the whole image looks a bit funny when I tried snapping a photo of Puck while he was sitting in front of a window.
He looks much better in the pictures where he’s on the floor, and the window is behind me — but you can see some motion blur when he’s licking himself, because the default camera app doesn’t have an extraordinarily fast shutter speed.
Third-party apps may give you more control over camera settings though, since the Nexus 5X supports manual controls for ISO, white balance, focus, and shutter speed. It also lets you shoot RAW photos. You’ll just need a third-party app like Manual Camera to take advantage of those features.
Both the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P have the same rear camera, but the camera app for the Nexus 6P has a few extra features, including support for image stabilization and for recording videos at 240 frames per second for slow-motion playback. That’s because these features are both software-based, and the Nexus 6P has a more powerful processor than the Nexus 5X.
While the image stabilization is a nice feature to have all the time, the slow-motion video feature works best in well-lit areas, because the image gets much dimmer when you switch to 120 frames per second or 240 frames per second modes.
Note that you can record 720p video at 120 frames per second on the Nexus 5X. But only the Nexus 6P supports 240 fps video recording.
Here’s what a slow-motion video looks like:
And here’s a 4K/2160p video:
Results will vary depending on the lighting, speed of the action you’re trying to record, and a whole bunch of other variables. Since there’s no image stabilization available for the Nexus 5X, videos can get pretty shaky if you don’t use some sort of camera mount.
But it’s nice to at least have the option to record slow-motion or high resolution videos. Just don’t expect miracles from either of those modes.
USB Type-C and Fast Charging
The phones also have reversible USB Type-C ports. While the phones only support USB 2.0 data transfer speeds, there are a few advantages to moving to the new connector type.
First, USB Type-C is reversible: you can’t accidentally try to insert a cable upside down and risk scratching your device or damaging the USB port. Second, USB Type-C supports fast charging, letting you deliver juice to your battery more quickly.
Google says the Nexus 6P can get up to 7 hours of battery life from a 10 minute charge, while the Nexus 5X can get 4 hours of run time from 10 minutes of charging. While I didn’t test that claim extensively, I can say that it doesn’t take very long to charge the battery, and you’ll definitely see the battery percentage readings go up after leaving the phone plugged in for just a few minutes.
The Nexus 5X comes with a USB Type-C to Type-C cable and a charging adapter. If you want to connect the phone to a different charger or plug it into a computer that doesn’t have a Type-C port, you’ll need to buy your own USB Type-C to Type-A cable.
It’s worth noting that while Google does include a Type-A cable with the Nexus 6P, it’s only 14 inches long, which means you might still want to buy a longer cable if you don’t want your phone to sit right next to your computer.
Speaking of power, the Nexus 5X has a 2700 mAh battery. That’s up from 2300 mAh for the 2013 Nexus 5. The new phone also has a new processor and new sensors designed to work with Android 6.0. All of this should spell out longer battery life, and it does… I think.
I’ve only had a few days to test the Nexus 5X so far, but in that time, I’ve found that you can definitely leave it unplugged from morning until night without the phone running out of power. Here are some screenshots showing what happened when I left the phone unplugged from about 2:30 one afternoon until about 10:30 the next morning:
The phone still had about 25 percent of its battery charge left after about 20 hours unplugged. The screen was on for 3 hours and 45 minutes of that time, and I’d used the phone to download and install apps, surf the web, snap a few photos, read news in Feedly, check Facebook, and play some Classic Words.
The Nexus 5X isn’t the first phone to support Google’s ambient display technology, but since I’ve been comparing the phone to the 2013 Nexus 5, I’ll keep doing that and call this a newish feature.
When a notification arrives, a section of the screen will brighten briefly to show you the time and any available notifications. This lets you know at a glance when a text message, email, or other notification comes in.
If the phone’s been sitting still for a moment, picking it up will also trigger the ambient display, allowing you to see the time and notifications at a glance without unlocking the phone first.
