Opinion: Is Trusting HTC With Another Nexus a Good Idea?

Each and every year, we're treated to a new Nexus device from Google, sometimes more than one, and each year someone different gets to make a Nexus device. So far we've seen HTC, Samsung, LG and Huawei have a go at creating a pure Android device. Some have made more than others, and some have enjoyed more success than others at it. This year, it appears as though Google is pairing up with HTC once again for what could be a pair of Nexus smartphones. The last time HTC made a Nexus device was the Nexus 9, an 8.9-inch Android tablet back in 2014. The time before that it was the very first Nexus, the Nexus One way back in 2010. Neither of these were particularly successful, for their own individual reasons, but with LG and Huawei having proven that they can both make great Nexus devices, could it be a mistake for Google to try their luck with HTC, given the poor-reception and sales that the Nexus 9 enjoyed?

So far, it appears like HTC and Google have been working on two different Nexus devices, codenamed Marlin and Sailfish. These devices could be following the same sort of path as the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P did last year; offering users different sizes as well as different price points. The device codenamed Marlin, which is set to be the larger of the duo, is pegged to be powered by a quad-core Snapdragon CPU (which could be either the Snapdragon 820 or Snapdragon 821), come with 4GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch Quad HD display and a 3,450 mAh battery. Similarly, the small Sailfish device is to be powered by a quad-core Snapdragon CPU and 4GB of RAM while offering a smaller 5.0-inch Full HD display and a smaller 2,770 mAh battery. Both devices will share some common DNA, such as AMOLED displays, a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. Just like last year's duo, this HTC pair will also sport rear-facing fingerprint sensors as well as Type-C USB ports.

These are specs that well, frankly sound a little 2015. Despite from pretty solid info from the likes of Android Police and elsewhere, nobody is quite sure which processors these are going to be packing, but a Snapdragon 820 is probably the safest best. Not only does Google have a good relationship with Qualcomm, but so does HTC, and it would be unlikely to see the improved Snapdragon 821 to launch in a device designed to be affordable for those buying an unlocked device outright. With 4GB of RAM, the HTC Nexus devices for this year seem to just tow the line, rather than make any sort of statement, but is that such a bad idea? After all, the OnePlus 3 launched with 6GB of RAM and doesn't really seem to make much use of it, which essentially makes such an inclusion one for posing reasons only.

The Nexus 6P, launching last year, made something of a precedent, launching with better specs, better build quality and finally a good camera for the first time in a Nexus device. This sort of thing is done through progress, and the Nexus 6P was full of progress from Google's end, they carefully selected an excellent camera sensor from Sony and worked closely with Huawei to make a quality all-around product. Now however, these rumored specs seem to speak of little to no progress. There is of course, a very good chance that these specs aren't the final specs and will no doubt feature better specs when they launch towards the end of last year, but it is unlikely that we're going to see anything revolutionary with this year's Nexus devices, after all that's what we were treated to last year.

Manufacturers that have taken up the Nexus challenge have fared differently over the years. When LG burst onto the scene with the Nexus 4, people weren't exactly happy that this relatively-unknown (at least at the time) Korean brand would be behind the sacred Nexus line. However, LG soon reaped the benefits of this, and they've now become a force to be reckoned with in the Android world, and their brand has certainly been helped in the US by the launch of the Nexus 4, and then the Nexus 5 and 5X devices after it. HTC on the other hand, did not enjoy all that much success with the launch of the Nexus 9, but this could have more to do with the fact that a Nexus tablet from anyone in this day and age was going to do well, not even the excellent Pixel C, entirely branded by Google, appears to be doing that well for example.

Can HTC make a better go of it this time around? Well, probably. After all, the HTC 10 is nothing exciting, but it's a solid device that has some of the best build and some of the more appealing software to launch on an Android phone in a long time. The question of whether or not the Marlin and the Sailfish will end up as "failures" depends a lot more on Google than many will think. The Nexus 6 from Motorola is perhaps as good as any of an example of Google at their worst when it comes to Nexus design; lazy and unimaginative. With the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P however, Google clearly worked a lot more closely with LG and Huawei to make sure that these would be devices everyone would want. Creating common DNA with the 12-megapixel rear-facing camera (which continues to perform wonderfully even today) as well as the rear-facing fingerprint sensor, Google helped steer the devices in the right direction.

If Google take as much interest in HTC's latest Nexus devices as they did with the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, then there should be few things to worry about. This does however, make us wonder whether or not Google will try their best to make sure these are great devices. After all, this company - while spearheading Android entirely - decided to put 2GB of RAM in the Nexus 5X. It might be less of a can HTC be trusted with the Nexus once again and more of a what can they do with the tools provided from Google?

If that's the real question at play here, then most users as well as industry onlookers will probably say "a lot". After all, there have been few devices from HTC that have been outright "bad". The original Nexus One, while expensive for what it was, was a good-looking piece of hardware and gave users a chance to experience Google's vision for Android in all its glory. This isn't exactly the best example of course, that was six years ago now, but the Nexus 9 is just as good of an example. It was a device that had a good-looking, bright display that was a great size, and it had some pretty-great front-firing speakers that got nice and loud and sounded good. It did however, launch with some build-quality issues that may or may not have been entirely HTC's fault. Tablets are of course, not what HTC is known for, and they've proven already this year with the HTC 10 that they know what they're doing when it comes to great design and build and most users should have little to fear when the HTC Marlin and Sailfish devices do launch later this year.

Perhaps we just need to except the reality that is the yearly-upgrade cycle. While devices come along once a year, they often don't see a big improvement until once every two years, and this year follows on from a bad year for Qualcomm with the Snapdragon 810. The Snapdragon 820 is a massive improvement, and something that the San Diego firm is no doubt very proud of, and they will be in no rush to completely replace it any time soon. This is where the Snapdragon 821 comes in, an incremental update that will probably be used well into next year as well. Where Google is concerned, the 12-megapixel sensor, or at least format, will no doubt continue to prove itself and they can probably squeeze some more out of it with better software, but why throw it out early on if you have nothing better to replace it with?

HTC can and always has made great hardware, and while the Nexus 9 doesn't exactly fill people with great confidence, HTC knows what they're doing. The Nexus line of devices has become one that doesn't exactly break the rules too often, and instead delivers a quality stock Android experience. Regardless of who makes it, that's what we will always get.

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About the Author
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Tom Dawson

Former Editor-in-Chief
For years now I've had a heavy interest in technology, growing up with 8-bit computers and gaming consoles has fed into an addiction to everything that beeps. Android saved me from the boredom of iOS years ago and I love watching the platform grow. As an avid reader and writer nothing pleases me more than to write about the exciting world of Android, Google and mobile technology as a whole.
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