Spotlight: The first Nexus smartphone and why it mattered

The Google Nexus One launched 6 years ago

With the dawn of Google’s latest Pixel phones, the Nexus era has seemingly come to an end in 2016. After partnering up with several device manufacturers over the years to make Nexus devices, Google finally took the reins of not only the software that powered the device, but also the hardware.

It was only six years ago that the search giant unveiled the Nexus One – a smartphone built in partnership with Taiwanese OEM, HTC. Since then a lot has changed in the mobile world. Even though it was considered a flop by many, the Nexus One still exerted a great influence on the evolving Android ecosystem.

The original Nexus One was born out of daring idea – produce a handset meant to give developers and other phone manufacturers an idea of the latest Android version, before making it available to the masses. Still, as the years passed and the Nexus family developed, the brand became more and more consumer facing.

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The Nexus One was a very controversial device, some called it a failure while others believed it was ahead of its time. But despite what any of us think, the Nexus One has earned its place in history, being the first smartphone dedicated to delivering the best Android experience possible, devoid of pre-installed apps and skins.

But the Nexus One was also first in many other areas, most of which seem to have been forgotten today. Released in 2010, the phone was a direct competitor to the iPhone 3GS and featured what was at the time considered top of the line specifications.

The phone packed a 3.7-inch 480p AMOLED display with 252 PPI (pixels per inch) and was powered by a Snapdragon S1 chip with 512MB of RAM. The One had a 5MP main camera and ran Android 2.1 Éclair, but was later updated to Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread.

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While other smartphones with matching specifications and capabilities existed on the market at the time, the Nexus One was still considered above most of the handsets available.

With the Nexus One, Google really wanted to something different in terms of how the device was sold. So with it, also came the advent of the Google phone web store – the only place you could purchase the device (at least in the US).

Initially, a few options were available – buying the unlocked version (unsubsidized) which worked on the T-Mobile and AT&T’s EDGE networks. Verizon was supposed to offer a version too, but the carrier never got around to releasing it. A few months later, an AT&T 3G model was launched by Google.

The on-line store model was uncharted territory and naturally, Google bumped into its fair share of obstacles. Since the phone wasn’t available in stores where customers could actually look at the phone and test it out, a marketing campaign would have been needed to press the Nexus One.

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In those early days, customers were very skittish of buying a phone without taking it for a test-spin first and Google didn’t do much in terms of trying to persuade customers the Nexus One was worth taking a leap of faith.

Customer care was another Nexus One related issue which was bounced back and forth between Google, T-Mobile, and HTC before Google finally decided to take the reins. But all the messing around only made purchasing from Google look like a really unreliable affair. All these problems led to Google finally putting a stop to Nexus One sales online. But a precedent had been created.

Sure the model didn’t work out. most customers still wanted to try out the products before pledging their hard earned cash, but the thing is the Nexus One wasn’t actually meant to be a phone for the masses. It was more of a niche phone destined diehard enthusiasts, who would have purchased the phone anyway. And the online store offered an easy way to do that without the hassle of going out to a brick and mortar store.

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What else do we have the Nexus One to thank for? Well, how about the advent of the 1GHz era on Android? Sure, the chipset isn’t everything, but it’s not an aspect to be looked over either. The Nexus One was actually the first Android handset to make it on the US market to offer better computing power.

Another interesting feature of the Nexus One was plugless charging (not really wireless charging just yet) which was possible thanks to a series of contacts on the bottom bezel of the phone.

The system hasn’t really caught on (although some think it should have) but it did inspire phone makers to think beyond the conventional features that came on all phones at the time. Google also released two charging docks, one for the car and one for the desktop – both took advantage of the phone’s Bluetooth capability, so users could connect speakers into the dock.

One seemingly revolutionary feature that came with the Nexus One was the trackball. The primary use of the trackball was cursor positioning and text selection and was loved by Android enthusiasts when it was announced. However, with the introduction of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, a new text-selection paradigm was introduced which in turn made the trackball redundant.

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However, the trackball still proved its usefulness by delivering colorful notifications. Yes, the trackball would blink in different colors when a notification became available.

But most importantly, the Nexus One provided users with a simple way to unlock the bootloader and seamlessly load custom ROMs via the “fastboot OEM unlock” feature. From there on out, the possibilities were never ending. The Nexus One started the custom ROM revolution we see today.

Back in 2010, it might not have seemed like the Nexus One was a big deal, but fast-forward six years ahead and the picture is completely different. Today in order to appreciate what we have, we need to look back from where we came from, and Android phones really started to come into their own when the Nexus line was born.

Starting with the Nexus One by HTC, Google paved the way for a family of competent but relatively affordable devices. Now in 2016, Google is moving forwards and the Pixel will now continue the six-year-old legacy of the Nexus device, despite their massive difference. But if it weren’t for the Nexus One, the Pixel and Pixel XL might have never been made.