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Nexus 5X and 6P deep-dive review: Google's dynamic duo

JR Raphael | Oct. 28, 2015
Google's latest Nexus devices set a new standard for how good Android can be -- and how much a standout smartphone should cost.

Android 6.0 and the Nexus experience

So basics aside, what are the new Nexus phones actually like to use? In a word, delightful -- the type of cohesive end-to-end experience that's hard to find on Android devices.

The reason is simple: Nexus phones use a pure and unadulterated version of Google's Android operating system, and their hardware is designed specifically to complement that setup. Android has matured into a polished and attractive platform, more so than ever with the new Android 6.0 Marshmallow release -- but with the way most manufacturers muck up the software, you wouldn't ever know it.

Companies like Samsung and LG work hard to establish their own ecosystems within the Android ecosystem, baking in redundant services and arbitrarily changing visual elements to create a "differentiated" look. The result is a confusing mess of overlapping options and conflicting styles, and it tends to be tolerable at best -- but neither intuitive nor particularly pleasant to use. It's more about the manufacturer's needs than the user's (and don't get me started on all the garbage that carriers add into the equation).

With the Nexus 5X and 6P, you get a pristine version of Google's core vision for Android. It's refreshingly clean, light and easy to use, with no superfluous clutter and a consistent design language that extends from the system UI to the ecosystem of apps around it. The diversity stemming from Android's open nature has been critical to the platform's growth and success -- but at this point, a holistic package with a single unified vision simply makes for a better user experience.

Also adding to the experience is the upgrade situation: Unlike most Android devices, which rely on their manufacturers for software support -- often resulting in maddening delays and disappointments -- Nexus devices receive updates directly from Google. That means when Google gloats about a fancy new feature or fix, you'll actually get it on your device -- and usually within a matter of days or weeks. No other type of Android phone offers that level of consistency and reliability.

Marshmallow in its current form isn't a dramatic departure from the Android 5.x Lollipop releases that preceded it, but it adds some important refinements and new functionality. One of the most noticeable adjustments is the software's ability to more intelligently manage power consumption -- something that allows both Nexus phones to sit idle for hours and barely lose any juice.

Android 6.0 also includes an improved system for controlling volume levels and setting a "Do Not Disturb" mode -- either for set periods of time or based on factors like the time of day or presence of a calendar event. Other highlights include a revamped system for app permissions; a simpler tool for selecting, cutting and pasting text; and Google Now on Tap -- a new connective tissue that lets you get contextual info related to whatever's on your screen at any given moment. (It's wildly impressive -- some of the time.)

 

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