Google Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player Preview

Google Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player Preview

Google's late 2014 device lineup arrives

Google on Wednesday finally unveiled major updates to its device lineup, with a new smart phone, tablet and set-top box shipping next month alongside the next Android version, now called Lollipop. As with previous Nexus devices, the Nexus 6 smart phone and Nexus 9 tablet will provide "pure" Android experiences. And the Nexus Player set-top box is latest of several attempts by Google to gain traction in the living room.

Here's a quick overview of what's happening.

Nexus 6

As expected, the Nexus 6 is Google's first phablet and is quite a bit bigger than its previous smart phone, the Nexus 5. (For whatever it's worth, the Nexus 5 is fine device; check out my Google Nexus 5 Review for more info.) I suspect that Google will continue selling the Nexus 5 since the Nexus 6 is freakishly large, and far too big for many.

It looks a lot like the new Motorola X, which makes some sense as it's based on that product. The big news here—ahem—is of course the screen, a 6-inch unit (same size as the Nokia Lumia 1520) with a stunning Quad HD (2560×1440) resolution. Equally impressive is the 2.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, Ardeno 420 GPU and 3GB of RAM. (2.7 GHz!?)

The rear camera is 13 megapixels, so color me curious, and it features optical image stabilization, HDR+ and all the other camera buzz-words you want. And Google promises a full day of real-world usage with a very large (3220 mAh) battery. Not that it matters: An optional Turbo Charge accessory will charge it fully in just 15 minutes. Yikes.

The Nexus 6 will be offered in 32 GB and 64 GB variants. But unlike previous Nexus phones, it will be offered by all four major U.S. carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—at subsidized prices. But if you buy it from Google it will cost $649 or $699, depending on the version. And that, folks, destroys the number two advantage (after the clean Google experience) of previous Nexus phones, which were very reasonable priced. That's too bad.

Nexus 9

The Google Nexus 9 is sort of a tweener device, a bit big by mini-tablet standards and a bit small by full-sized tablet standards. As such, it sort of replaces both the Nexus 7 mini-tablet and the Nexus 10. (And I believe it will literally do so in the sense that these older devices will be discontinued, unlike the Nexus 5.)

I never did review the Nexus 10 as I had been waiting for an updated version. But the 2013 Nexus 7 was, at the time, the finest mini-tablet available as I wrote about in Google Nexus 7 (2013) Review. But just as 5 inch screens have emerged as the sweet spot for those products, 8-9 inch screens have emerged as the sweet spot for mini-tablets. So it is perhaps not surprising that Google has replaced both the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 with a device that fits neatly between those devices, size-wise.

The big deal here, of course, is the screen. It's an 8.9-inch unit with a super-high-res 2048 × 1536 resolution and a 4:3 aspect ratio. It comes in three colors—black, white and sand—and has "brushed metal sides" in a bit of Apple envy. It has front-mounted stereo speakers, which is a nice touch, and a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor running at 2.3 GHz. There are two versions, one with 16 GB of storage ($399) and one with 32 GB ($499).

Microsoft fans will in particular not appreciate the $129, magnetically-attachable keyboard accessory that works much like a Type Cover does for Surface and even offers two screen angle positions.

The Nexus 9 will be available online and in retail stores on November 3, but you can preorder it online starting on Friday, October 17. If previous Nexus preorders are any indication, that should be a frustrating experience.

Nexus Player

The Nexus Player the big surprise, and for a few reasons. Cynically, this device is Google's fourth stab at the living room after Google TV, the Nexus Q and the Chromecast. But that latter device was quite successful where the first two tanked, so you have to think that Chromecast doesn't go away and that there's something different going on here. And there is: Nexus Player is really just Google's version of the Amazon Fire TV, a multi-function device that can, among other more obvious media facilities, also play games on your HDTV using a gaming controller.

According to Google, the Nexus Play is a "streaming media player for movies, music and videos" and "a first-of-its-kind Android gaming device." Just like Fire TV, right? Not exactly: "With Nexus Player you can play Android games on your HDTV with a gamepad, then keep playing on your phone while you're on the road."

Nexus Player is also "Google Cast Ready" so you can cast your favorite entertainment from almost any Chromebook or Android or iOS phone or tablet to your TV. (That sounds like a branding change to me, no?)

Like the Fire TV (again), the Nexus Player provides a voice-activated remote, and like the Fire TV that game controller is a separate purchase. It works with all the expected entertainment apps—Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and so on—and will be available for preorder on Friday. The device hits stores on November 3.

Android 5.0 "Lollipop"

What all of these devices have in common, of course, is that they utilize the latest Android version, called Lollipop. Like Windows Phone and iOS 7+, Android 5 utilizes a flat new user experience, in this case called Material Design, which looks quite promising. But the big innovation here, I think, is the formalization of a design pattern for developers that lets them create apps that scale automatically to different screen sizes, not just by making things bigger but by offering unique layouts. This works across more than just phones and tablets, too: It can address hyper-small screens (watches, wearables) and very large screens (Chromebook, web browser) too.

You can learn more about Android 5.0 on the Google web site. But if you have a previous Nexus device, you will also be among the first to get the upgrade. The Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets will get the update on November 3, and the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 smart phones will get it later in November. The new devices will all ship with Android 5.0, of course.

As for me, I'm not sure what I'll be reviewing exactly. I will absolutely be getting a Nexus 9, but I'm not sure about the Nexus 6 or Nexus Player. I'm looking forward to updating my Nexus 5, in particular to Android 5.0, and I'll of course update the Nexus 7—which I no longer use regularly—as well, if only to see what the changes are like.

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