Guy Barrington

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Why the next Nexus phone may make me cry, either with joy or sorrow

(Oh hi there blog, it's been a while! Let's get straight into it;)

Woohoo! The rumour mills are finally starting to churn with news of the next Nexus device!

The story so far

A bit of background; traditionally Google's Nexus line of phones are updated around November of each year. These devices represent 'Pure Google' and ship with vanilla Android – no skins or anything on top. These devices are also the first to get Android updates; as they come straight from Google. Finally, Nexus phones provide a benchmark for OEMs to match and beat.

Google partner with a leading device manufacturer to produce the device each year. The entire history is HTC and Samsung for phones and Motorola* and ASUS for tablets. I'm focussing mainly on phones here, because that's what is slated to be announced in the coming months. Likewise, I'm not intending on discussing software features of 'Key Lime Pie' (what the next version of Android is apparently to be named). To begin, let's go over the Nexus lines' history;

DeviceManufacturerAccompanying OSNotes
Nexus OneHTCAndroid 2.0/2.1 EclairAs the name implies; the first Nexus device (ignoring the G1 (also made by HTC) which was the first Android phone but not strictly a Nexus device).
This was a pretty revolutionary device at the time – incorporating a brand new processor, a slick new version of Android and a brand new higher resolution.
Nexus SSamsungAndroid 2.3 GingerbreadThe second Nexus device and the first to introduce NFC hardware and support (probably my favourite feature with my Galaxy Nexus), though it didn't receive widespread adoption until Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It also included an odd feature of a curved screen to apparently supplement your face, which has been continued with the Galaxy Nexus.
The Nexus S shipped with a single core processor about a month after the first dual core processors came to mass-market in competing phones, making it an underpowered device for its time. Although not exactly specific to the Nexus S, Gingerbread was also only a minor Android update (hence the .1 increment).
Finally, the Nexus S incorporates a 5MP camera, once again around the time devices were switching up to 8MP+ shooters.
Galaxy NexusSamsungAndroid 4.0 Ice Cream SandwichAccompianing the biggest change to the Android OS since 1.0, the Galaxy Nexus shipping with Ice Cream Sandwich was and is vastly different from any Android phone to date (and in many ways, since). In its standby state it is often described as a black slab – making obvious its lack of physical buttons (which unfortunately hasn't been copied by OEMs).
Many of the revolutions of this device were courtesy of the software, though there's no denying some hardware features such as the full 720HD, 4.65-inch screen, with Engadget alone calling it "stunning" and "... simply beyond par. Gorgeous doesn't even begin to describe this screen -- try amazing, jaw-dropping, mind-boggling."
On the other hand, it featured a dual core processor at the dawn of the quad core era, and repeating a 5MP camera for a third year in a row is "underwhelming", as Engadget put it.

The Samsung problem

As you may have noticed, the two most recent Nexus devices have been produced by Samsung. Would it be post hoc ergo propter hoc to point out that these were also the two most disappointing Nexus devices? (Aside from the XOOM; that was just downright shocking.) I would like to point out three factors facing the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, neither of which were a problem with the Nexus One (HTC) (nor the Nexus 7 (ASUS), if you care to include that).

Build

While every Nexus device has featured plastic in some way, Samsung's Nexuses befall a problem often cited with their other phones, too: they have terrible build quality. Okay, while 'terrible' may be an exaggeration, it really is a wonder Samsung can get away with the materials they use in their flagship phones. The plastic used makes the phones feel cheap and brittle (I personally struggle to hold a Galaxy S II because it's so thin and light that I worry I'll snap it). But it extends beyond materials, too. While the Nexus One had a striking design, the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus aren't that remarkable. Granted that the Galaxy Nexus certainly has an interesting design, that's primarily due to its size and lack of hardware buttons; two factors dictated by Google. The Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus don't have great build quality; especially evident in the downright ugly design of the Nexus S (if I do say). To drag the Nexus 7 in again, ASUS has built that from plastic, but it has been complemented in reviews as feeling like leather and gives a premium look to the tab.

Internals

To be perfectly fair, this may be more an issue of release timing than anything else, but both Samsung Nexus devices feature old processors for their release timings. The Nexus One was the first Android device to make use of a 1GHz processor, and the Snapdragon with Adreno 200 graphics that powered it was nothing short of revolutionary for the time. Fast forward to the Nexus S, and it runs a 1GHz single core processor. Again. The SoC (System on a Chip) it ran on even supported clock speeds up to 1.2GHz, though that's another issue. The Nexus S' SoC is also based on Samsung's Exynos design, which many developers have lashed out at recently (though they are specifically targeting a more recent version; that found in the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II). Moving forward again to the Galaxy Nexus, we find a dual core processor (huzzah!) clocked at 1.2GHz. Once again, this is as other devices were pushing the boundaries of 1.5GHz and quad core processors were beginning to enter the market. This time the SoC was OMAP, which in the recent Exynos bashings has been praised, though I suspect this was Google's doing.

