Android turns 10 this week, marking a full decade of the world’s most popular mobile operating system. Originally envisaged as a BlackBerry-style experience which focused on physical keys, Android would evolve following the launch of the all-screen iPhone in 2007 and has become, over time, Apple’s biggest competitor in the mobile space. During the past 10 years we’ve seen a wide range of weird and wonderful Android phones, thanks to the fact that unlike Apple, Google is happy to licence its software to other hardware makers.
Join us as we run down five our of favourite Android handsets, detailing why they were so significant.
HTC Dream / T-Mobile G1 (2008)
Released on September 23rd 2008, this was the first-ever Android device – and boy, did it show it. The OS hadn’t quite shaken off its love of physical keys and the phone came with a distinctive slide-out keyboard which, at launch, you had to use to input text – this phone didn’t even release with an on-screen keyboard. It also didn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, forcing users to insert an adapter to use their headphones. YouTube support was also missing at launch, and the phone’s 320×480 pixel screen – large for the time – looks a little pathetic by modern standards. However, despite its awkward appearance the G1 was a massive success and paved the way for future Android phones. It sold a million units in its first six months, and served as an effective demonstration of the power of Google’s OS; while many reviewers found fault with the hardware, they were full of praise for the software, which was more customisable and adaptable than any other before it.
Google Nexus One (2010)
While the G1 was designed with Google’s input, it was still very much a HTC device. Its spiritual successor, the Nexus One, was still manufactured by HTC, but this time around Google was a lot more hands-on with the design; the phone featured heavy Google branding and sleek metal bodywork was clearly intended to rival the premium-level iPhone. Distribution was slightly fumbled, with Google attempting to sell the phone to consumers directly via its website, but ultimately the Nexus One achieved its objective – it was seen as a reference point which other Android handset makers could use to make their own devices, and it launched with the latest version of the mobile OS, a tradition that has continued, by and large, up to the present day. The Nexus series would go on to include the Samsung-made Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, as well as the LG-made Nexus 4 and Nexus 5. The Nexus 5X and 6P were the final two phones in the line before Google switched to its ‘Pixel’ brand.
Samsung Galaxy S (2010)
Samsung was an early hardware supporter of Android, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the company struck gold and became one of the leading lights in this sector. The Galaxy S was arguably the first ‘desirable’ Android phone; it was super-thin, looked great and had a striking Super AMOLED display which was leagues ahead of the competition. It also sported one of the most elegant UI skins seen on Android up to that point; TouchWiz may have a bad name in 2018, but the way in which it gave the Galaxy S its own identity back in 2010 was key to the phone’s success. A whopping 25 million Galaxy S phones were sold, making it one of the early superstars of the Android arena, and Samsung’s yearly Galaxy S update is one of the biggest events in the smartphone calendar.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (2011)
While it perhaps wasn’t the success that Sony Ericsson had hoped for, the Xperia Play is effortlessly one of our all-time favourite Android phones purely because it offered something that no other handset could at the time – proper gaming controls. The slide-out gamepad turned the handset into a fully-fledged handheld games console, and Sony Ericsson supported this with a range of PlayStation classics like Wipeout, Ridge Racer and Jumping Flash. Other developers jumped on the bandwagon – Gameloft being perhaps the most notable – and made their games compatible with the phone’s physical interface. To top it all off, the burgeoning retro gaming community that had grown up around Android was producing emulators for practically every vintage system, so you could play Mega Drive, SNES, Game Boy, PlayStation and even N64 games on the device. Sadly, the Xperia Play’s odd looks put off a lot of casual mobile users and there was no attempt to produce a follow-up, which is a shame, because this is still a fantastic little phone, even by today’s standards.
OnePlus One (2014)
The very definition of ‘disruptive’, OnePlus’s goal is to shake things up in the smartphone arena – and its debut phone certainly did that. Boasting flagship specs for a fraction of the price, the OnePlus One was around half the cost of the Galaxy S5, which had a very similar power level. It also shipped with the Cyanogen OS, one of the most beloved Android forks at the time, which gave it an edge over the competition. Unfortunately, OnePlus decided to use an ‘invite-only’ order system which was intended to make the phone feel exclusive but ended up making it so hard to acquire one that most people simply gave up. Thankfully, the company has since abandoned this approach and the OnePlus 6 – the latest in the line – launched this year to rave reviews.
Google Pixel (2016)
The death of the Nexus line made many Android purists sad, but what Google followed up with was arguably far superior; the Pixel series would serve as Google’s flagship range and would ignore the ‘low cost’ approach previously popularised by Nexus phones, like the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5. The Pixel used premium materials and top-end internals to create what is now considered to be the company’s most aggressive move against Apple’s iPhone series. By being involved with every element of production – from hardware to software – Google took the Apple approach and crafted a device which worked beautifully in every regard. The Pixel line matured with the superb Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets and Google is set to announce the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL next month.