Feature Review – Nexus 6 & Project Fi Part One

Google’s new cellular network, Project Fi, is here. Is it all its cracked up to be?

Nexus-6

Introduction

I’ve been a Google Services user for quite some time. In fact, I have a Gmail address that I still actively use that dates back to one of the very first and original Gmail Invitations. I began using Gmail in 2003, shortly after it was introduced to the public. I’ve been using Google Apps as a (now grandfathered) free, domain account since late 2009. I love Google Services for (seriously) just a very few reasons, the first and foremost being that they usually are always up and running. Its not like the earlier days when they went down all the time.

When Google announced Project Fi, I looked into getting myself a review unit and an account. With device and service now in hand, I am now currently looking into how well it all fits together. Project Fi is the company’s first foray into being an MVNO – Mobile, Virtual Network Operator.

Project Fi combines services from two mobile operators and one universal, networking service (Wi-Fi) in order to provide voice and data services. With Sprint and T-Mobile providing calling and mobile broadband service, combined with Wi-Fi calling and internet access, you should have coverage nearly everywhere… or at least that’s the idea.

There are a couple caveats with Project Fi, however. In this article, we’ll look at those. We will also look at the service it provides, the changes it makes to Google Voice – if relevant in your use – as well as the hardware it requires. I’m not going to go into a truly in-depth look at the Nexus 6 hardware (though I will cover it, somewhat). I’m going to concentrate more on how it works with Project Fi more than anything else.

The device has been available for a while; and if you’re looking for an in-depth or teardown review of the Nexus 6, you should check those out first. Again, I’m going to go over the device , but I’m going to really skim over it. There are a number of really good reviews of the Nexus 6 on the web already. You can find a few at pocketnow.com, C|Net and Engadget. With all that said, let’s get to it…

 

Hardware

The first thing that you need to know about Project Fi is that it requires very specific hardware. You can’t just take a Project Fi SIM and stick it into any phone with a SIM slot. It just doesn’t work that way. In order to use the service, you have to use compatible hardware, and that means acquiring a new device, unless you happen to own a Nexus 6.

Nexus-6

The Nexus 6 is the first (and currently only) smartphone (at the moment, at least) that works with Project Fi. If you already have a Nexus 6, you’re halfway there. All you have to do to get on the service is go to the Project Fi website and request an invitation.

Yep… an invitation. Oh… and then wait. Like, forever.

Nexus-6

Like everything cool that Google does, part of their DNA is to dangle their projects in front of you, make the access exclusive, elitist and again, cool; and build demand for it, if only just to build up the hype. In the end its (metaphorically speaking) just a photo upload service, just a webmail app, just an online office suite, etc.   So, Project Fi is just like a… no. Wait… I’m getting ahead of myself… AH-GAIN.

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In order to access the service, after your invitation arrives, again, you need a Nexus 6. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. You can purchase one through Project Fi. If you do, you have the option of buying it outright, or by paying for it over the course of 24 months as part of your monthly service, interest free.

Nexus-6

Through Project Fi, the Nexus 6 is $549USD for a 32GB version or $599USD for the 64GB version. Project Fi only offers the Midnight Blue version of the Nexus 6, so your only real choice with the device is storage size. If you want to purchase a Nexus 6 via their monthly purchase plan, you’ll pay about $22 a month for the 32GB version and $24 a month for the 64GB version. Again, there are no finance or interest charges. Your monthly charge will include any applicable taxes. If the Nexus 6 on Project Fi is going to be your daily driver, then it really makes sense to purchase the 64GB version, especially if you go the monthly payment route, as the price difference between the two is only $50USD. That process requires a credit check, though.

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However, Google is being very picky about who qualifies for the monthly payment option and who doesn’t. I wasn’t given specifics, but I was told by the PR rep I spoke with that even with my very good credit, that I wouldn’t qualify.

