Google announced two new Nexus handsets Tuesday, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X. Both run Android M, the latest version of its operating system, and both are as boss as Hogg. If you like Android phones, you’re going to like these. Hell, even if you’re iPhone-committed, they’re worth seeing.
The Nexus 6P has a larger display, and thus is a bit bigger overall, at 5.7 inches. It also has a faster processor and is made of aircraft-grade aluminum — in case you want to, I don’t know, fly it. It comes in aluminum (silver), graphite (black) & frost (white), and starts at a cool $499 for the 32GB model, $549 for a 64GB model, and $649 for a 128GB model, all unlocked and off contract.
The Nexus 5X is a device that Google refers to as “a sequel” to its popular Nexus 5, a phone that came out two years ago. At 5.2 inches, the 5X is a bit smaller than the 6P and it doesn’t have quite as much kick to its processor. Its storage maxes out at 32GB, which is not a lot — even if Google does want you to keep all your data in the cloud. And rather than aluminum, the 5X has a smooth-touch painted plastic back. Having said that, it’s a very nice device. It starts at $379 for the 16GB model, while a 32GB model is $429, both unlocked and without a contract.
This is the first time Google has rolled out two Nexus handsets at once. It’s a real departure. And so a week before they launched, Hiroshi Lockheimer, VP of Android, ChromeOS, and Chromecast for Google, explained the thinking behind the two phones. In a windowless conference room at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters, he walked BuzzFeed News through the history of Nexus devices and the origins of the 6P and 5X. There’s a reason Google’s doubling down on the Nexus this year.
The Nexus 5X from Google and LG. Google
“Something that the original Nexus 5 and the Nexus 6 taught us is that Nexus is athing,” Lockheimer said. It’s got True Fans. But many of the Nexus 5 fans were turned off by the larger Nexus 6 form factor. Meanwhile, the Nexus 6 kids just wanted their phablets. “So that’s why this year we decided to do two.”
The two new handsets are made by separate manufacturers: The Nexus 5X is made by LG (as was the Nexus 5), and the Nexus 6P is from Huawei — the first Nexus device from the Chinese manufacturer. But in both cases, as with all Nexus devices, the hardware is a reflection of the software on which it runs. The Nexus line is meant to be Google’s purest expression of Android, a way for the company to offer its vision of what Android can be in physical form.
And in both phones that form is most evident in the two pieces of hardware they share. The first is a 12-megapixel camera with fat 1.55 micron pixels to complement Android Marshmallow’s faster, beefed-up camera app. These big pixels can gather more light, which makes them better for shooting indoors and in low light. The second shared feature is a fingerprint sensor, called Nexus Imprint, on the backside that lets people authenticate their devices with just a touch. The fingerprint sensor is made so that you can unlock the phone as you’re pulling it from your pocket. Rather than placing it on the home button to be unlocked by the thumb — as Apple and Samsung have done — the Nexus 6P and 5X are designed to be unlocked by an index finger on the back of the device, in what Google thinks is a natural motion made when you grab a phone.
“Ergonomically, we thought that it actually made sense,” Lockheimer said. “We just felt like you’re holding it this way anyway, so why not put your finger there. Rather than doing that, you know, with your thumb.” He theatrically moved his thumb down over the bottom center of his 6P, and then pushed it in his pocket. “So, literally, the way I use it, as I’m taking it out of my pocket, I press my finger on it, and done. It’s just straight in. It’s super-low latency — less than half a second.”
The phone lights up, and it is, frankly, a gorgeous-looking device. Especially compared with the burly Nexus 6, last year’s 6-inch model. The comparison is easy, because the Nexus 6 also sits on the conference room table right next to this new 6P. In fact, so does every other Nexus device the company has ever released — including the short-lived Nexus Q, and even a Nexus wireless charger.
Looking them over, what’s so interesting about the Nexus line is that while these were all at one time flagship Android devices, Google didn’t make any of them. When Andy Rubin, who ran Android for many years, introduced the Nexus One in 2010, he shrugged off complaints that Google had misled the press with statements that it wasn’t working on its own phone. “I said Google won’t build hardware,” he argued.
An array of Nexus devices.
It’s a small distinction, but an interesting one. Almost six years, and many devices, later, Google still doesn’t actually manufacture its Nexus devices. But it does work intimately in their development.
“We have industrial designers, mechanical engineers, product designers for Google who are working really closely with their manufacturer counterparts. So it’s not like, ‘Oh, here’s a device that they already have. Let’s just slap our logo on it,” Lockheimer explained. “We go in very early and say, ‘Our product concept is this, we want something at this price point, with this type of feature.’”
Lockheimer said that the reason Google does this is to better understand the real-world implications of the way the software it is developing will work and run on emerging hardware. gsm alarm system
“Our philosophy has been you can’t build an operating system or platform in the abstract,” Lockheimer continued. “So the goal is not in the context of some actual product. Platform vs. product is something we think about a lot here. A platform obviously is sort of an ecosystem with Play, applications, and the OEM industry and all that stuff. That’s important, and that’s really what we’re about. But we didn’t want to just build some software and throw it over the fence, and hope that some manufacturers would just be able to ship it. We wanted to prove out that the platform we were building was actually commercial-grade.”
That tradition of proving out that software platform out on an actual device goes back a long way — further even than Nexus. In fact, it began even before the first Android phone shipped.
“I joined Google in April of 2006 to work on Android,” said Lockheimer. “I knew Andy Rubin from Danger. I was the first employee — there were the three founders of Danger, and then, I was the first person to get hired. We kind of went our separate ways for a while. He ended up here [at Google] and then he called me and said, ‘You know, we want you working on something.’ Of course he couldn’t tell me what it was.”
That something was Android. Google had acquired Android Inc. in 2005 and had begun spinning up the division to work on then-nascent smartphone development.
“We had software up and running on a HTC Tornado. It was running a TI OMAP 850 processor — well, now we’re just dating ourselves now — but that was cutting-edge at the time. It was a candy bar–style phone. And it was a 12-key, with a tiny little screen. That’s what Android was running on when I joined. We always knew that that wasn’t going to be our launch vehicle. That was just a development system.”
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