Google this week provided the Android 7.0 Nougat factory and OTA images for its Nexus devices, providing Nexus owners with the ability to easily upgrade or reset their devices with the latest Android version.
Note: Yes, it’s turning into a Nexus kind of day. (See today’s Google Expands Wi-Fi Assistant to All Nexus Users as well.) Sorry, that wasn’t planned.
Both sets of files are available from the Google Developers web site, but the serve different purposes.
The Android 7.0 Nougat factory images are used to completely flash, or reset, the devices, erasing all apps, settings, and data, and return them to a factory-fresh state. This is a sort of “nuke from orbit” option that works similarly to PC Reset or the new Refresh Windows tool in Windows 10.
The Android 7.0 Nougat OTA (“over the air”) images can be used to upgrade an existing install of Android to the latest Android version. This is like downloading the Windows 10 ISO and using that to upgrade to the Anniversary Update because you’re not getting it automatically via Windows Update. Which is sort of the case on the Nexus side: So far, Google has only deployed Android 7.0 Nougat to modern Nexus devices that had previously installed beta versions of the OS. (Google stages its OS rollouts in a fashion similar to that of Microsoft, from what I can tell.)
Flashing an Android device of any kind is a complex and time-consuming process. If you use a compatible Nexus device and wish to get to a clean install of Android 7.0 Nougat, the easiest way is to upgrade—using the appropriate OTA image—and then use the Android factory reset functionality to reset it. (This is in Settings, Backup & Reset, Factory Data Reset.)
But you’re still going to have to work for it a bit. (Sorry, it’s Android.) For example, if I needed to upgrade my Nexus 6P to Android 7.0 Nougat, I could download the Android 7.0.0 OTA image from the Google Developers web site. Then I could grab the adb command-line tool, open a command line window, and follow the instructions here to apply the image to the device. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Or you could just wait for Google to get around to delivering the update to your phone, of course. But The OTA and factory images are of course useful in a pinch, and if your phone is behaving badly or stops working altogether, it’s nice to know these options exist. You know, like the Windows Device Recovery Tool or the Surface restore images.
Remember: You don’t have to memorize how this stuff works. It just helps to know that these tools are available.