Nexus Hardware and Software Through Time: The Semblance Between Inner and Outer Design

Nexus Hardware and Software Through Time: The Semblance Between Inner and Outer Design

The Nexus lineup has undergone a number of changes over time, both in terms of hardware as well as successive Android firmware releases. How has the series progressed? How have the inner and outer design languages worked in perfect harmony? Join us as we dive into Android’s most iconic device lineup.

Galaxy Nexus

Despite growing at an unprecedented rate, Android was still a long shot away from being a gratifying mobile operating system. Gingerbread was dated and needed improvement in several departments, aesthetics and visuals being one of the most sorely needed ones. Honeycomb was a (limited and forgotten) stepping stone to that improvement, but it was Android IceCream Sandwich that brought about the change that upped Android’s status as the dominant mobile operating system, with the complete overhaul backed by spectacular hardware. Realizing that an overhauled firmware on a device with dated hardware design would be a detrimental move, Google unveiled the Galaxy Nexus in collaboration with Samsung, which was a love-at-first sight device for many.

Sporting a front panel unblemished by hardware buttons, a distinctly-appealing back panel and a curved screen, the GNex as many of the faithful called it paired off well with Android 4.0’s sleek Holo UI, its AMOLED screen complimenting Holo’s dark color scheme and vivified its electric blue.

Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10

With the Galaxy Nexus setting the bar relatively high, many eagerly awaited the revelation of the 2012 Nexus lineup. The first device to hit the shelves was the Nexus 7, Google’s first foray into the tablet form factor, followed by the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 later that year. On the software side of things, Android had found its footing, albeit temporarily, and it was time for the hardware design team and its partners to explore various avenues, a scenario that was definitely taken advantage of, with none of the devices bearing even the slightest semblance to each other.

The Nexus 7 sported a low-key design with its dimpled back panel which, devoid of a camera, bore only the Nexus and ASUS logos. The Nexus 10, Google’s larger tablet offering, borrowed the Nexus 7’s dimpled back but restricted it to a panel near the top of the back, the rest of it being covered in soft touch plastic, coupled with overly rounded corners and a large horizontally placed Nexus logo at the back. The Nexus 4 was undoubtedly the looker of the lot, flaunting a high-end look at an affordable price, with its characteristic features being its sparkly glass back panel, the refined and elegant curved sides its sleek form factor.

Each of the three devices captured the chance to experiment with design while the firmware underwent refinement, and seemingly revealed the optimal route to the team in charge, with the following year’s device showcasing appreciable  consistency.

Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 2013

Undoubtedly two of Google’s best selling devices, the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 2013 marked a turning point in Nexus history, the climax that the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 were leading up to. Android was maturing fast, and it was time for the next big change, but Nexus hardware was still playing the catch-up game. While the previous generation devices were beautiful in their own aspect, the lineup lacked a strong face for the brand and the Nexus 5 and 7 2013 did just that. The vertical Nexus logo, the subtle yet glamorous curves the overall aesthetic language gave off a powerful vibe, and to this day, despite two generations succeeding it, it is the 2013 lineup that remains the most memorable of them all, and along with KitKat, made the Nexus brand a familiar and commonplace occurrence, setting the stage for the revolution that was yet to come.

Nexus 6 and Nexus 9

The launch of the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 were met with mixed feelings of admiration and indignation. Here were two beautiful devices launched as successors to the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 but their pricing was way off target, with the cheapest variants of the Nexus 6 and 9 were priced at $649 and $399, close to double that of their predecessors ($350 and $229). However, this shift represented an important shift in the larger picture, 2014 being the year that Google stepped up its game even in the software department with Android Lollipop sporting a new aesthetic language and robust under-the-hood improvements. The metal trims and elegant curves were met with beautiful animations and the Material metaphor, and despite the initial protests against the pricing, both devices sold well and people came to respect Google’s decision to go premium, making the Nexus lineup finally appear to be a noteworthy player in the higher end of the spectrum.

Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X

Despite large sections of the audience being pleased with the Nexus lineup’s shift to a more premium section of the market, a significant amount of users were unhappy with the decision and longed for the days when Mountain View’s offerings fell within an affordable price range. Their pleas did not go unheeded, and last year, Google chose to go the route that OEMs have gone over the years, launching the premium all-metal, high-end Nexus 6P and the affordable, plastic-bodied Nexus 5X side-by-side. Android had found its footing in its new avatar by this time, with Marshmallow shaping up the be an impressive successor to Lollipop, playing out as an elegant refinement instead of a complete refresh, similar to what Google was doing with the hardware. The Nexus 6P was indeed Google’s most mature release ever, and both hardware and software worked together to reflect this in the user experience. 

Marlin & Sailfish

With LG set to reveal the v20 with Android Nougat in November, we’re immensely close to the launch of the 2016 Nexus lineup, and while no information is concrete at this point, numerous leaks have given us a look at the supposed Nexus Sailfish and Nexus Marlin, with Nougat being available in the form of a Developer Preview from months now. Similar to the stage between the Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P, Android Marshmallow is well positioned and Nougat aims to build upon it, and with the 6P and 5X being raging successes, it makes sense for Google to build upon their designs as well.

Supposedly manufactured by HTC, both devices are rumored to sport the same design, a stylish back panel inspired by the 6P which extends its black visor into a glass panel that covers the upper 1/3rd of the device and houses the fingerprint sensor, with the surprising supposition that Google will opt to place its ‘G’ logo on the device as opposed to the Nexus logo. The devices also employ the 6P’s metallic body, with slight inspiration from HTC’s own devices, such as the HTC A9.

Like the new direction? Have some thoughts on any of Google’s decisions? Which was your favorite Nexus so far? Let us know in the comments below

Feature image: Android Pit


About author

Faiz Malkani
Faiz Malkani

Faiz Malkani is a designer committed to creating memorable digital experiences augmented by delightful interfaces. He's been working in the design field for over three years and is proficient in experience design and interface design. He also codes occasionally, with Android and Frontend Web being his preferred platforms.