October 1, 2014

Looking back: A brief history of Google's Nexus devices

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Sometimes when a smartphone is released, it is very easy to tell what the manufacturer was aiming for. Unlike some popular lines of smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S series or HTC’s One series, Google’s Nexus line has received some interesting feedback over the years. Does the term ‘Nexus’ mean what it did when Google started this line? Which one of these devices was truly iconic for it’s time? Let’s take a look back.

HTC Nexus One

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Introduced: January 2010

Android version: 2.1 Eclair – 2.3 Gingerbread

Notable hardware features: HTC used their familiar build for the time – matted plastic with brushed metal accents. Oh, and a trackball. It also sports a 3.7-inch 480×800 AMOLED (or Super LCD) display, 1 GHz Qualcomm Scorpion CPU with 512 MB RAM, 1400 mAh battery, and a 5 MP camera.

How it was sold: The One was sold mainly for developers and launched as $529 unlocked, and offered a “pure Android” experience with an unlockable bootloader. Also, this was Google’s first attempt to sway people to buy a device online without seeing in stores. Perhaps a bit ahead of its time, the Nexus buying experience would evolve over the years.

Despite the lawsuits and patent troubles, the reaction was very positive. These were some of the best specs anyone has ever seen on a smartphone. Everything was great about the phone except for the price, even by today’s standards.

Samsung Nexus S

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Introduced: Nexus S: December 2010, Nexus S 4G: March 2011

Android version: 2.3 Gingerbread – 4.1 Jelly Bean

Notable hardware features: Samsung opted for a slimy hyperglaze plastic for their first Nexus, with a slight curve to the screen. It also has a 4-inch 480×800 Super AMOLED display, 1 GHz Samsung Exynos 3 processor, 512 MB RAM, 1500 mAh battery, and a 5 MP camera.

How it was sold: The Nexus S was sold for $530, while the Nexus S 4G was sold for $550. The jump to Gingerbread didn’t change a whole lot, at least talking about the user interface.

At the time, it was one of the best smartphones to date. The first model didn’t support HSPA+, which was a big negative. However, Google seemed to remedy that by offering a 4G model in the coming months. This one wasn’t a huge step up from the One, at least originally, but it did keep users interested in the Nexus line.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

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Introduced: November 2011

Android version: 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich – 4.3 Jelly Bean

Notable hardware features: Samsung’s second iteration of the Nexus came at us with a completely different design – still plastic, but more textured on the back plate, still keeping the slight curve of the screen and a (very) heavy bottom. This one sports a 4.65-inch 720×1280 Super AMOLED display, 1.2 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 1 GB RAM, 1750 mAh battery, a 5 MP rear-facing camera, and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera.

How it was sold: The G-Nex was sold for $399 at launch. Probably the biggest selling feature of this one is the software. The jump from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich is still the biggest UI overhaul to date, adding tons of new features/improvements.

Due to the software, the Galaxy Nexus became hugely popular. Now, every phone has it’s faults. But it seems to be more apparent than ever in this Nexus. The batter life, though a big jump from it’s predecessor, is terrible. There is no way a smartphone user could get through an entire day on a single charge. That’s to be expected, given the time this phone was relevant. But the phones being launched at roughly the same time had tremendously better battery life that this one. Also, when Android 4.4 Kit Kat was announced, Galaxy Nexus owners were distraught to hear that their phones wouldn’t be receiving the update.

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