Android 5.0 Lollipop, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player: Welcome to the next era of Android

With a new phone, tablet and living room play — to say nothing of new hardware — Android ushers in its next generation

And with that we've just had a whole bunch of Android awesomeness dumped upon us. Android 5.0 Lollipop is officially official. New nickname, a pretty major bump in version number (for what that's worth), and ... more waiting to be done. A new SDK drops Oct. 17, as well as new preview images. But we've still got a ways to go before final production software hits any devices.

Then we've got the well-leaked Nexus 6 smartphone, and the new Nexus 9 tablet beside it — from first-time Nexus manufacturer Motorola, and the return of HTC! — and ... there's more waiting to be done. They'll go up for preorder Oct. 17, and be available in early November. There's a mix of familiar and new here, and the more important of the two devices might surprise you. But we also have a few questions that will need to be answered in time.

And finally there's the new Nexus Player. This one, like Chromecast before it, largely managed to avoid any pre-announcement leakage. We've been expecting something given that Android TV demo boxes have been floating around with developers since Google I/O, but what we saw announced today actually is a bit of a departure. And we've got questions about that as well.

Read on for a breakdown of the important parts of today's news, and what remains to be answered.

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Android 5.0 Lollipop

The major things we learned about the next major version of Android? First is the nickname. Not Lemon Meringue Pie, never mind the LMP telltales over the past year. (Codenames for codenames are hardly uncommon, folks.) Not Licorice. Not Lettuce. Lollipop. And as far as Android sweets nicknames go, this is a pretty good one. It's a pain to spell, rolls off the tongue and lends itself to any number of cute marketing tools — and that starts with the new statue at Google's campus, which we've already visited.

And it's worth talking about the new version number as well. Ice Cream Sandwich marked the start of the Android 4.x era, followed by Jelly Bean (4.1 through 4.3 and KitKat with 4.4). And now we're making a leap to Android 5.0. While a software version ain't nothing but a number — and what's in a name, right? — we're not in disagreement that Lollipop is the start of the next era for Android, and such a leap in versioning is warranted.

More: See what's new in Android 5.0 Lollipop

But beyond that? Well, we have to wait. And that's actually a change from previous years. Instead of a proper code dump, we'll have to make do with updated Developer Previews on Oct. 17. We don't yet know how far from final they'll be, but they should buy Google a couple more weeks of work before the first new Nexus devices are available.

As far as updates go, the following devices are a lock, so far:

  • Nexus 4 (yes, really)
  • Nexus 5
  • Nexus 7 (2012 and 2013)
  • Motorola Moto X (first- and second-generation)
  • Moto G (first- and second-generation)
  • Moto G 4G LTE
  • Moto E
  • Droid Ultra
  • Droid Maxx
  • Droid Mini
  • Google Play Edition devices

And more will be announced, plus we've got our own guesses.

Update: Sony has named its first round of updates: Xperia Z, Xperia ZL, Xperia ZR, Xperia Tablet Z, Xperia Z1, Xperia Z1S, Xperia Z Ultra, Xperia Z1 Compact, Xperia Z2, Xperia Z2 Tablet, , Xperia Z3, Xperia Z3v, Xperia Z3 Compact and Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. And Google Play Edition phones will be first.

As far as features go, we're still looking at a new user interface (Material Design!), a new runtime that will help apps run faster and more efficiently, support for 64-bit hardware. Plus, support for Android Fit. We know a lot about what's coming, we're just still waiting for a "final" release. There's still much work to be done here on our part.

The new Nexus 6

Nexus 6

More: Nexus 6 Announcement | Specs | Forums

We can sum this one up pretty quickly: The Nexus 6 is a bigger Moto X — 5.96 inches diagonally, to be exact — powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor. You'll be able to get it with either 32 or 64 gigabytes of on-board storage, and it's got front-facing speakers. It's also got a large, 3,220 mAh battery, which you'd expect from a device of this size.

