LG Nexus 5X review: Falling short

Can LG and Google recapture the magic of the hugely successful Nexus 5?

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LG Nexus 5X
  • LG Nexus 5X
  • LG Nexus 5X
  • LG Nexus 5X
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • First in line for software updates
  • Proficient 12.3MP and 5MP cameras
  • Support for USB-C
  • Quick finger scanner

Cons

  • No expandable storage
  • Lesser battery life
  • Unflattering design

Would you buy this?

Two years is a long time to own a smartphone when refresh cycles happen twice a year. Software updates play a key role in breathing new life into aging hardware, but the conscientious testing undertaken by carriers can delay releases by three months. That’s enough time for green leaves to turn brown in the lead up to winter.

Nexus smartphones skirt this predicament. Google takes care of the design and partners with a manufacturer to have them made. The software remains stock, vanilla, free from overlays and third-party bloatware. The Android operating system that ships on a Nexus smartphone is as pure as Google intended.

This proves beneficial when a newer version of software is made available. Waiting for an update to reach a Nexus smartphone is measured in days, not months.

It comes as no surprise then that the Nexus 5X, the third smartphone manufactured by LG for Google, runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow. And it runs Marshmallow at a time when rivals are still pushing out updates for 5.0 Lollipop.

The most significant software feature introduced in Android Marshmallow is Now on Tap. It is Google’s retort to Apple’s 3D Touch and it works with a prolonged press of the home button.

Now on Tap: Panes 1 and 2 are generated from text messages; pane 3 is from Spotify
Now on Tap: Panes 1 and 2 are generated from text messages; pane 3 is from Spotify

Now on Tap tries to intuit your needs — by anticipating relevant web pages, social networks, applications and more — in a move that decentralises the Android operating system. The crux of it is to deliver the functionality you want in fewer gestures, and it works with both native and third party applications.

Now on Tap is both inferior and superior to Apple’s 3D Touch. It isn’t as intelligible because it launches options and not the needed application. It also lacks the theatre of a pressure-sensitive screen and a powerful vibrating engine, which makes 3DTouch such a joy to use. Then again, not having to tweak the hardware paves the way for smartphones that are lighter and less expensive.

Although an emphasis has been placed on hardware this time around. Double tap the power button and it will launch the camera. The introduction of this shortcut hints at Google’s renewed focus on photography.

Bulging on the Nexus 5X’s back is a camera that will take 12.3-megapixel photos and record videos in 4K resolution. A focus has been placed on indoor and low light photography, with notable specifications including an f/2.0 aperture and large 1.55 micron pixels.

Taken with the Nexus 5X's primary camera
Taken with the Nexus 5X's primary camera
Taken with the Nexus 5X's primary camera
Taken with the Nexus 5X's primary camera

Most cameras will perform well under the sun. The 5X impresses with its performance under artificial lighting — such as the fluorescent bulbs of an office — by taking photos that are well exposed, rich in detail and soft on image noise. Not only does it capture the best photos of any Nexus device, it’ll also compete against the cameras found in the flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and Sony.

Beneath the camera lens is a finger scanner referred to by Google as ‘Nexus Imprint’. Finger scanners have become commonplace in smartphones since they were popularised by the Apple iPhone 5S. Google has not simply imitated the technology. This scanner registers fingers in fewer swipes, authenticates prints quicker and it gets better over time.

Echoing the sentiments of the finger scanner is the adoption of the USB-C port. Google is the first company to bring the nascent standard to smartphones sold in Australia.

There are a number of benefits associated with incorporating USB-C into a smartphone. It is easier to use by being a reversible standard; it has a higher data throughput for faster data transfers; and it supports quick charging. The standard holds such potential that it is the only port to be featured on Apple’s 2015 MacBook.

Adopting next-generation technology early isn’t without its drawbacks. Both ends of the cable shipped with the Nexus 5X are of the USB-C variety. How then are you meant to plug the smartphone into your computer to transfer files? Owners will have to buy a USB to USB-C cable, but the investment should be worthwhile as the standard will only grow in popularity.

The nuts and bolts of the Nexus 5X stack up well. Content and multimedia alike look great on its 5.2-inch, Full HD display. Bordering the 423 pixel-per-inch screen is a front firing speaker for more immersive videos and gaming.

Sensibilities trickle down from the primary camera and into the 5-megapixel front camera. It too has an f/2.0 aperture and large 1.4 micron pixels.
Sensibilities trickle down from the primary camera and into the 5-megapixel front camera. It too has an f/2.0 aperture and large 1.4 micron pixels.

Powering the smartphone is the same Snapdragon 808 chipset found in LG’s flagship G4. It is a hexa-core processor composed of a 1.8GHz dual-core CPU and a 1.4GHz quad-core CPU. Shared between it and an Adreno 418 GPU is 2GB of RAM.

Running 3DMark’s ice storm unlimited benchmark, software that measures CPU and GPU performance, returned a maximum score of 18,901. This score places the Nexus 5X in the midrange of the market, below Apple’s iPhone 6S (28,348) and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge (22,248), but ahead of the LG G4 (18,862) and Motorola Moto X Play (8709).

Letting this configuration down is a lack of support for expandable storage. The 16- or 32-gigabytes of internal storage isn’t enough to meet the needs of multimedia users. Omitting expandable storage would incentivise customers to rely on Google’s cloud services.

Fast Internet should make using these services seamless. The 5X has an LTE modem compatible with Cat6 networks; that is, networks with a theoretical maximum speed of 300 Megabits per second (Mbps). The only carrier offering the smartphone on a post-paid contract is Telstra and its network is compatible with Cat6.

We loaded the Nexus 5X with a Telstra SIM card and ran a speed test in our North Sydney office. Internet speeds were excellent. We recorded a maximum download speed of 101.3Mbps and an upload speed of 26.7Mbps. Downloading a 1-gigabyte file at this pace would take only 1 minute and 24 seconds.

Support for quick charging means a flat Nexus 5X can be charged to 70 per cent in 50 minutes.
Support for quick charging means a flat Nexus 5X can be charged to 70 per cent in 50 minutes.

LG and Google have failed to recapture the magic of the Nexus 5 with its successor. Offsetting the appeal of its stock software is its cluttered hardware. Turn the phone over and there’s a bulging camera, a twin flash, an infrared laser, a finger scanner, the ‘NEXUS’ branding and LG’s badge. Such a mess goes against the simplicity of a Nexus smartphone.

Many would’ve forgiven the 5X for its looks — for its ordinary battery life and lack of expandable microSD storage too — if it sold for a competitive price. The Nexus 5 sold for $399 in Australia. The starting price for the Nexus 5X is $659. This is still cheaper than the flagships from the big manufacturers, though they may well be worth the premium.

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Read more on these topics: Marshmallow, lg, Google, 5X, Android, Android 6.0, 5.0, nexus
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