In all lighting conditions, the Nexus 5x produced photos that were sharp and well exposed, with good color reproduction and tone. The white balance errs slightly on the cool side, but not so much as to be a problem.
The camera experience, however, is not quite as good as the final photos. Google’s camera app is improved over past versions, where every setting was hidden away in a menu. Now, a couple of the most common controls, like timer, flash, HDR, and slo-mo video, are instantly accessible along the edge of the display. And all it takes is a swipe left or right to switch between photo and video mode. It’s still simple to a fault, though. With such good camera hardare, and support for Android’s new Camera2 API, it’s a shame that Google’s own camera app doesn’t offer an expert mode with manual controls, or the option to save RAW image files.
Camera speed is good, but could be better. The app launches quickly, but in general it still takes too long before you’re ready to take a shot—the Galaxy S6, Note 5, and iPhone 6s offer much better “pocket to shutter” performance. There’s a handy shortcut whereby you double-tap the power button to jump right to the camera, which is useful if your phone is locked. But it’s jarring if you’re using another app and want to pop over to the camera quickly; the phone actually goes to sleep and then wakes up and jumps over to the camera. The laser-assisted autofocus helps the phone focus quickly, and shutter lag is a lot better than on previous Nexus phones, but it’s still not as snappy as the fastest phones you can buy.
It’s a testament to how far camera performance has come on Android phones in the last year that I consider the Nexus 5X to have a “very good, but not outstanding” photo-taking experience. A year ago, this would have been one of the best cameras on any phone.
Of course, when you buy a sub-$400 phone, you can’t have everything. And as much as you get with the Nexus 5X, you still leave plenty on the table for more expensive phones to pick up. There’s no premium all-metal construction. There's no wireless charging. The phone’s speaker is loud and clear, but there’s only one—it's not stereo. The display is bright and color reproduction is good, but in bright sunlight you’ll wish it would get brighter. The vibration motor is surprisingly weak—it feels like an insect buzzing in your pocket.
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