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Nexus in 2017: How Google could revamp the brand for a new purpose

It's been almost a year since we first learned that Google's Nexus brand would be going away, replaced at the high end by Pixel, as the company ramped up its new hardware division.

But rumors continue to swirl around Google's future plans for Project Fi and Android One. The former needs something to replace the aging Nexus 5X and 6P, and I'm not convinced a single Motorola phone is going to do the job. Meanwhile, the latter is reportedly due for a U.S. launch later this summer, as we approach Android O's launch season.

Developments around Fi and Android One hint at the potential for Google-branded (or at least Google-adjacent) hardware outside of the Pixel line. So how might that play out? Could Nexus make a triumphant return, albeit in a slightly different form?

Google hasn't completely ruled out a return for the Nexus brand, although the most recent information we have tells us that as of late 2016 there were no plans for any future Nexuses. However, plans can change. (The original Nexus 7 tablet was famously rushed to market in just 6 months, based on an existing ASUS design.) So for the sake of argument, let's take a look at how Google might bring Nexus back in 2017, and how a brand name with significant recognition among enthusiasts might be adapted for a new line of affordable handsets.

Following a report by The Information in January of this year, we broke down how bringing Android One to the U.S. would require a unique approach, with carrier cooperation, and higher price points — perhaps between $250 and $450 — compared to the ultra-affordable One-branded handsets seen in emerging markets.

The unavoidable conclusion was that these phones would wind up being Nexuses in all but name, benefitting from greater carrier support and a Google-funded marketing push, but otherwise not dissimilar to popular phones like the Nexus 5 and its imperfect successor, the 5X. The three pillars: Good, cheap hardware. Clean, vanilla Android software. Fast updates.

And there's never been a better time to make this kind of phone, with the arrival of capable new mid-tier chips from Qualcomm, like the Snapdragon 630 and 660.

Nexus 6P, Huawei Nova

Pixel needn't prevent Google from partnering with manufacturers on other handsets.

On the hardware and branding side, co-branding opportunities could lure in names like Huawei and LG. (Huawei famously bailed on the Pixel project when it discovered there'd be no co-branding deal.) At the same time, Google could give manufacturers a freer hand in how the phones look and feel, as it did with many older Nexus devices, and as it has done with Android One phones in other markets.

Just as the "Chromebook" brand is worn by all manner of laptops, Google could push "Nexus" as its stamp of approval for mid-range hardware with U.S. carrier support and clean, bloat-free software straight from Mountain View. In branding terms, we were halfway there with the Galaxy Nexus in 2011. How about a Huawei Nova Nexus? Or Sony Xperia Nexus?

Sure, Google could use any name for this new line of mid-tier phones. But the Nexus brand still has cachet and is understood to stand for something distinct from Pixel. Pixel is for the super premium high-end — an iPhone competitor with an advantage in terms of Google services (for example, Assistant and free full-res photo backup), as well as some of the very best camera tech and leading internal hardware.

Nexus was always more of a lean and mean, barebones experience, even when it was masquerading as a consumer product line. And as such, it could easily be repurposed for a diverse new series of phones that would live below the very highest of the high end.

Nexus, Pixel

Not every developer wants to pay Pixel prices for the latest Android.

Nexus has also served an important role among developers. Handsets like the Nexus 5 and 5X served as great, low-cost developer phones running the latest version of Android the way Google intended. Pixel is some, but not all of those things. A revamped Nexus line with prices up to around $400 could serve a dual purpose. As well as direct sales to consumers through carriers, this type of phone would appeal to enthusiasts, tinkerers, and professional developers who want a good, cheap base to develop Android apps.

The meaning of "Nexus" has been in constant flux ever since the days of the Nexus One: part direct-to-consumer play, part carrier bet, part reference device, part nerd toy. Most of what I'm presenting here is just (somewhat informed) speculation, but if we are to see an eventual revival of the Nexus brand, this would certainly be an interesting way to go about it.

