in Hardware, Reviews

Nexus 5x – Familiar feel, same result

It has been a long time since a new Nexus has been usable for the general population, two years ago LG produced arguably the most successful Nexus so far. A 5 inch screened device, with good specs that was affordable to the masses. For the first time it was a phone you could recommend and you actually saw Nexus’ in use on the street.

Now there is debate over what the Nexus line is, but Google effectively does whatever they like and chose to supersize a Moto x and release a 6 inch phone. Partly to keep with the sequential naming scheme and partly to see what they could do with such a massive screen. The answer for many was nothing and it struggle for sales as much as users did to reach the top of it’s massive screen.

A complete change of plan this year as Google have released two phones, an Nexus and a Nexus plus if you will. Giving Chinese OEM Huawei a chance to produce a better 6 inch phone, and (as we have here) LG another crack at its beloved 5 inch Nexus — the result being the Nexus 5x. A tongue in cheep name for what is essentially a small spec bump on it’s last Nexus.

Spec Race

Specs have be come a bone of contention for some, but we are finally getting to a point where all spec sheets give reasonably the same results. The Nexus 5x sits in the sweet spot for most users, the 5.2inch 1080p IPS screen (423ppi) leaves little bezel at the sides. Meaning just over 70% of the front of the phone isn’t covered by glass, so it is almost impossible to tell when the screen starts and ends.

The majority of the remaining 30% is dominated by the two front facing grilles. These certainly give the impression of stereo speakers a la the Nexus 6. However this is only illusion, as the speaker is behind only the bottom grille, with the top on being for call audio only. Although does help give a very balanced look to the front of the phone which has been lacking from previous Nexus phones and makes the phone appear very premium.

Sadly that premium look is in appearance only, as the phone body is made entirely from plastic that will feel familiar for users of the old device. It still maintains some of the same grippy feel of the last Nexus 5, and unfortunately very similar creaks and cracks from the plastic while actually using the phone. The handset styling is sleek and understated as with every Nexus device and could easily fit in any situation, but during use things like the vibration motor make the phone feel and sound very cheep indeed.

With that said you are using a phone that is ‘only’ £299 (when purchased from Carphone warehouse) so some compromises should be expected. For that price you are also getting a phone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 (MSM8992) the Hexacore processor that has mediated the disaster that is the Snapdragon 810. Coupled with a somewhat limited 2gb of RAM, but it does give a smooth and quick user experience.

There is one new hardware addition, a small ring on the back of the device you could be forgiven for dismissing as decoration. It outlines the finger print scanner, placed approximately where your index finger rests during use. A top finger print scanner it is too, fast and accurate and a pleasure to use. It takes only a few days to get used to the placement and will be particular useful for those wanting extra security without entering a pin on every unlock. A quick top on the circle wakes and unlocks the phone with ease.

In side by side tests the scanner was as accurate and for the majority quicker than the Touch ID sensor on the new iPhone 6s. Which just as with Apples new handset almost renders the lock screen useless unless you unlock the old fashioned way by using the power button. However you wont want to as all three of the buttons placed down the right hand side of the device leave a lot to be desired, feeling mushy and sub par to say the least.

Long Life

The 5.2 screen has allowed LG to squeeze in a slightly larger battery than the last iteration, a 2700mah battery that should see it through a day of use according to Google. Unfortunately this is the one and only area that may sway a few people to opt for something different. In real world usage all day life is possible — but not guaranteed, if you are a heavy user you are going to struggle to see 7pm without at least a little range anxiety.

However for lighter users the battery life is superb, using Marshmallows ‘doze mode’ the phone blocks wake locks and other battery drains, backing off from system tasks the longer it is left. Meaning standby battery drain is dramatically reduced without compromising important notification or messages while the phone is sat idle on a table etc. Unfortunately this is not optimised for those times the phone is sat in your pocket, so doze is only really useful if you place you phone somewhere when not in use.

There are also lots of battery optimisation built into Marshmallow such as optimising app usage to prolong battery use and an ambient display each time you nudge the phone. All in an attempt to avoid waking the phone up to se if you have any notifications. So in reality the 2700mah battery should do better than it does, but Google service are again the largest battery drain. If you use things like Google Now and location services you are going to struggle being away from a charger for long periods of time.

For those times you are caught short (which you will be) the Nexus 5x comes complete with new USB type C charging cable, which is great. No more fumbling or having to turn the cable around 3 times to get it to fit the bottom of the phone, but a massive pain when trying to buy some spare cables. Bare in mind also that the supplied cable with both of these phones is USB type C on both ends, so you wont be plugging it into your computer without an adapter or unless you have a Chromebook Pixel.

