It's not flashy, but Google's Nexus 5X is still a really impressive work phone for the money. The 5X offers strong performance, top-notch security features and excellent battery life for just $329, with no two-year contract attached. And since it was released by Google, the 5X is one of the few smartphones that currently offers the latest productivity-boosting software features available for the Android operating system. With such a well-rounded feature set, who cares if your smartphone is made of plastic?
While flagship phones from Samsung, Apple and other manufacturers offer premium glass-and-metal designs, the Nexus 5X has a simpler, plastic shell. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the 5X's smooth plastic back is far easier to grip than the glass back of the Galaxy S6, which means you're less likely to drop this phone. It looks pretty nice, too, with smooth, rounded corners and color options including white, black and a subtle bluish green.
At 0.31 inches thick and weighing 4.8 ounces, the 5X is thicker and heftier than the Samsung Galaxy S6 (0.27 inches and 4.6 ounces), but lighter than the iPhone 6s (0.28 inches and 5.04 ounces.)
The Nexus 5X sports a 5.2-inch display that strikes a nice compromise between compact phones (like the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s) and monster phablets (like the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 5). Compared to smaller phones, the 5X gives you a good amount of space to work, so screen-intensive work tasks like viewing large documents are more comfortable. On the other hand, you don't get access to perks like split-screen multitasking, a feature that lets you view two apps side-by-side on big-screen phablets like the Note 5 and LG G4.
Size aside, the 5X's display is relatively modest by modern standards, with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. That's still more than sharp enough for a screen this size, so text looks crisp.
The display is also brighter than average, topping out at 454 nits of brightness, which beats the smartphone average of 428 nits, as well as the iPhone 6s (452 nits). A bright display is easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
What sets a Nexus phone apart from other smartphones, though, is that it's released by Google, which makes the software that Android phones run on. That means that the 5X comes with the latest version of Android, something other phones won't get for months to come, if ever. The 5X — alongside Google's other new phone, the 5.7-inch Nexus 6P — will also receive updates more quickly in the future compared to rival phones.
The Nexus 5X runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest iteration of the mobile operating system. Marshmallow doesn't look much different from the previous version at a glance, but it's actually chock-full of small productivity-boosting features you won't find in earlier releases.
My favorite is called Google Now on Tap, which lets you hold down the home button for a few seconds to instantly find additional information about whatever's currently on your screen. So if a client emails you about meeting for lunch and mentions a restaurant by name, you can hold down the home button to quickly find extra details about the place, including its location, hours of business and customer reviews.
Then there's Doze, a feature that will help you eke out extra hours of battery life from your work phone without even trying. Doze detects when your smartphone has been sitting still for a few minutes, then halts unnecessary background updates that would otherwise drain your battery throughout the day. Don't worry — you'll still get text messages, phone calls and alerts from any app that you white-list in the settings menu.
I also like the updated app drawer, which includes a special shelf above the standard grid of apps. The shelf uses an algorithm to determine which apps you might want to have quick-access to based on the time of day, your current location, past usage habits and other factors. In other words, it can help you quickly launch work-related apps at the office, and entertainment apps at home.
The Nexus 5X sports a fingerprint scanner on its backside, and it happens to be the best fingerprint scanner I've ever used. For starters, it's more reliable than the scanners on competing phones. I unlocked the phone countless times over the course of a few days while I reviewed it, and I don't think the scanner failed to recognize my finger even once. Once your finger is scanned, the phone is unlocked and ready to go in a split second. The scanner on the Galaxy S6, in comparison, frequently required multiple attempts to recognize my print.
I was initially quite skeptical about the rear-facing placement of the 5X's scanner, but I have to admit that it makes a lot of sense after spending some time with it. My pointer finger naturally went straight to the scanner whenever I picked the phone up. It's less convenient when you want to use the phone without picking it up off your desk, but you do have the option to enter a PIN in that situation.
Android Marshmallow also adds an interesting new security feature that gives you better control over your apps. Specifically, the software lets you grant apps access to your contacts, camera or microphone on a case-by-case basis. Older versions of Android force you to grant all permissions at once, potentially opening you up to security holes.
The Nexus 5X isn't as fast as pricier phones, but most users won't notice a huge difference. With a Snapdragon 808 processor and 2GB of RAM, it offers pretty good performance for daily productivity tasks, and felt snappy during moderate multitasking.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the phone scored 3,507. That beats the smartphone average of 2,829, as well as the OneTouch Idol 3's score of 2,029. The iPhone 6s (4,385) and Samsung Galaxy S6 (5,283) performed predictably better.
The Nexus 5X will last through the end of your workday without breaking a sweat. The phone ran for an incredible 11 hours and 30 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over LTE. That blows away the smartphone average of 7 hours and 54 minutes, and handily beats rival phones like the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (9:16), iPhone 6s (6:46) and Samsung Galaxy S6 (8:32).
What's even more impressive is that the battery will last even longer with typical use, thanks to the Doze feature described earlier in this review. And if you need a quick boost, the 5X supports quick-charging that can give you up to 4 hours of extra usage with just 10 minutes of charging. We tested the feature and found that it took the 5X from completely dead to fully charged in under an hour. That's a killer feature for workers who need to top off their devices during short layovers at the airport.
Google sells the Nexus 5X in a couple of different hardware configurations. The baseline model comes with 16GB of storage for $329. There's also a pricier model with 32GB of storage for $379. Think carefully about how much storage you'll need; the 5X lacks a micro SD card slot, so you won't be able to expand the storage later on.
The Nexus 5X may not feel as fancy as pricier smartphones, but it does almost everything that workers could want, and at a fraction of the cost. You get pretty good performance, solid security and genuinely useful software features that you won't find on many other smartphones. And starting at $329, it's roughly half the price of the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S6.
Google's other new phone, the Nexus 6P — which has all the advantages of the 5X in addition to a bigger, 5.7-inch display — is another a good deal, for $499. But budget-minded buyers who don't want to compromise on performance or features have found a winner in the Nexus 5X.