Opinion: forget the Pixel 3a, I want the Google Nexus series back instead

All the headlines may be about Google’s just announced Pixel 3a smartphone and the return of Motorola’s iconic Razr phone. But for me there’s one smartphone family I’d prefer to see make a Bruce Springsteen level comeback: the Google Nexus.

Hear me out here, there’s some good logic behind this.

Look at the current state of the phone market. Every phone maker under the sun has reported lower than expected sales of its top-end smartphones.

Apple’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max didn’t sell as well as past iPhones. Samsung had to send out a “it sold better than most” message to investors about its Galaxy S10 family during its last quarterly earnings. There are even rumours LG’s struggling to the point it’s going to move manufacturing of its phones out of Korea to save money.

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Most analyst houses share a common opinion of why this is. First, because people are waiting longer before upgrading their phone. Walk down the high street and this is obvious. On my morning commute to work I still see more iPhone 8s and Galaxy S9s than iPhone XSes and Galaxy S10s.

The second is that people are reticent to spend £1000 on a phone. Apple raised the standard RRP of a flagship with the iPhone X. Since then the price of a flagship phone is now set to around £1000 by default. This was the case with the iPhone XS Max, Galaxy S10 Plus and the Huawei P30 Pro.

Nowadays the fastest growing segments of the market are generally viewed to be the affordable and mid-range, £300-600 segments of the market. Which is why key handsets, like the Xiaomi Mi 9, exist and make perfect sense.

Now I can already see phone fanatics rolling their eyes and saying “duh that’s why Google’s making the Pixel 3a”, which is expected to target that exact price point. But the fact is, Google has already done a far better job nailing this segment of the market many moons ago with its Nexus line of smartphones and tablets.

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There’s one key reason for this: the Nexus line made phone and tablet makers compete with each other.

Nexus phones and tablets had a completely different ISP to Pixel phones because they were built by partner companies, not Google. This meant that every year, company’s had to bid to partner with Google and make that year’s flagship Android phone.

The move made companies pull out all the stops, working as hard as possible to create the ultimate value for money phone that would act as a launch point for the newest version of Google’s Android OS.

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This format led to some of the most innovative handsets of their time. The Galaxy Nexus brought Samsung’s AMOLED screen tech – which had previously only appeared on a select number of phones – to a new market and helped make it the mainstream tech it is today. The Nexus 4 was a huge factor that helped bring Qi Wireless charging to the masses. The Nexus 5 was the first mid-range Android phone to feature OIS.

If you look at every Nexus phone they have one thing in common: each took a technology that traditionally was only seen on flagship, high-priced phones and brought it to the mid-range segment of the market.

The tactic worked a treat and meant that Nexus phones and the glorious Nexus 7 – which is one of the best Android tablets ever made – were constantly excellent value for money and a positive influence on the entire market.

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Which is why I was so upset when Google killed the Nexus brand in favour of the top-end Pixel line. Pixel phones are great, but made by Google flagships always feel a little sterile when compared to past Nexus devices.

In my mind this is largely because the competitive element has been lost. Because Google has complete control of Pixels’ designs the improvements are incremental, not industry changing, as they were on Nexuses – they are also expensive. This makes them feel a lot more like just another flagship smartphone than their predecessors.

For me the fact Google’s releasing another mid-ranger proves the company knows this. It’s just a shame it waited so long to realise its mistake and has let competing phone makers take control of the space.

That’s why I can’t help but feel a twinge for the Nexus days of yore, especially with the Pixel 3a now official.

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