The Nexus Experience

Nexus 5X vs. Nexus 6P: Which one's right for you?

Nexus 5X vs Nexus 6P

A simple hands-on guide to help you figure out which of Google's new phones makes sense for you.

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Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P? It's the conundrum of conundrums for countless Android fans this fall. Google's given us two great choices, each with its own unique sort of appeal -- and that means we've got some seriously difficult decisions to face.

I've been living with both new Nexus phones for a while and have spent tons of time mulling over what sets them apart in terms of real-world experience. You can see my in-depth review for the full skinny on what the two phones are like to use and where each one shines and falls short (I'd highly recommend it if you're at all interested in these devices) -- but here, I want to tackle the specific question of which new Nexus is right for you.

In considering the two devices, I'd start by thinking carefully about the following three areas:

1. Size

I mentioned this in my first impressions as the very first thing I noticed about the Nexus 5X and 6P -- and there's a reason: It's without a doubt the biggest (both figuratively and literally) and most immediately significant difference between the two phones.

In the simplest possible terms, the Nexus 5X is small -- at least, compared to most current Android flagships -- and the Nexus 6P is rather large. The 5X is without a doubt more comfortable to carry, hold, and use (especially one-handedly), but the 6P is reasonably manageable as far as plus-sized phones go.

Nexus 5X vs Nexus 6P Size

The size is right, Nexus edition: 6P (at left) and 5X (at right) 

If you tend to prefer more compact and ergonomic smartphones, the 5X is probably going to be more your speed. My wife, for instance, is coming from the original 2013 Moto X. The 5X is larger than that device, but she's found it to be quite comfy -- whereas she found the 6P to be way too unwieldy for her preferences. (She liked the 5X so much, in fact, that we've already ordered one for her.)

But it's all relative: The 6P is close in size to the Galaxy Note 5 and really not that bad as far as plus-sized phones go. I've never been much of a plus-sized phone guy myself, and I've found I've gotten used to its size pretty quickly. The question to consider is whether you prefer or can at least tolerate a larger device -- and if it'll be worth the positives you'll get in return -- or whether compact and comfy is a top priority for you.

2. Style

One is warm and modest, the other slick and polished. No, I'm not talking about you and your first significant other (well, maybe that, too -- I'll let you decide who held which role). I'm talking about the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, which are as different in style as pickles and porcupines. (Think about it. Those things are pretty damn different.)

The 5X is made of plastic, which makes it feel light and inviting. It doesn't give off the most premium vibe, but it seems sturdy and well-constructed -- not cheap or chintzy, as plastic done the wrong way on phones sometimes can.

The 6P, on the other hand, is a metal-based beauty that's premium as can be. It's heavier and colder-feeling than the 5X, but it's as luxurious and thoughtfully designed as the best of 'em. All the details down to the differently textured metal buttons are carefully thought out and incredibly well-crafted.

Nexus 5X vs Nexus 6P Style

My, you're stylish: The differing approaches of the Nexus 5X (left) and 6P (right)

Again, which approach is preferable comes down to a matter of your own personal preference. Sure, the 6P is objectively the nicer phone of the two -- very intentionally, by design -- but there's something to be said about a lighter and warmer-feeling device, too. Plenty of people like that vibe more than a metal-centric style (my wife included).

3. Display

It's not just the differences in size that separate the screens on this year's Nexus devices: The two phones' displays are drastically different in the way they appear -- and for some people, that may be a make-or-break factor.

The Nexus 5X's screen is a 5.2-in. 1080p LCD panel, while the 6P's is a 5.7-in. WQHD AMOLED display. I wouldn't spend too much time fretting about the resolutions; both screens are as crisp as the eye can see, and all this talk over the need for Quad HD is little more than marketing mumbo-jumbo (especially in a phone the size of the 5X, where 1080p is more than sufficient).

It's the type of display in each phone that really matters here. The 6P's AMOLED screen is as good as they get, with rich, vibrant colors and blacks so deep you'll risk drowning in visual delight. It's actually the same type of Samsung-made panel used in this year's Galaxy Note 5, for perspective. ("SCREEN PRETTY," if you prefer caveman/me-in-the-morning speak.)

The 5X's LCD screen is perfectly fine, too -- just in a very different class. As I said in my review:

If you were using only the 5X -- the way most people who buy a new phone would -- you'd probably be thrilled with the quality of its screen and wouldn't spend a second of your time second-guessing it.

When you view the two phones together, though -- or move back and forth between them, as I've been doing these past several days -- the 5X's panel looks noticeably muted and less vibrant in its coloring. It sometimes even appears a little washed out next to the 6P's punchy nature (a common criticism of LCD panels compared to modern AMOLED displays). The difference is especially apparent with blacks, which are kind of grayish on the 5X -- almost like someone took the 6P and cranked the contrast level way down.

