From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history

The Google Nexus family was born in the early days of 2010. A project that had been in development for quite a while, the first Nexus One phone was for a long time considered a phone made for developers with no clarity whether it would ever be released to the masses.

It was, and it was the first step in a long journey that had Google define the idea of a Nexus phone more clearly: a phone designed by Google itself and made to showcase the newest version of the Android platform in a way that Google itself envisioned it.

Nexus phones have never been about breaking hardware barriers and records, yet they are always released with top-tier specifications. They have also passively shown Google's idea of good hardware design and features. This way, Google showed to the world that it does not consider microSD cards a good idea, and later on, it did away with user-removable batteries as well, all in a transition to a cloud-first, wireless charging future.

The Nexus idea, however, was not one Google actively pursued. It did not sell Nexus phones through carriers, and they were mostly used by developers and enthusiasts. In 2016, Google ditched the idea and replaced it with the Pixel phones, a series of truly premium flagship phones that Google claims wants to sell to the masses. The new Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 are already here, and here is what's new in them and how we got to where we are now with Google Phones.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2

October 2017
Codenames: Walleye and Muskie

Specs for Pixel 2 | Pixel XL 2

The second-generation Pixel phones brings another change: the XL 2 model now features a trendy, bezel-less design, while the smaller Pixel 2 models still has large bezels. Both phones integrate dual front speakers and are expected to do away with one important feature: the headphone jack! Apart from that, the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL are expected to run on the Snapdragon 835, a chip that is more powerful and more power efficient than the first-gen Pixel, so you can expect better battery life out of the series. The camera - a signature feature of the original Pixel - is also said to get important improvements.

Major new features: System improvements and battery tweaks, Quick settings & status bar, Improved iconography, Supercharged notifications

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history

Google Pixel and Pixel XL

October 2016
Codenames: Sailfish and Marlin

Specs for Pixel | Pixel XL

Google killed the Nexus program in 2016 and replaced it with a brand new type of Google phones: the Pixel.

The Pixel is a more ambitious project than the Nexus: Google claims it wants to sell the phones to the masses and not just to limited amounts of developers and enthusiasts, and Pixel phones are now premium products with a premium, flagship price.

The key features of the Pixel are its clean, stock interface with promise for quick updates (a rarity in the Android ecosystem), but also a great camera that we have found to be among the best of any smartphone. The Pixel was also the first phone to come with the powerful Google Assistant. Not only this, Google has carefully optimized Android on the Pixel and it runs smoother than on any other device that we have tested as well. All of these features combined, make the Pixel something special and long-lasting.

Major new features: Split-screen multitasking, Bundled notifications, JIT compilation

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history

Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P

September 2015
Codenames: Bullhead and Angler

Specs for Nexus 5X | Nexus 6P

After a shaky year 2014, when rumors ran rampant that Google might altogether kill the Nexus series, in 2015, Google Nexus is back.

Not officially just yet, but leaks have been way too consistent and plentiful, and this latest one reveals the new face of the Nexus series: two Nexus phones are coming, a 5.7” phablet by Huawei, and a 5.2” phone by LG, and both will have front-facing speakers, a fingerprint reader on their back, and a USB Type C connector.

By now, practically all the specs and tiny details have leaked out and we not only have the details, but those are backed up with very real looking renders and even pictures of the retail boxes of the two phones. The Nexus 5X features the Snapdragon 808 system chip, while the Nexus 6P comes with the Snapdragon 810, and that's probably the biggest difference between the two. You can learn more about the phones in our rumor round-ups.

Major new features: Doze for better stand-by time, Individual app permissions, Google Now on Tap

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history

Nexus 6

October 2014
Codename: Shamu

Screen size: 6.0"

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history
The Nexus 6 goes in the extreme when it comes to size: it is indeed a gigantic phone that is not comfortable to carry, but the whole idea behind it seems to have been to support Google's 'be together, not the same' campaign, promoting the beautiful variety in the Android ecosystem.

The Nexus 6 seems to be one of the least popular Nexus phones - and while it's hard to pin-point just one reason - size might be it. Various sources - including Google official reports - have pointed out that sales of the phone were way below expectations.

The other sore point of the Nexus 6 that we've bumped into was its AMOLED display, which was poorly calibrated and resulted in very unnatural-looking colors. On the plus side of things, the Nexus 6 is indeed fast. It was the first phone to come with Android 5.0 Lollipop. It also stepped up in the camera department, as its 13-megapixel main shooter captures very good images, has the latest system chip on board, and a long-lasting battery. Google has currently slashed the price of the Nexus 6 and you can find it on deals for as low as $299, making it one of the most affordable phablets off-contract.

Major new features: Material Design, refreshed card-based notification system, refreshed multitasking with cards, new notification tray, transition to ART, Project Volta for improved power efficiency, new camera API with option to save RAW images, do not disturb feature, etc


Nexus 5

October 2013
Codename: Hammerhead

Screen size: 5.0"

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history
The Nexus 5 was the second LG-made phone, and this one was based off the very successful LG G2.

