A look back at every Google Nexus phone ever made

The landscape of Android smartphones is marked by several iconic product lines with diverse histories. Some, like the enduring Samsung Galaxy S series, continue to thrive, while others, such as the retired HTC One and LG G series, have taken a step back. Alongside these, newer dynasties have emerged, with the Google Pixel range establishing itself as a showcase for the company's cutting-edge technology. However, before the Pixel era, Google introduced the Nexus line in 2010.

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In the realm of Android smartphones, various product lines boast rich histories. Some, like the enduring Samsung Galaxy S series, continue to thrive, while others, such as the retired HTC One and LG G series, have faded away. More recent additions, such as the Google Pixel range, have gained prominence, serving as a showcase for the company's latest technological advancements. However, before the Pixel era, Google introduced the Nexus line in 2010.

For Google, it was a venture into a new frontier, marking a shift into hardware. The Nexus phones, unburdened by complicated interfaces and unnecessary bloatware, provided users with Android in its purest form—directly from the source, complete with delicious and fresh-sounding names.

Beyond the software, the Nexus phones themselves were noteworthy, as Google collaborated with established handset manufacturers to bring its visions to life. Although the Nexus line only spanned six generations, it played a pivotal role in shaping today's Android smartphones.

Let's take a trip back to 2010, a year marked by the introduction of the iPad by Apple, Lady Gaga's infamous meat dress, a divisive Lost finale (editor's note: it was good), and the unveiling of Google's inaugural Nexus phone, the Nexus One.

Google Nexus One

  •      Released : 2010
  •     Manufacturer : HTC
  •     Key specs : 3.7-inch 480p display, Snapdragon S1, 512MB RAM, 512MB storage, 5MP rear camera, 1,400mAh battery (removable)

After years of speculation, Google finally unveiled the Nexus One in 2010, marking its entry into the realm of "Google phones." While HTC handled the manufacturing, the Nexus One was distinctly a Google-centric smartphone, devoid of HTC's heavy Sense UI overlay.

Distinguishing itself from the iPhone 3GS, the Nexus One featured a larger screen, a more robust chipset, and an improved camera. Despite its limited internal storage, the microSD slot accommodated memory cards up to 32GB. The device also included the entertaining roller-ball navigation button, though it was noted as a potential weak point.

Critically, the Nexus One received favorable reviews, with many acknowledging its capability to compete with the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre due to its sleek design, powerful camera, and robust performance. Despite its competitive qualities, the Nexus One faced challenges in the market and ultimately experienced poor sales. Nevertheless, the Nexus One laid the groundwork, marking Google's evolution from a software-centric company to one deeply involved in smartphone hardware.

 Google Nexus S

  •      Released : 2010
  •     Manufacturer : Samsung
  •     Key specs : 4-inch 480p display, Hummingbird, 512GB RAM, 16GB storage, 4MP rear camera, VGA front camera, 1,500mAh battery (removable)

For the second generation of the Nexus line, Google enlisted Samsung to create the Nexus S. It's no secret that the Nexus S drew inspiration from the Samsung Galaxy S, sharing the same screen, chipset, and RAM allocation, with only slight tweaks to the design for the Nexus variant.

In contrast to its predecessor, the Nexus S received a more positive reception, with Google incorporating valuable lessons from the Nexus One. The AMOLED screen delivered vibrant and rich colors, and the lightweight operating system felt responsive. Running on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, it was the first phone to feature this version of Android, offering the latest and greatest at the time. The Nexus S was packed with features and even included NFC, a technology that was still absent from many handsets at that time.

While it didn't captivate with avant-garde design or extravagant additions, the Nexus S was a well-rounded and powerful smartphone, giving it genuine appeal.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

  •     Released : 2011
  •     Manufacturer : Samsung
  •     Key specs : 4.65-inch 720p display, TI IMOA 4460, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, 5MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera, 1,750mAh battery (removable)

In the subsequent year, Google and Samsung continued their collaboration, and this time, Samsung managed to incorporate its own branding into the handset's name. Despite the name change, the Galaxy Nexus was a significant milestone. Physical and capacitive navigation buttons below the screen were eliminated, replaced by on-screen Android controls. The phone introduced a major Android overhaul with the Tron-inspired Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and was powered by a dual-core processor.

A notable feature was the substantial 4.65-inch display, a considerable size at the time, overshadowing the 4-inch offering from the iPhone. However, not all aspects were universally praised, as the Galaxy Nexus featured a 5MP rear camera, falling short of the now-commonplace 8MP snappers. It's worth noting that in this era, the Nokia 808 PureView and its 41MP camera also existed.

Google Nexus 4

  •      Released : 2012
  •     Manufacturer : LG
  •     Key specs : 4.7-inch 768p display, Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB RAM, 8GB/16GB storage, 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera, 2,100mAh battery

In its fourth-generation Nexus, Google once again changed partners, this time collaborating with Samsung's South Korean rival, LG. The result was a stunning phone featuring a captivating mosaic-patterned rear. However, the most notable aspect of the Nexus 4 was its price, significantly undercutting iPhones and flagship Android phones of that era. This affordability made the pure-Android experience accessible to a much broader market.

