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Are Cheap Nexus Devices Over?

_DSC2419Google Nexus smartphones have in recently years been synonymous with flagship specifications at budget prices. The last Nexus smartphone, the Nexus 5, starts at US$349 off-contract. Before that, the Nexus 4 launched at US$299. It’s about the same with Nexus tablets. The Nexus 7 (2013) started at US$229, while the one before it was US$199. This has changed.

The Nexus 6, just announced earlier this week, will sell starting at US$649. It’s more than twice the starting price of the Nexus 5. It doesn’t even have all the bells and whistles one could have hoped for.

Compared with the flagships from Apple and Samsung, namely the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, the Nexus 6 is still cheaper. A little, not much. However, you are getting lesser with the Nexus 6 than with the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 in terms of hardware specifications. The iPhone 6 Plus has a 64-bit processor and fingerprint reader. The Galaxy Note 4 has fingerprint reader and heart rate monitor. The absence of these features on the Nexus 6 may not be a deal breaker, but one wonders if it is worth the price it’s asking for. Pay a little more than you could get yourself a much more capable smartphone.

Google has positioned the Nexus as a flagship reference device to showcase the capabilities and features of Android. They were usually low cost. It makes sense, since the devices were meant to demonstrate and sell Android itself, the profit margins should be kept low.

Let’s recap the launch prices of the Nexus line, starting with smartphones in the following table. These are the introductory prices, without any carrier contract.

Nexus Phones Availability Date Launch price (off-contract)
Nexus One Jan 2010 US$529.99
Nexus S Dec 2010 US$529
Galaxy Nexus Nov 2011 US$299.99
Nexus 4 Nov 2012 US$299 (8GB), US$349 (16GB)
Nexus 5 Oct 2013 US$349 (16GB), US$399 (32GB)
Nexus 6 Oct 2014 US$649 (32GB), US$699 (64GB)

You see how the Nexus 6 is quite spectacularly priced? Back in 2010, the Nexus One high price could be justified because they probably didn’t have huge volume production. Today, it’s quite clear that the Nexus devices are selling very well.

The table below is for Nexus tablets, for comparison, to see how their prices are doing.

Nexus Tablets Availability Date Launch Price (off-contract)
Nexus 7 (2012) July 2012 US$199
Nexus 10 Nov 2012 US$399 (16GB), US$499 (32GB)
Nexus 7 (2013) July 2013 US$229 (16GB), US$269 (32GB), US$349 (32GB+LTE)
Nexus 9 Oct 2013 US$399 (16GB), US$479 (32GB), US$599 (32GB+LTE)

It’s a little more difficult to say whether the Nexus 9 is great value at the price its asking. One thing for sure is that it’s not more expensive than the similarly sized Nexus 10 of 2012, and it’s impressive 64-bit Tegra K1 processor is rated to be of 2012 Mac Pro performance class (sort of).

We may have to wait one more iteration to get a true sense of where Google is headed with the Nexus pricing strategy. I’m afraid if the Nexus 6 charts a new direction, Nexus devices aren’t such a great value anymore.

There are in fact a few great alternatives to the Nexus. Apart from price, one of the reasons people want a Nexus is for the pure Android experience, exactly as how Google planned it to be, without any manufacturer skins or customisations. You can’t quite get another pure Android smartphone, but there are some close ones.

  1. Moto X (2014): Motorola makes both the Nexus 6 and Moto X. They are both remarkably similar in design, apart from the obvious that the Nexus 6 is super-sized. This may be great for people who find the Nexus 6’s 5.96″ display a little too much. The Moto X (2014) hardware specifications falls just short of today’s top-of-the-line expectations, but it’s somewhat more affordable. The Moto X (2014) costs only US$499.
  2. OnePlus One: Relatively unknown, but really a spin-off from Chinese manufacturer OPPO, the greatest problem with the One is that you cannot just buy it. You need to be invited. Pre-orders, without needing invites, is expected to commence this month, but only with limited quantities. Price? US$349 for 64GB storage capacity. The One runs CyanogenMod ROM, which is a lightweight and very customisable version of the Android Open Source Project. I’ll be writing a OnePlus One review soon.

Would you pay US$649 for the Nexus 6? Some will. It’s not more expensive than other flagship smartphones off-contract. Why bother with a Nexus then? Well, if the pure Android experience matters a lot to you. It matters pretty much to me, but I’ll be happy to consider alternatives like CyanogenMod ROM.

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