Google’s Nexus 2016 Phones: Improving The AWESOME Nexus 6P

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To date, 2016 has been one of the best years in recent memory for Android. Samsung and LG have both come to the space with truly awesome flagships in the form of the LG G5 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 EDGE. Imaging. Processing power. Design. Features. Specs. Hardware — everything looks, performs and feels as if it is right out on the bleeding edge once again. I am convinced this is why Apple’s iPhone sale are flatlining. The iPhone 6s range just looks remedial next to modern Android handsets.

Last year’s Nexus phone — the Nexus 6P — was easily one of the best releases of the year and an excellent entry for Huawei in the mobile history books. Everything was on point with that handset, from the way it looked, right down to overall performance and processing power. Hell, it even had a decent camera. And that was unheard of in the Nexus space until 2015.

This year’s range, then, have quite an act to follow; beating the Nexus 6P is not going to be easy. But what the Nexus 2016 phones do have going from them is pretty compelling. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 is awesomely powerful and provides huge improvements to connectivity, imaging and overall performance. This is why cameras like the one of the G5 are possible.

For this reason and a whole load more, I am very excited about this year’s Google Nexus line up.

Android Central reckons HTC would be a good fit too:

“Unlike an HTC-branded phone, getting involved with the Nexus program would allow HTC to piggyback on Google’s marketing machinery, and potentially have a large, influential partner backing them in any carrier negotiations. Sure, the Nexus series’ success within the global carrier system is mixed, especially within the United States. But consider that HTC’s flagship for the 2016 will be available on just two of the big four UK operators, and just one carrier in Canada. Meanwhile the HTC 10 will miss out on valuable AT&T shelf space in the U.S. There’s only one way to read that: carriers are losing confidence in HTC.”

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 are the frontrunners. 

2015 was a bit of a slow year for Android handsets, helped in no way by the ill-fated Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, which caused judders felt throughout the mobile space. Releases weren’t jaw-dropping, design took a back seat and, for the most part, there was very little innovation. Thankfully, 2016 is shaping up to be VERY different.

Qualcomm is once again back on form with its Snapdragon 820 chipset, a true power-house of an SoC which brings together some of the most innovative and best work the chip-maker has ever done. Imaging. Video. Processing power. Power efficiency — everything has come on leaps and bounds. The result is a lot of very compelling handsets like the LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S7 and HTC 10.

The upcoming range of Google Nexus phones will undoubtably use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 too, so you can bet your ass that they too will feature most, if not all of the innovative technology we’ve seen aboard all of the biggest Android phones released so far this year.

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. 

More recently, however, there has been plenty of talk about the new Nexus phones rocking Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 CPU, a slightly modified version of the 820 with faster KRYO cores — 2.3GHz vs. 2.15GHz. This might not sound like a big deal, and, in reality, it kind of isn’t, but from a marketing perspective it will give Google a one-up on nearly all current Android phones in operation.

Furthermore, it is believed the Galaxy Note 7 and the ASUS ZenFone 3 will also use the Snapdragon 821 CPU. Beyond this the actual performance uplift will likely be negligible — a simple bump in clock speed might improve benchmarks, slightly, but its effect in real-world settings will likely be undetectable.

“This is a slight improvement and you will be able to notice these improvements in benchmarking tests. However, when conducting real-world operations, we highly doubt that you will see that much of a difference when pitting both SoCs together. Perhaps this is the reason why manufacturers tend to decrease the clock speed of Snapdragon 820’s CPU; they know that decreasing that speed will have a minute difference in performance and users will also be able to rake more battery life out of their handset, making it a win-win situation at both ends,” reports WCCFT Tech.

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.

Camera

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.

Waterproofing

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.

Google Daydream (VR)

The Nexus 2016 Phones will, of course, support The Big G’s VR technology, DayDream. This will be a big feature of Android N phones from Q4 onwards. Most handsets released at the beginning of the year will miss out support for this new tech, as it needs special sensors, but you can expect everything from now on to be fully kitted out for VR.

“On top of Android N,” said Google at launch, “we’ve built a new platform for high quality mobile VR called Daydream. Together with Android manufacturers, we’re working on upcoming phones, and sharing designs with them for a VR viewer and controller that will be really immersive, comfortable and intuitive to use. Your favorite apps and games will be coming to Daydream too, including Google’s—like YouTube, Street View, Play Movies, Google Photos and the Play Store. More to come this fall.”

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