Once plugged in the phone charges incredibly fast, going from less than 10% to 100% faster than anything I have experienced — and a quick 10 minute charge will add another 4 hours of battery life to a dying phone.

Snap happy

With the build quality and the battery life being little improved from the last Nexus 5 its a refreshing change to not have to also moan about the camera performance. Previous iterations have not had bad cameras per se, but have made little use of the sensor with image processing and software benefits. Fortunately, at fourth time of promising Google have delivered a very capable couple of handsets. They have included the same sensor into both new handsets, a 12.3 mp Sony sensor and optimised it to the best of their ability.

Shots are not going to blow anyone away, but for the first time they are not an embarrassment either. They at least can hold a candle to some of the best on the market, and in the ball park of those from LG’s own G4 and Samsung’s S6. In good lighting shots are crisp, with colours are bright and vivid. Comparison to those of the S6 or iPhone 6s is more down to personal preference, sitting somewhere between the S6 bright colours and the more muted ones of the iPhone.

The biggest let down is still focus, and was a particular bone of contention when taking some pictures. Needing a touch on the screen to manual focus or a few shots to get it correct. Something that is a huge let down when both the Lg G4 and the S6 do such a great job, not to mention the lack of manual controls from Googles camera app. None of the issues above are major and could be updated with a point release, but the camera app is slow and look outdated when others are so quick and easy to use.

Low light usually lets any non optimised sensor down, and it creeps into some shots from the 5x. The lack of OIS does show in quite a few of the shots, leading to some blur and noise in lower light shots. Particular when the light is fading as this is exaggerated by the muted yellows and oranges in the images. It very difficult to show sample shots as they are never how you are really going to use you phone, but there is a gallery of images below of my walk around the park!

Android and You

With all that said you can praise the hardware as much as you like but heres the thing, its Android that is the let down. I still really like Android, like really really. However I think I liked the idea more than the actual OS, the young upstart against the behemoth that is Apple. Except they are both made by huge corporations and both have the same ends in mind. Its all about the revenue but with completely different ways to get it.

Android and iOS both have completely different angles in approaching the end user and earning that revenue. Apple charges a premium for the phone, that is the only place it is available and then provides the user with the best experience possible. Whereas Android makes its OS available everywhere, handset makers make no money from the sale, and then hope to makes a much money as possible while the phone is in use.

Android still feels like children’s software trying to live up to being a serious OS, its fun and friendly but could occasionally put on its big boy pants and play grownups. Gone is the hollo blue, but it is replaced by every primary colour in tones that could damage the retina. Unfortunately for the Nexus, it also features the Google logo in multicoloured glory right on the home screen — as it runs Googles version of Android and its more Google like than it has ever been.

There is an unspoken of pressure to hate anything produced by the other side, an unwritten law that you are not allowed to like or even appreciate both Android and iOS. It is unfair to compare the Nexus 5x to the iPhone 6s as the handset is half the price, but that is where most people are going to want it to be. The best of Google vs the best of Apple, perhaps the Nexus 6p is a better comparison — but both are ultimately let down by Android.

I know thats an unfavourable thing to say, Android 100% has its advantages — you can mould and shape Android exactly as you like. Change default apps, launchers all sorts of things, but Android apps fail in comparison to their Apples counter parts even when developed by the same companies. The iOS Twitter app is light years above the hot mess that is the Android app — yes you can change the default app but general users will relate official apps to Android straight away.

When the applications in use reflect so heavily on peoples perception of the OS and therefore the hardware its time for Google to put a foot down. Billions of apps make little difference when only a small percentage are any good, and show the full ability of Android. Material design has helped to improve things, but when Google themselves show inconstancy amongst their own apps how can you expect others to follow. Come on developers make the Android what it could be and take over the world.

Conclusion

I don’t want to dismiss a Nexus device that holds so many found memories for me, but Im afraid I just have to. Each and every time I picked up the device it felt good in the hand and took amazing photos, but Android is just not going to win over anyone. The 5x will stay with me, but to occasionally test Android because it is such a good phone for the price — nothing more.

When so much of an Android phone review is useless now, there are only so many words you can use to say the same thing. Readers will scroll down to the camera and battery sections and thats it. It has a great camera, let down a little by a rubbish camera app, and it has a good battery let down by a battery draining OS. One Android phone is the same as the next one by and large, spec sheets mean little above a smooth working device — and this one is great for £299.

If you are an Android user, and looking to upgrade then it is a worthy contender — one of the very best on the market. Even more so for the price you pay. Google finally made some great hardware with its partners, but is let down by the app market not showing Android to the best of its ability. With a heavy heart the Nexus 5x is a budget best buy but nothing more.