Google Updates Flagship Nexus Models, Introduces 'Marshmallow' Operating System

By Kyle Piscioniere September 29, 2015

Google’s event today in San Francisco revealed major hardware updates to its flagship phone line, and featured the highly anticipated operating system Android Marshmallow.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the event by touting Google’s 1.4 billion active Android devices, up 4 million since last year, and discussing the Android ecosystem’s growth and innovation. He foreshadowed the massive hardware and software updates in store, and then turned the stage over to VP of Android Engineering, Dave Burke, for the official announcement.

Hardware Updates

Keeping with Google’s traditional fall Nexus updates, Burke revealed two long-expected Nexus models. The Nexus 5, which was pulled from the Google Store in March, has been reincarnated as the Nexus 5x and Google has vitalized its flagship Nexus 6 with the highly anticipated Nexus 6P. Both models have been anticipated since Google I/O in May, but today’s announcement revealed the full technical specs of both phones.

Both the 6P and the 5X come equipped with a massively improved 12.3 MP camera, a fingerprint sensor called Nexus Imprint, and a new sensor hub that increases the phone’s peripheral awareness. They feature front-facing speakers for better sound quality, and Google has also shifted to a reversible USB Type-C port, which Burke claimed will charge the Nexus twice as fast as an iPhone 6 Plus.  

Burke began his introduction to new Nexus hardware with a rundown of the improved camera. The 12.3 MP camera boasts 1.55µm pixels, and is optimized for indoor, low-lighting photos. That pixel size, far larger than the iPhone 6S Plus’s, guarantees the sharpest photos of any Nexus model. Google has also incorporated both slow motion video recording (120 fps for the 5X, 240 fps for the 6P) and a smart burst feature, which takes photos at 30 fps and allows users to make their own GIFs.

The sensor hub may be the most technical, but also the most interesting addition to the Nexus’s hardware. It registers user movement and GPS location to predict user needs. The sensor allows the Nexus to adjust ambient light when users lift or lower their phones, for instance, and runners/bikers no longer need to run a battery-consuming app, as the sensor will relay positional information to that app instead.

Nexus Imprint, the fingerprint sensor, is located on the back of the device, where users’ fingers naturally rest. Burke bragged that the sensor can recognize a finger in under 600 milliseconds, learn a new fingerprint in just a few seconds, and memorizes user fingerprints with more accuracy after each successive use. The sensor is designed to make Android Pay and Play Store purchases a much simpler process, as users can now activate the app and confirm a payment with their fingertip. 

As for each phone’s individual specs, the Nexus 6P will feature a 7.3 millimeter, full anodized aluminum body and sport a 5.7 inch screen. This is the first all-metal body Nexus phone. Its screen, which is 74 percent of the device, is smaller than the 6 inch Nexus 6, but just larger than Apple’s recently announced iPhone 6s Plus.  The 6P will be available in Frost White, Aluminum, and Graphite Black. It sells for $499, and Google is accepting preorders through the Google Store today.

The 5X is the 6P’s smaller, less expensive sister, produced in partnership with LG. Its display measures 5.2 inches across the diagonal, and comes equipped with the same camera specs as the 6P.  The 5X comes in Carbon Black, Sport White and Ice Blue, and sells for $379.

Preordered phones will come bundled with a 90-day free subscription to Google Play Music and $50 of Google Play credit. Buyers can also opt to get Nexus Protect, a 2-year warrantee that delivers backup devices to users who break their phones. Nexus Protect costs $69 for the 5X, and $89 for the 6P.

OS and Software

While the hardware updates are certainly impressive, Google’s new software updates stole the spotlight. The innocuously-named Marshmallow operating system was the main feature of today’s announcement. Burke walked the audience through an exploration of Marshmallow’s newly polished features.

Marshmallow’s lock screen will predict charging time, alert users if their phone has entered “fast charge” and bounce heads-up notifications from the top of the screen in an attempt to make them less intrusive.

As another testament to Google’s skill at predicting user action, the home screen features a new A-Z app search that learns users’ app-opening habits. The app search will feature whichever four apps it thinks you’ll open next. It bases its choice on previous patterns, time of day, and user location. That means a user’s app list will change through the day, and list their apps in the exact order they tend to open them.

Google takes that obsessive monitoring a step further with its new Now on Tap feature. Now on Tap, an extension of Google Now, reads the Nexus’s screen, even in third party apps, and offers actions before users can ask for them. So, for instance, if a user received a text from a friend seeking dinner plans at a specific restaurant, Now on Tap will link to the Yelp app to show that restaurant’s reviews.

Now on Tap is intended to allow users to slowly phase out their shuffling between apps, eliminate the need to navigate to Google’s search bar, and ultimately predict all user action.

Google took a quick swipe at Apple (and differentiated itself from the iPhone) by making preloaded apps, which some users have labelled “bloatware,” uninstallable. Marshmallow also challenges iOS’s ubiquitous Siri by allowing third-party apps access to Voice Interaction.

Marshmallow’s final major innovation concerns the software’s update to battery life. Doze, hailed at the announcement as Google’s “biggest breakthrough to date,” will subdue overactive apps when the Nexus is at rest. Burke claims this can improve dormant battery life up to 30 percent over the original Nexus 5 and 6 models. 

Marshmallow will be available for download next week. It will be compatible with the Nexus 5, 6, 7, 9,  and Player. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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