IMG_20151231_105534_hdrAnother year is here, and this e-book-lover has a new New Year’s resolution: 2560 by 1440!

That’s the resolution of the screen of the new smartphone I got, you see. I mentioned a few days ago that I was expecting a new (well, used or refurbished) Nexus 6 smartphone, courtesy of my brother. Well, it finally arrived Wednesday, but the landlord’s office is closed on that day so I went to pick it up Thursday but found the front door locked. After a bit of momentary worry that my landlord’s office might be closed for New Year’s Eve and I wouldn’t be able to get it until Monday, I was able to get into the building and make it to the office, where I found not only the phone but my Project Fi SIM card awaiting me. Score!  Project Fi is Google’s new mobile phone provider that, like Republic Wireless, will let my phone use WiFi at times rather than cellular networks. It will even switch me back to cellular if I start out a phone call on WiFi, then lose the signal.

Having already packed up my new case and tempered glass screen protectors, I took the two new parcels and headed down the street to my local public library, where I had already planned to do the unpacking and assembly. It was a lot cleaner and quieter environment, with a ready place to work, and would make it easy for me to apply the screen protector in peace.

Finally, I made my way to the sixth floor, laid everything out on a table, set my old smartphone up to record the proceedings, and unboxed the phone and the SIM—and the special holiday surprise Google included with it. My old phone ran out of space and stopped recording at the three minute, forty-six second mark—but luckily, that was only a few seconds before I actually intended to stop it anyway.

IMG_20151231_103232_hdrSo how do you like that? Not only did they send me a SIM card, they sent me LEGOs! (Or, well, generic building bricks. Closer inspection revealed that each bump had, not a LEGO symbol, but a Project Fi logo. So Google didn’t just buy bespoke bricks, they actually custom-commissioned these.)

Once everything was unpacked, it was time for the next step: applying the screen protector. Historically, I’ve been pretty terrible at applying screen protectors. I always get dust or bubbles or both under them. But this time, instead of using one of the standard plastic film types, I was using a tempered glass protector from TruShield. While these protectors were on the cheap side, I was impressed that their manufacturer had actually gone to the trouble of making YouTube videos with installation instructions. Having watched the instructions the day before, I was ready to give it a try.

To my amazement, the installation process was trouble-free and went off without a hitch. The wipes and dust removal sticker completely cleaned the screen for me, and the tempered glass protector just fit right on. There was no trouble whatsoever with bubbles underneath, because the glass is just that—a rigid glass plate. I didn’t even have to reposition it, as I was lucky enough to get it on there just right the first time. Why did nobody ever make these screen protectors before?

IMG_20151231_104658_hdrNext it came time to squeeze my smartphone into the new Moko kickstand case I bought for it. Unlike my last two smartphone cases, which had a silicone rubber sheath and then a hard plastic casing that fit on over the sheath, this case was strictly one piece—and it was so snug, at first I wasn’t sure if I could even get the phone in. But happily, at last I did—and as I was congratulating myself on how cool it looked, and how good it felt in my hand, I realized that I hadn’t put the SIM card in yet—so I was going to have to pop it out and put it back in all over again!

The SIM card installation process was actually quite simple. I just had to poke the SIM slot tool into the little hole to pop the slide out of the top, put the SIM card in, and slide it back into place. The only problem was, I hadn’t seen any SIM slot tool in the Nexus—and since it was refurbished, I thought maybe they might not have included one. So I unbent a paperclip that came with the SIM card and used that to poke the hole…and only a few minutes later discovered the actual SIM slot tool in a package of documentation I’d mislaid. Oh well, either way, I got the card in, and I got the phone back in the case. So, way to go, me!

IMG_20151231_105238_hdrThere was just one little problem. When I turned the phone on for the first time, the boot-up message said it was connecting to the cell network, this might take five minutes—but after fifteen, the message was still there. So I used my other phone to call Google’s Project Fi support line and ask them about it.

I spoke to a friendly and personable rep named Zach, who explained that because Project Fi was provisioned via an application, I needed to bypass the cell network connection attempt, boot up the rest of the way, then install the Project Fi app from the Play Store via WiFi and provision through that. We had a fairly nice chat while I was logging into my Google account, until a librarian came by to remind me it was a quiet floor. I mentioned how much I liked the charging stand kit, and he said that some of his co-workers had been playing with some of them out on the floor, seeing what they could build with them. I liked that.

From there, the activation process was fairly normal. My Google account was smart enough to start restoring from my current smartphone’s backup, meaning that it automatically reinstalled all the apps I used without me having to go through and choose them one at a time. This was good, because there were about 170 of them altogether.

It also downloaded operating system updates. The Nexus 6 arrived with Android 5.0.1 Lollipop on it, but there were over-the-air updates waiting to bring it up to 6.0.1 Marshmallow—except that there were about five or six incremental updates to get there (to 5.1, to 5.1.1, etc.), and after it downloaded every one of them, it had to spend 15 minutes churning through recompiling all the apps I’d downloaded. I began to wish there had been a way to delay downloading the apps until after it finished updating!

