LG’s heritage when it comes to Nexus is well established; their first foray with the Nexus 4 was well received, but nowhere near as successful as the Nexus 5 which is probably the best-selling Nexus handset of all time.
That is, until the release of the 2015 Nexus range, where the Nexus 5X from LG is undoubtedly a big contender. Alongside Huawei, LG has teamed up with Google again to do a Nexus phone, and the early results are impressive. From what we’ve seen both overseas and here at home, the hype for the 2015 Nexus range has yet to find the peak of its crescendo; though Google never publicly comments on sales volumes, this time round we don’t really need them to — with stock going out of stock and being quickly replenished on the Google Store, its quite obvious that these phones are selling well.
So, before you throw your money at LG’s Nexus 5X, which will start being shipped to Australian customers early next week, we thought we’d take a look through the phone and give you our first impressions.
Be sure to read the Nexus 6P first impressions as well.
A look through the physical aspects
The hardware specs for the Nexus 5X have been well explored, and there’s few surprises left, however there’s a few areas that we’d like to highlight for your attention.
Internally, the Nexus 5X is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808; a hexa-core processor with 4 x 1.44 GHz cores and 2 x 1.82 cores. This is paired with a fairly standard 2GB RAM and 16GB or 32GB storage.
Let’s talk about that processor a bit more. The Snapdragon 808 has been used by LG before, in their G4 earlier this year. I remember reviewing the G4 and one of the things that really stood out to me was the processing power, and yet its ability to sip ever-so-gently at the battery life. It’s this which led LG to make perhaps one of the easiest design decisions with the Nexus 5X.
While the configuration in the Nexus 5X doesn’t leave it quite as snappy as the G4 (this is probably a function of less RAM available), it is still remarkably quick and this from a processor which has demonstrated its power-saving credentials. Paired with Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s software power saving (including Android Doze) — which can extend battery life by 30% over previous Android versions — the Nexus 5X really does have long-lasting power.
The internal, non-removable battery is rated at 2,700 mAh, and while this isn’t the smallest on the market, it’s a far-cry from the biggest. Our initial fears were that the Nexus 5X would suffer from battery life shortness of breath, just as many previous Nexus devices have. Fortunately, that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
Sitting here writing this piece, the Nexus 5X is sitting at 65%. This, after an hour of streaming music at the gym this morning, an hour of screen-on time, a couple of phone calls and a few messages. This isn’t the most taxing day I’ve had mobile-use wise, but it’s a good indicator that if you’re not a heavy phone user, the Nexus 5X could easily last all day. At the moment, if my current usage pattern continues, the Nexus 5X should last until 4am tomorrow before dropping off completely.
Under heavier use, up to about three to four hours screen time, the Nexus 5X will reach its limits. This is no Moto X Play with two or three day battery life, but it isn’t meant to be. The inclusion of Fast Charging means that with a 15W power adaptor (5V, 3A), just 10 minutes on the charger is enough to add up to 4 hours of extra battery life. If you picture that you might be out on the road all morning, and have half an hour for lunch near a charger, you can easily have a demanding day from the Nexus 5X and not find any disappointment.
The Nexus 5X camera
I’ll start by saying I’ve come to expect quite a lot from mobile cameras; this year they’ve improved markedly and mediocre photos are no longer acceptable. Equally, manufacturers are making some big, bold claims about their camera quality, and some aren’t quite living up to the standard we’ve come to expect.
Though I’ve not had too many photographic opportunities since picking up the Nexus 5X on Monday, and the weather has been pretty ordinary before today, I’ve tried to capture a range of what I would consider ‘normal’ photos; some indoors, some out, some close up some far away, some during the day and some at dusk. There’s a reasonable range, and in my initial opinion, the Nexus 5X camera certainly performs. The shutter is quick, the camera is quick to load, and the results are fairly comparable with the top-shelf mobile sensors at the moment, in some cases well exceeding others.
My favourite photo in this set is the white blossom; open that image up to the full sized image (here’s the link) and blow it up to 100%; the quality on the individual flower elements is simply stunning, as you can see in the side-by-side above. The Nexus 5X captures an amazing level of detail. I want to test it out a little more with faster moving subjects to make sure that the focus can keep up (the shutter speed certainly isn’t a concern), and also a few more dynamic environments. On the whole, though, this camera is simply brilliant.
The slow-motion video capture on the Nexus 5X is really cool. While it’s not quite at the 240fps rate that the Nexus 6P is capable of, the 120fps Nexus 5X is still impressive, and the quality is pretty good too. Lacking a more exciting subject to film in slow motion, here you can watch Thomas the Tank Engine slowly making his way through a section of my son’s track:
The Android Marshmallow experience
One of the very first phones on the market with Android 6.0 Marshmallow is something that would make others a little cautious; we’ve seen it time and time again where first-release phones with first-release software are plagued with issues, though this is more in Apple and iOS land than is the case for Android. Fortunately, first impressions are that Android 6.0 Marshmallow is remarkably bug free, performs really well, and is a pleasure to use.
As Android iterates over its versions, the changes from one to the next become less significant, and that’s definitely the case here; Android 6.0 Marshmallow is very much an incremental upgrade over Android 5.1 Lollipop. From looks alone, it’s difficult to see the changes. Much of it is under the hood, aimed at improving performance, extending battery life, and making Android more useful and more enjoyable to use.
There are some visual indications of change though, which we’ve already spent much time talking about. Google’s Now On Tap is impressive, and provides a level of context-sensitive search virtually unheard of, allowing you to find search results for whatever might be on your screen. If you’re viewing a Wikipedia page for a movie, for example, Now On Tap will bring up local movie times. Messaging your friends talking about Chinese restaurants? Now On Tap will suggest some nearby.
It’s not perfect, but it is a rather useful feature that I think users will enjoy.
Probably the biggest and most obvious change for users is the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor. It has been done before, with Samsung’s first foray into fingerprint readers in the Galaxy Note 4 back in 2014. Unfortunately that wasn’t particularly well executed, and while fingerprint readers have improved over the years — Samsung’s Galaxy S6 has a pretty good one — they were still fairly proprietary affairs.
With Android 6.0 Marshmallow, fingerprint reading is built into the operating system, providing an open and extensible platform for 3rd party developers to get access to. Not only this, but the fingerprint detection speed on the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P is phenomenal; under 600ms and its so quick that its barely perceptible — by the time you’ve picked the phone up from your pocket or your desk, and touched the sensor the phone is unlocked and ready to rock and roll.
The decision to have the fingerprint reader on the rear of the device isn’t unheard of; Huawei have done it most recently with their G8 and it felt like a good idea then, too. Instead of taking up valuable space on the front of the phone, or requiring a physical home button ala Samsung, placing the fingerprint reader on the back solves both those issues, and is also a rather natural place for it. When you try it, you’ll almost undoubtedly agree.
It’s early days. Daniel and I have been hands-on with the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X respectively since Monday afternoon, but the early impressions are beyond promising. Finally, we have Nexus phones with stunning cameras and battery life that isn’t rubbish; on top of that, we’ve got the latest software experience, and hardware that challenges the 2015 flagships without challenging the wallet in the same way.