Google Nexus 5X review

One of two new Google phones, the Nexus 5X is the smaller brother to the Nexus 6P, and one of the first to run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It has quite a few upgrades compared to the Nexus 5, which arrived way back in 2013, and is also built by LG as Google's manufacturing partner. And as the LG G4 is now cheaper, it's one of the Nexus 5X's rivals.

Update April 2016: After living with the Nexus 5X for five months, it remains a great option for those looking for a decent smartphone without breaking the bank. There's plenty of new competition such as the Galaxy S7, LG G5, Huawei P9 and HTC 10 but in reality, they're all much more expensive and - arguably - new competition for the Nexus 6P rather than the 5X.

An unlikely rival to the Nexus 5X is the new iPhone SE which is the cheapest phone Apple has launched in a long time at £359. That's still £60 more expensive, though: Google has dropped the price from £339 to £299, and is still offering outstanding value for money.

A software update a while ago did cause some performance issues and at times the lag has been very frustrating. However, Google has promised to sort this out with anoter firmware update. Otherwise we've had no problems and really enjoyed using the Nexus 5X.

At launch, the Nexus 5X had lots of rivals, including the Moto X Play, and the cheaper OnePlus 2. It's great phone overall, with one of the best 1080p screens we've seen to date, along with one of the best cameras. But it's not all great news. This isn't just a Nexus 6P with a smaller screen: the 5X has a slower processor, which means it lacks some of the shooting modes you get on the 6P and - for some reason - Google thinks people won't want any more than 32GB of storage. And the base 16GB model really doesn't have enough usable storage for a phone that records 4K video which uses up 300MB per minute.

But instead of dwelling on the negatives, let's get into the detail as there's lots to like about the 5X.

Google Nexus 5X review: Price and competition

The Nexus 5X costs £299 from the Google Play Store as well as from other retailers and mobile operators on contract. That's a reasonable amount cheaper than the Nexus 6P which starts at £449 (this hasn't had a price drop). See also: 20 best Android phones to buy right now

Although it's relatively affordable, there's tough competition. Aside from Apple's 'cheap' iPhone the OnePlus 2 (with its more powerful processor and more RAM) is £239 and the Motorola Moto X Play is £279. Gone are the days when the Nexus flagship was simply the best-value phone on the market bar none. 

Nexus 5X review

Google Nexus 5X review: Design and build

Despite an increase in screen size from 5 to 5.2in, the Nexus 5X is still nice and light. It weighs a comfortable 136g, and is 7.9mm thick. It is larger than the 5, though, so anyone hoping for a bigger screen in a phone the same size will be disappointed. Here’s how they compare:

  • Nexus 5: 138 x 69 x 8.6mm, 130g
  • Nexus 5X: 147 x 73 x 7.9mm, 136g

Nexus 5X vs Nexus 5

Rounded edges on the rear panel make the Nexus 5X a nice phone to hold in the hand and we like the matt finish plastic which is similar to the original. There’s a choice of colours including Black, White and Ice Blue, although this applies only to the back: they’re all black on the sides and front.

There's not a lot else to say on the design front as the device, like the Nexus 5, is fairly plain. That's a good thing we'd say although features such as waterproofing wouldn't go amiss. One thing to note: despite appearances, the 5X does not have stereo speakers. The top grille hides a speaker that’s used for phonecalls, with only the bottom one being a loudspeaker.

Another thing to point out is that the camera does stick out a little bit at the back. It’s now positioned centrally and although the Nexus 5's camera wasn't flush the 5X’s protrudes much more.

If you're wondering about the circle below the camera, it's a fingerprint scanner which we'll talk in more depth below.

You may also be interested in the fact that the Nexus 5X takes a nano-SIM rather than micro which may require a new SIM card if upgrading from the Nexus 5.

Google Nexus 5X review: Hardware and specs

Given that the Nexus 5 launched two years ago, it’s no surprise that the 5X is upgraded in almost every area. But don't expect it to blow its predecessor out of the water because the top-end hardware has been reserved for the Nexus 6P.

Google has decided to stick with a Full HD screen resolution on the Nexus 5X.  This of course means a small drop in pixel density to 424ppi. It’s not noticeable of course, and the screen is still crisp with pixels that are invisible to virtually all human eyes. But if you want an upgrade to Quad HD, you’ll have to look at the Nexus 6P – or elsewhere.

Staying with the display, the 5X has an IPS LCD panel just like the Nexus 5, but unlike the 6P which uses AMOLED. However, this is no criticism. The 5X has unquestionably one of the best screens we’ve seen on a smartphone. Sure, colours don’t assault your eyeballs as they do on the 6P, but they’re accurate and the screen is bright and has excellent contrast.

Nexus 5X review

There’s an uprated Qualcomm processor too. The Snapdragon 808, as used in the flagship LG G4, is a nice upgrade from the 800 model which was top-of-the-line when the Nexus 5 arrived.

This means the Nexus 5X has a six-core processor with four A53 cores at 1.4GHz and two A57 cores at 1.8GHz. There's also Adreno 418 graphics which performed well in our tests – better than the Nexus 6P’s Adreno 430 in fact. (This is due to the fact the 6P has more pixels – it’s more powerful if you run the benchmarks at 1920x1080.)

Despite rumours suggesting the 5X would have 4GB of RAM, the allocation remains at 2GB.

And storage options are more limited than the 6P. The Nexus 5X doesn't offer 64GB or 128GB as the 6P does, instead there are merely 16- and 32GB options. And as usual with Nexus phones, there’s no microSD card slot so you'll probably want to go for 32GB which costs £379.

One of several features shared between the two new phones is the fingerprint scanner: Nexus Imprint. It's positioned below the camera at the rear of the phone. It might seem a little strange, but it’s where your index finger naturally lies.