Google has learned some hard lessons around selling phones over the years. The Google Play editions program went nowhere. Android Silver — a planned line of higher-end stock Android phones from various phone makers — died on the vine due to lack of interest from OEMs and operators.

But the Google of 2017 is far better at navigating the minefield that is the U.S. carrier landscape, as well as dealing with manufacturer partners. And if it wants to, I think it could make a success of a revamped Nexus line in the coming years.

Alex Dobie
Alex Dobie

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

  • I think having a Nexus line being the medium between Pixel and Android One would be a good thing. Get it at a price point that would make a small profit, and get it in all carrier stores.
  • Not sure why they need to have different lines. Why not just different models?
    I may be petty but I don't even like the name Pixel. I like the name Nexus....sound more high tech to me.
  • I agree. Google isn't vry good at naming stuff IMO. I mean look that the name of their parent company.
  • They never should have dumped the Nexus name. They could have named the new devices something else.
  • As a loyal Nexus user, I hope you're right! My N5x is doing fine, but in the next 6-12 mo, I'll be looking for something new. Hope that an N5y is in my future
  • I have to agree with this article, overall. Part of what made the Nexus 5 such a great seller was the sub-$400 price tag -- and a lot of Nexus 5s are still being used. It seems like a great idea to have a mid-range Nexus phone line. I can see a Moto G5 Plus Nexus for $250 or less being extremely popular, taking a good phone and adding Android updates from Google.
  • I'm in the process of fixing my wife's old Nexus 5. I've gutted that thing so many times, replacing batteries, screen, twice the stupid flex cable that always breaks on its own. Love, love, love that little device. My own N6 is getting long in the tooth and that has also been through a teardown a couple times now, but either Google has to put out an amazing device or it has to die before I get off it. My wife's N5x is doing great though, no issues with that phone, I know others had some but her experience has been flawless. Pixels seem really expensive. Maybe if an apple tax is required to use Android in the future I'll convert my wife to Apple and see how that goes. Android One and Nexus options seem like a must to me. I'm not interested in locked phones with tons of bloatware that will never get their software updated.
  • Apple Tax is only justifiable because of ecosystem. Google will never get their ecosystem together in the way Apple.
  • Apple Tax does not exist since like 2012. Apple devices are "expensive" because they do not make low end devices. If you want a Windows notebook that can be compared to the Macbook you will pay more or less the same. Same with phones.
  • That's a bit misleading... The Apple Tax does exist, it's why they make so much bank. Their profit margins are huge while Android manufacturers due to the competition are putting themselves out of business. But the cost of the Apple Tax is no longer a prohibitive thing. In the past one used to be able to get a iPhone, or for less money they could get an Android with better everything. These days top end Androids are not cheaper than iPhones, many come with significant drawbacks while not necessarily performing better at everyday tasks like browsing or taking photos. Pixel phone is a good device, but it's easy to criticize the price and many of the design choices. Should pixels be as expensive as they are? I'm convinced the answer to that is "no", we're now paying the equivalent of the Apple Tax in order to use a Pixel phone. Anyways... back to the topic, the good thing about Android is that there are usually alternatives.
  • I'd still be using it if it had T-mobile wifi calling.
  • I would love to see the Nexus chime back. I had a Nexus 5, which finally died on me about 2 months ago, and my daily driver Nexus 6. I'm going to upgrade to the Pixel 2 when that is released, unless they do intend to bring back the Nexus branding. I still get people asking me what phone I have when using my Nexus, which most people didn't even realize that it's a "Google" phone. If Nexus does make a come back I wouldn't mind seeing Sony or Motorola have at it.
