ASUS Nexus 7 (2012)

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Introduced: June 2012

Android version: 4.1 Jelly Bean – 4.4 Kit Kat

Notable hardware features: Google decided to rope in popular tablet/laptop manufacturer, ASUS, for their first take at a Nexus tablet. The back was a soft-touch plastic with a golf-ball like texture. It has a 7-inch 1280×800 IPS LCD display, 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 1 GB RAM, 4325 mAh battery, and a 1.2 MP front-facing camera.

How it was sold: The Nexus 7 was announced at Google I/O for $199, bringing Android 4.1 to the table. With the addition of Google Now and other enhancements, the Nexus 7 was a very attractive tablet, especially for the price.

For years, Android tablets have had a big problem. The lack of tablet-friendly applications was a huge negative for Google’s first iteration at a Nexus tablet. Ultimately, the tablet did very well with the common consumer. It was a big change in the Nexus family – not only was it not a phone, but it was aimed at the average consumer. Also, the $199 price point was an invitation for developers to pick one up and start working on tablet-friendly apps.

Samsung Nexus 10

Nexus 10 1

Introduced: October 2012

Android version: 4.2 Jelly Bean – 4.4 Kit Kat

Notable hardware features: Google had Samsung make their 2nd Nexus tablet. This one has a rubbery-soft (very grippy) plastic and front-facing speakers. It has a 10.1-inch 2560×1600 True RGB Real Stripe PLS LCD display, 1.7 GHz dual-core Cortex-A15 processor, 2 GB RAM, a 9,000 mAh battery, a rear-facing 5 MP camera, and a front-facing 1.9 MP camera.

How it was sold: This one was supposed to be announced with the Nexus 4 in an event in New York, but it was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. It was still announced later that day for $399. It was running Android 4.2, a notable step up from Android 4.1.

The Nexus 10 was popular, but still carried the same unfortunate handicap that the Nexus 7 had. If the lack of tablet-friendly apps wasn’t apparent enough on the first Nexus 7, it was made very clear on this one. Suffice it to say, it is getting better, but at the time that this tablet was released, it was difficult to find apps that played nicely with a big screen.

LG Nexus 4

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Introduced: November 2012

Android version: 4.2 Jelly Bean – 4.4 Kit Kat

Notable hardware features: LG’s first Nexus was beautifully designed. It offered a glass back with a dotted, almost sparkly look to it. It also offered plastic bezels and a screen that curved slightly around the edges. LG”s Nexus has 4.7-inch 768×1280 IPS LCD display, a 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2 GB RAM, a 2,100 mAh battery, an 8 MP rear-facing camera, and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera.

How it was sold: Launched alongside the Nexus 10, the Nexus 4 was originally sold for $299. Still aiming at developers, this Nexus offered a very small price point – something the average consumer would be very fond of. It also offered Qi wireless charging – a Nexus family first.

For $299, you’d be hard pressed to find a better smartphone for the price. But for Google to reach that price point, they needed to make some sacrifices. One of those being the lack of 4G. Weird, right? Nexus phones that were released a couple years prior had 4G capabilities, but why not this one? Google seemed to think the HSPA+ support would suffice. There wasn’t much else that didn’t make it on the phone, though. It was a decent step up from the Galaxy Nexus, and showed people that they didn’t need to fork over an entire paycheck for a smartphone.

ASUS Nexus 7 (2013)

Nexus 7 1

Introduced: July 2013

Android version: 4.3 Jelly Bean – 4.4 Kit Kat

Notable hardware features: ASUS got a shot at making a second Nexus tablet. It has a soft-touch back, two long speakers on each end, as well as a big ol’ camera on the back. It has a 7-inch 1920×1200 IPS LCD display, 1.5 GHz quad-core Krait 300 processor, 2GB RAM, a 3950 mAh battery, a 5 MP rear-facing camera, and a 1.2 MP front-facing camera.

How it was sold: The 2013 Nexus 7 was announced at an event called “Breakfast with Sundar Pichai”, Google’s current Senior Vice President, overseeing Android, Chrome and Apps. It launched for $229 – a $30 price increase from the first generation tablet. This one brought Android 4.3 Jelly Bean to the table and a much-improved screen. 

