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Was the Nexus series really that good, or is it just rose-tinted glasses?
Here’s a fun fact for you: Less than 0.22% of our traffic here at Android Authority came from a Nexus device in the last month.
Of course, the point of this factoid is not that Nexus devices are hard to come by in 2020. The last phone in the series, the Nexus 6P, came out in 2015, aka the late Middle Ages of mobile technology.
However, Nexus devices still hold outsized mindshare for our audience and Android enthusiasts in general. You can see this if you peruse comment sections and threads on Reddit and other dedicated online communities, especially when Google’s Pixel line is discussed.
The Nexus name still comes up in a way you don’t see with devices of the same era, even vastly more popular ones like the Galaxy S series.
In most cases, the sentiment is positive, raising the question, was the Nexus series really that good? Or are we just looking at these products through rose-tinted glasses?
A bigger question: Is this attitude towards Nexus phones something that Google and other companies should think about when designing new products?
Nexus meant a lot of things to a lot of different people.
The answer is complicated, mainly because the Nexus line was so complicated.
Spanning 14 devices across three product categories, six years of releases, six different manufacturers (seven if you include Google), and nine major OS versions, Nexus meant a lot of things to a lot of different people.
Google’s intentions for the Nexus series have been debated intensely, but everyone agrees that the product philosophy has morphed over the years. At different points in the program’s life, Nexus meant prototype-like devices that served as trial balloons (Nexus One); road-openers setting the direction for the Android ecosystem (Nexus 6P); earnest attempts to compete commercially (Nexus 7); and sometimes products that Google and its partners put out without a clear reason (Nexus 9).
Prices fluctuated too, with the more affordable products like the Nexus 5 and the Nexus 7 proving perennially popular.
I won’t go into the history of the Nexus series or try to grade each product or the line as a whole. It would be like calculating the average height of a rollercoaster – you could do it technically, but it wouldn’t tell you much about how thrilling the ride is.
For this reason, I think it’s hard to declare that Nexus devices were actually good (or bad). They were just too diverse. They had bright spots, but a fair share of issues too, including disappointing cameras, hardware defects (like dreaded bootloops), and a general failure to keep up with broad industry trends.
So why do Android enthusiasts seem to remember the good sides of Nexus products more often than not?
If you had a Nexus, you signaled to the world – and to yourself – that you’re different.
For one, Nexus users were, on average, true Android believers, and that stays true to this day. People commenting on Android Authority or frequenting r/Android are more likely to be fans that have been on the platform for many years. Nexus products are mentioned more often simply because the people mentioning them happen to be former Nexus users.
My personal explanation of Nexus nostalgia has to do with psychology. People tend to hold on to good memories for longer. Psychologists have been studying this phenomenon, called Fading Affect Bias, for almost a century. We tend to forget bad things sooner, or more accurately to remember the things that made us feel good for longer. It’s a coping mechanism.
It sounds materialistic, but purchases can make you feel good about yourself. Especially phones, which we use daily and are highly personal products. There’s been serious research done on the correlation between personality type and smartphone choices. Put simply, buying a certain phone or a certain brand says things about you. It can weigh in on your sense of self-worth.
Buying a Nexus device meant more than buying a phone. When you got a Nexus, you became part of a community. Everyone had an iPhone or a Samsung. If you had a Nexus, you signaled to the world – and to yourself – that you’re different.
We all like to think of ourselves as special. I think that’s the biggest explanation why we remember Nexus so fondly.
Personally, I have my own rosy memories of a Nexus device. I really loved the Nexus 5 – it was the perfect size, it was practical, it was smooth and fast. Also, it made me feel one of the cool kids. It had plenty of issues, especially with the camera and battery, but I don’t remember them that well to be honest. Fading Affect Bias? Who knows.
Going back to my question earlier, what should companies take from this? In my opinion, that community building is important. Differentiation is important. Addressing the hard core is important.
It’s why OnePlus phones have become the de-facto enthusiast phone. (Though rising prices could change that.) It’s why Xiaomi is investing so much energy into its ecosystem. Why Google can sell 7.2 million Pixel units despite its apparent determination to self-sabotage. And why Apple can basically re-release a phone and still find plenty of buyers.
Read next: Who is the next OnePlus?
What say you: Were Nexus products so good to merit constant throwbacks?