The Nexus 4 also boasted an impressive spec sheet, including a 4.7-inch HD display, Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, 2GB of RAM, and an 8MP rear camera. Notably, it lacked support for LTE. While it didn't position itself as a flagship killer like the OnePlus One, the Nexus 4 played a crucial role in shifting perceptions toward powerful phones at more reasonable price points. Additionally, it marked the transition to non-removable batteries, as the industry embraced sealed units.

Google Nexus 5

  •      Released : 2013
  •     Manufacturer : LG
  •     Key specs : 4.95-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 800, 2GB RAM, 16GB/32GB storage, 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera, 2,300mAh battery

In 2013, Google continued its partnership with LG to deliver the 4G-enabled Nexus 5, succeeding its previous phone. While the design may not have been as visually striking as its predecessor, the Nexus 5 featured a minimalist, smooth frame that felt comfortable in the hand. Despite its relatively modest specs, the phone offered good value for its price.

On the software front, the Nexus 5 ran on stock Android, showcasing Google's advancements in UI and machine learning. Android 4.4 KitKat, the operating system on the Nexus 5, didn't represent a massive leap in design, but it indicated Google's ongoing evolution of its overall aesthetic.

Prioritizing simplicity, the Nexus 5 appealed to users seeking a fuss-free and reasonably priced Android phone. Although battery life and camera quality may have had some room for improvement, the Nexus 5 provided a solid option for those desiring more power without breaking the bank.

Google Nexus 6

  •      Released : 2014
  •     Manufacturer : Motorola
  •     Key specs : 5.96-inch 1440p display, Snapdragon 805, 3GB RAM, 32GB/64GB storage, 13MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, 3,220mAh battery

The Nexus 6 claimed the title for the largest screen on a Nexus phone, boasting a substantial 5.96-inch display that cast a shadow over its predecessor, the Nexus 5. With enhanced power, storage capacity, and battery life, along with improved front and rear cameras, the Nexus 6 marked a significant upgrade. Crucially, it introduced Android 5.0 Lollipop, one of the most substantial updates ever rolled out by Google.

Manufactured by Motorola, a new entrant to the Nexus brand, the Nexus 6 featured a design in line with Motorola's style at the time, resembling a maximized Moto X more than its Nexus predecessors. Despite lacking headline-grabbing features or particularly eye-catching looks, the sleek body with a curved rear made the Nexus 6 nestle comfortably in the hand. While it may not have dazzled with flashy features, the Nexus 6 offered smooth, big-screen performance in abundance.

Google Nexus 5X

  •      Released : 2015
  •     Manufacturer : LG
  •     Key specs : 5.2-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 808, 2GB RAM, 16/32GB storage, 12.3MP rear camera, 5MP front camera, 2,700mAh battery

In 2015, Google marked the beginning of the end for Nexus phones with the launch of its first duo carrying the Nexus name. This pair, the Nexus 5X and its counterpart, were notable for being the first (and only) handsets in the Nexus lineup to feature a fingerprint scanner. Unlike modern devices with in-display fingerprint scanners, the Nexus 5X had its scanner conveniently located on the rear, just below the camera.

In our review, Ryan Whitwam proclaimed, "The Nexus 5X is a very, very good phone," and expressed that "the experience using this phone has surpassed my expectations." This praise was attributed to the stylish design, decent performance, significantly improved camera, and satisfactory battery life delivered by the LG-manufactured Nexus 5X. However, the limitation to 2GB of RAM was somewhat disappointing as Android expanded in size, pushing this configuration to its limits. The 32GB storage model was recommended for those prioritizing longevity. Serving as a final hurrah for the affordable and lightweight Nexus, the Nexus 5X did justice to the brand.

Google Nexus 6P

  •      Released : 2015
  •     Manufacturer : Huawei
  •     Key specs : 5.7-inch 1440p display, Snapdragon 810, 3GB RAM, 32GB/64GB/128GB storage, 12.3MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 3,450mAh battery

Huawei entered the Nexus scene just in time. The Chinese company, riding high on its success with premium hardware and compelling handsets, was chosen by Google for the final Nexus phablet (a term you might not have encountered in a while). Scaling down from the Nexus 6, the screen size became a more manageable 5.7 inches, and the Nexus 6P boasted the most potent configuration of any Nexus phone, featuring Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 chipset and 3GB of RAM. It also introduced more capable cameras, although not on par with what we would later see in the Pixel series just a year down the line. Additionally, a 128GB storage option was offered.

Looking back, the Nexus 6P marked our first encounter with the distinctive Google camera 'bar' that spans the width of every Pixel phone since the introduction of the Pixel 6 in 2021. While skepticism surrounded the design when the 6P initially launched, in reality, it provided a glimpse into the future.