20151231_160723_HDRAnyway, once it had finished, I spent a little time dragging some of the apps into the same folders I used on my old phone, enjoying the way that the more spacious phone gave me more room to put them all. Then I packed the phone up, headed by the Post Office to pick up a couple of other packages, and went to the local mall to eat lunch and try the phone out a little. The first ever photo I took with the new phone was to be a picture of an A&W chili dog that I used to check in on Swarm—then I took some photos of the glass-domed atrium where I was eating, including a selfie and a 360-degree photosphere. (That’s my stuff at the table in that little circular balcony.)

I noticed a number of interesting little things about the phone along the way. For example, on my Moto X, when I used the app A Better Camera to take HDR pictures, it had to snap three frames in sequence, over the course of about two seconds. But the Nexus 6 just needed to snap once. Another interesting thing, presumably part of the more recent version of Android than the Moto X had, is that there’s now a “flashlight” toggle in the pull-down menu screen where WiFi, Bluetooth, and the like are activated. This is a great addition, because it makes adware-ridden flashlight apps entirely unnecessary, and is a lot more convenient than using the flashlight function on A Better Camera (given that the process to turn it back off was somewhat involved).

At home, later on, I ran Antutu Benchmark to compare the Nexus 6 to my Nexus 7 and Moto X. It was interesting to watch as it ran the 3D benchmarking tests. The Nexus 6 zoomed smoothly around the alien landscape with barely a pause, while the Moto X and Nexus 7 gave jerky slideshows. In the end, the aggregate benchmark scores (where higher is better) were 23,928 for my Moto X, 32,852 for my Nexus 7, and 66,818 for the Nexus 6. I was honestly a little surprised that the 6 benchmarked so much higher than the 7. I was expecting it to be faster, but over twice as fast? Wow.

Oddly enough, the Nexus 6’s score was actually different in a number of areas than the Nexus 6 example score it gave for the purposes of comparing device benchmarks in the results. I guess the benchmarks are individual for each device in some respect. Regardless, it zooms and I’m happy.

Something else I did was to de-authenticate the two-factor authentication apps I used on my Moto X so as to transfer them to the Nexus 6. The Google Authenticator, which I use for Google, Dropbox, and Amazon, didn’t give me any trouble. The BattleNet authenticator from Blizzard moved over just fine, too.

I ran into a little problem with Steam, though. In order to move the Steam app to my new phone, I needed to respond to a text message sent to the old phone number—which I didn’t have anymore. As soon as I confirmed that Project Fi had enabled my Google Voice number to work with the phone, I had canceled the Republic Wireless phone immediately—and they canceled my service as soon as I did. (Which actually surprised me; I’d expected them to wait until the end of the month, but I guess not.) I also couldn’t remove the old phone number and put in a new phone number without responding to a text sent to the old number. So, I’ve put a support request in to Valve to try to get my phone number changed manually. I’ll just verify by email until then.

I did some gaming on the phone, too—mostly Hearthstone and a little Ingress. The games started right away and ran really well. I was interested to note that, even though it has a screen almost as big as my Nexus 7 tablet, Hearthstone still uses the smartphone interface, in which fewer elements are present on the screen at once, rather than the tablet interface it uses on the Nexus 7 or Fire. Apparently a smartphone is still a smartphone, no matter how big it is. (This proved to be problematic trying to play XCOM: Enemy Within, as some of the movement controls are missing and I can’t figure out how to access them! I have a support request in on the issue.)

Video is one area where the Nexus 6 really shines, too. The Nexus 6 has an amazing screen—indeed, perhaps the most amazing screen I’ve yet encountered. As a 1440p-capable display, this six-inch screen is significantly better than my larger 1080p desktop monitors! Video from any streaming source looks excellent, and the YouTube app is able to display 4K content in 1440p. What’s more, the rear camera can actually shoot video in 4K for uploading to YouTube. I can’t imagine there are too many instances where I would want to use that, though I could wish I’d had it when I saw Weird Al Yankovic in concert last year.

I did have the chance to try the Nexus with my Viewmaster VR, and the results are fairly impressive. There’s just the one slight flaw that the phone is actually so big that I can’t quite push it far enough to the left to line up the center line on the screen with the line on the VR viewer. Still, it seems to work okay.

I also got to give the phone a quick road test today, as I used it and Waze to guide me down to my brother’s in Greenwood and back in a BlueIndy car, to pick up a package. It was big enough to stretch it to its limits, but it fit just fine into the iKross FM transmitter/charger mount I use, and the bigger screen made it much easier to see the map as I was driving.

20160101_212743_HDRThe size might have made the phone a little awkward to fit into the Viewmaster or the car mount, but those are about the only problems I’ve had with it. Even in the case that makes it a good deal thicker, it fits easily into my right hip pocket. The Finn Plus bike mount doesn’t have any problem stretching to fit, either, though I haven’t yet given it a spin while actually riding.

About the only thing I haven’t done much of yet is e-reading, but I want to save that for another post all its own. Likewise, I’ll talk more about how I’ll be using Project Fi in another post. Suffice it to say for now, I’m very impressed with this phone so far—and this is last year’s model, to boot. What must this year’s be like? Perhaps I’ll find out in another couple of years.

And as it turns out, this Nexus 6 isn’t the only new device I have to try out. After he reviewed it himself for The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder was kind enough to send along his RCA Voyager II 7” tablet for me to have a look at. (That was the package I went to pick up today, in fact.) I’ll be looking it over and reviewing it for TeleRead in the next few days. We’ll see if I agree with Nate on the particulars.


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