Latest news: Google’s Nexus 5X was a fantastic smartphone when it launched way back in 2015, mainly because of its low price, but its success was short-lived. Google retired it when it launched the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL last year and it’s now almost impossible to get hold of.
That’s a shame because the Nexus 5X was Google’s last truly affordable smartphone; it’s new handsets are now far more expensive and priced to compete with the iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S8s of this world those on a limited budget now have to look elsewhere. So, what are the alternatives to the affordable Nexus 5X in today’s smartphone market?
The bad news is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find decent phones in the Nexus’ old mid-tier price bracket. The obvious choice until recently was the OnePlus 3, but the price of that phone has risen, too, and replaced with the more expensive £399 OnePlus 3T.
Our current favourite at a slightly lower price is the Moto Z Play, which has incredible battery life and a modular design that lets you expand its capabilities by snapping extra modules to its rear, but you may want to set your sights a little lower and consider the £150-£200 bracket instead. Here, there’s much more competition with the Moto G5 Plus rubbing shoulders the Lenovo P2, Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) and the Honor 6X all offering compelling choices.
Google Nexus 5X review in full
Google’s Nexus phones have always ranked highly among my favourite handsets, but the Nexus 5X might be the last great mid-range Google phone to bear the Nexus name, as Google’s just announced its latest pair of smartphones will don the Pixel moniker to match its Pixel C tablet and Pixel Chromebooks.
The Pixel and Pixel XL also have similarly eye-watering prices to match their premium siblings, which also makes the Nexus 5X one of the last great cheap Google phones as well. Available for around £260 SIM-free, it’s a still a fantastic deal even a year on from release, so you’d do well to pick one up before it disappears for good.
Admittedly, you will be missing out on a few features, such as support for Google’s Daydream VR. The new Pixel phones also have a metal chassis like the Nexus 6P, something the Nexus 5X is sorely lacking. Made out of plastic, it looks a little budget by comparison and not quite as special as you’d hope a mid-range smartphone would be. However, you won’t be left behind on software, as the Nexus 5X is guaranteed to receive an update to Android Nougat soon, so you’ll still have all the latest software features even if you buy one today.
That said, the Nexus 5X is definitely a phone where you can’t judge it based on looks alone, for underneath the rather bland exterior lies a rather good and quite powerful smartphone, proving that Google and its Nexus line-up are very much back on the right track.
The new MacBook and the OnePlus Two may have got there first, but Google’s inclusion of USB Type-C here is a far greater statement of intent for the future of most smartphones. The reversible connector is simply great; it’s a little chunkier and feels sturdier than micro USB, and not having to faff about plugging it in the right way up is a revelation (one that iPhone users have enjoyed for years). It’s a little longer, and so slides home more convincingly, and has a distinct click when properly inserted. Yes, it’s only a connector, but it really improves the feel of the device using it day-to-day and that’s important.
We may all be using it tomorrow, but what’s it like to live with today? One problem is that USB Type-C cables aren’t exactly common. Leave yours at home and you’re unlikely to be able to grab a charge at a friend’s house or the office without it. Google hasn’t helped things by only including a Type-C to Type-C cable, along with a Type-C adaptor, in the box. You’ll want to pick up a Type-A to Type-C cable for carrying about with you.
Power isn’t the most exciting element of any handset, but it’s certainly essential, and Type-C allows for fast charging by default. The Nexus 5X charges to 20% in just 10mins, reaches 48% after 30mins and hits a day’s worth of battery (84%) in an hour. It then slows down considerably, reaching 100% after 1hr 40mins, but that’s still quick. It’s a slightly quicker than a Samsung Galaxy S6 using a fast charger, except for that final 16% where the S6 catches up. Useful then, but not groundbreaking.
The battery itself has a 2,700mAh capacity, which is about par for the course given this is a pretty slim 7.9mm handset. In our continuous video playback test, it lasted for a respectable ten hours and 14 minutes. The Moto X Play lasted for over thirteen hours in the same test, but that phone is over 10mm at its thickest point. Quibbles on size apart, the Nexus 5X reliably got me through a full day of use, but if you hammer your smartphone’s battery then there are longer-lasting alternatives.
