Flashback: a decade of Google Nexus/Pixel prices and software updates
The Nexus 4 was a groundbreaking phone – a near flagship for $300. Okay, it did have its quirks, e.g. no LTE support (though that wasn’t as important back in 2012), storage was limited too. Instead of focusing on just one phone we wanted to look at the trends in Google’s phone line-up.
We mentioned the price of the Nexus 4 and we’ll see what happened to the “flagship killer” status of the series. This series is all about exploring a well recognized trait of a particular brand or series – and we think that software support is one of the defining features of the Nexus and Pixel phones.
The Nexus phones were affordable at first, especially if you waited a few months. The Nexus 4 dropped as low as $200 at one point. The Nexus 5 got price cuts as well. Then came the Nexus 6 – its $650 price tag made many fans unhappy. It was still an excellent phone and it influenced Google’s approach to handsets.
The following year in 2015 the Nexus line was split into two models that we’ll call “base” and “pro” for consistency. That was also the last of the Nexus line, Google started fresh with the Pixel phones.
Those gradually increased in cost over the years, peaking in 2018 and 2019 with the Pixel 3 and 4 at $800 and Pixel 3 XL and 4 XL at $900. After that Google changed course and lately the price of the small model has been falling, going down to $600 with the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 Pro is still $900, though.
Interestingly, the increased prices didn’t hurt the performance of the Pixel phones on the market. The opposite, in fact, as Google’s 2019 shipments surpassed previous years by quite a margin. Note that the image below shows cumulative shipments of all Pixel phones, but it clearly looked like Google is on the right path. The company allegedly had big plans for the Pixel 6 series too, planing to produce 7 million, more than any other series. However, Google isn’t one to talk about sales, so we don’t actually know how well the 6-series did (we’ll have to wait for analysts to figure that out).
We will get back to pricing in a moment as we haven’t covered the “Pixel a” series whose main goal is to offer a Google phone on the cheap. How much would you pay for that fabled Google software support? Actually, how good is that support?
We tried to convey that through a chart. The red line shows the period in years during which a generation of phones received OS updates (including minor ones). The blue line is for the period during which security patches were issued.
On average, Google offers 3 years of OS updates. The Nexus 6 stands out, but that was actually an old update that arrived late – early on Android 7.1.1 was breaking Android Pay and it took Google a while to find a fix (meanwhile users were downgraded to 7.0).
The Pixel 3 generation also stands out – it got 4 years security patches instead of 3 years as originally planned. In fact, the last update for the two 2018 phones rolled out at the end of June this year (Android 12 arrived last year).
Note that the Pixel 4, 5 and 6 series currently run Android 12. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL will receive their last guaranteed OS update in October of this year. By the looks of it, that will be just long enough to get Android 13 installed.
Starting with the Pixel 6 generation, Google changed up the strategy a bit. It still promises only 3 years of OS update (competitors like Apple and Samsung offer more), but it committed to 5 years of security patches. According to the Help center, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will get their last guaranteed OS update in October 2024 and the last guaranteed security patch in October 2026. “Guaranteed” since, as you saw with the Pixel 3, there are some exceptions.
Before we wrap up, let’s have a quick look at the Pixel a phones. We have grouped the Pixel 3a and 4a as relatively small phones and the Pixel 3a XL, 4a 5G and 5a as larger phones (with 5G in the latest iterations). As you can see, the pricing is fairly stable at around $400 for the first group and $500 for the second.
We haven’t plotted software support on a chart since it would have made for a boring chart – the “a” phones get 3 years of OS updates and 3 years of security patches.
|Phone||3a & 3a XL||4a & 4a 5G||5a|
|Start OS ver.||9||10 & 11||11|
|End OS ver.||12||–||–|
|OS updates||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|Last security patch||2022||2023||2024|
|Patches||3 years||3 years||3 years|
There is a Pixel 7 series coming later this year, but Google hasn’t revealed too much about it yet. Considering previous models, however, we can say that the phones will probably get 3 years of guaranteed OS updates and 5 years of security patches. And we wouldn’t be surprised if Google maintains the starting prices at the current levels either.