Screen

The first thing you’re going to notice about the Nexus 6 is its huge screen size. The device’s screen specs can be seen below. All of the specs in this article have been gathered from Phone Arena, which is one of the best places I know of to look for hard core, device specs.

Nexus-6

Physical size: 6.0 inches
Resolution: 1440 x 2560 pixels
Pixel density: 493 ppi
Technology: AMOLED
Screen-to-body ratio: 74.03 %
Touchscreen: Multi-touch
Features: Light sensor, Proximity sensor, Scratch-resistant glass (Corning Gorilla Glass 3)

Simply put, at 6 inches, the device… is enormous. With a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels, its screen rivals the display resolution of my Apple Thunderbolt display. The only difference in the resolution (and only the resolution) between the two is that the default orientation for the Nexus 6 is Portrait (where any monitor – like my Thunderbolt Display – has a default orientation of Landscape). According to the specs, above, the screen is nearly 3/4 of the entire device. When you see it, you’ll likely have two thoughts – 1. Wow! The screen is 3/4 of the entire device!; and 2. Wait… its only 3/4 of the entire device?? That can’t be right. There’s more screen on this thing than that! The rest is system board, casing and battery.

Nexus-6

With its AMOLED display, the Nexus 6 is incredibly readable in direct sun light. I didn’t have any issues with it in that department. The device is awesome for watching video or taking pictures with its 13MP camera (more on that, below). Game play on this thing has to be amazing, given the screen’s large size and resolution. (I, unfortunately, am not much of a gamer…)

Nexus-6

With such a large footprint, the device is nearly impossible to use one handed. I’ve used a lot of devices with a lot of different form factors, with and without large touch screens. This one is hard to use with only one hand. I’m not certain I’d even try if I were you. You’ll sprain a thumb, at least. When I tried, I kept dropping the display on my desk.

Nexus-6

Lastly, the Nexus 6’s screen is covered with Gorilla Glass 3. The glass is effectively scratch proof, though Google will tell you its only scratch resistant. However, Gorilla Glass 3 is so tough, you won’t have to worry about the contents of your pocket scratching your screen.

Specs

The Nexus 6 runs Android 5.1.x, Lollipop. Google has recently stated that the device will receive an update to Android 5.1.1, “within days,” but since I received my review unit on 2015-07-09, I haven’t seen the update hit. Android 5.1.1 will be arrive as an over-the-air (OTA) update; and will provide a number of improvements, such as improving the display, increasing battery life for Wi-Fi calling and enhancing notifications.

OS: Android (5.1, 5.0)
Dimensions: 6.27 x 3.27 x 0.40 inches(159.26 x 82.98 x 10.06 mm)
Weight 6.49 oz.(184 g) the average is 5 oz. (142 g)
Rugged: Splash resistant

If the screen size didn’t give it away, then the dimensions above, should. The device is really big. At 184g (6.5oz), its also got a bit of heft to it, too. The biggest problem I had the first day I had it, though was actually keeping it in my hands. The device kept sliding out of my hands (as I noted above) because I kept trying to use it one handed. Thankfully, I was sitting at a desk in the office. With a phablet this large, don’t try it. If you’re out and about and you fumble the device, you’re likely going to have it hit the ground, and these things always manage to land on a corner or edge and then the screen shatters (Gorilla Glass 3 or not). That’s physics and geometry. Hitting the corner of a device at the right speed and velocity will likely send enough force up the glass to crack or shatter it. This bad boy requires you to use both hands to operate it. Get used to it and get over it.

The Nexus 6 has a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and Adreno 420 graphics with 3GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. The device is quick and can handle just about anything that you throw at it. With the native resolution that it has, and support for HDMI (via microUSB), with the right adapter, a Bluetooth keyboard and Microsoft Office for Android, this could make a decent, on the road, laptop replacement. Couple that with OneDrive for Android, and you’ve got a perfect on the go way to edit documents in a pinch. With its large screen, you don’t really HAVE to have a microUSB to HDMI adapter. You could probably edit documents right on the plane in your oh-so-comfy coach seat if you really needed to.

