A Little time with Verizon’s Nexus 6 (aka Xperia Z3v versus Nexus 6)

Yesterday, the communications rep at my place of work advised me she had a few pre-release Verizon Nexus 6 units on hand. You see, for the past 6 years or so, I have been the go-to for putting new Android devices through the paces before opening the floodgates for every Jo and Jane Schmo to request one for themselves. This is, however, the first time I’ve done so with a phone that wasn’t “officially released” yet.

A couple of things I can confirm:

  • The Verizon Nexus 6 has got Android 5.1 Lollipop. 
    • Our rep stated all she did was put in the sim cards and power these on; she did not perform any type of system updates.
  • There is none of the usual Verizon bloatware/crapware pre-installed on this device!
    • No Verizon/VZW Apps
    • No Softcard (which is technically about to be put to pasture anyway)
    • Not even that damned NFL Mobile App!
Spoiler Alert: The above two points, I imagine, are really the only Verizon-specific aspects of this mini-review. The remaining topics will likely be no shocker since the Nexus 6 itself has been around in the wild for quite some time on other carriers.
Today is the first full day/full charge I have with the Nexus 6. Keep in mind, my current daily driver is a Sony Xperia Z3v (on Verizon). That phone has really impressed me with it’s battery life. So far, the Nexus 6 seems to be about on par with the Xperia. I have moved to using the Nexus 6 exclusively today. I took it off the charger at 8am and it is now 11:44am. With light to moderate usage, the Nexus 6 is currently at 84%. My Xperia that has been sitting idle (except for background data) is currently at 90%, so this looks pretty promising for the Nexus 6 battery life. I fully expect, like my Xperia, for it to have AT LEAST 50% left on the battery when I get home around 6:30 this evening.
Overall Performance
While my Xperia is certainly no slouch, so far this Nexus 6 seems somehow more snappy and responsive. There are occasionally times with my Xperia where it does not seem to perfectly register my touch to the screen. This is definitely not the case for the Nexus 6. So far it has been incredibly responsive/sensitive to my touches. 
The Nexus itself feels snappier, too. Even with my Transitions and Animations scaled down to half-speed on the Xperia, the Nexus still seems more buttery smooth. I attribute this to the fact that is it running the latest and greatest Android 5.1 Lollipop build. Additionally, the lack of Verizon bloatware likely has something to do with the difference in speed between the two devices. The Xperia is currently running Android 4.4.4 KitKat, but is slated for the Lollipop upgrade pretty soon (fingers crossed).

A few months ago, when I was trying to decide what new phone I wanted from Verizon, I went to the Verizon store and played with all the current-gen (at the time) top-tier phones: the Galaxy S5, the Moto X2, the Droid Turbo, and the Sony Xperia.
Going in, I had already ruled out the LG phones as I’ve never been a fan of theirs (other than the Nexus 5 of course). I was also pretty set against the Galaxy S5, as well, as I had been through several of their models in the past (Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, and S4) and I was quite bored with them.
Also, it was a deal-breaker if there was no Wireless Charging. I know the Turbo Charge is the wave of the future, but I’m already heavily invested in the Wireless Charging ecosystem. That means the only real candidates were going to be the Droid Turbo and the Xperia Z3v.
I’m getting to the camera, trust me. All this talk is leading up to it!
You see, when it came down to it, the Camera was the deciding factor. I really liked the size and feel of the Droid Turbo. It was also super powerful (more so than the Xperia). But the camera suffered from a great deal of shutter-lag that I knew I just couldn’t deal with.
The Xperia, on the other hand, has an incredible camera. There is no noticeable shutter lag, the burst mode is INSANELY fast, and in Manual mode, you can take 20MP shots! Plus the hardware shutter button was a very nice touch. In the store I was so impressed that I decided on the larger Xperia over the Droid Turbo.
By now, you all are like, “Who gives a damn about these two phones!? Tell me about the Nexus 6 Camera!” Well, I’m telling you all this because it goes a long way to indicate just how awesome the camera on the Nexus 6 really is.
TLDR: I was blown away but the Xperia’s Camera. The quality was the best I’d seen in a smartphone and the Camera Software was quite robust and full of options. That being said, when I started taking some sample shots with the Xperia pitted against the Nexus 6, the Nexus walked away with it, hands-down. Sure the stock Google Camera is a bit lacking in terms of features, but that’s what the mounds and mounds of third-party camera apps are for. What it really comes down to is quality and performance. In those aspects, the Nexus is far superior. 
Camera Samples:
Yesterday evening, I was in my back yard and decided to take the same shot from each of the phones, once with the Auto settings, and once with Auto-HDR. Below you will see the sample shots along with a blown-up crop to show detail. I repeated the shots again as it got darker and a last time after it got completely dark out (with just my porch lights giving off a subtle glow).
(click to enlarge)

Xperia Z3v around 7pm (Auto Mode)
Nexus 6 around 7pm (Auto Mode)

From the above two samples, you can see that the Xperia tends to favor a slightly more washed out version while the Nexus tends towards the more overly-saturated. To the naked eye, this scene falls somewhere in between the two, but I have to say I much prefer the more rich, saturated image from the Nexus 6 camera. Also, on the cropped portion of the photos, you can see the Nexus images seem to have more clear details, with some of the highlights being more washed out from the Xperia.

Next up are the same shots from each device using the built-in HDR mode….

Xperia Z3v around 7pm (HDR Mode)
Nexus 6 around 7pm (HDR Mode)
With the HDR images above, the Xperia seemed to gain a very slight bit more detail and dynamic range compared to the Auto Mode, but it seems quite negligible. The Nexus, on the other hand, provided very true-to-life contrast and dynamic range (if a bit overly-saturated).

I continued to snap the same scene a couple more times throughout the night. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but below you will see the shots from each camera side by side.

Xperia Z3v (HDR)

Nexus 6 (HDR)

Xperia Z3v (Night with Flash)

Nexus 6 (Night with Flash)

From the above set of photos, you can see the Xperia does seem to pull a little more detail out of the darker environment. Looking at the EXIF data, it seems the Xperia tends to go with a slower shutter and lower ISO while the Nexus tends towards a faster shutter with a higher ISO. This leads to a bit more grain in the Nexus photos, but the slower shutter for the Xperia means it is much more susceptible to camera shake in low light conditions. You can even see a bit of ghosting in the Xperia HDR image above caused by the slight change between the HDR exposures.

From my brief time with the phone I can say this is a clear contender for the best phone Verizon has to offer (or WILL have to offer, soon). As you can tell, I’m most impressed with the camera. But I’m also really impressed with the fact that Verizon hasn’t crammed it full of bloatware. Only time will tell what happens between now and when they actually release the Nexus 6, but I’m hopeful they won’t make any changes. The battery life seems on par with my Xperia Z3v which is good since that has had the best battery of any Android phone I’ve owned to date. I will update once I’ve had a few days to really feel out the battery life.
I plan on spending the weekend seeing if Verizon has done anything to make this more difficult to unlock/root, but I’m hoping it will be just as easy as any other Nexus. I will update this post with my findings.