A few days ago, we had wondered if the Nexus range of devices was relevant any more, given the fact that two of its perceived core strengths – quick (and guaranteed) updates to the latest version of Android and relatively low prices for the kind of hardware on board – had been usurped by other players. Well, when Google unveiled its new Nexus devices yesterday, the answer became clear: the relevance of Nexus now really depends not on innovative product design, or attractive prices but on the sauce running the phone – Android Marshmallow.
Some doubtless will call us too harsh in this assumption. After all, the two new Nexus phones – the rather quaintly named Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X – do boast some very decent hardware: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810/808 processors, quad and full HD displays, 3GB/2GB of RAM, much-hyped 12.3-megapixel cameras and so on. And while the Nexus 5X seems relatively routine in terms of design, the glass bar holding the camera module on the back of the Nexus 6P does add a slightly new dimension in terms of appearance, although it is by no means a totally new one (we remember a glass plate holding the camera unit of the Vibe Z2 Pro on the back a year ago and the BlackBerry Classic had something similar too). But let us be brutally honest, neither device has the “oh I am different” look of the level of a Nexus 4 (oh that glittery back!) or the super compactness of a Nexus 5.
And if we consider the prices at which the two devices are expected to come to India – Rs 31,900 for the Nexus 5X and Rs 39,999 for the Nexus 6P – then frankly the hardware on the two devices also does not seem exceptional. The OnePlus 2 offers a Snapdragon 810 processor, 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage as well as a decent shooter at Rs 24,999, and at the time of writing, the LG G4, which more than matches both new Nexus devices on the spec sheet (and has one of the best cameras we have seen on a handset), was available for Rs 38,900. In fact, even the Samsung Galaxy S6 is available for a price in the range of the Nexus 6P. And let’s face it, the OnePlus 2, G4 and S6 do have more design tricks up their sleeves than the new Nexus phones do – sandstone finish backs, leather backs, glass back and fronts, et al.
More than matched in design.
More than matched in hardware.
More than matched in price.
So what does that leave the new Nexus phone range with?
The answer is: Android Marshmallow. Which in a manner of speaking, is divine justice because the Nexus range had after all been created to showcase the operating system. And while all Nexus devices have always been the first to come with a new version of Android, the 6P and 5X will have quite a headstart over the competition in this regard, as no competing device at their price points is likely to be getting Android Marshmallow for quite a while – our sources say that the likes of the G4 and S6 ‘might’ get it close to the end of the year, and that unlike in the recent past, the Moto range (now under Lenovo’s wing) will also not be getting updates at the same time (forget about earlier as happened once) as the Nexus range.
All of which means that roughly till December (if our sources are right), the Nexus 5P and Nexus 6X will be the only high-end devices of the current range in the market running the latest version of Android. That party, of course, could be spoilt by new launches of devices that come with Marshmallow out of the box – but with most major brands having already showcased their flagships, we think the new Nexus might have some breathing space.
No, we have not yet tried Android Marshmallow yet, so we cannot comment on how much of a difference it will make to the Nexus experience (we think Now on Tap and Doze are really neat, though), but the fate of the new Nexus phones could well depend on it. Because that is really what separates them from an increasingly competitive crowd. The arrival of high profile, (relatively) low priced devices with heavily customised interfaces has robbed pure Android of some of its novelty to the extent that many users actually have stopped asking about new versions of the OS. Marshmallow could change that.
If it does not, the Nexus could be in a spot of bother. Because, just as in the case of the very first Nexus device, it really is about the software now.