The Nexus 6P is wonderful. It's a superb Android phone from top to bottom — design, build quality, display, battery life, and camera. But when I say "camera," I mean the image quality that the 6P (and 5X for that matter) can capture. I'm talking about the sensor and image processing. You can take shots that stand up to the iPhone 6S, Galaxy S7, or any other recent flagship smartphone. But here's a different line of truth: the camera app that Google includes on these Nexus phones is pretty bad.
Maybe that sounds a little harsh. You can pick up a Nexus 6P, snap a shot, and come away with something great. Done! But just about every other flagship phone — particularly those released this year — is capable of the exact same. Thing is, those phones also go far beyond that, giving you all sorts of manual controls for exposure, white balance, ISO, and shutter speed. Samsung's camera app sets the bar, in my opinion. The double-tap-the-home-button shortcut for opening it remains absolutely brilliant, and just like the iPhone, you can count on those quick "auto" photos to come out the way you intended. But a year with the Galaxy Note 5 (and a month or so with the S7 Edge) had me crazy about those manual controls. Fixing funky white balance was just a couple taps away. But it's more than that. You're given creative flexibility that is completely absent on Nexus devices.
Why does buying a Nexus require me to settle for a camera app that can't compare to Samsung's?
Nexus phones aren't just missing manual controls, mind you. The camera app lacks something as basic and fundamental as an exposure slider. That useful tool (where you tap and drag your finger either down or up to adjust a shot's brightness) has become a staple on pretty much every other smartphone. Bizarrely, Google's camera app once had an option to make exposure adjustments, but it disappeared some time ago and has never returned. We're not talking weeks here, either. It's been months. Many months. Exposure control disappeared on Motorola's Nexus 6 and still hasn't come back. Imagine if Apple removed that feature from the iPhone for like a year. You're at the mercy of the camera's metering, which is often good on the Nexus, but there will always be occasions where it misreads things.
How can the same company that created Google Photos be satisfied with this?
Now maybe you'll say "well the iPhone lacks manual controls, too." But in the case of iOS, there's a plentiful selection of third-party camera apps that offer the deep controls that are missing from Apple's built-in camera application. That's also supposed to be true on Android, at least in theory. But every time I've tried a manual camera on a Nexus phone, it rarely works as promised. Changing the white balance does absolutely nothing, or the exposure dial is broken for some unknown reason. I've probably wasted no more than $10, but it's still frustrating. Why is it this way?
Google's Nexus phones are made for the technology lover. In the eyes of many loyal Android users, they're on a pedestal that other phones can't quite reach. So why does the phone for nerds lack a fun and nerdy way of making our pictures more beautiful? It makes no sense, especially after Google mastered the photo library app — something we once worried no company would pull off — with Google Photos. They crushed it! The thing has a five-star review average on Apple's App Store. And yet, if I open up Google's camera, I can't bump the exposure or tweak the white balance. That stuff feels more important than Photo Sphere, you know? This is the one thing keeping me from using Google's fantastic Nexus hardware full time.