Is it just too big? We'll have to see. For many it will be. But there's just no denying the trend toward bigger phones.

What's different this time around — and flat-out weird to those of us who worry way too much about these things — is that the Nexus 6 isn't being ignored by the U.S. carriers. T-Mobile's always flirted a bit, and Sprint had a Nexus 5 (and Nexus S), and we've seen a minor debacle when Verizon had the Galaxy Nexus. But we've never seen out-and-out "Hey, we've got the new Nexus!" from them like we are this time around. And it evokes a feeling not unlike your favorite indie band signing to a major label. Did Nexus sell out? Probably not. And it doesn't make much sense to argue that you want everyone to use Android while simultaneously saying Nexus needs to stay in the underground. (And what's more is that outside the U.S. Nexus phones and carriers aren't strangers at all.) Basically, get over it.

Also different, at least in the U.S., is the subsidy situation. The "cheap" Nexus 6 starts at $649 off contract, which is how we're used to buying these things. (And it's not out of line with what you'd expect a phone like this to cost.) We're also expecting the Nexus 6 to be available with on-contract pricing. Does that turn it into just another phone? Depends on how the carriers treat it in the long run. We reserve the right to rage should we see carriers holding back updates or otherwise mucking up the works. Nexus is Google's show. It needs to be Google's show.

The new Nexus 9

Nexus 9

More: Nexus 9 Announcement | Specs | Forums

And this answers the tablet question. The Nexus 7 was getting a little long in the tooth. The Nexus 10 never quite realized its potential and was even older.

The new Nexus 9 actually is the bigger deal when it comes to the new hardware. For one, it marks HTC's return to the Nexus world — it started things with the Nexus One in 2010 — as well as the manufacturer's first tablet since the failed HTC Jetstream, which was ridiculously expensive and only available on AT&T. It was DOA.

The new Nexus 9 sparks a good bit of excitement, as well as a good number of questions. It's the first widely available 64-bit device, thanks to the NVIDIA Tegra K1 chipset inside. (And with the 64-bit Android 5.0 along with it.) TK1 also has gained a pretty quick reputation as being a bit of a hot — as in thermally — SOC. How will battery life pan out? We'll just have to wait and see.

Price starts at $399 for the 16-gigabyte Wifi-only model. And LTE version will be available, but it's got an off-die modem from Qualcomm. It's been a few years since we've used that sort of setup. Hopefully things have improved since then.

Nexus Player ($99)

Nexus Player

More: Nexus Player Announcement | Specs | Forums

Android TV is upon us. And gaming. And more Chromecast. Android Player is a $99 box — OK, it's a circle — that does what we've been doing for a year now with a $35 Chromecast, and then some. You can stream all the things its way, from Android devices as well as Chrome browsers, all in the Nexus Player, manufacturered by ASUS.

If controlling things with your phone or tablet isn't your bag, however, Nexus Player is your one-stop shop. It's got a small remote control that'll guide you through the Android TV experience — which as we saw in a preview has be designed especially for the living room "lean back" experience. Most of the major players are on board — Netflix, PBS, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora, to name but a few. (It's not surprising that Amazon's still not a part, given that it's got its own Fire TV system, but still ...)

You'll also be able to get your gaming on thanks to an optional gaming controller.

An interesting thing here is that this Nexus Player is powered by an Intel Atom processor (and 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage) and not something beefier, especially since we saw Tegra components being demoed at Google I/O earlier this year. Will Atom be enough? How long until we see a hardware refresh? (And we hate even asking that question out loud on the same day the Nexus Player is announced, but it needs to be asked.) Again, we'll just have to see.

There's a lot we know. Or, rather, there's a lot we know is coming. Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Nexus 6 from Motorola. The Nexus 9 from HTC. And the ASUS-made Nexus Player. We've got a number of questions, however, and answers should become clear in the coming weeks, as devices are made available and software updates begin to drop.

And just like Google and the Android 5.0 era, we're just getting warmed up, too. Lots more to come, folks.

Phil Nickinson