Of Bootloaders & Previews: Despite Higher Prices, the Nexus Line now Offers Better Value than Ever
The Nexus line always had a particularly special place in the heart of tinkerers and power-users, but as the years went on, the line-up once reserved to the savviest became one of the most user-friendly phones you can get today.
The evolution of the Nexus line-up is certainly interesting, and I somewhat lament that due to geographical constraints I was not able to experience it until its fifth iteration. When I managed to purchase the Nexus 5, I was immediately in awe — to this day, I can not find a first-impression that gives me the sense of fluidity and snappiness that the KitKat-premiering beauty gave me. The Nexus 5 would go on to become a fan-favorite, a device that seemingly never slowed down, update after update, due to its tried-and-tested Snapdragon 800; even with better processors making rounds, the combination of a light-weight, optimized OS and that beastly SoC gave the Nexus 5 legs to run faster and further than some 2014 devices.
The Nexus 5 still sees development today, something that is now expected of all Nexii, present and future. Indeed, in a world where the biggest manufacturers are offering locked-down versions of their flagships, or complicating the unlocking procedure, the Nexus remains the staple of openness and the example of Android’s philosophy. But this phone in particular was, I think, the one that opened the door to many, and that cemented the idea of Nexii as spectacular packages for unbelievable prices. Alas, this second part wouldn’t last past the 5, but the value of the Nexus line-up has, in my opinion, gone up since.
Part of this is because, as previously stated, unlocked devices are becoming more and more scarce, with the feature remaining a marketed selling-point only by OEMs who fight for the power-user audience, like OnePlus and Nextbit. Samsung and LG, on the other hand, keep offering amazing phones but with less potential for all-things-XDA. This frustration has likely made many enthusiasts migrate – or return – to the Nexus line. At the end of the day, those who follow Android know that Nexus phones are where development is at, and that said development will give their phone more endurance through the years.
Software updates are also extremely important to a large number of Android enthusiasts, and the Nexus line allows us to stay up-to-date. Other than the extra features we get from new software, and the significant bug fixes, we can also sleep better at night knowing that we’ll get timely security patches. Software updates on Nexus phones are not infrequent and sometimes bring much-needed improvements; the Nexus 5 saw its camera performance increase through a patch, the Nexus 6 also saw improved camera quality and then gained a significant speed boost after the forced encryption experiment of Lollipop was put to rest, and the Nexus 5X and 6P have also gotten improvements across the board. To top that off, custom ROM and kernel makers are quick to merge the newer changes and optimize them further, making the experience even better for those willing to unlock their bootloaders.
And not only do Nexus owners typically get access to faster and more frequent updates with enhancements or bug fixes, but they also get to preview upcoming software. Trying out Lollipop on the Nexus 5 was wonderful, and later on, the builds became surprisingly stable. With Marshmallow, the story was similar, and now that Android N’s preview arrived surprisingly early, there is no better time to be a Nexus owner. Not only do we know we’ll be first-in-line for the update — we also get to experience it ahead of time, test it, and even contribute to the final release through constructive or technical feedback. Android N is shaping up to be one of the most significant Android releases, the kind of “coming of age” of a line of updates, like KitKat was to Jelly Bean.
But the Nexus has come of age in terms of hardware as well. While the price of the Nexus line went up, I think its value is better too — more bang for your buck, that is. The Nexus 5 out-competed flagships in this regard mostly because of its price and processing package. It didn’t stand up to the camera or build quality of its competitors, but its specific internal hardware and software combo made for a tremendous user experience. The Nexus 6 upped the price – perhaps a bit too much – but also brought fewer sacrifices in hardware. Yet the Nexus 5X and 6P (remember, P for Premium) split the Nexus line into the two things people wanted most out of it: low-price with the X, top-specs with the P.
I’ve owned both of these phones. Admittedly, the Nexus 5X was overpriced at launch, but now its price accurately matches its value, especially with the $150-off Fi deal. The Nexus 6P, on the other hand, has become my favorite phone to date. The build feels great, the screen is gorgeous, the speakers are to die for. And it has, hands-down, the best-implemented Snapdragon 810 to date. Frequent readers would know that I was perhaps the harshest critic of the 810, but an optimized Stock Android (and particularly on the most recent builds) has made this thing shine.
The Nexus as a product has matured and I’ve personally never been happier with it. In fact, I see few reasons to purchase anything else right now. I loved and still really like Samsung hardware, for example, but after testing the S7 Edge and learning about its locked bootloader, the Nexus 6P holds greater value to me. And that’s the brilliant part of the Nexus line in 2016: it has managed to compete with the best of last year, and I can’t see that trend slowing down either. HTC is rumored to be the next Nexus manufacturer — under Google’s supervision, and with HTC’s hardware excellence, I do think we are in for a treat. But even then, the current Nexus phones have achieved something that seemed far-off a few years back, and that’s widespread, mainstream appeal and recognition. This doesn’t necessarily translate to amazing sales, but the line-up is more than just an enthusiast phone now.
This also means that newer users might not know or learn of all of the Nexus’ virtues; we’ve discussed this in-depth before, as we found that indeed, many Nexus owners don’t have the slightest idea of how to root the phone. As much as I would love it if they did – for their own sake, given this knowledge really is power – this also shows that the Nexus line has a lot going for it, rooted or otherwise. And this is where it all comes together: the Nexus line finally offers as many or less compromises than other flagships when it comes to options. And given that more phones come locked down, and that software updates are still an issue almost everywhere else, the Nexus’ value has gone up.
Having a Nexus opens up a lot of doors for the savvy to explore Android, be it the current, the newest, or the upcoming. I can’t say the Nexus has become the ultimate Android phone, or the best — that’s still personal preference. But the trend is clear: it has gotten good enough, especially relative to other flagships, that many enthusiasts (including myself) will keep coming back.