Nexus 5X — First Impressions

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

“We’re really excited about this phone and we hope you are too,” the notice said, as published by Phandroid. “But we have some not-so-great news: It’s going to take a little longer to get the 6P to you than we would have liked.

The latest version of Google’s Android operating system, 6.0 Marshmallow, feels like it was written to address some things that annoyed users, and some things that irked Google. For users, it’s a sensible update that banishes many of the real groan points about Android, such as its flawed way of handling microSD memory and overactive apps that devour battery life. For your trouble, Google will refund $25 as soon as the phone ships. “We’re working hard to meet the strong demand we’re seeing for the color and memory size you ordered, and we promise it will be worth it,” Google continued. That said, one big problem still remains: A persistent fragmentation problem makes it likely that you will never see Marshmallow on your current device. That’s because, for more and more people, their handheld devices are their primary computers, and Linux-based Android powers everything from $50 burner phones to enterprise tablets that cost more than most desktop PCs.

The unlocked Nexus 6P ($499, 32GB) isn’t perfect, but it’s the closest Google has come to fulfilling the wish list of Android users who want a true flagship-level Nexus smartphone. Email addicts, IT managers, and mad multitaskers will find much to love in BlackBerry 10, the new OS from the once-leading smartphone firm that drags the venerable BlackBerry line into 2013. BlackBerry 10 maintains some of the core themes that got so many users addicted to their “CrackBerries,” while taking full advantage of the latest hardware and Web technologies.

But BlackBerry 10 tends to lack many game and entertainment service apps that are available on other platforms, and it isn’t as user-configurable as Android or Windows Phone. On top of these upgrades, you also get a fingerprint scanner, a USB-C port with quick charging, dual front-facing speakers, and a crisp 5.7-inch AMOLED display. It measures 6.27 by 3.06 by 0.29 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.28 ounces, putting it roughly on par with Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus, which measures 6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches and weighs 6.77 ounces. If you’re doing something, and you want to do something else, you swipe up, minimizing your app, to return to the Active Frame where it’s easy to jump into another app. BlackBerry OS 10’s home screen, to some extent, customizes itself: Those eight recently used apps can update their pages as new information comes in, potentially making them a little like Android’s widgets or Windows Phone’s Live Tiles.

On the icon pages, you can move the icons around and form folders just like in iOS, but you can’t add widgets or individual contacts as icons the way you can on Android and Windows Phone. I find the inability to “arrange my furniture” on BlackBerry 10 frustrating: I always want to be able to see the weather at a glance and to be able to text my wife easily. It’s not very noticeable on the graphite phone, but it will definitely stand out on the aluminum and white models, so keep that in mind if it bothers you. It’s recessed, so your finger naturally falls into it when you pick up the phone, and it’s easier to seek out than the dimpled scanner on the Nexus 5X.

Getting around to the front of the phone, the Nexus 6P has an RGB LED notification light at the top, to the left of the front-facing camera, though it’s not activated by default. You can turn it on by going into your phone settings, but if you want full control of it, you’ll need to download a third-party app like Light Flow, which is used to set different color flashes and blink intervals for various types of notifications.

Few other than BlackBerry is doing high-end phones with physical keyboards, and the short time I’ve spent with the Q10’s keyboard make me think it’ll be the best of its kind. Huawei does try to help you distinguish between the two with feel—the Power button is ridged, while the Volume rocker is smooth—but I prefer to have those two controls placed on opposite sides of the device. Out of the box, you’ll set up your accounts; BB10 works with most email services as well as BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Evernote (that last one is for integrating with the built-in notes app, called Remember).

I have two Google Apps accounts, a personal one and a corporate one; the latter had to be set up as a Microsoft ActiveSync account to work correctly here. The 6P has the full set of connectivity bells and whistles, including a sensor hub (which powers Doze, the power-saving feature in Marshmallow that puts apps into deep sleep when unused), an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a barometer, a proximity/ambient light sensor, a hall sensor (to detect magnetic fields), dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, and a compass. There’s single nano-SIM slot on the left side and a 3.5mm audio jack up top, which offers good sound quality, free of crackling, pops, and skips when connected to wired headphones.

