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The Nexus 6: hands-on with Google's phablet

A whale of a phone

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After watching Apple unapologetically release the gigantic iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung release the fourth iteration of its massive Galaxy Note, getting a 6-inch phone from Google seems almost par for the course. Huge phones are the new normal, but the Nexus 6 somehow manages to feel supersized even by today's surreal standards. The basic stats are already known: a Quad HD screen, a powerful Snapdragon 805 processor, a 13-megapixel camera, and a battery big enough to power it all. But the stats don't tell the real story. The real story is simple: this Motorola-made phone was code-named "Shamu," and it's entirely appropriate. Even in this age of big phones, the Nexus 6 is a whale.

It looks very much like an oversized Moto X, with metal edges and a hard plastic back that actually feels pretty good, like a very hard and unbreakable eggshell. Like the Moto X, it has a curved back that adds a little more thickness than you may want in a phone this size — but that's likely a bigger problem for your pocket than it is for your hand. It actually feels really natural once you get used to the size. The edges are not exactly curved, but they're not too sharp either, so you can almost believe you can use this thing with one hand in a pinch. Almost.

We'll have more to say about Android Lollipop in the coming days and weeks, but for now suffice to say it looks great on the Nexus 6. I'm especially happy with the new multitasking and notification options — they're really a lot more clever than you might expect. It also runs fast on this device. Even face unlock seems to work better than it used to, thanks to some software trick that has it running in the background while you look at your notifications.

Google's also added other small touches like a feature that redacts certain information from incoming notifications that may include sensitive items, so that someone won't get the whole story if they glance at your phone. Another feature uses NFC pairing and then Bluetooth to let you transfer the entirety of your old Android device into your new one while they sit side by side. One other hardware trick is Turbo Charging, which will get a nearly dead battery back up to 6 hours of life with 15 minutes of charging at an increasingly higher voltage.

The biggest thing to get excited about is the Nexus 6's camera

But the biggest thing (besides the screen, of course) to get excited about with the Nexus 6 is the camera. We'll obviously need to spend a lot more time with it to give it a proper review, but at first blush the 13-megapixel setup here is wildly better than last year's Nexus. The shutter is instant and the results — if only on this bright AMOLED screen — are really solid.

Photography by Josh Lowensohn.