I was a little sad to discover that wireless charging has been dropped, rendering my small collection of Qi chargers useless. Google has said that the faster charging times of Type-C and the extra space required for the charging coil made it a bad choice. That said, Samsung manages to squeeze wireless charging into the S6 and that’s still slim and beautiful – but of course almost twice the price.
It’s worth noting that Google is only taking full advantage of USB Type-C for power and convenience. There’s no video output from the port, as is supported by the standard, and data transfer rates are only at usual USB 2.0 speeds as well.
After power we move onto security – it’s all the exciting stuff today! Before you skip ahead, security really is a big deal on this handset, because of the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor. Yes, Samsung and Apple have had fingerprint sensors for a couple of years now, but Android has never supported them natively, and that’s meant support from app developers has been patchy to non-existent.
The inclusion of a sensor here is timed to coincide with the Android Pay’s launch in the US – we should see it in the UK shortly. It’s a handy added layer of security for those trusting their card details to their smartphones. However, it’s not essential for using Android Pay in the US, where any handset can authorise a transaction once the lock screen has been unlocked, say by PIN or swipe code. Whether we see stricter security in the UK is yet to be seen and will depend on Google’s negotiations with banks over here.
On the Nexus 5X, the fingerprint sensor is positioned just below the rear camera. The circular sensor was a little awkwardly placed for me, as I had to adjust my grip significantly to place my index finger on the sensor. I then had to switch my grip a little to hold the phone securely and use it with my thumb. I currently prefer Sony’s implementation on the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Compact over the competition. You may find the sensor perfectly placed for your hands – I recommend trying it out in a shop before buying if it’s important to you.
I can’t complain about the speed at all. Resting your finger on the sensor switches on and unlocks the phone almost instantly. It’s accurate too, learning my fingerprints quicker than the S6 and recognising them more consistently as well.
Design and dimensions
The fingerprint sensor adds more clutter to the rear panel. It sits alongside a whopping great Nexus logo, camera sensor with separate flash and focus cutouts, plus a mess of regulatory information at the bottom. Getting rid of the smaller logos would have improved things immeasurably, as would making the logo black-on-black on the ‘Carbon’ model (as it was on the Nexus 5).
It’s great to hold, though. The plastic finish provides plenty of grip and, at 136g, it’s among the lightest phones around too. The shape is good too, with the rear panel meeting the front bezels very neatly indeed. The 147x73x7.9mm dimensions are reasonable for a handset with a 5.2in display, especially given the inclusion of stereo forward-mounted speakers. I’m a huge fan of such speakers, and as they did on the Nexus 6, they provide superior, clearer audio than any tiny port tucked away around the bottom of so-called flagship smartphones.
It looks like the designers took the day off when it came to the side buttons, though. Black, plastic, completely rectangular and utterly featureless, they are so simple as to appear an afterthought. They aren’t terrible to use, but there’s not a lot of feedback and no distinct click. Power and volume are placed right next to each other too, which doesn’t help, and there’s no texturing to make them easy to differentiate.
Amidst all that is a good LCD screen with a Full HD resolution. Even at 5.2in across it still has a whopping 424 pixels-per-inch and despite higher resolutions being available, I’m unconvinced there’s any serious advantage in terms of day-to-day use. In objective tests, the screen stood up well, covering 94.8% of the sRGB colour gamut with 415cd/m2 max brightness, a contrast level of 1309:1 and a black level of 0.32cd/m2. Essentially, it scored respectably across the board.
I’ve seen brighter LCDs at this price, but consistency is the name of the game and the Nexus 5X nails that. It also has a pleasingly flat colour output, without some of the boosted and garish shades I’ve seen elsewhere. Samsung is to be applauded in finally reigning in colour vibrancy on the S6, but lacking that, a neutral take is the best option.