The End of Google Nexus: A Look Back


Nexus phones were supposed to change the world. They did, just not in the way Google originally said they would.

Google's Nexus lineup, which today transforms into the Pixel and Pixel XL, has been the go-to developer phone since 2010. It's a favorite of hackers, geeks, and Android fans in general because of its "pure Google" software experience, backed by frequent updates that let it always run the latest Android software. Because they're developer phones, Nexus phones are also hackable, tweakable, and changeable, becoming the testbeds for a huge, vibrant ecosystem of alternative Android versions.

But it's worth remembering that that wasn't Google's original dream for Nexus. At the 2010 Nexus One launch, then-product manager Erick Tseng said Google envisioned its store as a place where consumers could choose a phone and select from a range of carriers and service plans. At the time, Tseng saw future smartphones working on all major US carriers, thanks to new chipsets. Eventually, Google loyalists could then go to Google's site and choose their phone and plan interchangeably.

That didn't work. "The much-talked about model of selling phones—both unlocked and on contract from T-Mobile—directly from the Google online store has led to poor customer support and confusion about how to get service from T-Mobile," PCMag said the following week. So Google retrenched and retreated, turning Nexus into a platform to push its manufacturer partners forward and make the power of the latest Android software always clear, as opposed to shaking up the market by breaking carrier control of sales.

My biggest question about Pixel, which we'll find out later today, is whether Google will change that strategy. So far, we've seen leaks about Verizon selling Pixel phones, which is a step forward, although Verizon has sold Nexus phones before and it didn't make a huge impact on the market.

We've reviewed 12 Nexus phones and tablets over the years. Here's how they all shook out and how they shook the state of Android. (We're leaving out the Nexus Q and Nexus Player, which weren't phones or tablets, and the Pixel C tablet, which wasn't a Nexus.)

Nexus One
Built by HTC, the original Nexus One (early 2010) was an amazing piece of hardware that was sunk by a confusing sales and support strategy. Google wanted to offer the first major US smartphone other than the iPhone that wasn't primarily sold or supported by carriers, but didn't seem to be ready for the retail and support challenges involved.

Nexus S
Google abandoned its Web sales strategy and went to Best Buy for the Samsung-made Nexus S in late 2010, which wasn't a hardware standout but focused on delivering the latest Google software to developers quickly.

Nexus S 4G
Google added WiMAX to the Nexus S for a Sprint release in mid-2011, but the phone was sunk by initial poor voice and network performance.

Galaxy Nexus
Galaxy NexusAs manufacturers really started to drag on Android upgrades and Google delivered major new features in Android 4.0, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (late 2011) pushed the industry forward. This was also the first Nexus phone sold directly by Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest carrier.

Nexus 7
By 2012, the iPad dominated the consumer tablet world, especially after Google misstepped with the buggy Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" version for tablets. Google came back with the Android 4.1-powered Nexus 7 and hit it out of the park, showing what small, inexpensive tablets should be able to do.

Nexus 4
Google switched to LG to manufacture the Nexus 4, and hit all the marks for a great unlocked phone in the US: beautiful minimalist design, excellent performance and a great price. The Nexus 4 showed the limits of selling unlocked GSM devices in the US in 2012, though, as relatively few people found or bought the device.

Nexus 10
The Nexus 10 bit off more than it could chew. Samsung gave it the best screen we'd ever seen on a tablet and a powerful processor that screamed in benchmarks. But it launched with buggy software, limiting its consumer appeal and restricting its market to patient developers who were willing to wait for updates, patches and fixes.

Nexus 5
Nexus 5LG's second Nexus in a row, the Nexus 5 set the benchmark for a midrange, unlocked phone in 2013. Google and LG focused on fast performance, elegant design and a great screen here, although we had some concerns about phone call quality.

Nexus 9
The Nexus 9 and Nexus 6 came during a "productivity" moment for Google, when the company wanted to emphasize that Android devices could do business work. But while the Nexus 9 performed well and had an optional keyboard case, the lack of a dual-window mode and (at the time) the lack of Microsoft Office really hurt the device's appeal.

Nexus 6
Google Nexus 5XThe Nexus 6 (2014) was Google's first venture into the phablet realm, and its giant size divided potential buyers. Our review points out that it straddles the realm between big phones and small tablets so easily that it delivers the advantages of both. But its gigantic size, with a 6-inch screen, turned off potential buyers who thought of phones as one-handed, pocketable devices.

Nexus 5X
With the Nexus 6's size so devisive, Google decided to go for a dual-device strategy in its 2015 lineup. The smaller Nexus 5X, built by LG, was the more conventional size, but slower and less powerful than its big brother, the Nexus 6P.

Nexus 6P
The Huawei-made Nexus 6P received many raves as the "best Nexus ever" for its stellar performance and elegant design. The phone's only flaw seemed to be that it found its way into too few hands, as it wasn't sold by any major US carriers.

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