Back onto the Nexus S once again, it featured 512MB of RAM when (yet again,) the rest of the world was moving up to 1GB. 1GB has been pretty standard since then, and the Galaxy Nexus didn't drop the ball here, though I can only hope the next Nexus incorporates the 2GB which is becoming standard now.

Finally on the internals front, both the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus did not feature expandable storage in the form of microSD card slots. Once again, it's hard to know whether this was Samsung or Google's master design, but it's annoying nonetheless.

(And because I can't resist mentioning it, the Nexus 7 ships with a Tegra 3 SoC; quad core at 1.3GHz. Good work ASUS.)

Displays

Every Nexus device to date has featured an AMOLED screen of some description. This is Samsung's technological baby, and so when supplies were needed for the Galaxy S, HTC had to switch the Nexus One to Super LCD. Owning a Nexus One and Galaxy Nexus (and as such I can't speak for the Nexus S) reveals something interesting: despite owning the Nexus One for almost three years now, there is not a single dead pixel or trace of burn in to be found. That is more than I can say for my Galaxy Nexus, which has a shocking burn in from the keyboard and Messaging app. Burn in is a common issue with AMOLED displays, but hold on, my Nexus One has an AMOLED, and it has no burn in...... Something is clearly different between these phones.

But it's at the point now where I cringe every time I play a game or watch a video. I never want to buy a (Samsung made?) AMOLED powered phone again.

So what's this got to do with crying?

It's official: I will cry if Samsung make the next Nexus device. Despite the chances of me buying one being pretty slim (my Galaxy Nexus is going just fine for now), I weep for future Android users if Samsung is up to bat again.
Google partners each year with a leading manufacturer – unfortunately by definition this pretty much implies Samsung, as they by far hold the majority of Android phone market share. But in my opinion, they don't deserve to be holding this share (for some of the reasons I mentioned above as well as others; just Google it, this article is about Nexus :P) and they certainly don't deserve to be trusted with engineering the next Nexus.

Well who else?

Much speculation has occurred recently about who will be manufacturing the next nexus device. The Wall Street Journal has stated that there will be five Nexus devices; one from (roughly) each major OEM. This would be nice (and I'd love to be proven wrong), but for the sake of this rant I'm going to stick with what has been historically accurate and predict one manufacturer producing one device. We've already been through Samsung, so who else?

HTC

These guys would probably be my favourite contestants to the Nexus-producing crown, especially with the design of the One series of phones (absolutely gorgeous). Rumour also has it that Google wants to help the (apparently) struggling OEM out by contracting it to produce the next Nexus. Given they produced the Nexus One; the best Nexus phone (for its time) to date, these guys are my prime choice and I would cry with joy if they were chosen.

Sony

Yet another flailing soul in the mobile world, their Xperia phones haven't exactly been flying off shelves as far as I've heard. While I don't especially fancy their design skills, one of their devices has recently been added to the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) – a status initially thought reserved for the Nexus line. An AOSP programmer, Jean-Baptiste Queru, also praised Sony for their contributions to the AOSP. These facts would make Sony a strong possibility for the title of 'Nexus Producer 2013.'

Motorola

Given Google's recent acquisition of Motorola, they would seem a logical choice to produce the next Nexus. Personally I don't want this, and it may in fact be unlikely. Arguably Google could be sued for anti-competitive practices if giving the job to their own subsidiary doesn't fall well on the other OEMs. Motorola also announced a slew of new devices recently; none of which ran vanilla Android (though they were close) and (from memory) all had hardware buttons and just generally didn't seem to follow Google's vision of Android, possibly suggesting the company is still operating largely independently from its parent. This would also suggest that if Motorola made the Nexus we are expecting in November, it would largely follow their own build style, which I am again not a huge fan of (to be fair, I've never held a Razr or Razr MAXX, but from what I've read they're... odd).

ASUS

Lastly is ASUS. The chances of them making the next Nexus phone are pretty much zero, though I thought I'd throw them in for fun and the fact that they made the Nexus 7. ASUS are without a doubt the best Android tablet manufacturer, and if you think otherwise you're either using something amazing which I have somehow missed or pretty ignorant (ah the hypocrisy :D). Their Transformer line has seemingly transformed (see what I did there?) an entire industry – sure, keyboards for tablets were nothing new, but ASUS ingeniously added ports and an entire second battery to theirs, and now correct me if I'm wrong but every Windows 8 tablet that has been announced follows this format in some way shape or form.
From memory, ASUS only have one phone; the Padfone (with the Padfone II scheduled for a later release). Somewhat predictably, this follows the idea of their tablet line, though I'll let you Google it to find out more.
Despite manufacturing the Nexus 7, sticking to largely vanilla Android (with a few added bits and pieces), and being the leading Android tablet manufacturer, this last point is really their achilles heel – their expertise is in tablets, not phones, and this is likely to a. stay that way, and b. influence their position as a potential Nexus (phone) manufacturer.

Phew!

I think that's about it; I'm getting tired and I've probably forgotten something (as you do). But yeeeaaah....
Just please Google; don't pick Samsung to produce the next Nexus.


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2012-10-02 08:27:55


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