You may have seen ads around lately mysteriously depicting a rectangular outline of a phone, the date of October 4, and a “G” logo. Unless you’re a huge Android and Google Nexus phone fan, you’ve probably wondered what all the hullabaloo is about. The long and short of it is that Google is about to launch two new smartphones on October 4. However, we’ll have to start at the beginning of the story to explain why you should be excited about Google’s new phones. The story takes us back to January 2010, when the first Google Nexus smartphone ever debuted.
What’s a Nexus? It’s an Android phone made through a collaboration between Google and another popular smartphone manufacturer. You see, Google owns Android and it’s an open-source operating system, meaning any manufacturer is free to use it. It’s the big reason why it’s the most widely-used mobile operating system in the world.
Related: Google’s Pixel phones get more details, fun color names ahead of launch
But smartphone manufacturers wanted to make Android their own, and they did so with “skins.” These are essentially themes that change the look of Android. Samsung’s skin is called TouchWiz, HTC has Sense, LG has UX, and so on.
The Nexus program is Google’s way of offering a “stock,” or pure version of Android to users. Straight from the search giant, Nexus smartphones and tablets came with a few pre-installed Google apps, but the main promise of the phones is fast updates. With so many variants of Android skins and smartphones, it’s difficult to force manufacturers and carriers to update devices to newer versions of Android in a timely fashion. With the Nexus program, Google didn’t have to deal with anyone else and could push the updates straight to the smartphones as soon as builds were ready — just like Apple does with iOS.
The Nexus smartphones were never heavily marketed towards the average consumer. That’s changing this year, if you can’t tell by the sudden ramp in advertising from Google for its October 4 launch event. Rumors suggest the search giant is replacing the Nexus phone lineup with the Pixel brand name.
It’s all under Google’s new vision to sell itself as a hardware company, under a snappy “made by Google” slogan. We’re expecting to see Pixel-branded smartphones, Google Home, a new Chromecast, Daydream VR, and more at the upcoming event.
We can’t verify whether or not Google is retiring the Nexus name — and some rumors suggest Google may yet hold on to the brand for a Huawei-made tablet. Still, if Nexus is folding, let’s take a look at the company’s 14 devices, ever since it started the program six years ago.
Nexus One (2010)
Google’s first Nexus smartphone, the Nexus One, was developed in close partnership with HTC. The One had a 3.7-inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 800 x 480-pixels. It was powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage, as well as MicroSD card support. Its rear camera was the only camera, and it had 5-megapixels and a LED flash. While the device had a touchscreen with off-screen buttons, it featured a trackball that doubled as a color-changing notification light. The smartphone launched with Android 2.1 Eclair, and the last flavor it tasted was Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread.
Nexus S (2010)
Hot on the heels of releasing the Nexus One, Google partnered up with Samsung for the Nexus S. It was released toward the end of the year, and was the first smartphone to showcase Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The 4-inch device had a Super AMOLED screen with a resolution of 800 x 480-pixels. Its internals were akin to Samsung’s Galaxy S — it was powered by the Korean giant’s Exynos 3110 processor, had 512MB of RAM, and packed 16GB of internal storage. The Nexus S was one of the first smartphones to have a slightly curved glass touchscreen, and it was also one of the first Android smartphones to come with a near-field communication chip — the technology that enables frameworks like Android Pay and Apple Pay. The last version update the Nexus S received was Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.
In our review, we gave the Nexus S a 7.5 out of 10.
Galaxy Nexus (2011)
Google stuck with Samsung for a second year to produce the Galaxy Nexus. Noticeably, the biggest change was the lack of physical navigation buttons — on-screen buttons were introduced in the new Android version, 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The smartphone’s 4.65-inch Super AMOLED screen had a resolution of 1280 x 720-pixels, and it was powered by a dual-core processor from Texas Instruments, with 1GB of RAM. The Galaxy Nexus came with 16 and 32GB internal storage options and had a 1,750mAh battery. It sported a 5-megapixel rear camera, as well as a 1.3-megapixel front one — it could even film videos in 1080p. The phone was among the first to support Google Wallet, and the last version it received was Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.
In our review, we gave the Galaxy Nexus a 9 out of 10.
Nexus 7 (2012)
The year 2012 was a busy one for Google — the company unveiled four Android devices, two of which were tablets. The smaller, Asus-built Nexus 7 was a hit thanks to its low $200 price tag and high-end build. It introduced Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, meaning it was one of the first devices to come shipped with Google Now. The 7-inch slate was powered by Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM. The tablet offered internal storage options of 8, 16, and 32GB, and also featured NFC. It was the first device to market the rebranded app store, Google Play. The last version update the tablet received was Android 5.1 Lollipop.
In our review, we gave the Nexus 7 a 9 out of 10.
Nexus Q (2012)
A precursor to the Chromecast and the Nexus Player, Google debuted the oddball Nexus Q in 2012 to challenge Apple TV. The device was a flop, though, thanks to its high price tag for what it does. The device connected to speakers and TVs, and users could cast content from Google services like YouTube and Google Play Movies. Third-party support was not offered, which is another reason the device saw its quick demise.
Nexus 10 (2012)
The Nexus 10 was another Samsung-made device, and like its name suggests, it featured a 10-inch display. But what made the Nexus 10 stand out was its resolution — it was the first tablet to carry a high-resolution of 2,560 x 1600 pixels. While the Nexus 7 debuted earlier in the year, the Nexus 10 came alongside the Nexus 4 with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. An event scheduled to showcase the Nexus 4 and 10 and Android 4.2 was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy, and after the tablet was released, it was consistently out of stock due to high demand. The Nexus 10 was powered by Samsung’s Exynos 5250 with 2GB of RAM. It does not have a MicroSD card slot, but offered storage space options of 16 or 32GB. The last version update it received was Android 5.1 Lollipop.
In our review, we gave the Nexus 10 an 8.5 our of 10.
Nexus 4 (2012)
Google went with a new partner for the Nexus 4 — LG. The smartphone ran Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and introduced Photo Sphere in the Google Camera app — this allowed users to take 360-degree photos of their surroundings. The Nexus 4 has a unique design thanks to its glass back with a spotted pattern. The 4.7-inch smartphone has a resolution of 1,280 x 768-pixels, and was packed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, a 2,100mAh battery, and 8 or 16GB internal storage options. Its rear camera carried 8-megapixels, whereas the front only had 1.3. It was rated positively thanks to its low-price and high-end specs. The last version update the Nexus 4 received was Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.
In our review, we gave the Nexus 4 an 8.5 out of 10.