Android and Me

When it comes to design, the LG Nexus misses the mark

2 years ago 150

A truly great smartphone experience comes down to the marriage of software and hardware; how the two come together to form a conjoined experience. It’s about more than just using high-quality components. Design finally matters in a smartphone. And either Google doesn’t care, or they have it all wrong.

Now that we know what the next Nexus is going to look like, or LG’s variant at least, my worst fears have come true. The hardware that makes up Google’s Nexus phones may have found their voice, but the tune is all wrong.

It took Google years to come out with Holo. Looking back on versions of Android earlier than 4.0 makes me feel like everything else must have been just thrown out the door, into the arms of the public, with little to no care for design. I’ve always been a big fan of how Android functions, and the power behind it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say, at one point, I thought it looked so bad I was only using it as a secondary OS.

Holo is well thought out. Google made sure developers could use it everywhere, while still being flexible enough to allow them to create totally unique experiences between apps. Instead of just further refining Android, like what had been done from versions 1.x to 2.3.x, Google hit the reset button with 4.0. So far Google has taken the old software improvement approach to their Nexus hardware. Little changes here and there, while still leaving the core design intact.

The Nexus One was a sleek device. It was nice to hold. With just a little heft to it, you could tell the Nexus One was made from quality materials. It had gently rounded corners and a two-tone body. The real story behind Google’s very first Nexus device was under the hood. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a looker. Even though I liked the Nexus One, I wouldn’t say it fit Android like a glove. Because nothing really did. When your software lacks consistency and style, how can you possibly expect the hardware to match?

The Nexus S suffered from the same problem as the Nexus One. The S looked alright, but it was a little boring. The curved display was impressive at first, but quickly went from innovation to novelty once it was clear it served no real purpose. (I suppose you could call it some sort of weird face cradle, but it just didn’t work with me.) The Nexus S was much more rounded than the Nexus One. Its silhouette was perfectly symmetrical. I thought it felt similar to a Palm Pre in the hand. (I’m not saying that is totally a good thing). The shiny black plastic of the Nexus S felt flimsy at times. The Nexus S creaked when you squeezed it. And, again, it felt like yet another piece of hardware Android was just slapped on.

The Galaxy Nexus looks like an evolution of the Nexus S. Made by the same company, Samsung, the Galaxy Nexus has a curved display, rounded corners, all black front, and even the same little chin on the back just like the Nexus S. Instead of a black body, the Galaxy Nexus is a sort of grayish, brownish tone. The back has a weird sort of diamond texture, like a futuristic golf ball.

The color, texture and shape of the Galaxy Nexus make no sort of appearance in Android 4.0. I was willing to forgive that for two reasons: Once I had settled in with Holo, and third-party developers started releasing Holo themed apps, I was so happy that the Galaxy Nexus’ appearance was easy to push to the back of my mind. The other reason was because Android has just went through a huge transition.

If Google had placed all of their resources in getting Android 4.0 and Holo in shape, and the design of the Galaxy Nexus was a bit of an afterthought, I suppose I can bring myself to understand that. The next Nexus phone needed to look great, though. Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s flagship Windows Phone devices have become extensions of the OS they run. Google needed to do that with their next Nexus phone. Apparently that’s not going to happen.

If the prototypes of the LG Nexus, or Nexus 4, going around feature the final design, I’ll be totally let down. At this point, there’s no reason to believe the device we’ve already seen pictured several different times now is not a final product.

The LG Nexus looks a lot like the Galaxy Nexus. In fact, from the front, it looks practically identical to the Galaxy Nexus, only with more chin and silver bezel. It looks a lot like the myTouch 4G. On the back, it looks like someone lacquered a sequin dress and sculpted it into a battery cover. Like a relic of the 90s, encased in lucite and glued to a smartphone.

Tell me, how is this any sort of physical representation of Android 4.x and Holo? Does Google plan on releasing a bedazzled update to Android? The LG Nexus looks glossy and gaudy. Nothing at all like Holo. If it were made by Samsung, I’d be able to blame the design of the Nexus 4 on the manufacturer. It’s not. Which leads me to believe Google wants it look like this.

Matias, what are you doing?

Matias Duarte is the lead designer for Android. You could very well say Android 4 and Holo are his latest children in what has a become a very good looking family. Before working with Google on Android, Matias played a crucial role in the design team behind webOS and the Palm Pre. Two years after that device hit its end of life, it’s still talked about as a shining beacon of what a modern smartphone can be. Sure, webOS wasn’t without its bugs, and the build quality on the Pre left something to be desired, but, well, you either saw it or you didn’t.

I feel like a broken record, spouting buzz words and jargon, longing for the build quality of something like the iPhone or One X in a Nexus; wishing for a device that fit its software as well as the Lumia series or HTC’s new devices fit Windows Phone; reminiscing on how great it was to see something as gorgeous as the Palm Pre and webOS for the first time. I just can’t help but be reminded time and time again that Google has the resources to craft something truly amazing. Especially with Matias and Motorola on their side.

Instead, we’re left with a pill shaped disco ball.

I know I’m being a little negative, but I’m not alone in expecting more out of Google’s Nexus hardware. While writing this, a discussion went up in our threads section talking about how we need more colors in our Android devices. Give me a unibody polycarbonate phone in Holo Blue. Or Google+ Red. Even Play Store Green sounds nice. Maybe something with a little updated mid-century modern sci-fi feel to it. With some influence from 2001 a Space Odyssey. Now that would be awesome. You could even take a white brick of plastic, slap a screen on it, and I’d probably be more happy with it than the current design of the LG Nexus.

I honestly feel like Android 4 and Holo look good enough for Google to only have to provide small aesthetic changes here and there for the next several years. The design that Google has embraced in Android, in places like Google Now and Google+, and in other services like Gmail and search online, is fantastic. It has exactly the digitally authentic feel to it software should these days. Google needs to get their hardware into the same league. I can’t handle another smartphone that looks like an LG myTouch Galaxy Nexus 3GS.