Hands on and first impressions of the new Google Nexus 5X

Mmmarshmallow

As you’ll know if you follow us on Twitter, we spent last night at the London leg of the Google launch event, which lacked not only an official hashtag but also any hint of actual marshmallows. That was the limit of our disappointment, though, as we met the two new Nexus phones: the Huawei-made 6P and the LG-made 5X, which we’ll be focussing on in this article – you’ll find the 6P over here.

The 5X is the cheaper of the two models, coming in at £339 for the entry-level 16GB model (compared with £449 for the lowest 6P at 32GB). Google says it’s the sequel to one of the “most loved and most popular phones we’ve ever launched – the Nexus 5”. So, what do you get for your cash?

The handset

It’s not the prettiest phone we’ve ever seen, but the 5X does a good job of looking smart and sleek with its soft-touch polycarbonate shell and slimline design. It’s just under 8mm thick, and fairly light at 136g – Google say “that’s amazing for a screen of this size” (5.2 inches).

We’re not so keen on the volcano-esque protrusion for the camera lens, but the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor is good to see. The Nexus branding is strong, and interestingly LG get their entire logo on the back, while the 6P has the word ‘Huawei’ but no logo. Strange.

The 5X comes in three colours: Carbon, Quartz and Ice – black, white and light blue to you and me.

If you’re not so keen on those, the Nexus site is selling some rather snazzy cases at £25:

On the bottom of the phone, you’ll find the headphone port and the USB-C charging slot.

There’s also a slightly excessive three microphones: one on the front, one on the top and one on the bottom edge. This is presumably to ensure a flawless voice experience to make the most of the new features in Marshmallow:

If Google have overdone the microphones, they’ve underdone the speakers: it looks like there are two on the front, but actually only one of them – the bottom one – is a loudspeaker. That’s a bit of a shame, but nonetheless we found sound to be strong, with the usual vibration of the plastic back panel at higher volumes. We’re always happy to see a front-facing speaker, though.

On the back of the 5X is the circular fingerprint sensor, known as Nexus Imprint. Google told us at the launch that registering your fingerprint takes a couple of seconds (we’d say more like 10), and that it’s less than 600 milliseconds to recognise and unlock your finger. Dave Burke, VP of Engineering at Google, commented that it “almost never fails.”

Here’s our trial:

https://vine.co/v/eQ1mVQmUv7g

Pretty quick, then!

The screen

We were really impressed with the screen on the Nexus 5X. It’s incredibly bright, sharp, colourful, and offers full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution with 423 pixels per inch. It’s protected with Gorilla Glass 3, which isn’t the latest version, but we’ve never had a problem with it (note: not a guarantee!).

The screen’s covered with an oleophobic (oil-repellent) coating which is supposed to resist fingerprints and smudges, but we didn’t find that to be the case – we had to wipe it quite a bit for our photos.

The hardware

For the price, Google are offering very impressive specs under the hood of the 5X. It packs a hexa-core (that’s six cores) 1.8GHz 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, which should lead to smooth performance and no lag. We played a pretty demanding driving game – Asphalt 8 – on the 5X and had zero issues.

The phone comes with 2GB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. Sadly, there’s no microSD slot, so we would enormously recommend getting the 32GB if you can, as you won’t be able to up it later. The lower option costs £339 and the higher is £379, so it’s not a huge difference in price.

The phone also unsurprisingly packs 4G and NFC, which will come in handy if and when Android Pay ever launches in the UK. The fingerprint sensor on the Nexus phones is designed to be used for payment as well as security, but so far Android Pay is only available in the US, and Google couldn’t give us any updates on that. It’s unusual to see them lagging behind Apple.

There’s one SIM slot, which takes a nano-sized SIM, and the 2700 mAh battery is not removable. No surprises there.

The software

One of the big reasons for buying a Nexus device is the pure, un-messed-with Android experience, and the two new phones will of course be the first to get Marshmallow. Google commented that “We build hardware so we can work together as we build the next version of the operating system,” which means “Nexus is Android as we designed it.” The Apple approach, in other words.

The most interesting new features in Marshmallow are Doze mode, which figures out when your phone’s been left unattended and automatically prioritises data from apps you use often to save battery, and the new app permissions, which lets you decide which apps can do what. This means you can choose on an app-by-app basis what you’re OK with and what you’re not – although obviously bear in mind that turning off Location on Google Maps might make it somewhat useless, for instance. The OS warns you if you try.

The team also talked about Google Now on Tap, which lets you do things like directly booking a restaurant from the home key on your phone. Sadly, though, it wasn’t ready on the night so we didn’t get to try it.

Overall, it sounds like Marshmallow’s going to be excellent for battery life and privacy, and we can’t wait to start having conversations with our apps.

“Netflix, play RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“Again?!”

The cameras

It’s fair to say Google are really, really excited about the cameras on the new Nexus phones. The main camera, made by Sony, is the same across both the 5X and 6P. Dave Burke commented at the launch:

“Modern flagship phones do well for outdoor shots but they struggle with indoor – yet people spend 20 hours a day indoors. The cameras on the Nexus 5X and 6P are optimised for indoor photography.”

Google told us the imaging sensor on the 12.3MP camera offers larger pixels than other phone cameras – which is similar to what HTC were trying to do with Ultrapixel. Sadly, this just led to no one buying their phone because a 4MP main camera sounds bad, even if it isn’t.

They also explained the lack of optical image stabilisation, saying “you get less handshake with larger pixels,” which remains to be seen. However, the infra-red laser focus feature is good to see (and indeed focuses and snaps very quickly), it’s great to finally be able to double-tap the power button to take a photo (as has been in the Samsung Galaxy phones for an age, among others), and it’s interesting to hear that the Sony camera was “originally designed for camcorders and digital cameras, and is unprecedented in a phone.”

Our camera samples were of course taken in a brightly-lit indoor launch event environment, but they do give you an idea of the kind of quality you can expect from the 5X camera.

Google Nexus 5X camera samples:

As for the selfie camera, that offers 5MP, which is fair for this price. Again, it’s quick and clear. Here’s my face for proof.

Google Nexus 5X selfie camera sample:

The main camera can also shoot in 4K, which you’d think was the greatest thing of all time if you were watching the Apple event the other week. Yes, the Xperia phones have offered it for a while, but it’s still good to have at this price.

Nexus 5X UK price and availability

Here’s the best news of the launch: the phone is available to preorder now and will ship towards the back end of October. That’s pretty quick, and also makes it an ideal Christmas present phone.

It’ll run you £339 for the 16GB version or £379 for the 32GB, and it’s also available on contract from all the usual suspects. But at this price, we think a lot of people will buy outright.

If you’re convinced, you can order yours right now at the Google Store.


Main image: Google

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 288 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.