The end of Nexus: This year's Google phones to forge new path

Android statue
Android statue (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

This year's Google-branded Android phones will not use the "Nexus" name, Android Central understands, indicating a hard break from the past six years of flagship devices for the company. The widely expected HTC-built handsets — referred to as "Nexus" phones in recent online leaks — will instead come to market under a different brand name, according to several people familiar with Google's plans.

The move would seem to draw a line under the long-running Nexus series, which began with the HTC-made Nexus One back in December 2009 and continued to the Nexus 6P and 5X in 2015. Throughout the life of the Nexus program, Google has partnered with the likes of Samsung, LG, HTC and Huawei to sell both phones and tablets showcasing its latest software. By contrast, these new phones are expected to put the "Google" brand front and center, eschewing the HTC name altogether. We have no specific info on which name will be used instead of Nexus, however.

Nexus 6P and 5X

AC understands that this year's Google phones will feature additional software and a tweaked interface atop "vanilla" Android. This will notably differentiate the new models in terms of software experience from previous years' Nexus phones, which featured a relatively barebones Android experience — and this goes hand-in-hand with the decision to not use the "Nexus" name for the phones. And as we look back at the progression of Nexus phones, this was inevitable — Google has kept adding closed-source apps, services and features to the Nexus line, moving away from the initial idea of what "Nexus" really meant starting as early as the Nexus S 4G.

These revelations are broadly in line with what's been shown in recent leaks from Evan Blass and Android Police, which have published images of a new button layout, color scheme and Settings app that are far removed from what we see on Nougat on the Nexus 6P and 5X today.

The biggest shift in Google Android phones in the past half-decade

While we don't know for certain that "Nexus" is completely dead, the fact that these phones are expected to release in the fall window traditionally occupied by Nexus devices strongly suggests that Google's strategy for its own Android handsets has undergone a significant shift — not just in name but in software and experience. And it would also fit with remarks from Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the Code Conference back in June, indicating that the company would become become "more opinionated about the design of the phones."

As for Google's plans beyond smartphones, we haven't heard anything about any Google-branded Android tablet plans, though one source was able to corroborate AP's report that Google will release two own-branded Android Wear smartwatches later this year.

As we approach fall and the first Android Nougat maintenance release, it's likely we'll witness the biggest change in Google Android phones in the past half-decade. How it plays out could change our perception of Google's entire hardware strategy.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.