With a 5-inch screen that features one of the best color calibrations for the time and a very zippy interface, the Nexus 5 became the go-to device for many people and has withstood the test of time, remaining zippy and fast-performing even as it gets updated to newer versions of the Android platform. Another convenience that it carried over from the Nexus 4 was support for wireless charging, a particularly useful feature that would be a relief for the otherwise very poor battery life of the handset.

And while Google had set on a mission to fix the problem that Nexus phones had in terms of camera quality, the Nexus 5 failed that effort. Its 8-megapixel main camera was a huge step up from the mediocre Nexus 4 rear cam, but still it was not on par with the iPhones and Galaxies of the time, neither in terms of speed, nor in terms of image quality.

Then, there was the performance part: the Nexus 5 suffered from throttling problems and underperfromed, with the only solution being placing it in a fridge to get maximum clock speeds. Those were just some technical niggles on the way, but looking in retrospective, it's clear that the Nexus 5 has been one of the most successful Google Nexus phones: it featured a very affordable price - and despite all technicalities - still runs fast and fluid.

Major new features: UI refresh with white rather than blue accents, new UI transitions, built-in screen recording, infra-red blaster native API, Android Runtime (ART) makes a debut, wireless printing, etc


Nexus 4

November 2012
Codename: Mako

Screen size: 4.7"

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history
The Nexus 4 was arguably one of the most influential and important Nexus phones and the reason for this was not only the fact that it launched with stock Android, the promise for timely updates, and top-notch hardware, but mostly because of its super low price.

With a starting price of $299 for a fully unlocked phone - half the price of iPhones and Galaxies at the time - it was a very alluring proposition not just for the developers, but for regular users as well.

The first LG-made Nexus phone, the Nexus 4 also came with an outstanding design with a glass back and a distinct pattern that glimmered in different patterns when you tilt the phone, a mesmerizing effect.

Major new features: optimizations to performance, multi-user support for tablets, lock screen widgets, quick settings, screensavers


Galaxy Nexus

November 2011
Codename: Maguro

Screen size: 4.65"

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history
The Galaxy Nexus was a huge revelation, and we mean that literally - it was a 4.65" phone and that felt gigantic at the time. Ah, if we were only to know then that phones just a few years in the future would be commonly released with 5.7" displays!

The notable thing about the Galaxy Nexus was its sturdy design with a slight, but noticeable curve. It also had a removable back cover for easy access to the battery, a luxury that future Nexus phones would pass on.

And yes, the Galaxy Nexus was the phone to introduce Ice Cream Sandwich and on-screen buttons for navigation. The new face of the Google mobile operating system looked sleek, futuristic, and no longer Gingerbread-ugly...

Major new features: design overhaul with Holo theme, new Roboto system font, switch to three buttons rather than four for navigation (Menu button is deprecated), persistent Google search bar, easily take screenshots by pressing Volume down and power key simultaneously, mobile data stats and metering, etc


Nexus S

December 2010
Codename: Crespo

Screen size: 4.0"

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history
Only the second Nexus phone in the series, the Nexus S already did away with the microSD expansion memory card slot, and that was a sign of what's to come in the future of Nexus - no other Nexus phone came with a microSD slot. The reason? Google seemed to be disappointed in the slowdown that came with a microSD card and the fact that slow-speed cards could slow down the Android system.

For all else, the Nexus S brought Android 2.3 Gingerbread, one of the most long-standing versions of Android and one that probably most of you remember using at a certain part of their life.

The Nexus S on its own was a plastic phone with a slight curve, not outstanding in terms of design, but instead feeling rather utilitarian. It was also the last Nexus phone to come with capacitive buttons - all other Nexus phones from late 2011 came with on-screen navigation keys.

Major new features: new UI design, support for large screens and high resolutions, improved keyboard and word selection tools, improved copy-paste, download manager, support for front-facing camera, native support for sensors like gyroscopes


Nexus One

January 2010
Codename: Mahi Mahi, aka HTC Passion

Screen size: 3.7"

From the Nexus to the Pixel: the evolution of "Google Phones", a visual history
The phone that started it all for the Google Nexus series was the HTC-made Nexus One.

Just look at its spec sheet on the right, and you get a sense of what the past looked like in a very vivid recollection.

The Nexus One featured a fancy trackball that you could use instead of a mouse for a very precise selection. Overall, it was met with enthusiasm: the first Google phone had solid design, nice display and contemporary processor, plus it showcased a very clean version of Android. Back in those days, litigations over names were still the hot topic and the Nexus One was attacked for allegedly plagiarizing Phlip K Dick's Nexus-6 name from the author's "Do Androids dream of electric sheep" book, as well as from Apple.

  • Android 2.1 Eclair
Major new features: support for near field communication (NFC), SIP protocol for VoIP calling, double tap to zoom in browser

FEATURED VIDEO

29 Comments

1. Cheezwiz

Posts: 496; Member since: Dec 29, 2014

As for the Nexus line, LG did it so much better than Samsung, it's not even close in terms of design. Hope this year's is affordable though

12. Jango

Posts: 371; Member since: Oct 24, 2014

Exactly... Is it just me or is the Nexus 4 the most beautiful of the bunch. Poor battery and camera let it down. Otherwise a perfect phone. I'd buy again, with upgraded internals. Google should consider that.