  • I like both of my Nexus 6 & 6P. The Pixel XL screen being .2 smaller then 6P for me make the letters to to small to read, even on extra large fonts. Both Nexus were comfortable to hold and to use. I seams that Google get something that really works great, they change it or discontinue it. I am on Project Fi so I have to have a Google phone. They need to expand it to other phones as well so we have a selection to choose from.
  • Heads up, you only need the Nexus/Pixel device for the initial activation (for voice lines). I am using a Moto Z on Project Fi just fine.
  • I just want a new tablet.... :-(
  • Would love an upgraded nexus 7. 
  • Or an updated Sony Z3 Compact Tablet!
  • Or an updated Shield Tablet!
  • Still rolling strong with my Nexus 6P! As an early tech adopter, I fought the urge to buy the Pixel XL (simply too expensive to buy high end phones every year; especially because I buy two at a time: wife/myself). My plan was to go on a bi-yearly cycle picking up the Pixel 2 this year (hopefully waterproofed). Though now I'm wondering if it's even necessary... My 6P is still running great; it's fast, and still get's the latest updates immediately. I doubt I'll skip 2017, but who knows. Point is; the Nexus line ran (and still runs) great. They have the latest software, and run everything smooth as hell. So what's the point of a $1k phone? Even considering the Pixel XL (2016 version). My buddy picked up the phone; it's nice, but I don't like the smaller size. It doesn't seem like it's really any faster than my 6P either (even if it really is). My Nexus 6 ran great as well (super fast on a super big screen). I just grabbed my old Nexus 6 (which still looks so high end; looks nicer than my 6P) to give to a family member who lost their phone. There are plenty of reasons to continue the Nexus line as a mid-tier product because simply... they aren't mid-tier. They are full sized devices that run the latest tech at fast speeds (no real compromise).
  • I've noticed that the 6P performs like a champ on 7.1.2. it's always been decent but now it seems to be on a new level of smoothness and overall speed. The Nexus 6 on the other hand hasn't impressed me at all as of late for a number of reasons. 1. They decided to abandon it on 7. O, and 2. The forced Full Disk encryption is a performance killer for krait chipsets like the SD 805
  • Well, my Nexus 6 on 7.1.1 runs great, I have no clue regarding the full disk encryption affecting the performance negatively, if it is I haven't noticed it and I don't know any better on what to expect. I'm sure new devices will be faster, I just don't need one until this thing completely falls apart. I don't have the money to afford a new flagship every year, before my Nexus 6 I was on a Gnex for quite a few years, that phone still works and my wife's Gnex is in use in Bulgaria by her parents.
  • I've fortunately had zero issues with my 6P and have owned it since it was first released. Have been running accubattery and it shows i've still got a battery life of 92% even after all this time. I've got no room to complain as it has worked flawlessly for me using project-fi. Upgrading for the sake of upgrading could make things difficult in the future if my 6P continues to function as well as it does.
  • A small-ish Nexus device with a 6xx processor, large battery, and nice plastic build would be GREAT.
  • I think the 6xx processor would be a backward step for the Nexus. Even the Nexus 5 had an 8xx series processor.
  • Right, but the Pixel is the high-end line now. There's no need to have a revamped Nexus line compete with the Pixel. If the Nexus were to come back, I'd like to see it priced super-competitively with a focus on efficiency and battery life.
  • You nailed it. Plus we've reached the point where midrange processors like the 6xx series are almost as fast and capable as the 8xx series. I would love to see the Nexus line come back exactly like that
  • I feel like they could use the best processor, 1080p screen and just back off on the camera a little. It seems like the camera adds a lot of unnecessary cost to most phones. I get that a lot of people want the best camera but I'd give that up for a camera that is as good as the Nexus 5 or Nexus 5x camera f that meant the phone could be $400. If you want the best camera buy a Samsung or Pixel.
