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Nexus 6 review: The best Nexus yet, if you can tolerate its gargantuan size

Jason Cross | Nov. 13, 2014
The biggest, most expensive, and best Nexus phone Google has ever produced. All it needs is decent camera software.

Stock Android so good, you'll forget about skins
Skinned versions of Android--Samsung's TouchWiz, HTC's Sense and the like--are not without merit. For years they have provided useful features simply not present in stock Android. At least, not without downloading a slew of apps to modify Android's look and behavior.

With Android Lollipop (5.0), the version whose promotion is at the heart of the Nexus 6, you scarcely have a need to look beyond the built-in functions. 

For example, you now get complete lock screen notifications (with the option to hide sensitive info, like email content). Notification Priorities mimic the "do not disturb" modes found in many manufacturer's Android overlays. The quick settings shade is more elegant and useful. Guest mode locks down your phone so your kids don't get a hold of personal stuff. And now you can "pin" a single screen so your friend doesn't start swiping all around your phone when you're trying to show him a picture.

Android enthusiasts and developers have long preferred Nexus devices precisely because they offer an unadulterated, "pure" Android experience. But for everyday users, the amount of customization and third-party apps necessary to bring stock Android up to modern standards was a problem. With Lollipop, the basic Android OS has added the cupholders and heated seats necessary for a comfortable ride.

Decent camera hardware, terrible camera software
If there's a serious drawback to Google's beastly new phone, it's the camera. This is a Nexus, and that means stock Android, and that means Google's standard Camera app. It's awful.

Mind you, the Nexus 6 hardware is up to snuff. It's got a 13-megapixel Sony IMX214 sensor, f/2.0 lens, with optical image stabilization, and a dual-LED flash. The resulting shots are quite good, and even the low-light performance is a big step up from previous Nexus phones. With HDR+ mode enabled, you can get some really nice shots.

But the experience of taking photos is abysmal. The interface for Google's Camera app is simple to the point of fault. It lacks many basic options and features you find on every modern smartphone. All this high-end hardware and there's no burst mode? No slow motion video? The shutter lag and shot-to-shot latency is way too long.

It's hard to imagine how it ended up this way. Android Lollipop brings with it a new camera API that gives developers unprecedented control over camera hardware and raw access to the sensor data. Finally, Android camera apps can match their iOS counterparts, with smooth viewfinder updates, fast burst modes, HDR video, better post-processing, quick shutter performance, and manual focus and exposure controls. How is Google's own Camera app, on its flagship Nexus device, not a proving ground for what's possible? It doesn't appear to take advantage of any of the new camera API features at all.

 

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