2016 Nexus phones: What we want to see from Google and HTC
We're quickly approaching that time of year when Google is poised to release new Nexus phones, and that means a few leaks fuel the fires for everyone to think about exactly what they want to see in the new phone (or, in this case, phones). We know the new hardware from Google is already finished and just waiting for some final touches before being released, so we're really just daydreaming here, but that's still fun to do!
So as we bide our time waiting for the real deal to be announced, here are a few thoughts we have on what we want to see from the new Nexuses — hardware, software, sales tactics, you name it. Read on.
The Nexus 6P was as close as we've yet come to a compromise-free Nexus phone — a device that isn't just good for phone nerds who care about having the latest Google bits before everyone else, but a fantastic all-round handset. (By comparison the 5X took way too long to work out its software kinks.)
Much of the hardware weirdness with the 6P — the huge physical size, the passable but not exceptional battery life, even with a large battery capacity, and the tendency to put out rather a lot of heat — should be solved automatically with newer, more efficient chips from Qualcomm. (Early 64-bit SoCs from the chipmaker just weren't that great.) So from a refreshed pair of Nexus phones, I'm hoping to see similar screen sizes in more hand-friendly form factors. Something less overtly slabbish, even with a screen around the 5.5 to 5.7-inch mark would be nice.
A new generation of Nexus phones should also benefit from brighter screens with better daylight visibility. The 6P's 2K display isn't horrible, but the difference compared to Samsung or Apple in daylight is, well, night and day.
Next, that camera. I'm actually fine with the 6P's image quality overall. It's gotten better with updates over the past few months, and actually outperforms many 2016 models in low light, leaning heavily on Google's HDR+ mode. The problem is it's so painfully slow — slow to load, slow to capture, slow to pan, slow to everything. This is one area that desperately needs attention.
Nearly a year on with the Nexus 6P and 5X, I'm still extremely happy with the experiences — though of course the 5X took quite a bit longer to come into its own. I really just hope that Google — and presumably HTC — have continued that formula rather than changing things dramatically. Compared to those previous Nexus phones, I just want a few subtle changes that will take the experience up that extra couple of notches.
In terms of the bigger Nexus, a successor to the 6P, I think we deserve a better screen. With the wonderful hardware in the 6P, the one letdown was the display compared to what you've been able to get in other phones at the $400 and higher price point. I'd also like to see better battery life, as the 6P was pretty good but not fantastic for me. Here's one more feature that'd really complete things: how about complete waterproofing, which has really won over consumers as a top feature.
For the smaller and cheaper companion Nexus, I want Google to keep the price down and offer great value like the Nexus 5X does — not necessarily try to kill it with bundles of specs. If we can step away from a cheap plastic build while keeping that price low — about $299, I hope — it'd be a killer option to have out there.
And one last thing that's amazingly important for both devices: Google absolutely has to up its game in terms of camera speed — the Nexus 6P and 5X take amazing photos, but they do it at a glacial pace and it kills the experience.
I suspect that my dream Nexus is coming this quarter, since the HTC 10 is one of my favorite phones of 2016 so far. But more specifically, were I to take the Nexus 6P and lop off half an inch from the top and bottom, give it a less temperamental chip (the Snapdragon 810 was notoriously inconsistent in performance and battery life) and a faster camera, I'd be very happy.
Be it a Snapdragon 820 or 821, I am confident the next high-end Nexus will be extremely capable, and should the rumors of an HTC build be true, I'm sure it will have a great camera experience, too. I only hope that those other rumors — that of an overhauled, faster, less-reliant-on-HDR+ camera app — are also true.
As for the Nexus 5X, the faster we move on from that travesty the better. It's pretty inexcusable that between LG and Google, who together build the very capable Nexus 5, left the Nexus 5X to languish with buggy software for as long as it did. Something tells me that even if LG makes this year's lower-cost Nexus — which is unlikely, since HTC is expected to be building both — they won't make that mistake again.
Finally, after using the Developer Preview of Android 7.0 Nougat on the Nexus 6P, I am confident that this upcoming version will be welcomed by the small number of early adopters who look forward to Nexus phones every year. It's not a dramatic overhaul, but between more efficient Doze, improved notifications, and true multi-window support, Nougat will be considerably tastier than its edible counterpart.
