Nexus 5X review: Google's Nexus back at its best?

Two years on, the Nexus 5 gets a refresh

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For

  • Inexpensive
  • One-hand friendly
  • 5.2-inch display

Against

  • Just 2GB of RAM
  • microUSB cables are useless
  • Plastic build

At 5.2 inches the Nexus 5X fits into the new average size of Android phones for 2015, but more importantly, its price and specs give it an above average value.

Google is selling its new flagship for £339 with 16GB of storage. Even at £379 for 32GB, the Nexus 5X is cheaper than its rivals, like the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 at launch.

It's still able to keep up, for the most part, with specs like a Snapdragon 808 processor, 2GB of RAM and a fingerprint sensor. Its performance makes few compromises.

LG is behind this Google-commissioned phone, and it carries the first competent Nexus camera that fares better than the iPhone 6S in low light situations.

It's also the first Android, along with the Nexus 6P, to run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It's a fine introduction to the new software, even if there are better Android phones out there.

Design

The Nexus 5X isn't a small phone, but it does fit snugly in one hand and we can operate it with a little stretch. It's as if the Nexus 5 from two years ago has been reborn for modern times.

Surprisingly, while it's taller and broader versus the 2013 Nexus 5, its dimensions of 147 x 72.6 x 7.9mm make it thinner. Our hands wrapped around this phone with great ease.

It also didn't hurt that the Nexus 5X is one of the lightest phones in its class. It's 136g, up a tad from the 130g original. All dimensions are smaller than last year's hulking Nexus 6.

Its lightweight design is due to the plastic construction, and that ends up being the biggest design difference between it and the heavier, all-metal Nexus 6P.

We didn't care for the camera bulge on back, which makes the phone sit unevenly when resting it on a table. Thankfully, it's not so significant that typing ever makes the phone wobble.

The bigger problem we had with the protruding camera is that the fingerprint sensor ring is on the back too, right underneath the lens.

It's very easy to smudge the camera's protective glass as your finger fumbles for the sensor pad, resulting in some unwanted blurry photos.

Features

The Nexus 5X fingerprint sensor is oddly placed on the back of the phone, but it's an overall welcomed addition for phone lockscreen security and features like Android Pay.

Nexus Imprint, as Google calls it, is actually faster than Apple's Touch ID sensor. It's easier to set up, too. It takes just eight taps to register a finger and works just as flawlessly in any direction.

We also liked the fact that the Nexus 5X sensor unlocked the phone from sleep mode. There's no button to push, so it both wakes and unlocked simultaneously.

A little more cumbersome than the atypical fingerprint sensor is the USB-C connection used to recharge this phone. It adds to your cable headache, a real issue when packing a bag. If you forget it or the USB charging brick, you're stuck with a dead phone after 24 hours.

This rendered all of our microUSB cables and docks useless because the new standard is in its infancy. And it's not like we're done with microUSB, as too many other gadgets still use it.

The trade-off is that USB-C charges quickly and is reversible. It juiced up the Nexus 5X in 1 hour and 48 minutes, around the same speed as QuickCharge and Fast Charging phones.

We didn't see an increase in file transfer speeds, even though that's a benefit to some USB-C devices. It's not enabled here and neither is wireless charging. But, without a doubt, we never had trouble trying to figure out which way to plug it in. Plugging it in is certainly faster.

Performance

The Nexus 5X is fast and reliable, but is in no way the fastest Android phone available. Its speed is simply another reflection of its bargain price.

It has a Snapdragon 808 64-bit hexa-core processor, which is made up of a 1.44GHz quad-core chip and 1.82 GHz dual-core chip, and there's also an Adreno 418 GPU onboard.

This is the same configuration as the LG G4. The big difference between these two LG-made phones is that this the new Nexus has 2GB of RAM, not 3GB.

We experienced rare slowdowns, mostly when the camera app failed to boot up quickly, robbing us of time-sensitive sunset photos. Performance when running multiple apps also took a hit.

Outside of these “under pressure” moments, the Nexus 5X is a snappy phone thanks to its stripped-down and bug-free Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system. We do worry that two years down the line, right when most people upgrade, that 2GB of RAM won't be enough.

Where the Nexus 5X excels is in its rear camera performance. Don't let that 12.3MP sensor fool you. The real number to pay attention to is 1.55-micron pixels.

This allows more light to be captured and boost low light photos. We found it on par with the top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 in tests, and that's a tremendous improvement for a Nexus phone.

You won't be disappointed by the camera, unless you buy into Google's hype that this is all of a sudden going to fix for dimly lit pub shots.

Usability

Nexus 5X is the first phone to run Google's Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system, and while the Material Design isn't new, everything that's underneath it runs more smoothly.

Behind-the-scenes perks like Doze Mode and App Standby pause the software when the phone is in a smart sleep mode, resulting in a boost in battery life.

The volume rocker can now silence the phone instead of just setting it to vibrate, an omission Google made with Android 5.0 Lollipop. We do wish the rocker itself didn't feel as cheap and the speakers were stereo, but this is a good start.

The only major new software feature is Google Now on Tap. It scans your current screen to dig up more relevant information on people, places or things.

If you, for example, don't know a band that when someone mentions in a text, holding down the on-screen home button initiates Now on Tap and descriptions and links pop up, saving you a step when you want to “Google something.”

Best of all, this is entirely a stock Android phone, so there are no unnecessary apps or interface tweaks from the likes of Samsung, LG or HTC. It's pure Android at its best.

Verdict

Google's Nexus 5X is the best one-handed Android phone on a budget, given its adequate specs. It nearly matches the LG G4 on the inside with a processor that's fast enough for most people and a camera that's just as good in low light conditions.

On the outside, the plastic design is never going to win awards or feel premium, and that 2GB of RAM does show a slowdown by the time you're ready to turn this phone in.

Its future-proof in other areas, though, with a fingerprint sensor, the USB-C connection and the lightweight and thin design if you can't handle the larger Nexus 6P or its higher price.

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