Will Verduzco · Dec 11, 2011 at 07:20 am

Is the Galaxy Nexus Still a “Nexus?”

If you thought that simply because you weren’t buying a Verizon-bloated Galaxy Nexus that you would be privy to a true Google Experience, guess again! As first noted by XDA forum member Luxferro, who discovered that his GSM Samsung Galaxy Nexus‘s build.prop fingerprint didn’t quite match up to the expected, not every Galaxy Nexus is a Galaxy Nexus.

What is “Nexus?”
Let’s take a few steps back and figure out what’s going on. To do so, we must take a look at what a Nexus device is, and what the term has come to mean. According to Andy Rubin himself, a Nexus device is, “the pinnacle of what we can achieve when integrating Android onto a piece of hardware.” In other words, a Nexus device should represent Android done right, i.e. the absolute zenith of technology—in both software and hardware.

The mere existence of the Nexus program is a tacit admission by Google that although Android’s fundamental distribution model has lead to industry-leading platform adoption, carrier and OEM control is hardly ideal. Instead, Nexus gives Google a chance to “take back” their OS and show the world Android in its full glory.

Previous Nexus Devices
The Nexus line began with the HTC-built Nexus One, the phone which ushered in Android 2.1 Éclair. Barring a select few carrier-controlled versions, this device featured pure Google software in the majority of its configurations. The hardware was great, too—a Samsung-sourced AMOLED panel here, 512 MB of RAM and a 1 GHz Snapdragon SoC there. Just a few months later, Froyo came; and naturally, the Nexus One was the first phone to receive the JIT- and Flash-enabling goods.

Next up was the Samsung-built Nexus S, which brought the first taste of Android 2.3 Gingerbread to the masses 11 months and change after the arrival of the Nexus One. While not quite the latest in hardware—as the Samsung Hummingbird and Super-AMOLED panel had been seen in the Galaxy S roughly six months earlier—the software in the most markets was still controlled directly by Google. While not bearing the moniker “Nexus,” the Motorola XOOM, which delivered Android 3.0 Honeycomb for us on a Aluminum-backed platter, was also a Google-controlled device in its home turf.

Galaxy “Nexus”
When the Galaxy Nexus was officially unveiled on October 19th in Hong Kong, the hardware and software evoked a visceral lust many had not experienced before towards a phone. Packing a 720p Super-AMOLED HD display, a powerful dual-core OMAP4 SoC, a full GB of RAM, and—most importantly—Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich; the Galaxy Nexus was a show-stopper.

A Fly in the Ice Cream-Flavored Ointment
Unfortunately, not all is perfect in Android’s latest tasty treat. Reports quickly surfaced about how Verizon’s 4G LTE variant would feature both VZW branding and a short order of mild bloatware. Bloatware on a Nexus device? BLASPHEMY!

At least unlocked GSM owners were safe… Right? Wrong.

As quickly discovered by community members who failed to receive the 4.0.1 update, and subsequently weren’t able to perform a manually install, there are several software configurations of the GSM Galaxy Nexus. The true, Google-controlled version is yakju—the rest being Samsung-controlled variants, thereof. All carry the hardware code name maguro, so it is plausible that they can be flashed to yakju. However, according to Android software engineer Jean-Baptise Queru, it is unclear at this time whether this is actually possible.

yakjusc and yakjuxw are indeed the two Samsung-prepared builds I’m aware of at the moment, but I’m discovering them as they get released. I only have some visibility over the builds that are prepared by Google, i.e. yakju. Everything else comes from Samsung and I don’t know what their schedules and release plans are. I can’t guarantee that flashing the yakju files that I posted would work on a device that originally shipped with yakjuxw, as I don’t have access to such devices. The hardware is supposed to be close, but I don’t know for sure that it’s close enough. JBQ

Where Does This Leave Us?
All builds other than yakju are not controlled by Google themselves, leading to the very real possibilities of update delays and carrier- and/or OEM-installed bloatware. This doesn’t taste like “Nexus” anymore, does it? Since Nexus represents Google’s regain of platform control, anything other than unfettered Google is no longer Nexus.

To answer the question in the title, those lucky enough to own yakju devices can breathe a sigh of relief because they are able to enjoy a true, Google-controlled Galaxy Nexus. However, all other Galaxy Nexus owners better start getting familiar with fastboot and adb in order to get the unadulterated Android experience.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or drop in to the discussion in the original thread.

Oh, and… SamSONg, I AM DISAPPOINT.

[Thanks to my fellow XDA Moderators xHausx and M_T_M for the tip!]
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Will Verduzco

willverduzco is an editor on XDA-Developers, the largest community for Android users. Will Verduzco is the Portal Administrator for the XDA-Developers Portal. He has been addicted to mobile technology since the HTC Wizard. But starting with the Nexus One, his gadget love affair shifted to Google's little green robot. He is also a Johns Hopkins University graduate in neuroscience and is now currently studying to become a physician. View willverduzco's posts and articles here.
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