  • A big reason that phones with great cameras are so much more expensive is because so much of the camera quality depends on a high-end SOC, though. There are mid-range cameras with the same physical camera setup as the Pixel, but they don't deliver the same results because the 6xx platform just doesn't have the same image processing power as the much more expensive 8xx platform. Maybe some of the cost goes toward paying image processing licensing fees to third-party IP-holders, but as I understand it, Google developed their HDR+ process in-house, so I doubt leaving that out of a lower-tier phone's camera software would reduce costs significantly.
  • I am interested in Project Fi, but it wouldn't be worth it to me to have to buy a pixel to get it. I would love a mid-range value priced phone that was compatible with Fi. I don't care if its Nexus branded. Something like a Moto G5 Plus.
  • The problem with bringing back the Nexus is the problem similar to Apple having a 16gig model and a 64gig phone. If they sold the 32 it would impact sells of the 64. There is a group of people who were forced into buying the Pixel because there was no Nexus. If you bring the Nexus back the sales on the Pixel are going down.
  • How many people outside of similar tech sites like this even know about the Nexus line or even the Pixel line? Maybe the average Joe that walks in to a Verizon store and sees a Pixel on display as they walk to the Samsung or iPhone displays. I'm a fan of the Nexus line and to a lesser degree the Pixel line, but by having a Nexus line that caters to us and the mid-range consumer, I think would be more beneficial for the mass market. The only issue I think would be marketing, Google did an Ok job on promoting the Pixel, but I think that they need to be better if they plan on continuing to push the premium market. If the Nexus line does come back they'll have to do the same in regards to the marketing. The mid-range segment is huge and they need to give a quality experience at an affordable price. They can't skimp on certain features. I always felt they should have had an above average camera and that was one of the compromises that they often had to make in regards to the Next line, a 6 series Snapdragon with a big battery and above average camera, I'd buy one.
  • I don't think Apple sells a 16gb phone now, 32gb is now the base model. You might still be able to get 16gb phones on the high street but not from an Apple store.
  • It has been my hope that Google would have the premium Pixel (which I won't buy due to cost), the mid-tiered Nexus (I currently use a 2+ year old Moto Nexus 6), and the low-end/beater Android One line, whose hardware is "good enough". ALL should use global LTE chipsets, so each and every device can be used anywhere in the world. And, of course, ALL should have vanilla Android, but with a full 3+ years of auto update support. And ALL Project Fi ready. Yes, I use Fi. 2 lines for around $45. It works for me. Thanks!
  • Seems reasonable except the 3 years of support. Once 2 years hits they like to drop support.
  • Which is my point. Google NEEDS to extend that to 3-5 years. Most people are not interested in the latest flagship. Most keep their phone until it dies or breaks. 2+ years is easy on a phone. I'll more than likely upgrade this coming cycle, be it the rumored Moto X4, or Taimen (suppose to be 6" like my Nexus 6) IF the price is right/reasonable.
  • I loved my Nexus 5 so much. The battery went bad and I replaced it and sold it but I missed it. Went to the Idol 3 for a while and then got a Nexus 6P. I love the 6P but it's age is catching up to it. Maybe it just needs a factory reset (which I'm trying to avoid) but I was upset that the Nexus line went away. I don't even know what could be my next phone.
  • A factory reset would do wonders for your phone. I run a crazy amount of apps on my 6p and it still runs very smooth.
  • Yeah, I have been in the same boat but with my nexus 5x. I bought a pixel and didn't care for it, then bought a Oneplus 3t and thought it was too big and cracked the screen then went back to a pixel because I didn't want to buy a 5x again due to bootloop issues. There is just not a decent option right now for around $450 that isn't a very large phone and I need tmobile wifi calling so that is another issue.
  • Count me in!
  • Do not discount Nokia for next Nexus...
  • Google had control of a great cellphone manufacturer Motorola they should have never sold it . At this point they could have been making Nexus & Pixel devices all under motorola The Nexus 6 was one of the best Nexus devices made .
  • +1
