As with Microsoft’s Signature PC offerings, Google’s Nexus lineup has always had its heart in the right place, by delivering crapware-free hardware with the latest OS version and technologies. And I was a big fan—and customer—of Nexus until the 2014 versions hit. This year, Google needs to get it right. And the early indications are that it will do so.
Previous to 2014, I purchased at least one Nexus-branded smart phone and tablet from Google each year. In 2012, that was the Nexus 4 smart phone and the 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet. In 2013, that was the still-excellent Nexus 5 smart phone and the second-generation Nexus 7. Each of these devices was in its own way excellent for the day. So I was predictably looking forward to see what Google would offer in 2014.
And boy was I disappointed.
On the smart phone front, Google offered the humongous and expensive Nexus 6. This device was (still is) a very nice smart phone from a specs perspective, but it violated what I had taken to be a central tenet of the Nexus lineup: offer next-generation technology at affordable prices. So where the Nexus 5 was a very affordable $300 and up for an unlocked device, the Nexus 6 started at a bewildering $650, over twice as much. What?
As disappointing, the Nexus 6 was huge, too huge, with a 6-inch screen like the skateboard-sized Lumia 1520 I’ve always struggled with. Looking a bit deeper—since all Nexus devices are really made by third party Android device makers—I found that the Nexus 6 was nothing more than a reskinned Moto X. But unlike the Moto X, the Nexus 6 wasn’t highly customizable. Doubly disappointing.
Google made similar mistakes with its 2014 tablet, the Nexus 9. This device over-corrected for the small size and widescreen presentation of the Nexus 7 tablets and went too big, delivering a tablet that was ostensibly somewhere between a mini- and a full-sized tablet, but was really just a full-sized tablet. And this happened just as I had settled on the iPad mini—which basically has an 8-inch screen—as the optimal form factor for this class device. The Nexus 9, like the Nexus 6, is simply too big.
And I know that because I own one. And boy is it disappointing, it’s huge size further hampered by angular sides that make the device heavy to hold. And like the Nexus 6, the Nexus 9 is far too expensive at $400, or $480 for the version I foolishly purchased (with 32 GB of storage). By comparison, an iPad mini 3 with Touch ID costs $499 for a version with 64 GB of storage and is a much better deal. But you can also get an iPad mini 2 (without Touch ID) with 32 GB of storage for just $349. No comparison.
Put simply, the 2014 Nexus devices delivered overly-large and overly-expensive devices that I feel have misread the market on both counts, whereas previous-generation Nexus devices each hit an obvious sweet spot. So now I’m looking forward to what Google will offer in late 2015. And I’m interested, but also nervous based on the past year’s experiences.
Recent rumors suggest that Google has at least figured out where it went wrong with the Nexus 6. This year’s Nexus smart phone will reportedly sport a 5.2-inch screen, which is just a hair bigger than the right-sized Nexus 5 and is arguably roughly what constitutes this year’s sweet spot. The new Nexus smart phone will also feature USB-C charging, an iPhone-like fingerprint reader on the back, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 CPU. The big question, of course, is pricing. $349 and up sounds about right.
Oddly, Google is allegedly plotting a phablet for 2015 as well, so it’s possible we might see both Nexus 5 (2015) and Nexus 6 (2015) handsets this year. But even the phablet will be right-sized, with a 5.7-inch display, a nice step down from the palatial Nexus 6. $399 and up perhaps? $449? They need to get pricing right too.
What I’ve not heard about at all is a new Nexus tablet. If I were designing such a thing, I’d ape Apple all the way and offer an iPad mini-sized device with an 8-inch 4:3/3:2 screen, USB-C charging, and a choice of storage, and start pricing at $349 to match the iPad mini 2. I would love to buy such a device. But given the lack of rumors, it’s possible we won’t see a new Nexus tablet until 2016. (Google’s previous big tablet, the Nexus 10, was kept in market for a long time despite selling poorly.) Even price-reduced, I don’t think the Nexus 9 is a good buy.
Whatever happens, each of these new devices will of course come with Android 5.1 “M,” which provides the most attractive (in my opinion) and most consistent (inarguably) Android experience yet, based on my testing with my trust Nexus 5.
So we’ll see. But Apple is under a lot of pressure to get the next iPad lineup right—current rumors suggest no new Air, but rather a new mini and a new iPad Pro this fall—given the 6-quarter sales nosedive. And of course we’re always interested in what Microsoft will do on the tablet front. A Surface Pro 4 is a shoe-in, but I think Microsoft needs to make a Windows 10 Mobile-based Surface mini as well, and there’s no time like the present to cash in on Windows 10’s momentum.
These are pretty much the only tablets I really care about, unless you consider the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite to be a tablet. (I don’t.)