- More gold.
- Free pizza on Tuesdays.
Seriously, Google, you just need to keep doing what you did in 2015. You know where the 6P and the budget-minded 5X weren't perfect because you use them. Make those parts better without assing up what you got right.
Do whatever you need to do to the camera so the people who won't install another app don't have to wait while it opens or processes. Maybe even add OIS (though I'd love an option to turn it off) because apparently, it needs it, and use the same camera parts you used last time. If you're sticking with AMOLED for the screens, be sure to stick with Samsung, too. Though I wouldn't complain about LG's Quantum Dots. Two versions mean you don't even have to fiddle with the size(s) very much.
One thing you do need to change — make sure the "lesser" model is right at launch. The 5X will always have a bad name because it was pretty poor at launch and you took almost eight months to fix it. Only the people who stuck with it know that on the Android N Developer Preview it's like a Corvette.
My list is small. That means it should be doable. Make the 2016 launch even better than 2015 was.
I'm mostly here for a HTC 10 that isn't just "Powered by Android" with the Nexus 6P camera that supports Google Daydream.
This is the first year since the Nexus line has been around, even way back in the Developer Phone days, where I haven't felt a need to jump to a new phone after a year. The Nexus 6P is still a great phone at a great price. It's still the phone I grab when I'm taking pictures in low light, and it's still the phone I go to when I'm tired of the Android-based offerings from Samsung and HTC and LG.
If what we've seen from all the Marlin leaks are true, this next Nexus is going to address my only real complaints about the Nexus 6P. It's going to have a slightly smaller overall body, and it's not going to be quite as slippery. I like the feel of HTC's metal over Huawei's, and I like smaller phones. Everything else for me is small stuff. The Snapdragon 821 isn't going to feel appreciably faster than the Snapdragon 810 in the 6P for 95% of the things we do on phones.
The only real reason I care about the Snapdragon 821 is Google Daydream. We're going to see Google kick smartphone-based VR into high gear with Daydream on Marlin, and that's going to be exciting even for folks who don't care about VR. A big part of the Daydream spec is better sensors and better displays than anything we've seen in a Nexus before, which is going to be awesome.
For the smaller, "budget" Nexus I'd like to see Google repeat what they did with the Nexus 5X. Smaller, somewhat less capable, but still amazing. The 5X camera is unparalleled for its price, and a full year later there still isn't a great competitor to that phone for anyone looking to buy unlocked. If Google can deliver that experience with something other than a cheap-ish plastic body, even better. I'm not convinced that's a requirement though.
The only thing I'd like to see Google do differently this year is get the software right the first time. Out of the box, the Nexus 5X was a disaster. It's amazing now, but it took way too long for those updates to come out. I'd like to see Google nail the "budget" Nexus software out of the gate and really drive home what an incredible experience you can get at such a reasonable price.
I was never really blown away by the Nexus 5X, and while it did get better as the year went on — kind of — having a decently-sized (at least to my lithe hands) Nexus that works well from the get-go again would be wonderful. The 5X's screen left a lot to be desired, especially outdoors, and the phone felt too light in the hand and more importantly in the pocket, leading me to sit down on it more than once because I simply forgot it was back there.
I'd like for both phones to get the same camera sensor again this year, preferably a sensor with OIS. I was happy both phones got the same Sony sensor last year, but the 5X camera was sluggish, and when I'm taking pictures on vacation, sluggish means missing that perfect shot of Mickey Mouse in front of Cinderella Castle during Festival of Fantasy.
Overall, the only real feature I want to come to the next Nexus phones is one we already know isn't: microSD card support. Barring that, the only features I miss while I'm on Nexus phones are the IR sensors on the Moto X (which remains the most underrated feature I've ever encountered) and a front-facing fingerprint sensor. Yes, I prefer the front-facing sensor because I use my phone a lot while it's propped up on my desk/in a mug/in a dock/lying on my pillow in bed and I prefer to simply place my finger on the front of the phone rather than pick it up and use the rear sensor. Or, y'know, use my backup pattern.
What do you think?
These are our ideas for what we want to see from future Nexus phones, but we value your opinions as well — sound off in the comments and let us know what you're expecting!
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.