  • I think what this article is saying is Google wants to switch it's platform and allow companies to make devices approved by Google with stock Android like the play edition devices but have it's own line and be mid tier like Samsung Galaxy N which would receive updates and be allowed to be used on project Fi. I think Google is starting to regret the ui skins that the likes of Samsung put on Android because they made Google own version look subpar and lest attractive it's the for Google to step it up if they want to compete as the king of mobile. I wouldn't mine having a great mid tier device that could compete and have upgrade support for at least 2 years. My Nexus 6p is getting old and I need a new phone and the pixel xl2 is not the one for me Google needs to step it up my favorite feature is abandoned the dual front facing speakers now if I can only get dual front facing loud speaker on a premium device by Google I'm sold.
  • Keep Pixel as premium line, while nexus something simpler. Something like : - Qualcomm 660
    - 4GB ram
    - 64GB storage
    - 5.2" LCD FHD
    - 2800 mAh
    - Single sim
    - 16MP/5MP No QHD, no waterproofing , no FM radio, no slot sd to make it cheaper ..
  • I like it, but my preference is an AMOLED and 3200 mah
  • Still got my 6P. I miss what the Nexus line represented, high end specs at a lower price. I think if Google bought it back they would have to to give it mid range specs so it would not cannibalize the Pixel Line. A One Plus competitor would not be likely. I am contemplating the Pixel 2 but I am sure it will be over $900. I am waiting for the Essential phone to be released to see if that is good enough to be my Nexus replacement.
  • A nokia Nexus would be my favorite option!
  • Nokia Nexus? Now your talking. 👍
  • Take the exact design of the Nexus 6 and update the hardware to current standards (current 835 chip, 6 inch 16:9 0r 16;10 QHD OLED screen, 6gb ram, 64 or 128 gb storage, bluetooth 5.0, AC wifi, Qi fast charging, USB C with QC 4, headphone jack, dual front facing speakers 4000 amp battery ) and I'll gladly pay $1200 for it.
  • Exactly!
  • Coming from a former Nexus 6 user, this would excite me. Fingerprint scanner and a sleeker design, and I would be sold...
  • 4000 amp hour battery? Heavy, man!
  • I miss the Nexus line. I used to get excited for every new one and now it's just...gone. Meh.
  • Ahh, Alex... from your mouth to Google's ear.
  • I enjoyed the 5x until I got the dreaded boot loop flaw. Project Fi was great getting me a replacement but come on folks it's 2017 let's not release products with hardware design issues.. yeah guess it could be worse like the flaming Note 7...
  • ah google...and their chat app every year. strange they haven't released a new map and youtube site yet
  • This all comes down to software. If Google is truly segragating the OS so that Android O can get updates without carrier or phone maker driver updates, then what brand phone you have will be less an issue for security and basic functions...every phone will have Nexus level's to hoping ZTE updates the Axon 7 to O...
  • Yaaaaas!, I will love to see a new Nexus device, I like Pixels too, but Nexus name is strong!, Pixel is like...meeeeh
  • As long as they do the Pixel series with the best they have got to offer, no occurs issues if the Nexus caters to mid-low range phones.
  • Google launch another Nexus device or not ?
  • Nexus: "What is my new purpose?
    Me: "You pass butter"
  • Originally, the Nexus line was popular for being affordable, bloat free Android, and excellent mid-rangers. The Pixel was one of the most expensive Google phone, and they made it because they wanted it to be the greatest smartphone, not a mid-ranger anymore.
  • Nexus = affordable for low income, college or student developers Pixel = for the gentrified and privileged developer
  • This would be wonderful. Make it happen!
  • Love my Nexus 7… still works great. Would love to see an update for tablets Nexus 7 (2017) After my Nexus 4 died went with Xiaomi great even in the US, great hardware for a great price
  • Pixel is competing with iPhone, I doubt Google is going to work on midrange devices, even Sony is now abandoning middle-range market and focusing only on premium high end, why?
    Because is same thing PC OEMs are doing,the days of starter hardware are over for laptops and phones.
    Don't believe me? Just look how Acer has changed their business model on PC's and I can tell Sony is doing same on phones in 2017.
  • Have had my Nexus 6P on Project Fi since October 2015 with zero problems on carrier or hardware. Best device/plan I've ever had.
  • Same here... I love Project Fi and my 6P
  • I'd buy that for a dollar.