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Hands-on with Google's new Nexus 6P smartphone

All those rumors were true

Last year's Nexus 6 smartphone from Google and Motorola lived up to its name: With its 6-inch display, it outsized almost all other phablets in fashion at the time, including the new iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Read next: The Nexus 6P review.

This year's model bears a similar-sounding name, but it's a very different phone. The just-announced Nexus 6P, made in partnership with Chinese phone maker Huawei this time, has a different display size, a bigger battery, and a camera that puts it up there with other flagship models. The answer to the oft-asked question — why is it that Google makes Nexus phones, again? — suddenly becomes a little clearer when you consider that hardware like this is meant to show off the best of what Android can do.

Whether or not people will buy it is another question entirely, but from a pure hardware perspective, Google has made some impressive strides.

I had the chance to play with the new Nexus 6P following today's event, and was immediately struck by its build. Rather than the swollen-battery or bubble-back style of last year's model, this new Nexus 6P is sleek, with a full-metal aluminum body. It's 7.3mm thick, thinner than last year's model, and also 10 grams lighter. It feels like a premium phone. After just a few minutes comparing last year's Nexus 6 and this new Nexus 6P, the back of the old model was smudged up and the whole phone felt thick in comparison.

The Nexus 6P has a 5.7-inch WQHD AMOLED display that spans almost the entire front of the phone, two front-facing speakers, and, like the new Nexus 5X, has a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device. This can be used to unlock the device itself or give access to apps within the phone. Another expected feature add: the Nexus 6P has a USB-Type C charging port and supports fast-charging.

Of course, you might not need to charge this thing all that much — it has a 3450mAh battery that, coupled with the new Doze feature in the Android Marshmallow OS, should last you a pretty significant amount of time in "normal" use cases. We won't be able to fully assess the fast-charging and bigger battery until we can use the Nexus 6P for an extended amount of time, but the initial specs sound promising.

The most significant feature upgrade of the Nexus 6P, though, is the camera. (It takes up a good physical portion of the top of the back of the phone, which some consumers might find unsightly, but it probably all depends on just how good the photos are.) The 12.3-megapixel Sony sensor has large pixels that Google says is supposed to let in 90 percent more light than the sensor on the previous Nexus 6. In other words, it's ideal for low-light settings. It also has an eight-megapixel front-facing camera, laser-fast auto focus and slow-mo and 4K video capture capabilities.

I was only able to snap a couple photos with the Nexus 6P in the hands-on area of today's Google event, and the lighting in there was pretty ideal. So I haven't put the low-light claims to the test. But it did focus and capture images extremely quickly, and the photos looked bright and rich in color in the photo gallery, at least.

If you've been following along with us you may have seen the pricing already, but in case not: the Nexus 6P starts at $499 for a 32-gigabyte model, going up to $649 for a 128-gigabyte model. That's less than the starting price of last year's phone, for what seems already like a much better smartphone. It opens up for pre-orders today in the US, UK, Japan, and Ireland, and ships sometime in October. It comes unlocked and is supposed to work across all major wireless carriers — as well as with Google Fi, the company's own mobile virtual network.


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