It’s 2010: Steve Jobs unveils the first iPad to a wary crowd; Samsung announces the first entry in the Galaxy S series of smartphones; Angry Birds is a worldwide phenomenon; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is incarnated by Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network; LeBron James decides to take his talents to South Beach.
And Google, amid much hype and hope, joins the smartphone revolution by coming out with the Nexus One for under $530 off contract. It’s the first Google phone, and while not as successful as later iterations, it will be seen by many as an integral part of Android’s trajectory.
It feels like almost yesterday that we were excitedly waiting for the first ever Google phone. For years, Google had denied any intention to make a “Google Phone”, reiterating its support of the Android OS and the Open Handset Alliance – a consortium of companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices.
A few years later, in 2010, Google launched the Nexus brand – releasing its first phone running the Android operating system – but sticking to the line that it wasn’t the “Google Phone” since it was built by someone else. Though many considered that to be splitting hairs, Google had definitely entered the smartphone game.
The first commercially available phone running Android was the T-Mobile G1 built by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC. Nexus One was built by HTC, and it’s only fitting that HTC is once again Google’s partner as the Nexus line is widely expected to be terminated next month in favor of the Google Pixel hardware branding. A great deal has happened in more than six years of Nexuses, and it’s a history of innovation that’s worth revisiting.
Everybody knows that Apple sued Samsung for being a little bit copycat-y, but the battle against Android actually began with HTC. The Nexus One, Apple said, violated 20 of its patents. Apple clearly took the Nexus One seriously, as it should have: it was the beginning of something big.
Back in 2010, HTC was the big Kahuna of Android phones. It had made the very first commercial Android phone, the HTC Dream, and Google commissioned it to create the very first Nexus. It would be the first time – and to date, the last time – the Taiwanese manufacturer would make a Nexus smartphone.
It ran Android 2.1 Eclair when it was released, but got updates to Android 2.2 Froyo and Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It’s also had a microSD card slot (something we miss terribly). Unlike the G1 before it, the Nexus One didn’t have a physical keyboard. It had a rollerball which got gunked up occasionally, but was a pleasure to absentmindedly fiddle with.
For the day, the Nexus One was perfect. It had style, functionality, and was a really nice phone to use. Alas, its limited amount of RAM and onboard storage (512MB each), coupled with a video processor that didn’t offer much future-proofing, meant the Nexus One’s days were prematurely numbered.
Samsung was making great phones under the “Galaxy S” label, which were flying off the shelves. It only made sense that Google and Samsung teamed up to make the successor to Google’s first Nexus phone: the Nexus S. Samsung effectively did the electronic version of scribbling “Google” over the Samsung logo on the Galaxy S: the phone was really a minor update of Samsung’s own device.
It had a curved screen, not the display but just the glass. It was horrible. Its polycarbonate back was a slippery mess. Performance was anything but good. It was chunky and underpowered. Let’s pretend this one never existed and move on to the next one.
Samsung’s next foray into the Nexus field came as its Galaxy phones were gaining even more popularity. The Galaxy Nexus continued the trend of a curved screen (it was really only the glass that was “curved”), and not only offered a removable battery but an OEM upgrade to a larger capacity battery. Sure, that added a little bulk, but it was well worth it.
This time around, instead of being restricted to GSM carriers, Google and Verizon got in bed together. If you wanted a Galaxy Nexus on Verizon you had to get a different model. The dimensions were a bit different from the GSM model which made accessories (like the weird car dock) incompatible. The device was built tough.
After Samsung had its turn, it was LG’s. Samsung’s intense Korean rival. Apple had just learned (the hard way) that placing a slab of glass on the front and back of a phone was a bad idea, but that didn’t stop Google and LG from making the same mistake. Instead of a curved screen that was designed to “hug the face”, like the two phones before it, the Nexus 4 featured curved edges on the left and right. Combined with the oleophobic coating, the screen was very slick. An update to the design placed two “nubs” on the back of the phone to help keep it from “walking” off desks.
The Nexus 4 was the first in the Nexus family to support Qi wireless charging. The Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S III and iPhone 5 were pushing smartphone prices higher, and then LG made a superb device with a brand new design and sold it for less than €300. Jaws dropped. IBTimes in that year called Nexus 4 the best smartphone, and it sure was.
Up until the Nexus 6P, in my personal opinion, the Nexus 4 was the best Nexus. It struck a perfect balnce between being developer friendly, specs, and being a device for the general consumer.
By this time, a consensus among Nexus users was developing: every other year Google released a good smartphone. The others could be skipped.
The Nexus 5 was a good one. Like the 4 before it, the 5 also support Qi wireless charging. The Snapdragon 800 SoC driving the phone was a powerhouse. The general opinion of the Nexus 5 was that it was a great buy – especially for the asking price of an unlocked flagship phone!
Another interesting point was that the Nexus 5 worked with GSM networks and with Sprint’s CDMA network. Though some argued that it was technically capable of working on Verizon’s network, Verizon never certified it – essentially making it “incompatible” on that network. Nexus 5 was the reason everybody was excited for the Nexus 5X.
In many ways, the Nexus 6 was a back-to-basics Nexus: despite the considerable achievements of the phone’s predecessors, Google decided that it was time to forget about the consumer market and go back to focusing on developers. From the beginning it was clear that this Nexus wasn’t designed for the general public. It was too big, and while the price was justified by the specifications, it wasn’t right for consumers in a crowded and competitive market. As a result, the mainstream appeal that LG had brought to the range was lost.
It wasn’t a bad phone, but it was flawed. That big screen had a great resolution, but the brightness and whites weren’t as good as rival phablets – especially not Samsung’s. Stereo speakers, improved battery and a better camera were all welcome, of course, but the improved specs weren’t dramatically better than the previous model. While the Nexus 6 was and is a perfectly decent device, it didn’t lead the pack like other Nexus phones had.
Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P
It seems as though Google learned its lesson about phablets (and their limited popularity) with the original Nexus 6. Last year Google released a phablet and a phone – and they both ran 64-bit processors. The Nexus 5X was once again made in partnership with LG, which was basking in the glory of its previous two Nexus attempts. The 5X was quick! However, over time hiccups and limitations cropped up. The Nexus 5X probably wouldn’t make anyone’s “favorite Nexus” list and not necessarily because it was a bad phone. It was great, and for the first time, a Nexus phone featured a camera that rivaled with the best of the best.
However, the Nexus 5X did not remain in the limelight much because Huawei stole the show with the Nexus 6P. For the first time ever, a Chinese OEM got to team up with Google and we all know how that turned out. If I had to describe the Nexus 6P in two words, those would be “Pure brilliance”
Nexus 6P was the most fluid smartphone a year back, more fluid than a certain rival known for being fluid. I’d even go on to say it was not only the best Nexus, it was the best Android smartphone ever, until 2016 that is when Samsung brought in the S7 Edge.
Now that we won’t be having more Nexus phones, the Nexus 6P shall remain the best Nexus on my list. Which do you think was the best Nexus ever?