For 2015 Google has given us not one, but two new Nexus handsets. The first, reviewed in November, was the Nexus 6P, and the second is this, the Nexus 5X. Built for Google by LG, the 5X has a 5.2in screen, runs the new Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system, and starts at £339.
With the Nexus 5X, Google hopes to rekindle some of the excitement created by the original Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, two phones which offered great bang for your buck, and claim the mid-range market as its own. It may not be the most exciting phone visually, but when it comes to quiet, unassuming brilliance, the Nexus 5X could be on to a winner.
Google Nexus 5X: Look and feel
Line up the 5X with its sibling, the 6P, and it's obvious where the extra £110 goes on the larger phone. Not only does it have a bigger and higher resolution screen, but the 6P's design and build quality leave the 5X standing. That being said, once you look again at the 5X's price and adjust your expectations, then it makes more sense. It doesn't have the all-aluminium desirability of the 6P, but it is a well made and handsome phone regardless.
My review handset had the optional "ice"-coloured back, which to my eyes is more pale green than frozen water. I'm not sure it really goes with the black front, but it's nice enough and the soft finish of the plastic feels good.
Dual speakers are the only real defining feature on the front, while the back gets the same circular fingerprint sensor as the Nexus 6P, plus a camera which bulges up slightly – albeit in a more subtle and attractive way than on the 6P. At 7.9mm and 136g, the Nexus 5X is thin and light enough to hold comfortably in one hand. Some critics will mistake the soft, warm plastic and lightness for cheapness, but they shouldn't – for the price there is little to complain about.
Google Nexus 5X: Screen
The screen is a 5.2in panel with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 423 per inch. It may not have the higher 1440 x 2560 resolution of the Nexus 6P – and other premium handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S6 – but for the price I can hardly complain. That, and the jury is still out over whether the extra pixels really make much of a difference.
Brightness and colour accuracy are both top notch, while blacks are very dark and whites are neutral without straying into the warm/yellow or cool/blue ends of the spectrum.
Google Nexus 5X: Software and Performance
The Nexus 5X is powered by a Snapdragon 808 processor with 2GB of RAM and storage options are 16 and 32GB, with no microSD card slot to increase this. The processor is made up of two chips, a quad-core running at 1.44GHz and a dual-core clocked to 1.82GHz.
This provides the Nexus 5X with enough power to keep Android running smoothly. Having used it as my personal phone for a week, I found the Nexus rarely let me down. The user interface would sometimes take a moment to respond, mostly when pressing the home button, but it really was no worse than that. I never noticed the phone heat up like some others do, and battery life is perfectly acceptable, at a day and a half.
My only complaint here is the USB Type-C charger. Yes, this will become the norm and yes, this is a temporary problem. But the port is incompatible with microUSB, so unless you have the one right charger with you at all times, you can't charge.
Google Nexus 5X: Camera
Both the Nexus 4 and 5 were let down by poor cameras. Their blend of high performance and low price carried them so far, but a decent camera simply didn't fit into the equation. The Nexus 6P addresses this by upping the price and installing a great camera, but the £110 deficit means the Nexus 5X can't quite compete at the same level.
The app is fairly basic. There are pre-set functions for taking a panoramic photo, adding lens blur to create a photo with a shallow depth of field, and a "photo sphere" mode that instructs you to takes multiple photos, which are then stitched into a 360-degree image, like something captured with a Google Street View camera. There is no manual control, but then the iPhone manages just fine without that too.
Shooting consecutive photos isn't as fast as recent iPhones or the Samsung Galaxy S6, but the Nexus 5X's speed is at least consistent. The fifth photo is taken as quickly as the first. Larger pixels – 1.55 microns – mean the Nexus 5X performs better in low light than any previous Nexus, and better than some of its more expensive rivals. The 12.3-megapixel sensor is respectable enough – in fact, it's exactly the same as the one used by the Nexus 6P, only that phone has beefed up image processing, so it gets the job done more quickly.
Ultra HD (4K) video can be shot at 30 frames per second, as can regular Full Hd footage. The front camera has a 5MP sensor with the same wide F/2 aperture as the rear, meaning it captures plenty of light.
A recent TV series about the SAS recruitment process spoke about being "the grey man". The benefits of being the man who doesn't stand out, who can operate behind enemy lines without raising suspicion. The Nexus 5X is the grey man. It doesn't stand out – visually or in terms of features or specifications – but it gets the job done with the least fuss possible.
But by being the grey man, the Nexus 5X feels like something of a hidden secret, just like the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 both did, by offering excellent specs, features, performance and usability for significantly less than the better-known and more expensive competition.
It won't win any design awards, it isn't particularly memorable or exciting, but it does the job better than most – and for £339 I really can't ask for much more than that.
- Design: 7/10 – Fairly dull to look at, but nice to hold and feels well made
- Screen: 8/10 – Resolution not as high as some, but still looks great. Excellent colours and deep black
- Software: 9/10 – Stock Android is always a huge bonus of Nexus handsets, and the new 6.0 Marshmallow is as good as ever
- Camera: 7/10 – The usual downside to Nexus phones, but this one is a solid effort with good low-light ability
- Performance: 8/10 – Not quite flagship performance, but otherwise very little to fault for the price
- Light, compact design
- Rear fingerprint scanner works perfectly
- Good battery life
- Plastic build could be confused for feeling cheap
- Only 16GB of storage as standard, not expandable
- USB Type-C charging is a pain for now