HTC did it. Samsung did it. LG did it, and Motorola too. Yep: they've all made Nexus phones for Google, helping to build the series from a tool for developers to must-have flagships that everybody wants. Now that we've seen the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P too – which we aren't including in this list until we've had the chance to properly test them – we thought it was high time we asked the burning question: which Nexus was the best?
We know what you're thinking. Surely the best Nexus is the newest one? That's true to a point, but some Nexuses have been more important than others. To decide on our list we've analyzed each phone on the basis of the competition at the time, its value for money and how much of a wow factor it had. There are no losers here – we've loved every Nexus to date – but which was the most impressive Nexus of all? Let's find out.
6. Nexus S
The Nexus S was the second Nexus phone, and Google's first partnership with Samsung. It wasn't a bad phone for its time and in many respects it offered some of the best specs around. It introduced the front camera and NFC, and had a 4-inch, 480 x 800 SuperAMOLED screen, a 1,500 mAh battery and a 5 MP main camera.
There were just two little problems. One, Samsung effectively did the electronic version of scribbling "Google" over the Samsung logo on the Galaxy S: the phone was really a minor update of Samsung's own device. And two, it was pricey. At the time, selling a phone for around the cost of a current Moto G meant that it was towards the more expensive end of the market. It sold okay, however: Google hadn't really spotted the commercial potential of the Nexus brand, so the S was still aimed largely at developers. It'd take another Nexus for the series to find wider fame.
5. Nexus 6
In many ways, the Nexus 6 was a back-to-basics Nexus: despite the considerable achievements of the phone's predecessors, Google decided that it was time to forget about the consumer market and go back to focusing on developers. From the beginning it was clear that this Nexus wasn't designed for the general public. It was too big, and while the price was justified by the specifications, it wasn't right for consumers in a crowded and competitive market. As a result, the mainstream appeal that LG had brought to the range was lost.
It isn't a bad phone, but it is flawed. That big screen has a great resolution, but the brightness and whites aren't as good as rival phablets – especially not Samsung's. Stereo speakers, improved battery and a better camera were all welcome, of course, but the improved specs weren't dramatically better than the previous model. While the Nexus 6 was and is a perfectly decent device, it didn't lead the pack like other Nexus phones had.
- Buy Nexus 6 from US$349 on Amazon
4. Nexus One
Everybody knows that Apple sued Samsung for being a little bit copycat-y, but the battle against Android actually began with HTC. The Nexus One, Apple said, violated 20 of its patents. Apple clearly took the Nexus One seriously, as it should have: it was the beginning of something big.
Back in 2010, HTC was the big Kahuna of Android phones. It had made the very first commercial Android phone, the HTC Dream, and Google commissioned it to create the very first Nexus. It would be the first time – and to date, the last time – the Taiwanese manufacturer would make a Nexus smartphone.
The Nexus One was hugely important. It set out the stall for Android, showing the OS in its purest form, although fans of irony will enjoy the fact that it was criticised for not offering lots of extra goodies on top of the OS. These days we criticize firms when they put their own apps on top of stock Android.
The Nexus One's specs may look primitive now, but at the time a 3.7-inch screen was considered pretty impressive for a phone, as were the 5 MP camera and 1,400 mAh battery.
3. Galaxy Nexus
The 2011 Galaxy Nexus was an important phone for several reasons. Samsung had the keys again, and it was in a really strong position: its Galaxy S II had been an enormous hit and even outsold Apple's iPhone. The Galaxy name had begun to appear across the Android spectrum, not just in phones but in tablets, and there was a really exciting new version of Android too. That version was Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, the first version of Android to specifically cater for tablets as well as smartphones. All the planets were aligning, and the Galaxy Nexus was the result.
The Galaxy Nexus was an enormous step forward from the Nexus S. The visual design was a vast improvement over its predecessor. The screen was HD – HD! – and measured a whopping 4.65 inches, and the RAM was doubled to a mighty 1 GB. That, plus Android 4.0, was a winning combination, and the Galaxy Nexus was a superb smartphone.
It was also the last time Samsung made a Nexus. Android was starting to be taken very seriously by smartphone buyers, and those buyers were happy to pay higher prices for higher-end handsets. Samsung saw where the market was going and threw its considerable weight behind its own Galaxy range, with very profitable results.
2. Nexus 5
This is the reason everybody was so excited about the Nexus 5X: the last time Google and LG worked together they produced the Nexus 5, which raised the bar for the range. The Nexus 5 was affordable as well as aspirational, well priced and well specified.
It's become the measuring stick by which other Nexuses are judged, and for good reasons: for just US$349 the Nexus 5 could handle pretty much anything you threw at it. With an 8 MP camera, a superb 4.95-inch screen and a powerful Snapdragon 800 processor inside, not to mention stock Android KitKat, the most acclaimed Android to date, the Nexus was – and still is – a hugely impressive device.
1. Nexus 4
LG took the Nexus reins for the Nexus 4, and the results were extraordinary. The Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S III and iPhone 5 were pushing smartphone prices higher, and then LG made a superb device with a brand new design and sold it for less than €300. Jaws dropped.
It would still have been a great phone had it cost more, but that price made it the most desirable Nexus ever made. We're still using one as a daily driver and it's never let us down, and it feels pretty sprightly even now. Specs such as an 8 MP camera, 4.7-inch screen and 2,100 mAh battery feel pretty contemporary too.
So why is this the best Nexus ever made? We think it managed to hit the perfect balance between, well, everything. It was a workhorse for developers but a desirable phone for normal phone users. It was big but not too big, powerful but not excessively so, and holding it right now the only thing that dates it is the fact that it's a bit thicker than some phones. Powerful, affordable, desirable and reliable, it's Android at its very best – and it's the reason that the first flicker of a new Nexus rumor gets us all excited all over again.
So that's the Nexus story so far, but of course there are two new chapters that Google has just announced. Where do you think the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P should feature in this ranking? We'll update the list with our opinion when we've had the chance to test the devices more thoroughly.
In the meantime, do you agree with our list, or are we making a terrible mistake by putting the Nexus S last? Let us know in the comments.