Pros / Thanks to stock Android Marshmallow and its light, comfy-in-your-hand chassis, the Nexus 5X offers a nigh-unmatched user experience.
Cons / 16GB isn’t enough storage for today’s needs, and the phone’s lack of microSD card slot doesn’t help.
Verdict / The Nexus 5X may be edged out in performance by more expensive flagships, but for this price, there’s no better phone you can buy.
The Nexus 5 is all grown up. Two years ago, it stole the hearts and minds not just of Google’s fans but of everyone who wanted a solid, affordable smartphone. Simple, clean, well-built, comfy to hold and offering the purest Android experience you could find, the Nexus 5 was almost perfect. If it had a better battery and camera, it might have been.
Then the phone languished, forgotten by Google and untouched by manufacturer LG. Last year’s Nexus 6 was an uninspired follow-up – a bulky, uncomfortable device with a flagship-level price tag. It ultimately disappointed.
Enter the Nexus 5X. It’s small. It’s light. It uses pure Android Marshmallow, Google’s latest and greatest operating system. It’s also faster than the LG G4 and has the best fingerprint scanner we’ve ever – ever – used. Even better, it does it all for just a few hundred dollars unlocked. The iPhone 6s may be faster, the Galaxy S6 more impressive at taking pictures, but dollar for dollar, the Nexus 5X is the best mid-tier smartphone on the market. It’s the Nexus 5, matured.
- Pixel Density
- Web Browsing Time
- Benchmark Results
- Performance: Geekbench 3
- Performance: 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited
- Performance: GFXBench Manhattan
In an age of aluminum unibody phones, glass back covers and artful curves, the Nexus 5X might seem simplistic. It’s made of polycarbonate plastic and sports a basic, rectangular design that could accurately be called minimalist. This isn’t a phone that immediately turns heads, yet we can’t help but love it. The 1080p, 5.2-inch screen is plenty sharp and very usable in one hand, a boon other manufacturers seem determined to ignore with their big-screen phablets.
The real gem here, though, is Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Not only is the Nexus 5X the first phone on the market with Google’s latest OS, but it also boasts a pure version of the platform, unsullied by the bloatware that carriers and manufacturers love to layer on.
Along with better battery management and streamlined app launching, Marshmallow has changed how apps handle system permissions. Instead of demanding access to everything upfront, apps must now request control of different pieces of the phone – the camera, the fingerprint scanner and so on – as they need them. It’s a more iPhone-like take on app permissions that lets you cut off apps whenever you like and ultimately results in a cleaner, more secure experience.
There are three things every smartphone user wants from their camera: usability, beautiful pictures and great video. It’s not much to ask from today’s top smartphones, but for mid-tier devices like the 5X, it’s less of a guarantee. Given that Nexus devices have had perennially poor cameras, we are happy with what the 5X offers – not ecstatic, mind you, but satisfied.
Double-pushing the phone’s power button launches it directly to the camera. Unlike the rich, complex shooting experiences you get from phones like the LG G4, the 5X’s camera app is Spartan. You can turn HDR on and off, activate and deactivate the dual-tone flash, and choose between three fun shooting modes: panorama, lens blur and photo sphere. There’s no RAW image functionality or manual shutter controls, so if you’re into photography, you’ll probably be disappointed.
If, on the other hand, you’re only after decent, automatic photos and video, the 5X delivers. Its 12.3-megapixel camera captures beautiful daytime shots, and thanks to its ƒ/2.0 aperture, manages decent low-light pictures, too. You can grab 4K video at 30 fps or 1080p video at 120 fps for slow-motion playback, and Google Photos integration means everything you take is instantly backed up to the cloud. A lack of image stabilization can make capturing crisp photos difficult, but it’s not impossible.
We ran the Nexus 5X through eight different benchmark suites, executing them 95 separate times and collecting almost 500 data points. The results, we admit, surprised us: Despite packing the same Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor as LG’s G4 and less RAM – 2GB to the G4’s 3GB – Google’s Nexus 5X trounced LG’s flagship. Of course, with less RAM, launching apps and shooting pictures takes a bit longer than on competitors’ phones.
If there’s a single disappointment in the Nexus 5X, it’s storage. There’s no external storage slot, and 16GB isn’t enough space for a modern phone to hold apps, photos and 4K video – not to mention music, if you prefer to keep your tunes on your phone rather than stream them from the cloud. You can get a 32GB version of the device, but it costs an extra $50.
The 5X’s battery is good. Really good. It lasted 11.5 hours during our browser test, which is designed to strain the device’s display more than its processor and give a better light-usage impression than heavier battery tests. 11.5 hours is the best performance we’ve seen from any smartphone since the Sony Xperia Z3, beating the latest iPhone by almost five hours.
Put another way, this phone will last you. You’ll easily make it through a day of even heavy use, and if you only use it lightly one day and forget to plug it in, Marshmallow’s new Doze feature will keep it from losing too much power while idling, letting you take the phone well into day two. It is delightful performance, especially from a phone whose predecessor was known for its poor battery.
It might be a midrange phone, but two of the Nexus 5X’s features make it a contender against the big flagships: USB-C and Nexus Imprint. USB Type-C is a brand new charging port and cable that, like Apple’s Lightning connector, is reversible. It charges quicker than regular USB and can even charge other devices from the phone. The 5X is only the second phone we’ve seen with a Type-C connector, though other manufacturers are quickly following suit.
The real star of the Nexus 5X is its fingerprint scanner, Nexus Imprint. Having reviewed smartphones with fingerprint scanners from Apple, Samsung and even Chinese manufacturer OnePlus, we can confidently say that this is the best incarnation of the technology available. It’s delightfully fast and unflinchingly accurate.
The Nexus Imprint scanner is situated on the center of the 5X’s back cover, an unassuming circle easily tapped by either index finger. Moving the fingerprint scanner to the rear is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can no longer unlock the phone easily when it’s lying on a table or desk; on the other, you can pull the 5X from your pocket or purse, holding your finger over the scanner as you go, and find it already unlocked by the time your eyes see the screen.
The Nexus 5X isn’t the best phone you can buy right now. It doesn’t have the finest camera or the fastest processor. Its display isn’t the sharpest we’ve reviewed, and its storage options are, admittedly, pretty disappointing.
But there is still a lot to like about it. It’s simple, clean, easy – almost friendly in design. Android Marshmallow is the best mobile operating system in the world; Nexus Imprint, the finest fingerprint scanner we’ve ever used. With Android Pay and USB Type-C, the Nexus 5X appears to be the ultimate convenience phone, all the way down to its price.