How much that matters is -- you guessed it -- a personal judgment call. Neither my wife nor my brother, both of whom are currently using 2013 Moto X phones, found they cared (even though they could see what I meant about the differences). I suspect the same will hold true for most "typical" smartphone shoppers.

Me? I don't know that I can unsee the difference. I love looking at the 6P's screen; I'm fine with the 5X's, but it wouldn't be my first choice -- as evidenced by the fact that when I have both phones in my pocket or sitting in front of me, the 6P is always the one I grab. But then again, I'm a guy who spends hours staring at smartphone screens and mulling over their quality (often while wringing my hands deviously and cackling like a deranged donkey). So, yeah: I'm not exactly your average consumer.

Other odds and ends worth considering

Take a deep breath: We've made it through the three big areas to think over -- the ones I suspect will be the most significant for most folks weighing out these two new phones. But don't stop breathing altogether just yet: There are a few other points worth noodling over in that ravishing noggin of yours.

Let's power through 'em real quick:

  • Stamina. The 5X is acceptably average, in my experience, while the 6P is very good. If an extra edge is battery life is important to you, put a point in your 6P column. (Both phones charge ridiculously fast, for what it's worth -- so it's easy to top off either with just a matter of minutes on the outlet.)
  • Storage. The 5X comes with only 16GB or 32GB of internal space while the 6P gives you a choice of 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB. (Neither phone has an SD card slot for external storage expansion.) For most people these days, cloud storage closes the gap, and local space isn't that big of a deal. If you're among those who like keeping lots of stuff stored locally on your phone, though, you'll want to take this into consideration.
  • Performance. Both phones are generally swift and snappy, but I encountered a couple of instances where the 5X struggled with more heavy-duty multitasking (see the second page of my review for details). If you think of yourself as more of a power user, the 6P might be more well-suited to your needs.
  • Speakers. The 5X has a single front-facing speaker that's okay but nothing special. The 6P has two front-facing speakers that are meaningfully better -- still not spectacular, but pretty good (especially compared to most smartphones).
  • Camera extras. This year's Nexus phones have identical imaging setups, and they're wildly impressive (seriously -- if you haven't already, check out my side-by-side Nexus-Galaxy Note camera comparison for an up-close look). The 6P has a few extra camera features, however: a Smart Burst mode that lets you hold down the shutter button to take a ton of pictures and then have the phone instantly select and save the best eight while also creating an animated GIF of the movement (pretty nifty, especially if you have kids); the ability to take slow-mo videos in two different speeds compared to the 5X's single speed slow-mo option (not sure how much most people will care); and an electronic image stabilization feature to help cut down on shakiness for video capturing (a nice little addition for those of us with unsteady and/or frequently wringing hands).

Putting it all together...

All right -- you've got all the facts. So which Nexus phone is right for you?

Let's work through it together. Choose your own adventure:

1. Do you want a smaller and more manageable phone? Or are you okay with a larger device?

If the former, go 5X. If the latter, go 6P. That part's easy.

2. Does the idea of having a more premium phone matter to you? Or is plastic just as fantastic in your book?

If you said "yay" to the first question, the 6P is the Nexus for you. If your "yippee!" fell on the second half, the 5X might be your cup of tea.

3. How much do you care about smartphone displays? Do you want the best possible one out there -- or is that not something you really focus on, so pretty good would be good enough?

If top-notch display quality is high on your list, you want the 6P. If it's not something you worry about too much, the 5X is still in the running.

4. Do any of the odds and ends mentioned above mean enough to you to sway your decision?

If so -- well, you know. Respond accordingly.

In general, I'd say this: If you can deal with having a larger phone, I'd go with the 6P. It's an exceptional device in almost every possible way, inside and out. Its carefully crafted body and top-of-the-line display make it a real pleasure to use, and the added niceties like the dual speakers, impeccable performance, and extra camera functions are valuable elements to have.

Consider, too, that the 32GB Nexus 6P costs $499. The 32GB Nexus 5X -- which is the model I'd advise most people to get, as 16GB just isn't a lot of space to have on a phone these days -- costs $429. So with all things equal on storage, we're talking about a fairly small difference in price.

Now, all of that being said, if you simply prefer a smaller phone, I certainly wouldn't steer you away from the 5X. As far as more compact devices go, it's hands-down the best all-around user experience you can get with Android right now -- with the same superb software, ongoing speedy updates, and outstanding camera the 6P provides. And it really is comfy to carry and use in a way that plus-sized phones just can't match.

(And remember: Both phones are fully unlocked and compatible with any U.S. carrier, including Google's unusually priced multi-network Project Fi service.)

Two superb choices -- and for many of us, one supremely difficult decision. Hopefully this guide helps you sort through the important differences and figure out which model makes more sense for you.

Know this: You can't go wrong either way. And hey, enjoy the agony a little, would ya? This kind of difficult decision is a fantastic sort of problem to have.

[See "The Nexus Experience," below, for updates and additional analysis.]

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