This is for those of you who lamented that Google went with a phablet for their 2014 Nexus phone, and a really big one at that. The Nexus 6 was a massive phone and an expensive one too, but with the Nexus 5X, built by LG, they've returned to a more pocket friendly smartphone, in both senses of the phrase. The price starts at a reasonable $379 and the 5.2" Nexus 5X is one of the more compact Android phones currently on the market. That doesn't mean it's iPhone 6s petite, nor is it as small as the Samsung Galaxy S6, but it is a bit smaller than the LG G4 and significantly smaller than the more expensive 5.7" Nexus 6P that launched at the same time as the 5X. Midrange and better than midrange (but not quite flagship) unlocked non-contract phones have been the rage this year with the Moto X Pure, the OnePlus Two and the Asus ZenFone 2 fighting for your dollars. The Nexus 5X has a certain charm though, not only because it runs pure Android and will get OS updates first, but because it does both CDMA and GSM and thus will work on the big four US carriers (that's right--Verizon and Sprint as well as T-Mobile and AT&T). Of course it will also work on smaller and regional carriers and overseas.
Specs and Basic Facts
The more affordable of the 2015 Nexus phones is no slouch: it has a full HD 1920 x 1080 IPS display, a very capable 12.3MP rear camera (the same as found on the Nexus 6P), a front 5MP camera, dual band WiFi 801.11ac with MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS with GLONASS and a 2,700 mAh battery. It's slim and light and it has more 4G LTE bands than you can list in one breath. The smartphone has 2 gigs of RAM and it's available with 16 gigs of storage for $379 and 32 gigs of storage for $429. Google still despises removable storage so there's no microSD card slot. The nano SIM card slot lives on the side (you'll use the included poke tool to eject the card carrier) and the battery is sealed inside. It's available in "carbon" black, white and "ice" mint green. The casing is polycarbonate and the display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Not bad at all for a phone at this price with no carrier commitment required. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I personally find the phone to be good looking with pleasing curves and an interesting camera hump.
The phone's power button and volume rocker are on the right side, and the 3.5mm audio jack and USB-C port (USB 3.1) are on the bottom. The USB-C port is perhaps a bit too forward thinking, or at least it feels that way because Google chose to ship the phone with just a USB-C to USB-C cable, when few laptops or desktops have that port. You'll have to buy a USB-C to USB-A standard port connector if you wish to transfer files and media between your computer and phone. The Nexus 6P includes that adapter, perhaps because its price tag is higher. The charger uses USB-C, so the included cable of course works with it.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
The Nexus 5X and 6P are the first devices to ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It brings OS-based support for fingerprint scanners (companies like Samsung had to roll their own fingerprint software and security features). The 5X has a fingerprint scanner on the back, and it works extremely well. Marshmallow also has Android Doze, where the OS manages running applications more aggressively when the phone is sleeping. This improves standby times, and you shouldn't see your phone's charge drop 10% or more overnight, as it might have in the bad old days before Doze. There's a context sensitive Google Now function where you can get results that are (supposedly) related to whatever you're looking at on screen, be it a web page or something else (press and hold the home button to activate the feature). This was hit and miss in our tests, but I'm sure Google will improve it--after all, they excel at search and the AI behind it. Lastly, app permissions are easier to understand and more granular. Instead of being greeted by a list of arcane permissions when you choose to install an app, you'll be notified when an app actually tries to first make use of that permission (say when Instagram wants to access your camera so you can... you know... share photos on that service).
Horsepower and Performance
The Nexus 5X runs on the same CPU and graphics processor as the LG G4. That's not bad considering the G4's flagship status a few months back. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 is a 6 core, 64 bit CPU clocked at 1.8 GHz with Adreno 418 graphics. No, it's not as fast as the toastier Snapdragon 810 or Samsung's Exynos used in the Galaxy S6, but it's still in Qualcomm's top tier and is plenty fast enough to keep the phone moving along smoothly. The clean Android build makes the phone even more responsive since it doesn't have to handle heavy custom UI overlays. The Nexus 5X benchmarks a little bit slower than the LG G4, and we can only assume that Google didn't put maximal effort in optimizing it for benchmarks as did LG with their G4. The 5X does have 2 gigs of RAM vs. 3 gigs for the G4, but that shouldn't make a difference in benchmark tests.