In my tests, the OS was able to draw and merge contacts from my various email accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but image support was uneven: It grabbed some contacts’ Facebook profile pics but not others. An Updates tab on each contact card shows their most recent social-networking updates, while a useful “activity” tab runs down your most recent correspondence. There’s a “reader” mode that strips out ads and formatting from articles, and—whoa!—the browser supports Flash, smoothly, by default, without complaining. Evening shots in Manhattan, as in the image above, were clear and surprisingly bright, though there was some unavoidable grain at the margins of the image. You can sync a bunch of ways: by removing the memory card and plugging it into your PC, with a USB cable via USB Mass Storage, over Wi-Fi as a shared drive, or with BlackBerry Link software.

Running BlackBerry Link on both Windows 8 and Mac OS X 10.8, I easily synced music, videos, and documents, but note that it can’t be used to sync PIM data locally. Slow motion capture occurs at higher frame rates, 120fps for 1080p video and up to 240fps at 720p. video was gorgeous, even in low-light settings, but a lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) reared its ugly head from time to time in the form of some blurry movement. Facial features and skin tones come across clearly, and the lens is able to capture background detail without suffering from the washed-out look that can plague selfies taken outdoors. Here’s the problem, though: Outside BlackBerry’s own selection of movies, music, and TV shows, there are none of the popular U.S. media stores or streaming services.

With 32GB ($499), 64GB ($549), and 128GB ($649) storage options at relatively reasonable prices, the lack of expandable storage shouldn’t be a problem for most users. I’d love to see this as the first of several computational photography options, like the “lenses” available for Windows Phones, but the OS doesn’t seem to be extensible beyond this. BlackBerry Safeguard includes remote device location, locking, and wiping, along with parental controls you can alter even at the individual application level. It uses maps and directions from TCS, which provides Verizon’s well-respected VZ Navigator service, so the free, voice-guided GPS driving directions should be accurate. One of the greatest advantages is that there is no bloatware, which helps keep the phone light and lean, and the best representation for Google’s vision of Android.

Along with a bloatware-free experience, Google promises a minimum of 14 months’ worth of Android updates, though it has supported devices like the Nexus 4 for nearly 3 years. The Facebook app lets you look at groups, lists, and photos, but I’m confused by the news feed; it isn’t in chronological order, and I can’t figure out why. We’ll have a full review of Marshmallow up soon, but here’s a quick feature rundown: Google Photos automatically handles pictures, backing them up for you. We’ve already touched on Doze in the battery section, but App Standby limits the number of times apps can access the Internet if the app hasn’t been used recently, saving you both data and battery. That’s a useful feature that Samsung has put on its devices for some time now, so it’s disappointing that we still don’t see it on stock Android, especially with so many large-screen devices on the market.

In general, App World seems to have a higher proportion of paid to free apps than any of the other major stores; many apps also advertise that they have in-app purchases. Devs can write for a native SDK, Adobe AIR, HTML5, Android Java, and for all we know there’s an SDK involving construction paper, tongue depressors, and string. The company is also enticing developers, saying that if they submit an app that passes certain criteria and makes $1,000 but not $10,000, BlackBerry will pay them the remainder of the $10,000. For most people, one-handed use isn’t possible with this phone; you can’t reach across the screen with your thumb, so actions like pulling down the notification shade and accessing the Settings menu will require the use of a second hand.

Peek and Flow make it easy to flip between apps and the Hub, but it’s much easier to set up quick access to your most-used contacts and items on Android. Given the Quad HD displays on the Moto X Pure and ZTE Axon Pro, it’s clear that we’ve reached the point where even modestly priced phones can be expected to boast 2,560-by-1,440 panels. If you’re all about texting, calling and emailing, you’ll appreciate the excellent touch keyboard on the Z10, the physical keyboard on the Q10, and the BlackBerry Hub. Noise cancellation is decent, dampening background sounds like music and traffic, but there’s the occasional distortion when loud noises are continuous.

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