Ambient display is disabled by default, but you can turn it on in the Display settings. If you don’t want sensitive details showing up on the screen of your locked device, you can go into Android’s Sound & notification settings and choose whether to show all notification content, hide sensitive details, or disable notifications on the lock screen altogether.
The Nexus 5X has a 5.2 inch display, which means it’s not a lot bigger than the 5 inch Nexus 5. But in practice, I’ve found that it’s much easier to reach my thumb across the screen of the older phone.
This makes it easier to hold the phone in one hand while scrolling through web pages, social media feeds, or RSS news items, among other things. Honestly, the Nexus 5 is already slightly too large to be completely usable in one hand. The Nexus 5X is just enough bigger to drive me crazy from time to time.
While the phone has some very nice new features that kind of make me want to upgrade, I really wish it had a 5 inch or smaller display.
Pixel density purists will also note that since the two phones both have 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS displays, the Nexus 5 has a higher pixel density, since those pixels are packed more tightly.
How does it handle?
Surely the new phone is faster than the 2013 model though, right? Well, that depends on what you use the phone for.
In terms of benchmarks, yes. The Nexus 5X is faster than the Nexus 5 in just about any test you’d care to run. It scores higher in single-CPU and multi-core CPU tasks. And it comes out ahead in graphics tests.
That shouldn’t be surprising. The Nexus 5 has a 32-bit, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with Adreno 330 graphics while the Nexus 5X has a 64-bit, hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chip with Adreno 418 graphics.
But here’s the thing: in terms of real-world performance, it’s very hard to tell the difference between the phones. Launch the same app on each phone and they’ll both take about the same amount of time to load. Reboot the phones at the same time and you’ll get to the lock screen at about the same time.
In fact, sometimes, the Nexus 5X actually seems a tiny bit slower (although at other times it seems a little bit faster).
It’s hard to say what exactly’s going on here, but one possible explanation is that the Nexus 5X uses full device encryption by default, whereas it’s optional on the Nexus 5. And software that takes advantage of the 64-bit processor can also be a little more resource-intensive, which means while both phones have 2GB of RAM, the Nexus 5X might use up available memory more quickly.
Whatever the reason, there’s just not a huge difference in speed and performance for most day-to-day tasks. That’s not to say there aren’t advantages to the newer chipset: the Nexus 5X has hardware support for OpenGL ES 3.1, while the Nexus 5 does not, for instance.
And as mentioned above, there are plenty of other reasons to consider the Nexus 5X. It has better battery life, a better camera, a fingerprint sensor, and fast charging, among other things. But it doesn’t feel much faster than a 2-year-old Nexus 5 running Android 6.0.
The good news is that while the Nexus 5X doesn’t feel much faster than Google’s 2-year-old phone, that’s not to say it’s not fast: both phones do a great job of streaming videos from Netflix or music from Spotify, handling Android games, web browsing, and social media. The Nexus 5X just does those things a bit longer, thanks to the bigger battery and other improvements to energy efficiency.
A few notes on Android 6.0
Google’s new Nexus smartphones are among the first to ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but the latest version of Android is also rolling out to the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 7 (2013), and Nexus 9 and phone makers are already getting ready to bring the software to devices that don’t have the word Nexus in their names.
Now on Tap
There a bunch of nifty new features in Android 6.0, but one that gets a lot of attention is Google Now on Tap. If you enable the feature (it’s not turned on by default), you an press and hold the home button from any screen to bring up relevant information and links to search results, videos, and apps with related content.
Looking at an article about a movie? You could get IMDB ratings or information about actors in the film. Browsing Facebook? Now on Tap can give you links to more information about a blurb you’re viewing.
But it can also sometimes fail to find anything useful, suggesting a Google search for some random words on the screen you’re viewing.
Now on Tap is kind of cool, but it doesn’t really feel like a game changer. You can easily get the same information more quickly by manually typing it into the Google Search bar, or by tapping the microphone icon and speaking a search query to your phone.
Maybe one day Now on Tap will be smart enough to truly anticipate your needs and save you time when you’re researching a topic, ordering movie tickets or making restaurant reservations. Right now it feels kind of like a party trick.