As noted, the phone is available with 16 or 32 gigs of storage, and our 16 gig model had 10.67 gigs available out of the box. There is no microSD card slot, so you won't be able to expand storage using a card. We're still investigating whether it supports USB host (we're cobbling together adapter cables since there are currently no USB-C host adapters on the market).
Nexus 5X Video Review
The Nexus 5X has a pleasing 5.2", 1920 x 1080 IPS display with Gorilla Glass 3. Viewing angles are good, as we'd expect from IPS, though not as wide as top tier phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6s. The display is colorful, but if you're in love with Super AMOLED's insanely saturated colors, you might find the 5X's display a bit average. Blacks look black unless brightness is set to a searing max, and whites are neutral, as they should be. Overall, it's a very nice display, especially at this price. We had no trouble seeing the display outdoors, and the ambient light sensor worked well--it didn't overreact to every passing shadow and it didn't dim down too far indoors.
The rear mounted fingerprint scanner works quickly and accurately. It's just as fast as the responsive iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S6 fingerprint scanners. It's on the back so you can turn on the phone and unlock it with an index finger while pulling it out of your pocket. That's easy enough to do, and quickly becomes second nature. For those who like to wake their phone when it's sitting on a desk to check for notifications, the location is less than ideal. You'll have to pick it up to access the scanner. The fingerprint scanner ties into Android 6.0's OS-based security and biometrics and it thus has the potential to do more than just unlock the phone--much like the iOS fingerprint scanner.
Nexus cameras haven't been among our (or most anyone's) favorite. This time, Google used the same rear 12.3MP camera in both the 5X and 6P, and it's a smashingly good camera, particularly in low light. It excels in low light thanks to large 1.55 um pixel sites in the sensor, and we noted better than average color saturation with less noise and more detail in low light photos and video. It does well outdoors and in bright light too, with natural colors, proper exposure and lots of clear but not oversharpened detail. Google's stock camera app has always been some version of atrocious, and though we applaud them for getting rid of the circular UI that was odd and hard to navigate, performance isn't good. The UI is simple and fairly intuitive for a change, but the app gets slow and balky, and the blurred background feature sometimes takes a full minute to process a single photo. I'm sure Google will fix these problems, and in the meantime there are some fine third party camera apps on Google Play, though we noted compatibility problems with our favorites (likely they need to be updated for Marshmallow).
The rear camera can shoot 360 degree panoramas, blurred background photos (using software processing) and even slow motion video. It can record 4K video that looks fairly smooth given the lack of OIS. It has laser autofocus, and it does in fact focus quickly, even in low light. The front 5MP is sharp and less noisy than many phones thanks to enlarged pixel sites (1.4 um) in the sensor. The front and rear cameras have an f/2.0 lens.
The Nexus 5X has a 2700 mAh battery that's sealed inside. It supports fast charging over USB-C using the included charger. That's a healthy battery capacity for a phone with a 5.2" full HD display and the Snapdragon 808, and we expected excellent runtimes. In practice, battery life is average and similar to other mid to higher end phones. It lasts a full day on a charge, but you'll want to plug it in at night when you go to bed. That translates into 5.5-6 hours of actual screen on time. Alas, the smartphone doesn't support wireless charging.
The Google Nexus 5X by LG is an attractive, slim and pocketable phone. The price is nice and the phone is unlocked for use with any carrier, LTE 4G included. The display is sharp and bright, performance is snappy and the clean OS is a pleasure to use. It's one of the first phones to run Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is easily the smoothest and most accomplished version yet. If you're looking for a mid-priced phone and phablets aren't your thing, the Nexus 5X is worth a look. Also consider the lovely Moto X Pure that starts at $20 more, but offers customized looks that include leather and wood backs. And for those who want top specs or a bigger display in a Nexus experience, there's the Nexus 6P built by Huawei. Lastly, the Nexus 5X is one of the few unlocked phones that works on both CDMA and GSM networks, so Verizon and Sprint customers can use it, unlike the Asus ZenFone 2 and the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2.