Nexus 5X review

Google's palm-friendly handset puts function over form

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Our Verdict

You can operate Google's compact Nexus 5X with one hand – and it has a smaller price, too, compared with the metal Nexus 6P. Its fingerprint sensor and USB-C port take some getting used to, but it's ultimately a future-proofed phone everywhere but its memory.

For

  • Inexpensive and unlocked
  • One-hand friendly
  • 5.2-inch display
  • Android Marshmallow

Against

  • There's just 2GB of RAM
  • Starts at 16GB of internal storage
  • Your microUSB cables are useless
  • No wireless charging capabilities

Update: Our Nexus 5X review has been updated to detail the impending Android Nougat update that's coming to the phone in a few weeks.

What's the sound of one hand clapping? It's a Nexus 5X owner giving praise to Google and LG for remaking their palm-friendly Android phone while effortlessly holding it in the other hand.

Yes, Google's Nexus handset now comes in two sizes, and this 5.2-inch phone is for those non-giants out there who literally can't handle a 5.7-inch Nexus 6P or last year's 6-inch Nexus 6 phablet.

Meaty paws need not apply, and neither does a big budget. The Nexus 5X price now starts at US$350 (£260, AU$579) for the 16GB model and US$399 (£280, AU$659) SIM-free for the 32GB version. In the US and UK, that price has dropped from the initial US$379 (£299) 16GB and US$429 (£339) 32GB asking price during the first four months.

The larger Nexus 6P costs US$499 (£449, AU$899) and Nexus 6 started at US$650 (£499, AU$870). The 5X now matches the Nexus 5 price, and is a smidge more expensive than the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 5X is more than just a normal-sized phone at a smaller price, though. Its 12.3MP camera is able to capture quality low-light photos, and the specs are just fast enough for most people.

Its reversible USB Type-C port provides quicker charging, its fingerprint sensor is yet another way to effortless unlock your phone, and it's pre-loaded with Android Marshmallow. Better yet, runs Google's Android Nougat update right now in beta if you download Android Nougat.

Nexus 5X review

Compromises and competition mean Nexus 5X isn't for everyone. The Nexus 6P requires two hands to operate, but it isn't a stretch to hold in one, making its size difference tighter and all-metal design and more powerful specs tempting. There's also the option to wait for a very likely Nexus 2016 phone sequel in a few months.

The Nexus 5X, made of plastic, also faces stiffer competition than the Nexus 5 did back in 2013, namely from the iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 - although the latter two have since been replaced by the meatier Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5.

It's also not quite as fast as any of these phones when under pressure. Multitasking with the GPS and playing music, for example, is going to see some slowdown. The same happens when the camera app loads while you're switching from other heavy-duty applications. It's noticeable, but occasional and by no means a deal breaker if you're on a budget.

Easy-to-hold, priced right and feature-packed, this is the Nexus 5 reborn as the Nexus 5X, but over two years have gone by. Is it still a worthy stock Android phone at an unbeatable value? Let's break it down.

Design

The Nexus 5X looks and feels like the Nexus 5 adapted for modern times. It's lightweight and, with a 5.2-inch display, my fingers can barely reach all the way across the screen. That's what I want.

It appropriately pushes the limit of a one-handed phone with dimensions of 147 x 72.6 x 7.9mm, making it taller and broader, but ultimately skinnier than the idolized phone from 2013.

Nexus 5X strikes the right balance: a screen size that's maximized, but still operable in one hand. It's still light, too, at 136g. That's a modest gain from 130g.

Nexus 5X review

I didn't exactly want a camera bulge around back, which is what happened to the center-located rear snapper, but I'd rather have that than a weaker camera. It's a fair trade-off and camera bulges are coming commonplace among today's smartphones.

Thankfully, the camera protrusion isn't as significant as we saw in leaked prototypes, and it at least gives me a landmark when trying to find the new, oddly-placed fingerprint sensor on back.

The 5X owes its lightweight design to LG sticking to a polycarbonate back and thin metal frame. This bucks the trend of moving away from plastic and going with all glass or strictly aluminum.

Nexus 5X review

For this reason, it doesn't feel different from the hard plastic of the Nexus 5, although you won't find the soft touch coating of the black Nexus 5 here. It's more of an egg shell texture.

There are three Nexus 5X colors again, but this time it's Carbon Black, Quartz White and Ice Blue, doing away with red. All three come with a black front, however. You won't find an all-white Nexus 5X.

The black-and-white combination makes my white Nexus 5X review unit look like a delicious ice cream sandwich more than a phone. While not as stylish as Motorola's curved Moto X design, it's mostly flat and functional.

Nexus 5X review

In fact, the only glaringly impractical design choices here are the power button and volume rocker located on the right side. They're small, feel cheap and the power button isn't riveted.

That's a design choice I appreciate in recent phones like the Moto X Style and Nexus 6P. At night, it's easier to tell a power button accent with rigids from a smooth volume rocker.

There is a pulse notification light here. It hasn't been omitted, it's just tucked inside the speaker grill located at the bottom front of the phone and, rudely, turned off by default.

Whether or not you're ready, the Nexus 5X includes the USB-C port on the bottom of the frame instead of micro USB, and it's joined by a never-changing 3.5mm headphone jack.

Nexus 5X review

As future-proof as this Android phone tries to be, it doesn't take advantage of Gorilla Glass 4 like the Nexus 6P does. Instead, it sticks to Gorilla Glass 3 like the curved LG G4.

The LG G4 gets away with this in my book because of its protective, curved design. The Nexus 5X has only a small lip around its display bezel, so you may want to opt for a case.

Luckily, the Google Play Store is ready in this department. I'm more of a fan of the official Nexus 5X cases with a microfiber back and what looks like the Amazon Web Service logo (awkward).

I have this official Nexus 6P case, but got stuck with the Speck CandyShell case for my 5X. It has military grade drop protection, but really drives the point home that it's unflattering rubber.