Google set the cat amongst the pigeons when it announced the Pixel C tablet in 2015. Launched alongside the two new Nexus handsets (Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P), this new tablet came Pixel branded, rather than Nexus branded.
The previous Pixel product we saw was the Chromebook Pixel, Google’s high-resolution Chromebook, which has since been dropped, having reached the end of its life. Roll forward to 2016 and Google has announced the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, as it puts Nexus out to pasture.
Surely these are all just Google products? What exactly is the difference between Nexus and Pixel?
What is Google Pixel?
The Pixel devices are those that are end-to-end designed by Google. In the Pixel C we got an Android platform device, so it’s important not to assume that Pixel is going to be a Chrome OS device, which the original Chromebook Pixel was.
The new Pixel C was described as a tablet that’s been entirely built by Google, rather than one that’s build by a partner. That was also the case with the Chromebook Pixel. So that’s what Pixel is – it’s a device that’s completely Google.
Put this into the context of the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, and Google was clear that this was all about being “Made By Google”. Now, Google didn’t just build a factory and start machining aluminium, this will have been done by someone else, but Pixel devices only carry Google branding, with a big G on the back of these phones.
What is Google Nexus?
The Nexus programme is much more familiar as it gave rise to a number of smartphones and tablets over the past few years, the most recent being the 2015 launch of the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X, which may also mark the end of the Nexus line.
The Nexus devices are built in collaboration with partners. They have partner design and input, where Pixel is purely Google’s doing. We’ve previously seen Nexus devices from Samsung, Asus, HTC, LG and Huawei, and these devices carry the partner name as well as the Nexus branding.
Pick up a Nexus 6P and you have the Huawei name on the rear. So that’s what Nexus is (or was?): a device built for Google where someone else took some of the credit.
Why does Google make Pixel products?
The Chromebook Pixel set a benchmark for Chromebooks, aiming to be the best it could be – and it was fantastic. It was a premium devices, then followed by Chromebooks from other manufacturers that were affordable. In this case, the Chromebook Pixel was about being aspirational and creating a buzz around Chrome OS.
The same applied to the Pixel C. This tablet was designed without compromise, and offers wonderful experiences with that keyboard, even if there were some shortcomings. Pixel C is still a showcase device for Android on a tablet with a focus on the workplace and being productive.
The Pixel smartphones, however, are slightly different. These are designed as premium smartphones, but feel more like Google asserting itself and wanting a slice of the phone hardware pie that it’s never really had.