In that regard, the battery on this device is pretty nice too. At 3220mAh, you have about 12 hours of talk time, 14 days of standby time and 10 hours of continuous video playback (or likely somewhere in between, depending on your brightness settings and data needs). When you need to recharge, the device comes with a turbo charger that can take you from 0-50% in 20-30 minutes. The device also supports Qi wireless charging (pronounced “chee”) for your cord-free, charging convenience.

TECHNOLOGY AND CONNECTIVITY

GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
UMTS: 800, 850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz
FDD LTE: 700 (band 28), 800 (band 19), 800 (band 20), 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1800 (band 3), 2100 (band 1), 2600 (band 7) MHz
TDD LTE: 2500 (band 41) MHz
Data: LTE-A Cat 6 (300/50 Mbit/s), HSDPA+ (4G) 42.2 Mbit/s, HSDPA+ (4G) 21.1 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, EDGE, GPRS
nano-SIM: Yes
VoLTE: Yes
Positioning: GPS, A-GPS
Navigation: Yes
Bluetooth: 4.1
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac
Mobile hotspot: Yes
USB: USB 2.0
Connector: microUSB
Features: Mass storage device, USB charging
HDMI: via microUSB
Other: NFC, MHL, SlimPort, Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync

Camera

I’ve been trying to use the Nexus 6 as a camera whenever possible. Its not the easiest device to wield and hold; though, in truth, taking pictures with it isn’t a horrible experience. Though (also) in truth…the performance could and should be a whole lot better, especially with the specs on the camera and the system hardware. This thing should be a whole lot faster than it is.

Thankfully, it appears as though Google has heard the wails and cries of its peoples and has released a Nexus 6 and Android 5.1 Lollipop only update to Google Camera that addresses some of these issues (plus others). The update – version 2.5.052 (2005148-30) was released on 2015-06-11. I’ve had this device for about a week, and I’ve had it on every day since getting it. I’m not certain why I’ve only just received this update today.

I’ve got a small gallery of pictures that I’ve taken with the device. They’re not anything spectacular, but you can check them out, below.

Camera: Popup13 megapixels
Flash: Dual LED
Aperture size: F2.0
Features: Autofocus, Optical image stabilization, Face detection, Digital zoom, Geo tagging
Shooting Modes: Popup High Dynamic Range mode (HDR), Panorama
Camcorder: 3840×2160 (4K) (30 fps), 1920×1080 (1080p HD) (30 fps), 1280×720 (720p HD) (30 fps)
Front-facing camera: 2 megapixels

The rear camera is a 13MP camera that will shoot in a number of different sizes and modes. The camera supports both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio shots. You can get 13MP, 5MP, and 3.1MP shots in 4:3, and 9.7MP and 2.1MP shots in 16:9. The camera has a f2.0 aperture, so its pretty fast and should be ok in lower lighting situations. The cool part, though comes in its camcorder modes. The Nexus 6 shoots 4k, 1080p and 720p video at 30fps.

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Speaker pop

I’m not sure why this is happening; but every time I turn the device on or off, the bottom speaker is popping. Its getting pretty annoying, too. The device started doing this out of the box, even before any software was installed or updated on it, so I know this isn’t something that I installed or updated causing a problem or conflict. I may need to contact Google on this one…

Software

Stock Android

The great thing about a Nexus device is that you’re running stock Android. Granted, this is not AOSP (Android Open Source Project), which is what Amazon and similar players use. This has the full Google Services install in it, and as such, you get the full Google Experience.

With the Nexus 6, you are supposed to get updates regularly, and you’re supposed to get all the updates, too. I’ve now gotten my Lollipop 5.1.1 update, and I really don’t see much of a difference in the device’s performance.

End of part one … come tomorrow to see the part two of our review

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