With the plethora of versions, options, and features available, it's nearly impossible to pin down what phone provides the ultimate Android experience. Companies like Samsung, Motorola, and LG all have their own top-shelf offerings but, for Google itself, the template for the pure Android experience starts and ends with its Nexus line.
Beginning in 2010 with the release of the Nexus One, the Nexus line has been designed and developed by Google and manufactured by partners such as HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and LG. Although there are now Nexus tablets and media players, the phones have always been the focus.
"A Nexus is Android as we designed it," said Dave Burke, Google's vice president of engineering for Android.
On Tuesday, September 29, Google announced two new Nexus phones — the LG-made Nexus 5X and Huawei-made Nexus 6P. In addition, the company also announced two new Chromecasts. Here are the specs for the two new Nexus phones.
The Nexus 5X
- 5.2" Screen
- Plastic design
- Colors: Carbon black, Quartz white, Blue
- Storage: 16GB, 32GB
- Memory: 2 or 3GB RAM
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor
- 2700 mAh battery
- Front camera: 5MP, 1.55 micron pixels
- Rear camera: 12.3 MP
- Fingerprint scanner on back of phone
- Starting price: $379
The Nexus 6P
- 5.7" Screen
- Metal unibody design
- Colors: Aluminum, Graphite, Frost White
- Storage: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
- Memory: 3GB RAM
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor
- 3450 mAh battery
- Front camera: 8MP
- Rear camera: 12 MP, 1.55 micron pixels
- Fingerprint scanner on back of phone
- Starting price: $499
Both phones will launch with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest iteration of Google's mobile OS. The updates for Marshmallow will be available to the existing Nexus line before becoming generally available to other Android devices. Android 6.0 will roll out to existing devices, including the Nexus 5, 6, 7, 9, and the Nexus player next week.
In referencing the 6P's camera, Burke called it the best camera that Google has put in a phone. The new camera has slow motion video capabilities and 4K resolution at normal rate.
An Android Sensor hub can wake up the device to low-power display and has four key features that help it power the new generation of Nexus phones.
- Sensor fusion
- Activity recognition
- Gesture recognition
- Low power
The latest line of Nexus phones also has fingerprint capabilities called Nexus Imprint. It's an added security feature that can benefit business users and those who want to use Android Pay. Additionally, the updated run time permissions could help with security in the enterprise as well.
Business travelers will undoubtedly enjoy the many new features that help extend the life of the battery. For starters, the large batteries in the device charge quickly and hold a charge for a long time. Additionally, the new feature Doze helps conserve power if the phone hasn't moved in a while. This is great if you accidentally forget to charge your phone while you sleep.
From the lock screen, users can tell how fast the phone is charging and approximately how long it will be until the phone is fully charged. Heads up notifications show up at the top of the screen and users can swipe up to dismiss, or down to engage — a very iOS like feature.
With Android 6.0, the phone begins to learn your app use patterns and will prioritize apps at a certain time based on how you interact with the app. It makes apps more easily available based on the time of day you normally open them, or if you normally open them in series. For example, if you normally open Instagram after Twitter, it will automatically recommend Instagram after you have opened Twitter.
One of the biggest features of Android M is the Now on Tap virtual assistant feature. Voice interactions from Now on Tap have been extended to Android developers and can be built into their apps, which could be helpful for internal apps.
Nexus 5X and 6P are available for preorder now in select countries and will ship in late October 2015. As usual, the phones will be unlocked without a contract. All Nexus preorders will come with a 90-day free subscription to Google Music, and all preorders come with $50 Play credit.
Despite the two new phones, it's still not necessarily about the hardware for Google. The phones are simply a platform to showcase the new OS, said Boris Metodiev of 451 Research. The Nexus line is a baseline for what works with the latest and greatest Android features.
The two form factors show that Google wants to hold onto the high end market with devices like the Nexus 6P, while continuing to target the middle and lower end of the market with devices like the Nexus 5X.
"If there is any growth left in the smartphone market, it is more in the low-end and the [middle] of the market," Metodiev said. "The high end of the market is really saturated and the growth is not really there."
The release pattern for Nexus devices is something needed for Android device manufacturers who want to play in the enterprise. Gartner's Ken Dulaney said that businesses are frustrated by the multi-step release process typical of Android devices where it moves from the open source pool, to chip manufacturers, to the OEM, and finally on to the carrier.
"Google needs to have at least an option like Apple does where there are devices that receive updates directly from Google with the stock Android image," Dulaney said. By offering Nexus device directly from Google, that is keeping the market stronger, he said.
In addition to the announcement of the new handsets, Google also announced a new protection plan called Nexus Protect. The plan gives each user an additional year of protection against manufacturer's defects, as well as a two year protection against accidental damage. Claims can be made 24 hrs a day, and there is the possibility you'll receive a replacement phone by the next business day.
Nexus Protect costs $69 for the Nexus 5X and $89 for Nexus 6P. Both are available on the new Google Fi network.
The most surprising announcement was a new tablet called the Pixel C. In this case, "C" stands for convertible. The convertible tablet attaches magnetically to a keyboard and is adjustable to different angles.
The Pixel C has a 10.2" screen and the keyboard attaches to the back of the tablet when you want it out of the way. It's a Bluetooth keyboard that has a small battery, and it is inductively charged by the tablet. It boasts a 2560x1800 resolution with 308 ppi. The Pixel C starts at $499 and keyboard is $149.
The introduction of the Pixel C further heats up the market for convertible tablets as Apple recently announced its iPad Pro to compete with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.
Still, despite the interesting and innovative things that Google is doing with Android devices, Metodiev believes that they will continue to deal with the same fragmentation problems they have dealt with in the past. Google will need to find a way to keep innovating, but get a handle on fragmentation as well.
Google also announced a new Google Play music family plan, updates to Google Photos, and two new Chromecast devices.
- Photos: History of Google Nexus devices
- Pro tip: Get more from your Android lock screen with Start
- A photo tour of the new Android M
- Google I/O 2015 keynote: Everything you need to know
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.