From HTC Nexus One to LG Nexus 4: a short history of the Google Nexus range

From HTC Nexus One to LG Nexus 4: a short history of the Google Nexus range

Google recently announced the newest additions to its popular Nexus range of hardware, the LG-built Nexus 4 smartphone and the Samsung-manufactured Nexus 10 tablet, to considerable adulation. But these spiffing new products didn’t come out of nowhere – they’re part of an evolutionary chain dating back to 2008. Let’s take a closer look at the history of Google’s Nexus line.

The early days: T-Mobile G1 and Google Nexus One

T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream)

Google’s dream of bossing the world of consumer hardware like it rules the online search roost began back in October 2008 with the T-Mobile G1 smartphone, originally branded as the HTC Dream by its Taiwanese manufacturer. In addition to becoming the world’s first Google affiliated hardware, the G1 also represents the first Android smartphone to break cover, starting life on the unnamed Android 1.0 featuring an Android Market with fewer than 200 titles, and eventually scaling the futuristic heights of version 1.6 Donut before it was discontinued in 2010.

There’s little question that the G1’s specifications seem radically outdated by the demanding standards of today’s smartphone enthusiast, but Google’s initial hardware project was generally in line with the prevailing technology of its time, competing with relics like the original iPhone. Featuring a 3.2in LCD screen with a 480 x 320 pixel resolution at 180 PPI, the G1’s display was in fact multi-touch capable, though Google disabled this feature at the kernel level until Android 2.0. In place of dynamic gesturing, touch operation was via basic capacitive prodding and poking, as well as relying on the full sliding QWERTY keyboard that slotted in horizontally to the device. This meant that the G1 was a chunky specimen – at least by current standards – measuring a whopping 17.1mm thick, though it only weighed 158 grams.

The Google device sported a 3.15-megapixel rear camera boasting auto-focus (but not flash). Basic video recording was enabled on handsets running Android 1.5 Cupcake and above. In the engine room, the G1 sported an ARM-based Qualcomm SoC clocked at 528MHz and featuring Adreno 130 graphics, helping to deliver mobile versions of apps like Google Talk, Google Calender, and Google Maps. Connectivity features included support for 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth, while the G1 came with a 1,150mAh battery and removable storage up to 16GB.

In retrospect, the G1 was noteworthy not so much from a hardware perspective, but as the debut of Google’s still evolving mobile OS. At the time, Android was primarily of interest to early adopters rather than average consumers, with the G1 standing as the first milestone in the search giant’s mission to break into mobile, as well as representing the embryo of it Nexus ambitions.

Nexus One

The Nexus One was Google’s first true flagship smartphone and once again saw it partnering with Taiwanese manufacturer HTC. The inaugural Nexus product was released in April 2010 in the UK, building on the success of the HTC Hero, which won many hearts and accolades a few months earlier.

Shipping with Android 2.1 Eclair and eventually upgradable to version 2.3 Gingerbread, the Nexus One fully demonstrated the quantum smartphone leap made between 2008 and 2010. Indeed, a quick glance at the device’s specifications reveal a handset that could easily feature in the mid-range market circa 2012. Sporting a 3.7in AMOLED display (later changed to LCD) with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels at 254 PPI, the Nexus One was driven by a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC comprising a Scorpion processor clocked at 1GHz, and Adreno 200 graphics.

Storage, too, was hugely evolved, with 512MB on-board, and a microSD card slot able to increase capacity by a further 32GB. The camera shot still images at 5-megapixel, while recording 720 x 480 video at 20fps, highlighting the evolution of the smartphone as a media and entertainment hub. These wholesale hardware modernisations were reflected by the phone’s improved design. The Nexus One measured just 11.5mm thick and weighed only 130 grams – supermodel slim compared to its G1 predecessor.

Unfortunately, Google’s first Nexus branded device wasn’t the commercial breakthrough it had hoped for. Primarily, this can be attributed to the work-in-progress nature of the Android platform – prior to 2010, deployment of Google’s mobile OS was still under five per cent of the market and the system was largely still in the hands of forward-thinking techie types as opposed to the increasingly mobile-hungry masses. Despite impressive hardware leaps, its was the iPhone 4 rather than the Nexus One that took the consumer world by storm, while BlackBerry devices were still near the height of their popularity 

In fact, the reception to the Nexus One was so subdued that Google chairman Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying his firm would not be releasing a follow-up to the Nexus One, while Android platform co-founder Andy Rubin proffered that future Nexus devices may look to specifically target business users, even to the point of reverting back to a QWERTY-style hardware keyboard. As we now know, this impatient speculation turned out to be pure drivel – the Nexus One may not have dazzled like some hoped, but by keeping up with the pace of innovation in the smartphone market, Google had positioned itself to excel in the future.

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