The Nexus Experience

My favorite new Nexus feature is one I didn't expect to care about

A once insignificant-seeming feature turns out to be a meaningful high point after a few weeks of use.

Nexus 6P Smart Burst

Google's new Nexus phones have a lot of good things going for 'em -- but sometimes, it's the elements you don't expect to matter that end up having the most impact.

As I've been using the Nexus 5X and 6P and thinking about the differences between the two devices, a 6P-exclusive feature called Smart Burst has started to stand out to me in that way. Smart Burst is one of those features I kind of glossed over in my first couple weeks with the phones, leading up to my review. I tried it out, sure -- but it wasn't until recently that its significance really hit me.

Let me refresh your memory about this thing, because -- trust me, I know -- it's easy to brush off and forget amidst all the other attention-grabbing elements of these new phones. Smart Burst lets you hold down your finger on the Nexus 6P's shutter button to take a bunch of rapid-fire shots. The phone makes a satisfying duh-duh-duh-duh-duh noise (read that out loud really fast, and you'll get the gist of it) and just keeps taking back-to-back photos until you let go.

Within about a second of when you finish, you hear a friendly confirmation chime. That lets you know the phone has gone through all the shots you took, picked out and saved the best eight -- which'll be shown in a single stack if you open the photo gallery from the camera -- and also created an animated GIF of the movement that transpired during the course of your burst. Kind of like an old-fashioned flip-book animation to supplement the actual images.

Nexus 6P Smart Burst Gallery

Smart Burst's stack of selected images (the animation is to its left)

Sounds simple, right? Kind of neat, maybe, but nothing you'd especially care about? Exactly. That's what I thought, too. As I've been using it more and more, though, it's become one of the most appreciated touches of any phone I've carried.

The reason resides in a 20-pound dumpling I like to call my daughter. Having kids changes a lot of things in your life -- and one of them is the way you take pictures. (Not to mention the number of pictures you take. Seriously -- I think I've taken more photos over the past several months than I'd taken in my entire life up til this year. Not exaggerating, either.)

You see, the stunning little creature who rolls around my house and drools on every available surface is a bundle of energy (except when she isn't -- but that's another story, and one best illustrated by low-light photos). Even when a camera has pretty good motion-capturing capabilities, it's all too easy to miss a cute moment or be a second off from capturing that perfect but short-lived silly expression with a single photo.

Smart Burst takes that risk away. When I grab the 6P to take candid shots of my favorite munchkin, I just hold the shutter down and let the camera do the dirty work. The Nexus 6P isn't the first phone to offer a burst mode, of course, but what makes it special is the way it implements the feature -- and the extra bonus it includes.

The best way I can describe what sets Smart Burst apart from similar features on other phones is that it's unusually simple and fun to use. There isn't any complex mode-switching or tedious sorting through and deleting piles of almost-identical shots. And there is a sense of immediate satisfaction -- when you lift your finger and almost instantly hear the chime that lets you know your reward is ready.

The automated pruning and organization of shots is certainly part of that. But silly as it may sound (and again, trust me: I realize it sounds silly), the animated GIF is the part I've started to treasure. With a child in particular, there's something about an animation that brings a situation to life in a way a still image never could. It brings you back into the moment -- or brings you into it for the first time, if you're a friend or family member being sent the image from afar. Sure, there are videos, too (and boy howdy, do we take plenty of those), but a video requires commitment to watch. Glancing at a GIF is something anyone will do anytime.

Depending on how you handle the shooting, the GIF could show a short moment of movement while the camera remains still:

Nexus 6P Smart Burst (2)

Or it could show a change in perspective, if you moved the phone while the photos were being taken:

Nexus 6P Smart Burst (1)

Either way, it's simple -- and it's just there, waiting for you to view or share as soon as your capturing is complete. That timing is especially significant: Even though you can create similar sorts of animations once you've backed up images to Google Photos (and Photos itself will sometimes even create them for you), that doesn't happen right away after you've taken the photos. Something about the instant nature of Smart Burst's results makes the whole thing seem, dare I say it, almost magical.

I really didn't think I'd care much about this feature, but it may now end up playing a role in my own personal phone-buying decision (more on that here). If you have kids, dogs, or anything else that moves a lot and is a frequent subject of your photos, it's a distinguishing touch worth keeping in mind.

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