The Nexus 7 (2013) has been Google’s most popular tablet to date, fixing just about every gripe that consumers had with the first generation. The speakers are loud and very difficult to cover up, the screen received a much-needed upgrade, and the bezels shrunk on the sides, making the tablet’s screen pop much more. With help from more and more tablet-compatible apps, this device marked Google’s entrance into the mainstream tablet world, offering an affordable, yet glorious competitor to others such as the iPad.

LG Nexus 5

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Introduced: October 2013

Android version: 4.4 Kit Kat – 4.4.2 Kit Kat

Notable hardware features: This is LG’s second attempt at making a Nexus phone. The Nexus 5 offers a soft-touch back and a big camera on the back, much like the Nexus 7 (2013). It also offers a 4.95-inch 1920×1080 IPS LCD display, 2.26 GHz quad-core Krait 400 processor, 2 GB RAM, a 2,300 mAh battery, an 8 MP rear-facing camera with OIS, and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera.

How it was sold: The Nexus 5 was announced in a Google+ post for $349, and went on sale in the Google Play Store immediately. It launched with Android 4.4 Kit Kat, and drew people in with its exclusive “Google Now Launcher”.

The Nexus 5 became popular very quickly, mostly due to its price and hardware upgrades. Much like the 2013 Nexus 7, Google fixed most of the complaints users had from the Nexus 4. The addition of 4G bands, a slightly bigger screen, and more durable hardware were it’s best features, by far. The meaning of the term ‘Nexus’ began to change due to the Google Now Launcher. Though still aimed at developers, the consumer market took this one by storm. Google not only offered a cheap price point, but they added exclusivity with some of the services that came with it. Instead of offering a phone with a “pure Android experience”, they opted to give a “pure Google experience”.

Honorable Mention: Google Play Editions

Google Play Edition

Between the Nexus 4 & 5, Google announced the first ever Google Play Edition smartphones – the GPe Galaxy S4 and the GPe HTC One. Bringing a quality Android experience to top of the line hardware, the GPe phones are a force to be reckoned with… until you look at the price. The GPe Galaxy S4 was announced for $649. Suddenly, the term ‘Nexus’ doesn’t mean cheap anymore. Or, wait… is this a Nexus? 

With the promise from Google to receive timely Android updates, the GPe smartphones took an odd spot in the Nexus family, quickly dubbing themselves as the red-headed step children of the group. You love them because they offer a great hardware experience, but that price… oh man, that price. Google is still continuing to announce GPe devices left and right, so here’s the question – what’s their end goal?

Here’s my take, although I may be wrong; it’s the only answer my brain wants to accept as correct. Google has been releasing GPe devices for a while now. At first, it seemed normal for the S4 and HTC One to get the Google treatment. Premium hardware and software, where could you go wrong? Then they started announcing some really odd editions like the Moto G, for instance. The Moto G was already basically a Google-ified smartphone. It ran mostly a stock experience, give or take a few features. So why would they release it?

Manufacturers don’t receive code until the day it’s announced to the public. So with the odd addition of the Moto G to the family, swooping in before they’re whisked off to Lenovo, it gives all of the main hardware manufacturers early code that they wouldn’t have gotten already. Google didn’t have to add any of those phones to their lineup to make any money… they did it for the greater good – early updates for all.

What’s next?

So, does the term ‘Nexus’ mean what it did 4 years ago? Not really. But that’s not a bad thing. There will always be room for the Nexus line in the hearts of pure Android enthusiasts, developers, and consumers who aren’t fond of 2-year agreements. Sure, there are rumors that the GPe devices will take over the Nexus line sometime next year, but one thing is certain: we will always have access to the pure Android experience that we all love.

Sometimes it’s just nice to take a look back and reminisce about devices we love, no? Which of these devices is your favorite? Do you have anything to add about (what I consider to be) the best smartphone line ever? Leave a comment below and we’ll talk!

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