The phone that makes Huawei a household name here in the States may not even bear its name at all. The Chinese manufacturer got a crack at the coveted Nexus line, and it's going for broke with a 5.7-inch handset designed to showcase Google's fancy new mobile operating system.
More than that, however, the 6P is Huawei's chance to demonstrate that it's capable of designing a handset that can hang with the flagships issued by industry leaders, all with a starting price of $499—hundreds of dollars less than comparable devices.
Huawei makes a good-looking phone, and the 6P may well be the handset that convinces American users still struggling to pronounce the H-word what many of us have already known for years: this isn't the farm league. The company long ago put to rest any lingering doubts regarding its ability to create devices every bit as premium as a Samsung or Apple.
It all comes into sharp relief the moment the 6P hits your hand. This is a solid phone. It's got that lovely contoured all-aluminum heft to it that serves as an ever-present reminder of the device's premium-built quality. Huawei's also done a fine job cramming a large display into a reasonable footprint. The 6P is a big phone that doesn't feel unwieldy, and is easily held in one hand.
From the front, at least, the handset doesn't do much to distinguish itself from the Android pack. The phone's dimensions take on that sort of wide, stretched shape familiar to Galaxy Note and iPhone Plus users, with the 5.7-inch screen flanked on the top and bottom by large speaker grilles and small but detectable bezel to the right and left.
The top also houses a front-facing 8-megapixel camera, but is otherwise completely minimalist, devoid of any buttons, save for the onscreen variety. Around back, however, things get a lot more interesting.
The back is largely covered in a lovingly finished metallic design—my unit is a dark color the company has deemed "graphite." As per previous editions, the Nexus logo is far and away the largest on the device, running vertically through the center and monopolizing about a third the phone's length. Huawei is on there, too, but it's a much smaller, shoved down on the bottom.
Above the pair of logos is a small circle, indented a few fractions of a millimeter. That would be the fingerprint reader, located just within reach of your index finger. The jury's still out on the placement. I'm still getting used to it after a couple of days with the phone, but I think I'm starting to like it, even though other parts of my fingers have the tendency to graze up against it from time to time.
The phone's most striking physical feature runs along the top of the back, a long, glossy black band that protrudes slightly from the rear, housing the lens, flash, and an array of antennae. The strip has been the subject of visceral negative feedback among early reviewers, who regard the thing as, at best, a necessary evil. But I don't really mind it. It brings a little extra character to a nice, but otherwise fairly unremarkable, back.
Along the right side is the SIM card slot and on the left is the volume rocker and power button, which Huawei gave some texture to, so users can distinguish the two by feel. The mic jack sits on top, between a pair of exposed (but subtle) antenna bands. And what's this? It's sort of the uncanny valley of charging ports—something similar, but not quite the same.
That, friends, is USB Type-C. Get used to it, because you'll be seeing it everywhere soon, from smartphones to laptops and everything in-between. Granted, you'll probably end up buying a few extra cords yet again, but the standard is soon to be ubiquitous—and more important, like the Lightning Connector before it, the plug is reservable, so there's no more fiddling around with the cable trying to figure out which way is up.
Sights and Sounds
The phone's centerpiece is a lovely 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) AMOLED display that clocks in at 518 pixels per inch. It's bright and it's sharp—it's also extremely saturated. Frankly, I'm not really in love with the default color balance here.
Staring at the bright rainbow of colors on the Chrome logo gave me a bit of a headache, detracting from an otherwise perfectly lovely viewing experience with terrific viewing angles.But that's all personal preference, of course.
Some users may appreciate the overly saturated colors—and for those like me who don't, you can also go into the developer settings and tweak the color balance you want for something a little easier on the eyes.
I want to stand up and applaud every time I see a pair of front-facing speakers on a phone, particularly when they're integrated into the design in an aesthetically pleasing manner, which is certainly the case here. The speakers also sound pretty solid, as far as built-in phone speakers go.
They're clear and they get pretty loud, though that clarity naturally begins to muddy at louder volumes. They do the trick well for YouTube videos and short listening sessions, though if you really want to take advantage of the 90-day free Google Music trial that comes bundled with the handset, you'd do well to invest in a decent pair of headphones.
Long a sticking point among Nexus owners, Google made it clear in its press conference that the buck stopped here. And the 6P delivers. It's not necessarily the best or highest-speced shooter on the market, but the company's done an admirable job keeping up with the phone camera arms race, thanks in no small part to its employment of Sony's excellent 12-megapixel camera sensor.
The 6P shoots extremely sharp and true-to-life shots in daylight, picking up details and shadows very well. Even more impressive is what the camera is able to do in low light. The shots take noticeably long to capture and you have to watch the built-in HDR spin its wheels a bit as it processes the shot, but the results are quite impressive, thanks to the aforementioned sensor, which is designed to let in as much light as possible.
The phone's also got a few camera tricks up its sleeve, like the power button, which does double-duty with a double click, launching the phone directly into photo mode with an accompanying haptic buzz. There's also a new burst mode for taking quick consecutive shots, which can later be converted into animated GIFs.
And what of that ever-important, yet often overlooked, component, battery life? It's great. The nonremovable 3,450 mAh unit will get you through a day of use, no problem. Heck, it'll probably get you through a couple if you really want to push your luck. And when the fun's all over, plug it in via that USB-C cord for a quick charge.
Speaking of quick, the fingerprint reader is a real speed demon. In fact, I found myself checking it a few times just to be sure. It makes the iPhone's biometric reader feel like an eternity in comparison.
The internals are no slouch, either. The 6P packs a 2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 3 GB of RAM, a snappy combination that's perfect for showcasing all of the those new Android 6.0 Marshmallow features. The base $499 unit also features a generous 32 GB of storage—that's double the amount that comes with the $749 iPhone Plus.
With a premium design, a great camera, good battery, a vivid display and pure, unvarnished Android 6.0, the Nexus 6P is a hard phone to find fault with—particularly with a $499 starting price. Sure, there are handsets rocking more firepower on the market, but one is hard-pressed to find a phone that's so well-rounded.
Sure, it doesn't exactly broadcast the Huawei name, but the new Nexus leaves little doubt that the Chinese handset maker is capable of designing one of the best handsets around. Learn to pronounce the H-word. You'll be seeing a lot of it in the near future.