In 2015, Google released two new Nexus phones: the LG Nexus 5x and the Huawei Nexus 6P. I recently was able to get my hands on a Nexus 5x and spend some time going over the specifics. This is Google’s return to the mid-tier, smaller screen, and more budget friendly devices, unlike the previous Nexus 6 or the new Nexus 6P.
Out of the Box – First Impressions
The 5x came nicely packed into a small box with all the necessary equipment to get you started. A USB Type-C to USB Type-C charging cable, Wall charger, micro-USB to USB Type-C converter, 90 day trial of Google Play Music, and the standard instructions/warranty documents.
The phone itself is made of your standard plastic materials, versus some of the more premium metal bodied phones. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side with a SIM slot positioned on the left. The bottom has the USB Type-C charging port and headphone port. The 5x has a front facing speaker positioned at the bottom of the front as well as your standard front facing camera, light and proximity sensors at the top. On the back you have your camera, flash, laser autofocus sensor, and the new fingerprint ring. Sadly, there is no slot for a micro-SD card.
First impressions when handling the phone is of course, it’s plastic, light, and fits well in my hand. The screen is bright and looks bigger than 5.2″ due to the small bezel size. The camera on the back protrudes a bit from the cover resulting in a small bump, but not as big as some other phones. It’s definitely something I can live with. However, the camera itself seems to have a large amount of glass exposed, which always makes me worry about scratches. It’s something that would make me want to get a cover right away. For a plastic phone it does feel surprisingly sturdy. The back cover is not removable, so the plastic used feels a bit thicker than you would find on covers like the Galaxy S5 with a removable back. This likely accounts for the more sturdy feel of the phone. If you’re looking for the premium, slick feel of metal, this phone may not be right for you. If you can get past the plastic, this is a quality built phone that feels sturdy enough.
The Nexus 5x has a 5.2″ Full HD (FHD) LCD screen with Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3, 423-ppi, and 1,920×1080 resolution. The screen was very bright and the colors were vibrant. I compared colors between my LG G3 with a QHD display and noticed only a slight improvement in picture quality. For the average user, this screen will work perfectly fine for most uses. The screen itself was very responsive to touch and motions, as one would expect in most phones today. The viewing angles are wide and at full brightness, it’s very usable in direct sunlight. The glass does have an oleophobic coating which is supposed to prevent fingerprints and smudges. It seems to do a decent job of this, but is no match for sticky fingered toddlers.
At first glance, you would think the 5x comes with dual front facing speakers, but alas, it does not. There is only one front facing speaker located at the bottom of the phone. The identical looking grill at the top is just for the earpiece speaker and hides a notification LED. With that in mind, I was a bit disappointed with the speaker setup on the 5x. Taking calls was no problem, but speaker mode wasn’t nearly loud nor clear enough. Playing music through the speaker was also disappointing. Despite not being as loud as you would think for a front facing speaker, it had a tendency to be tinny and without depth. This is one area the 5x could certainly be improved.
The 5x comes with a non-removable 2700mAh battery, which compared to most current phones is a bit on the small side. As expected, battery life does tend to suffer due to this smaller size. At moderate use I was able to get a respectable 14 hours out of the phone, but any decent amount of media streaming or gaming decreased that quickly. The 5x does support fast charging through the new USB Type-C port, which does allow it to charge 25% in roughly 10 minutes. Whether or not that is enough to offset the smaller battery will be a matter of preference and usability.
LG decided to go with the new USB Type-C interface for the charging port on the Nexus 5x. This is likely going to be the standard for most phones moving forward, and it does have a few advantages over micro-USB that makes it a good move. However, where LG stumbled a bit on this move, was the inclusion of a USB Type-C to USB Type-C charging cable. Most people don’t have Type-C on their home computers quite yet, which leaves them scrambling for an adapter or bringing the wall charger with them wherever they go. A Type-C to USB Type-A cable might have been more user friendly. LG did at least include a micro-USB to USB Type-C adapter that will allow you to use one of your standard micro-USB charging cables you likely have laying around from other devices.
New to the Nexus devices is the addition of a fingerprint reader on the back side under the camera. I was very surprised at how well this worked and how much more I liked the placement on the back. It seemed more natural to use the back placement than one on the front like the Samsung phones use. Setting it up was very easy, and I was impressed how well it could read my fingerprint, even from different angles.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the camera on the 5x. Packed inside is a 12.3 MP camera with a wide aperture of f/2.0 and 1.55 micron pixels. The latter is meant to provide better low-light images. While the camera is maybe not quite at the same level as the Galaxy S7, it certainly holds it’s own and takes decent pictures. Photos are generally sharp and crisp. Using HDR+ mode adds a bit more balance and pop to the pictures, but at the expense of slightly increased process time between pictures. Low-light photos were also surprising of decent quality, though with any camera, there are limits. Extremely dim situations resulted in more noise and lesser quality images. The dual-LED flash does help in some of these situations but also has a tendency to wash out the image as well.
The camera app is the standard Android camera app that anyone who has used an Android phone before should be familiar with. There’s nothing terribly complicated or outside of the norm. There are several options to toggle through such as HDR mode, timer, and various image quality settings including a 4K video-recording setting.
One of the big selling points of the Nexus phone lines is that they come preinstalled with the pure version of Android. No skins, no bloatware, no extra bells and whistles. What this generally means is that you get faster updates when new versions are released or security updates are sent out. The 5x comes loaded with Android 6.0, codenamed Marshmallow. This brings several new upgrades and features over Android 5.0 (Lollipop) which we’ll go into more detail on a review specific to the OS itself. For the purpose of this review, I’ll hit a few quick new features to highlight some of the most interesting changes.
Marshmallow introduces a new layout to the app drawer that scrolls vertically instead of horizontally. It also contains a row of four apps at the top which are designated as your most used / most recent apps. You are also able to type in a few letters of the app name to narrow down the list and search for specific apps.
One of the more unique features is the “Now on Tap” option which allows you to hold down the home button while viewing some content and bring up more in-depth information on said content. App permissions are more customizable and more granular. It adds better power management, and along with that, the new Doze mode. Doze mode puts the phone in a sleep state and certain apps also get put to sleep to limit power usage.
During my review period, the phone performed very well with almost no lag or issues moving throughout the OS, opening apps, or switching between screens. What slows downs I did encounter were very brief and probably wouldn’t be noticed much by the average user. There was a bit of a lag when opening more intensive applications/games, but overall it was a very solid performing phone.
Call Quality and WiFi
The call quality on the 5x was pretty good. Callers were generally clear for most of the calls I made and everyone was able to hear me without any issues. I didn’t experience any dropped or missed calls (at least not that anyone told me) throughout the review period. I did have a few instances where the call broke up briefly, but that could easily be attributed to network coverage issues and not problems with the phone itself.
WiFi connectivity was very good as well. I had no problems connecting the phone to various wireless networks at home, work, and around town. Signals were strong and I didn’t experience any dropped connections that were long enough for me to notice.
Google’s return to the mid-range phone market seems to be on the right track with the Nexus 5x. Yes, it’s plastic exterior isn’t as flashy or slick as some of its other metal brethren on the market, but if you can get past that, you’ll have yourself a solid phone. The only real drawbacks are the battery and the speakers. The screen is clear and crisp, the camera takes shots nearly as well as some of the more premium devices, and you get the latest and greatest version of Android. All things considered, I don’t see too many people being disappointed with the Nexus 5x, I certainly wasn’t!
The Nexus 5x is available in 3 colors (white, black, Ice) and can be purchased for around $334 for the 32GB version, and $299 for the 16GB version.