Nexus 5X review

It's also super-fast and unlocks the phone almost instantly. The system learns your fingerprint and recognition improves over time. As well as offering easy access to the phone, other apps can use the sensor for logging in or making payments. Plus, of course, Google Pay will be coming to the UK at some point so you’ll be able to pay with your phone in bricks and mortar stores as you can with an iPhone.

The next shared feature is a new physical port in the form of USB-C which is fast becoming the standard for new Android phones: it can also be found on the OnePlus 2 and the Xiaomi Mi4C (which, incidentally has very similar specs to the 5X for half the price).

USB-C’s main feature is that it's reversible but it also enables fast charging and you can even charge other devices from the 5X should you wish to.

The larger frame means a larger battery at 2700mAh, but it's a big shame there’s no wireless charging: that’s a step backwards from the Nexus 5 and a blow for many looking to the 5X as the definitive upgrade.

Elsewhere there’s dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, LTE (both faster than before), NFC and Bluetooth 4.2 but no infrared port or extras such as a heart rate monitor.

Google Nexus 5X review: Cameras

Nexus 5X review

The last of the shared upgrades between the 5X and 6P are the cameras. Arguably, this is the biggest upgrade for the Nexus 5X. The Nexus 5's 8Mp camera wasn't amazing, even with the software updates which improved things following its launch.

But amazing is an adjective which will be used repeatedly for the 5X's main camera. It's one of the best cameras on any phone and as far as we can tell is identical to the unit on the 6P.

The new camera is not only higher resolution -12.3Mp - but has a dual-tone LED flash, an IR laser focusing system and can shoot 4K video. There are phones with more megapixels, but the larger size of the sensor and pixels means more light hits them. The improvement in quality is obvious from the photos, but it performs well not only in good light: it's also pretty good in dim conditions too.

In photos and videos colours are rich and detail is sharp. As we said in our review of the 6P, there's possibly a little too much sharpening going on. But most people will be over the moon with this level of quality from a £339 phone.

It's worth noting that you need to use the HDR+ mode most of the time to get the best quality and this does introduce a second or so delay of processing between images. You can shoot without it, but skies tend to blow out even when the contrast to the foreground doesn't appear that high.

The other gripe is the absence of a 1080p60 mode: you can shoot video only at 30fps in 4K or 1080p. That's something which we hoped would be added in a software update, but it hasn't happened.

Nexus 5X review: sample photos

This is a 100 percent crop:

Nexus 5X review: sample photos

Macro perfornance is identical to the Nexus 6P:

Nexus 5X review: sample photos

Again, the 100 percent crop of the original photo:

Nexus 5X review: sample photos

Nexus 5X vs 6P camera features

What won't be added is a 240fps slo-mo option, nor SmartBurst. Both are features you get with the 6P. The Snapdragon 808 isn't quick enough to handle the way Google has implemented these features, so you're limited to 120fps at 720p. It's a shame, but won't be a dealbreaker for everyone.

More of a disappointment is that the 5X doesn't even have electronic image stabilisation, let alone optical. That means both new Nexus' lack OIS and you'll have to have steady hands if you want shake-free video and blur-free low-light photos from your 5X.

At the front is a nice upgrade to a 5Mp selfie camera. Again, it's the same as the 6P's which means decent quality photos.

Google Nexus 5X review: Performance and battery life

We already know that the Snapdragon 808 isn't as quick as the 810 in the 6P, and that it has only 2GB of RAM versus the 6P's 3GB (and it's a similar story with the OnePlus 2, which is much cheaper than both Nexus phones).  The graphs below show the difference in our benchmarks, but again, it's important to note that the lower screen resolution explains why the 5X's frame rates are higher in GFXbench.

In general use, the 5X feels very quick whether you're playing games, switching between apps, browsing the web or just navigating around Marshmallow.

Battery life is very good, too, lasting a shade under 7 hours in our tests. The new battery saving features in Marshmallow will also help if you need to eke out several hours when power is running low.

And there's support for fast charging using the included charger, giving up to 7 hours of use from 10 minutes' charging - according to Google. But it's not Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0. Like the Nexus 6P, it seems to be a proprietary system, so you'll need the official charger or a third-party USB-C charger that can output 5V/3A.

Google Nexus 5X review: Software

Google Nexus 5X review

Out of the box the phone runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It's similar to Lollipop but isn't exclusive to the 5X or 6P of course. Existing Nexus devices will be upgraded shortly, including the Nexus 5.

The benefit, as with any Nexus phone or tablet, is that you get pure Android as Google intends it to be – no add on skins like Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense.

Not only does it offer something of a blank canvas with which to customise Android to your heart's content, it means you don't have to worry about things like pre-installed apps which you may not be able to delete.

Nexus 5X review

Don't forget to check out our 10 best Android Marshmallow features article.

Google Nexus 5X: Specs

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.2in Full HD screen
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, six-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16/32GB storage
  • 12.3Mp rear camera with dual-tone LED
  • 5Mp front camera
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • NFC
  • 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 2700mAh battery
  • 7.9mm
  • 136g
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.2in Full HD screen
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, six-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16/32GB storage
  • 12.3Mp rear camera with dual-tone LED
  • 5Mp front camera
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • NFC
  • 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 2700mAh battery
  • 7.9mm
  • 136g

OUR VERDICT

Those looking to upgrade from a Nexus 5 will be happy and sad in almost equal measure. The 5X is a fantastic phone overall, with excellent cameras, a good turn of speed and an excellent screen. But it's noticeably bigger than its predecessor despite the small increase in screen size, it has limited storage compared to the Nexus 6P and it lacks a couple of camera features due to the slower processor. The absence of wireless charging is another blow for some, but additions such as the fingerprint scanner will make it a great upgrade for others.

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