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Google’s Nexus 2016 Phones: What’s The Crack?

Know Your Mobile logo Know Your Mobile 20-04-2016 Paul Briden
Google’s Nexus 2016 Phones: What’s The Crack?© Google’s Nexus 2016 Phones: What’s The Crack?

Google will be releasing at least one, though probably more, Nexus branded smartphones (and probably tablets too) inside 2016 - this is pretty much an inevitability, as the firm likes to use the Nexus brand as a platform for showcasing new iterations of Android, and we know already that Android N, already launched as a beta, will be given a full public launch later this year. As usual, we expect it will be launched aboard new Nexus handsets manufactured by Google partner OEMs, with the rumour mill already pointing to Huawei making a return, and also HTC getting involved; LG has said it will not be producing Nexus hardware this year - but that still doesn't rule it out, as it's made similar claims in the past only to later emerge as a partner when the new handsets are unveiled - the cheeky so-and-so.

With Google's slightly different approach to Android this year, having already launched the beta to developers a good few months ahead of its usual summer launch slot at the Google I/O developer conference, we've already had a nice little preview of Android N and what new features it will have onboard. We still don't know what the damn thing will be called though! At the moment we think Android Nougat or Android Nutella.

Anyway, what we're doing here is bringing together some of the things already confirmed for Android N, some of the rumours about its other features, some of the current trends in new Android phones, and other rumours for forthcoming devices (as well as rumours about the new Nexus devices themselves) to try to get some idea of what the next batch of Nexus handsets will be like; what kind of new features could they have?

Processing Power

Most recent Nexus devices have used chipsets from Qualcomm. With the last batch of handsets - the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X - Google established a precedent for having a "Premium" category device (Nexus 6P - the P allegedly stands for Premium) and a second handset which is well-built and optimised, but more moderate in specs and price. It's difficult to know how to describe this Nexus 5X category, as you couldn't really call it high-end, but at the same time it's a bit better than mid-range too. In either case, the Nexus range isn't known for forging ahead with crazy next-gen or experimental processing power plants, so we'd expect to see something decent and considered, but fairly conventional inside the new Nexus kit.

Our thoughts? Well for the high-end premium model we reckon it'll follow the recent crop of Android flagships from the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S7, the HTC 10 and the LG G5 with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820; this processor is so fast Samsung even swapped out its own Exynos chip from its Asian-market facing Galaxy S7 variant - this being the firm's home market, and the market where it likes to deploy its best flagship editions. At a pinch we may instead see the slightly tweaked version of the Snapdragon 820; the Snapdragon 823, but as it's a bit too new we're not holding our breath. Next-gen models such as the Snapdragon 830 are projected for 2017, so we're not expecting them to show as it's way too soon.

As for the non-Premium model (assuming there is one)? Well the Nexus 5X packed a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 which was just slightly behind the Nexus 6P's Snapdragon 810 in Qualcomm's portfolio - it comprised a similar set of architecture but with slightly slower clockspeeds. The equivalent this time around would be to either upgrade to Qualcomm's modified and re-released second-edition 810 (the one modified to deal with the overheating issues) or, more likely, the new Snapdragon 818. This latter option would mirror the power difference between the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P but with brand new chips for 2016.


Having previously delivered somewhat mediocre camera hardware on older Nexus devices, Google decided that with the Huawei-made Nexus 6P and LG-made Nexus 5X the Nexus imaging capabilities needed a kick up the butt. There are now more competitive phone cameras on the market, but at the time the new 12MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture, 1.55um pixel size, 1/2.3' sensor size, laser autofocus and dual-tone LED flash was a pretty capable offering. Essentially this was Google showing that it can do decent cameras too, and we expect that to continue on the new batch in 2016.

There is now a trend for not chasing megapixel ratings and keeping things around the 12MP mark, while enlarging apertures, sensor sizes and pixel sizes, as well as adding other bells and whistles. Both Samsung and LG have already done this aboard their new flagships and we think it's quite likely Google will take a similar route; could we see something fancier like the Huawei P9's dual-sensor setup? Possibly, but although Google is more adventurous with cameras than it used to be we don't think it's the firm's style to get too fancy, instead preferring something of decent quality but which is straightforward for most users. 

We're expecting something similar to the Galaxy S7, LG G5 and HTC 10 with a sub-f/2.0 sized aperture on a 12MP sensor and probably some rapid laser autofocus as that's all the rage too.

Pressure-Sensitive Touch Display?

There's been a lot of talk about Android-based pressure-sensitive touch displays ever since Apple unveiled 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s. Huawei already implemented a similar bespoke system on one of its recent Android devices, but it has emerged via the Android N beta that Google has baked-in support for pressure-sensitive touch-display panels. It's not fully functional yet, but it is there. This was then confirmed via Google itself, speaking to The Verge; but according to the big G's own statement it added the support due to direct requests from Android OEMs - so it isn't something the firm had necessarily planned to put in itself. In other words, we're not expecting it to appear on the 2016 batch of Nexus handsets, we may be wrong, but we think if Google was that sold on pressure touch - enough to put it on its own hardware - it wouldn't have needed to be persuaded into coding it into Android N in the first place, the feature would have already been on the list, so to speak.

Having said that, there are a few rumours doing the rounds that say HTC will implement a touch-sensitive display on whatever Nexus models it makes.


While it's still not on every device, or even as many as we'd like, waterproofing does seem to be gradually becoming more common on smartphone devices; the Samsung Galaxy S7 series re-introduced it to Samsung's portfolio, and there's even rumours that Apple may add it to the next iPhone. While we haven't heard any specific rumours about waterproofed Nexus devices we wouldn't be surprised if it did materialise in 2016.

Virtual Reality (VR)

In case you hadn't noticed, VR is kinda the next big thing, particularly in the wake of the flop that has been smartwatches. Pretty much every OEM and their mothers and their dogs is coming to market with a VR headset, and although it's not to do with the Nexus smartphones specifically, there are rumours afoot that Google will do its own Nexus VR or otherwise Nexus-branded VR headset. Google cardboard was nice, and did mean you could use your Nexus as a VR headset, but it's pretty clear even to a casual observer that the market is pretty ripe for serious, full-blown VR hardware and we don't think Google will be content to leave that sector to everyone else!

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