Google Nexus 5X review

Christmas has arrived early – a sterling Android phone at a reasonable price

Reviews
19 May, 2016
5
Price 
£317
ex VAT (32GB version)
Pros 
Quick charging; High quality camera; Fast and accurate fingerprint reader
Cons 
Ugly; Can be uncomfortable to hold
Verdict 
A high quality smartphone at a reasonable price – Google really has thrown down the gauntlet to Apple and Samsung

Google appeared to lose interest in its own-brand line of smartphones last year, with the Nexus 6 phablet as its only new smartphone. 2015 is an entirely different matter though – Google has not only released the Huawei-made Nexus 6P (review coming soon), but an updated version of 2013’s Nexus 5 – the brand-new Nexus 5X.

Although the original Nexus 5 is fondly remembered by some, our memories are tainted by its short battery life, middling camera and uncomfortably boxy shape. Thankfully LG, the actual manufacturer of both the Nexus 5X and its predecessor, have fixed almost all of these flaws.

Casing and Fingerprint Reader

The original Nexus 5 was a very plain-looking phone and the Nexus 5X continues this trend. It’s a somewhat odd decision since this means there’s very little resemblance between the 5X and the 6P. Although the rear is a tad more curvy, the rest of the phone – especially the squared-off edges – is still very boxy.

Some of us in the IT Pro offices found this shape to be uncomfortable to hold – especially when compared to the tapered edges of Motorola’s Moto G and X phones or the rounded-off edges of the iPhone 6 and 6S. Having said that, the boxy shape can be useful with the squared-off edges giving valuable purchase for your fingers when taking photos.

The non-replaceable rear of the phone is available in inoffensive black or white. It’s also available in a pale shade of blue which we found particularly ugly, although beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We’d be surprised if other colour options didn’t appear in the future – the original Nexus 5 eventually became available in a brash, fetching red.

Like smartphones from Huawei and Honor, the fingerprint reader is positioned on the rear of the phone just below the camera lens. It was very fast at unlocking the phone – especially as we didn’t need to press the power button first. Simply placing our finger on the fingerprint scanner was enough to quickly unlock the 5X in an instant.

It wasn’t quite as accurate as the Touch ID reader on the iPhone 6 and 6S – possibly because Google’s surprisingly brief setup assistant didn’t require us to constantly reposition our finger on the reader, capturing every possible angle like Apple’s. The difference was minimal though – the 5X’s fingerprint reader was still very accurate, especially when compared to older Android phones such as the notably fiddly and inaccurate Samsung Galaxy S5.

Charging and Battery Life

The Nexus 5X is only the second phone we’ve seen (after the OnePlus 2) to have a USB Type-C port instead of the far more ubiquitous Micro USB. This will be a pain if you’ve invested in loads of spare Micro USB chargers for the car, office and elsewhere – especially as only a Type C-to-Type C cable and charger are included in the box. The switch to USB Type C does have benefits though – the symmetrical plug and port means it doesn’t matter which way up you plug it in.

usb type-c compared to usb 3

More importantly, charging is very quick. As our sister site Alphr discovered, the battery charged to 20% from zero in ten minutes. 48% was reached in 30 minutes, 84% in an hour and the phone was fully charged in one hour and 40 minutes. This is likely due to a combination of both Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology and the 15W charger included in the box (most smartphones typically come with 5W chargers).

You shouldn’t need to resort to emergency charging while out and about too often though. When used for a mix of phone calls, internet access, GPS and photography while connected to EE’s 4G network in central London, the battery lasted for a lengthy 29 hours and 42 minutes. This ‘real world’ result is more impressive than the battery’s lacklustre results in our formal benchmark tests, where it only lasted a meagre six and a half hours when used for WiFi browsing and music playback.

Camera

The cameras on Android phones have typically lagged behind Apple’s iPhone cameras in image quality, but the superlative Samsung Galaxy S6 camera shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. Even so, we weren’t expecting much from the 5X’s camera given LG’s prior poor form but we came away very pleasantly surprised.

Image quality was excellent with accurate colours, good contrast and sharp details. Facial tones were captured faithfully, even in tricky lighting. The 5X even did well in low light, outdoing the iPhone 6 and 6S with better exposure and slightly less noise too. It only struggled in landscape shots at twilight, where dark blue skies were rendered as grey instead.

Autofocus was fast thanks to the laser-guided focus assist which sits just above the flash. It’s a little too easy to accidentally cover this with your fingers, whether you have big mitts or are just trying to hold the phone securely while attempting a tricky shot.

Screen and Performance

The 5.2in screen was almost painfully bright, so you shouldn’t have any issues using it outdoors in bright sunshine. Text was very sharp thanks to the 1080p resolution, while colour accuracy and contrast were both very good.

Thanks to the six-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor and 2GB of memory, the Nexus 5X was easily among the fastest smartphones we’ve seen with speedy scores in both rendering JavaScript and running apps. The only stumbling block, and a relatively minor one at that, was 3D graphics performance. The Adreno 418 chip ‘only’ managed 63.8fps in 3DMark, with both the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 easily outpacing it at twice the speed. Even so, it’s still fast enough for all but the most demanding 3D apps.

Android Marshmallow

We’ve covered the latest version of Android, 6.0 Marshmallow, elsewhere in more depth. While we still think Marshmallow is the best version of Android yet, a few annoyances have cropped up in our time with the Nexus 5X.

It’s irritating that you still can’t modify the order of the quick access settings in the notifications drawer and that Google, unlike Samsung and Apple, haven’t included any options to make the large screen easier to use single-handed for those of us with smaller hands.

Still, if these are the worst criticisms we can level at Marshmallow then Google has done well. Plus, there are plenty of other things to like from bootloader verification to more flexible use of SD cards for app storage.

Of course, since it is a member of the Google Nexus family, the 5X will be first in line to get a free update to Android N when it’s released later this year. There’s plenty to look forward to from promises of faster performance and hardened security to less storage-hungry apps and iOS9-style multitasking features.

There’s also the promise of easier to manage notifications, a revamped app switcher and Daydream. This is Google’s name for its collective VR efforts – a reference design for smartphone-based virtual reality from software to headsets, remotes and phones. 

Conclusions

Although there is now hardly a shortage of good Android phones, the Nexus line has always been about pushing manufacturers to do better by providing them with both competition and a template to follow. The Nexus 5X succeeds handily on both counts. Barring a few minor flaws, it’s a quality smartphone in its own right that also challenges makes of both mid-range and premium smartphones to do better. It’s such a great phone, that the more expensive Nexus 6P will have to be very good indeed to justify its higher price.

This review was first published on 27/10/2015 and has since been updated, most recently on 19/5/2016.

Specifications 

OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Display: 5.2in, 1080 x 1920 (423ppi)

Processor: 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 six-core

RAM: 2GB

Storage: 16/32GB, no MicroSD slot

Camera: 12.3-megapixel with autofocus, flash, five-megapixel front-facing

Connectivity: 802.11 ac/a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, NFC, 4G, GPS/GLONASS

Ports: USB 2.0, Type-C

Dimensions: 147 x 73 x 8 mm (HxWxD)

Battery: 2700mAh

Weight: 136g