Nexus 5X review - just £169 SIM-free
Processor: Hexa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, Screen Size: 5.2in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 12.3 megapixels, Storage (free): 16GB (10GB) / 32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 147x73x7.9mm, Weight: 136g, Operating system: Android 6.0 Buy the Nexus 5X now from Carphone Warehouse
Google’s Nexus phones have always ranked highly among my favourite handsets, but today's Carphone Warehouse flash sale puts it straight to the top of our 'must buy list', as it's dropped the price to an astonishing £169 SIM-free. The deal is still on, after being extended, making this an incredible bargain for such a brilliant smartphone. Normally priced at £300, the Nexus 5X is excellent value for money, and at this price I can certainly forgive its rather uninspired design - Buy the Nexus 5X now from Carphone Warehouse.
While the competition is rather polished and nice to look at, the Nexus 5X has neither the workhorse-like simplicity of its predecessor or the glitz of its big rivals. Made out of plastic, it actually looks a little more like a budget handset than something that costs £300. That’s not to say it’s ugly; it’s just not quite as special as you'd hope a normally £300 smartphone would be.
That said, the Nexus 5X is definitely a phone where you can’t judge it based on looks alone, for underneath the rather bland exterior lies a rather good and quite powerful smartphone, proving that Google and its Nexus line-up are very much back on the right track. For another take on the Nexus 5X, check out our sister site Know Your Mobile.
The Nexus project
Once again, the latest Nexus hardware is accompanied by a new version of Android - in this case Android 6.0 (Marshmallow). For my full take on Android’s latest, read my Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) review. In short, there’s lots of nice tweaks and some important changes to app permissions. It’s great to have it on the 5X today, but others will catch up quickly.
This year, however, Google has broken with five years of Nexus tradition and launched two handsets rather than just one. For those who want the biggest and fastest thing around there’s a top-end Phablet, the £449 Nexus 6P; that allows the Nexus 5X to be a mid-range handset, though with a still sizeable 5.2in display, starting at £339.
Nexus handsets rarely sell in huge numbers. The most popular to date was the incredible Nexus 5, and even sales of that bargain handset were curtailed by a mysterious lack of stock. Traditionally, you bought a Nexus phone in cash, upfront, and though contracts are now available this handset is still better value bought that way.
So if they’re not created to shift huge numbers to consumers, what’s the point of a Nexus handset? For Google, it’s a way to get its vision for Android out into the hands of enthusiasts and developers, unmodified, with the handset running a vanilla version of Google’s latest operating system. Nexus also lets the company add hardware to a handset that it thinks is key for the next generation of handsets. In this case, its USB Type-C and a fingerprint sensor.
The new MacBook and the OnePlus Two may have got there first, but Google’s inclusion of USB Type-C here is a far greater statement of intent for the future of most smartphones. The reversible connector is simply great; it’s a little chunkier and feels sturdier than micro USB, and not having to faff about plugging it in the right way up is a revelation (one that iPhone users have enjoyed for years). It’s a little longer, and so slides home more convincingly, and has a distinct click when properly inserted. Yes, it’s only a connector, but it really improves the feel of the device using it day-to-day and that’s important.
We may all be using it tomorrow, but what’s it like to live with today? One problem is that USB Type-C cables aren’t exactly common. Leave yours at home and you’re unlikely to be able to grab a charge at a friend’s house or the office without it. Google hasn’t helped things by only including a Type-C to Type-C cable, along with a Type-C adaptor, in the box. You’ll want to pick up a Type-A to Type-C cable for carrying about with you.
Power isn’t the most exciting element of any handset, but it’s certainly essential, and Type-C allows for fast charging by default. The Nexus 5X charges to 20% in just 10mins, reaches 48% after 30mins and hits a day’s worth of battery (84%) in an hour. It then slows down considerably, reaching 100% after 1hr 40mins, but that’s still quick. It’s a slightly quicker than a Samsung Galaxy S6 using a fast charger, except for that final 16% where the S6 catches up. Useful then, but not groundbreaking.