13. UglyFrank

Posts: 2188; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

They would be expected to since they did it later than Samsung....

24. yoosufmuneer

Posts: 1518; Member since: Feb 14, 2015

Agreed. LG did better than others especially Sammy.

2. SamDH1

Posts: 419; Member since: Apr 21, 2015

The most messed up numbering and model branding system ever :p But I am so excited.

16. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Not really. They can basically call it whatever they want as long as people can follow. Die hard, die hard 2: die harder, die hard 3: die hard with a vengeance, live free die hard. If you can follow s**t like that, nothing wrong this. Nexus One, Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 6. All fine. Didn't get messed up until this year. Wtf is this 6P and 5X s**t? If they just called them the Nexus X and Nexus P that's actually cool. Nexus 5x and Nexus 6P? Wtf?! Next years should be like Nexus Z or Nexus 360. Lol Hopefully they don't screw it up with stupid names like Nexus 4Y, Nexus 5g, and Nexus 6n.

3. carlemillward unregistered

To think Sony declined to make a Nexus... Would of been Sony Nexus One.

4. javy108

Posts: 1004; Member since: Jul 27, 2014

Nexus Z maybe LOL.

7. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

They would a effed it up imo. Prob bad display, weird camera software and what not. I'd be interesting to see it happen.

10. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

at least it got water-resistance

11. Jango

Posts: 371; Member since: Oct 24, 2014

Are you kidding? Sony's display goes the brightest, can do 4k. Sony makes the cameras for the best cameraphones and whilst their software weren't up to par in some respects, their low light modes, digital image stabilisation, optical zoom is very commendable. Besides, they have fixed camera software algorithms in the Z5 line. Their design philosophy, premium materials, waterproof, dual speaker and micro sd support ecosystem is unparalleled. Please don't quote me sales numbers. Otherwise we'll have to agree the Corolla is the best car in the world.

14. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

I notice Sony design has improved. I avoided Sony in the past due to poor screen to body ratio. Just bought a Sony 4K Android TV and love it. Very convenience to have voice access to Google now on a TV. Samsung and LG TV no competition at all.

17. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Nexus Z would work but you can't pass up the free marketing opportunity. If, I was still in the Sony marketing department, I would go with either. Nexus 4K or Xperia Nexus. For obvious reasons.

5. Orion78

Posts: 154; Member since: Mar 27, 2014

Oh please. Nexus 6 is an awesome phone. Glad Google went big. Some of us like phablets... Thank you very much.

6. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

When Motorola made a Nexus device, everyone was happy. Until then we realised its just a little too big...

8. gazmatic

Posts: 807; Member since: Sep 06, 2012

all of them look ugly as fu... except the motorola one.

18. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

The Motorola one is the ugliest one. The Nexus 5 is definitely the slickest.

9. Astonvan

Posts: 237; Member since: Aug 14, 2015

Next nexus should be made by samsung with thier awesome display and camera + camera app replacing google's stock if its possible.then it can be a killer phone. i am very anxious about Nexus 5X camera .

15. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

Same here...like, why the laser AF the same side as the flash???

19. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

I think Samsung passed otherwise they would have kept on using them. I think those two are probably the best sellers due to the Samsung brand and mindshare. Google would definitely go with the biggest cash cow but Samsung probably just said no thank you after the Nexus 10.

20. willywanta

Posts: 497; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

How about Samsung Galaxy s6 & s6 edge Google edition?

21. hwb01

Posts: 355; Member since: Apr 17, 2014

What happened to the Google edition phones? They seemed pretty nice, but I guess they weren't selling.

22. Awalker

Posts: 1958; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

They were too expensive. Why buy a $600 phone from Google when you can buy the same phone for $200 from a carrier?

23. Lleweraf

Posts: 4; Member since: Jul 08, 2014

That 'X' logo reminded me of Dota 2

25. Settings

Posts: 2942; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

I'm still waiting for a Pixel tablet. What happened to the succesors of Nexus 7 and 10? A Pixel hybrid would be nice.

26. Predator1701

Posts: 130; Member since: Oct 28, 2014

My first android one was Nexus 4 which i loved,later i had Nexus 5 and then 5x. Still Nexus 4 was my favorite.

28. jellmoo

Posts: 2530; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Same. It was probably the most comfortable phone in the hand that I've ever had.

27. TMHKR

Posts: 202; Member since: Dec 08, 2012

Nexus & Pixel, definitions of "worldwide unavailability".

29. luis.aag90

Posts: 270; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

I had the 32GB Nexus 5 and other than the mediocre battery life and average camera it was an excellent device. It's definitely on my top 3 devices I've owned so far. I remember mine arrived in January 2014 because the device was constantly out of stock during the first months of availability. I ended up selling it to a SW developer, he wasn't getting the then brand new Nexus 6 because it was twice as expensive and unbearable big.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.