There are a few other features that I’m really excited about in Android 6.0, and a few that are a little less exciting.
Google has offered a cloud backup of the list of apps installed on your phone for a while. Login to a brand new Android phone and you’ll have the option of automatically downloading all of the apps you were using on your old phone.
Now Android also backs up data… for some apps. Developers need to tap into this feature, but when they do, not only will Android automatically download and install apps for you, it’ll also populate them with your data so you don’t need to login or set them up.
I have dozens of third-party apps on my phones, and only a handful currently seem to work with Android 6.0 data backups. But it was refreshing not to have to login to a few apps like Hootsuite, since my data was already waiting for me. It would have been even more exciting if Hootsuite were an app I used on my phone more frequently.
This is a feature that’s supposed to make it easier to share things with the people you communicate with more frequently. Hit the share button in any Android app, and not only will a list of available apps appear, but you’ll also see icons for your frequently used contacts above the apps.
That way instead of sharing a web page by opening your SMS app and then searching for a contact, for example, you can just tap their icon and send the link straight to them.
Unfortunately, the contacts seem to show up a moment after the apps. This effectively means that you hit the share button, see a list of apps, and then just as you’re about to hit you SMS, email, or other app, everything on the screen shifts a little bit and you accidentally tap a person’s face.
Several times, this has almost led to my sending a link to the wrong person using the wrong app. I want to share a web page or a picture. I hit the share button. I try to open Gmail and send it to a friend. Instead, I end up composing a text message to a completely different person with the URL or image included. Fortunately I usually notice what’s happening in time to cancel the message.
Android 6.0 also introduces the new Doze and App Standby power management features, which should help improve battery life when your phone is idle. It’s hard to say for certain how much of an impact this has on battery life, since it’s not like I could test the Nexus 5X with Android 5.1. But battery life during standby does seem to be pretty decent.
The latest version of Android also gives users more control over the permissions used by apps, allowing you to disable some permissions manually. Apps can also now ask for permissions the first time they need it, instead of when you first install the app. So be prepared to answer some pop-up questions from time to time when you start using Android 6.0.
Want to adjust your Start Bar or Quick Settings panel? Pull down the notification tray and tap and hold the Settings icon for a few seconds and it’ll enable the System UI tuner.
You can access this by scrolling down to the bottom of the Settings menu. Once there, you can add or remove items from the Quick Settings Panel, remove items from the Status bar, or opt to show a battery percentage in the battery icon.
Other changes in Android 6.0 include native support for fingerprint authentication, mobile hotspot improvements, reduced audio latency, support for Bluetooth stylus hardware, and more.
Under the hood, there’s also initial support for multi-window mode, allowing you to view and interact with more than one app at a time. But it’s still an experimental feature that’s hidden from users. You’ll need to jump through some hoops to enable the somewhat buggy feature if you want to try it.
Should you buy a Nexus 5X?
Maybe. It’s a pretty nice phone, and I’d consider upgrading from my Nexus 5 for the improved battery life alone. When you add other features including a fingerprint sensor, ambient display, and a better camera, the Nexus 5X starts to look like a winner.
But I’m not convinced I want to spend $379 or more for a phone with a bigger screen… especially one that doesn’t offer more RAM, more storage, or noticeably faster performance than the phone I’ve been using for the past two years.
If my Nexus 5 screen cracked tomorrow, I’d probably buy a Nexus 5X. There might be other phones in the same price range that would be worth considering, including the Moto X Pure, the OnePlus 2, or the Asus Zenfone 2. But they’re all even bigger, and I really like having a phone that gets software updates directly from Google.
If size isn’t an issue for you, then it’s also worth considering the Google Nexus 6P. It has the same camera and fingerprint sensor as the Nexus 5X, but it has a more powerful Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, up to 128GB of storage, and a higher-resolution, 2560 x 1440 pixel display.
The Nexus 6P also charges even more quickly and supports a few extra camera features, thanks to the speedier processor.