The battery itself has a 2,700mAh capacity, which is about par for the course given this is a pretty slim 7.9mm handset. In our continuous video playback test, it lasted for a respectable ten hours and 14 minutes. The Moto X Play lasted for over thirteen hours in the same test, but that phone is over 10mm at its thickest point. Quibbles on size apart, the Nexus 5X reliably got me through a full day of use, but if you hammer your smartphone’s battery then there are longer-lasting alternatives.
I was a little sad to discover that wireless charging has been dropped, rendering my small collection of Qi chargers useless. Google has said that the faster charging times of Type-C and the extra space required for the charging coil made it a bad choice. That said, Samsung manages to squeeze wireless charging into the S6 and that’s still slim and beautiful - but of course almost twice the price.
It’s worth noting that Google is only taking full advantage of USB Type-C for power and convenience. There’s no video output from the port, as is supported by the standard, and data transfer rates are only at usual USB 2.0 speeds as well.
After power we move onto security - it’s all the exciting stuff today! Before you skip ahead, security really is a big deal on this handset, because of the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor. Yes, Samsung and Apple have had fingerprint sensors for a couple of years now, but Android has never supported them natively, and that’s meant support from app developers has been patchy to non-existent.
The inclusion of a sensor here is timed to coincide with the Android Pay’s launch in the US - we should see it in the UK shortly. It’s a handy added layer of security for those trusting their card details to their smartphones. However, it’s not essential for using Android Pay in the US, where any handset can authorise a transaction once the lock screen has been unlocked, say by PIN or swipe code. Whether we see stricter security in the UK is yet to be seen and will depend on Google’s negotiations with banks over here.
On the Nexus 5X, the fingerprint sensor is positioned just below the rear camera. The circular sensor was a little awkwardly placed for me, as I had to adjust my grip significantly to place my index finger on the sensor. I then had to switch my grip a little to hold the phone securely and use it with my thumb. I currently prefer Sony’s implementation on the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact over the competition. You may find the sensor perfectly placed for your hands - I recommend trying it out in a shop before buying if it's important to you.
I can’t complain about the speed at all. Resting your finger on the sensor switches on and unlocks the phone almost instantly. It’s accurate too, learning my fingerprints quicker than the S6 and recognising them more consistently as well.
Design and dimensions
The fingerprint sensor adds more clutter to the rear panel. It sits alongside a whopping great Nexus logo, camera sensor with separate flash and focus cutouts, plus a mess of regulatory information at the bottom. Getting rid of the smaller logos would have improved things immeasurably, as would making the logo black-on-black on the ‘Carbon’ model (as it was on the Nexus 5).
It’s great to hold, though. The plastic finish provides plenty of grip and, at 136g, it’s among the lightest phones around too. The shape is good too, with the rear panel meeting the front bezels very neatly indeed. The 147x73x7.9mm dimensions are reasonable for a handset with a 5.2in display, especially given the inclusion of stereo forward-mounted speakers. I’m a huge fan of such speakers, and as they did on the Nexus 6, they provide superior, clearer audio than any tiny port tucked away around the bottom of so-called flagship smartphones.
It looks like the designers took the day off when it came to the side buttons, though. Black, plastic, completely rectangular and utterly featureless, they are so simple as to appear an afterthought. They aren’t terrible to use, but there’s not a lot of feedback and no distinct click. Power and volume are placed right next to each other too, which doesn’t help, and there’s no texturing to make them easy to differentiate.
Amidst all that is a good LCD screen with a Full HD resolution. Even at 5.2in across it still has a whopping 424 pixels-per-inch and despite higher resolutions being available, I’m unconvinced there’s any serious advantage in terms of day-to-day use. In objective tests, the screen stood up well, covering 94.8% of the sRGB colour gamut with 415cd/m2 max brightness, a contrast level of 1309:1 and a black level of 0.32cd/m2. Essentially, it scored respectably across the board.
I’ve seen brighter LCDs at this price, but consistency is the name of the game and the Nexus 5X nails that. It also has a pleasingly flat colour output, without some of the boosted and garish shades I’ve seen elsewhere. Samsung is to be applauded in finally reigning in colour vibrancy on the S6, but lacking that, a neutral take is the best option.