Poor LG. The company could really use a hit. The conversations about premium handsets are nearly always dominated by Apple and Samsung, while a slew of Chinese brands have been nibbling away at the Korean company's low-end devices.
Executives surely jumped at the chance to provide yet another platform on which to showcase Google's last and greatest operating system - but once again, LG's contribution has been pushed to the side. This year, Huawei did the pushing, with the Nexus 6P, which has garnered almost universal acclaim in early reviews (ours included).
But hey, someone has to open the same week as Star Wars, right? And when it came time to offer a smaller screened, more budget-minded alternative to the Nexus flagship, Google once again employed the old smartphone workhorse. And once again, the partnership has resulted in a solid handset. The Nexus 5X isn't a flashy phone by any stretch, but that's never really been the point.
The 5X isn't slick. That's not the word for it at all. "Solid" is more in the ballpark. Or maybe "utilitarian." It's not a bad looking phone by any stretch, but it's certainly not cut from the same metal and glass cloth that's all the rage with flagships these days.
The size difference between 5.2 and 5.7-inch handsets doesn't really strike you until you've got two of them on the table in front of you. While the 6P likely won't prove unwieldy for most users, the few fractions of an inch that differentiate the 5X provide a good alternative from those looking for a moderately sized phone that's easily operated with a single hand.
From the front, the 5X is largely unremarkable. There are no buttons present, just a pair of speaker grilles (well, one speaker grille on the bottom and an identical ear piece up top) flanking the display and a lackluster front-facing five-megapixel camera.
The two plasticky materials converge along the side of of the device. In the case of our own unit with a white backing, the effect is not unlike that of an Oreo with the top twisted off. On the left side are the phone's two physical button, the volume rocker and power, which also fires up the camera app with two clicks, and on the right is the SIM slot.
Along the bottom is the headphone jack and, mirroring the 6P, that fancy new USB-C port. It's hardly ubiquitous right now, but it likely will be soon. In other words, you're going to end up replacing your microUSB cords with the USB-C variety in the not too distant future, so you might as well start now - and get the bonus of a reversible plug and quick charging times in the process.
The rear of the device sports a matte finish - a sort of off-white called Ice in the case of our model. It's not bad looking, really. While the polycarbonate does betray the handset's budgetary constraints, it manages to do so without coming across as overly cheap. In fact, the design is still slicker than that of, say, the iPhone C. And while the handset is notably thicker than some of its competition at 7.9 millimeters, it's certainly not overly chunky.
As with the 6P, the Nexus logo dominates the rear, a not so subtle reminder that whomever happens to have manufactured the handset is almost inconsequential. Let there be no question that this is, above all, a Google phone. Of course there's an LG logo on there too, but it's small and relegated to the bottom, almost like an afterthought.
Above the logos sits the fingerprint scanner, smack dab in the middle. It took some getting used to, but between my time with the 6P and the 5X, I'm starting to appreciate the placement. Waking up the phone with one hand requires minimal fumbling and I haven't accidentally triggered it nearly as many times as I'd originally anticipated.
The 12.3-megapixel camera sits at top, jutting out slightly, alongside the flash. There's a lot more to say about the camera, so let's just jump into that right now, shall we?
The first thing to note here is that, even though it's not encased in a glossy black bar, the 5X sports the same camera as the 6P, and that's huge. For a number of reasons, really. For starters, it's a tremendous leap over the camera setup in the Nexus 5 - largely regarded as one of that other wisely warmly received handset's biggest sticking points.
It also points a way to a future in which budget devices no longer get shortchanged in the camera department. If LG cut corners to bring down the price of the 5X, it certainly wasn't in the camera department. It's got the 6P's same Sony-designed 12.33-megapixel sensor featuring large 1.55μm pixels.
The camera captures bright, sharp, true-to-life images in daylight and manages to do a really admirable job in lowlight, thanks to the extra light that its sensors bring in. The same shot taken in a dimly-lit room side by side with the 5X and iPhone 6 is like, well, night and day. Though, as with the 6P, images do have a noticeable processing lack after they've been snapped. It's not a huge deal for the most part, but you'll really start to notice it if you need to snap a series of shots.
Okay, LG definitely cut a couple of corners here. The 1920 x 1080 isn't really much of an upgrade over last year. It's not a bad screen, it's just a far cry from what higher-end devices. The result is a passable HD viewing experience that doesn't match the wow factor of pricier handsets, thanks in no small part to a flat color scheme that dulls in comparison to the competition.
The speaker scheme also falls short. While I welcome the decision to place the speakers on the front, the 5X is a bit of a tease, as only one of the two grilles actually operates as a music speaker. And the experience isn't really great. It's muddy and tinny, and generally a good motivation to invest in a good pair of headphones, particularly in light of the free 90 day Google Music trial bundled with the phone.
The internals are similarly uninspiring - as it to be expected on a low-end phone like this. The 1.8 GHz Snapdragon 808 processor is paired with 2GB of RAM, a middling combination at best.
Most users won't see much of an issue with performance, though more graphically intensive programs won't run nearly as smoothly as on higher end devices. Storage starts at 16GB - same as on Apple's devices, though it maxes out at 32GB (which is, incidentally, the base level storage for the 6P).
The 2,700mAh battery, on the other hand, is a marked improvement over the old Nexus 5. It's not nearly as beefy as the 6P's 3,450 mAh version, but it does the trick with the phone's less power consuming features. You'll be able to get through a day or so without any problems. But if you do encounter one, the phone charges up quite quickly through the USB-C port.
Oh, and a quick shoutout to the fingerprint scanner, which is every bit as snappy as the one on its bigger sibling - which is to say remarkably so. I'm still amazed at how quickly the phone goes from sleep to wake with a simple scan.
And In Conclusion
That the 5X would be overshadowed by the 6P has always been a sort of inevitability. Huawei's bigger model is, after all, one of the best all-around Android phones on the market. But that doesn't mean the 5X isn't a worthy handset - it's just a different phone with entirely different goals. Keep in mind, the company's only charging $379 for the thing.
Between its solid design, great camera, improved battery, and other bells and whistles like the snappy fingerprint reader, one would be hard pressed to find a better phone for under $400. It's made some key leaps over its predecessor and continues to be the ideal low-end handset on which to showcase Google's shiny new operating system.