Last week saw Google proudly (yet not surprisingly) unleash its flagship, Nexus-killing Pixel phones. It’s so satisfying to see a pair of Androids that finally feel like worthy iPhone rivals, but they only cover the high-end spectrum. Wandering around blindly in Google’s basement is the series once destined to rule the entry-level smartphone market. Let’s take a moment to figure out what’s happening — or what happened — to Android One.
The Nexus effect
Before going any further, we have to define Android One’s intended purpose. Originally released in 2014 throughout Asia, the program’s smartphones were designed to be a gateway to Google’s mobile operating system. By delivering the latest software updates to bloatware-free phones costing around $100, the search specialist could capitalize on consumers who just wanted a handset that worked well, essentially labeling it as a role model for other entry-level Android devices.
If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because the Nexus series did the same for the premium and midrange market segments. Unlike the new Pixel lineup and its all-out specs and price approach, Google’s previous pride and joy simply maximized the hardware it collaborated on with third-party manufacturers.
Smartphones such as 2013’s LG-produced Nexus 5 showcased how well Android could be optimized in a competitively priced package, while the two Nexus 7 tablets from ASUS did something similar by cutting down the products’ price without compromising performance.
Why, oh why, Android One
To better understand the root of Android One’s disappearance, you have to know what the internet giant offered hardware partners who were part of the program. It was basically a blueprint, laying out Google’s strict hardware and software requirements in creating a smartphone that fits its mold.
As a result, partners would be assisted in selling attractively priced smartphones; Google would spread the joy of its app suite and integrated search engine; and consumers would be able to buy into a pure Android experience at a fraction of the cost of any Nexus. That was the plan, at least.
By having a stranglehold on the requirements, Google gave third-party manufacturers no freedom in designing their own smartphones. This gave local brands a difficult time differentiating their handsets from everyone else’s.
“Google gave third-party manufacturers no freedom in designing their own smartphones.”
The situation got so bad, Google eventually relaxed its rules on features, components, and price late last year, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Sadly, it came far too late, and local smartphone brands already lost interest in the system.
And that was just about hardware. Android One partners were also forced to apply a pure operating system on every handset, resulting in an interface free of any bloatware and unneeded features.
While that sounds great for consumers, local companies — especially the struggling ones — needed to make money out of pre-installed apps from sponsors. Those advertisement-loaded games and obscure messaging apps you’ve seen built into phones are vital in paying off a handset’s manufacturing and marketing costs.
It’s all about branding
With a very small profit margin from $100 phones and Google’s dominant branding inside and out, there was very little incentive in producing for Android One. Now, you might be asking: Google had a similar blueprint for the Nexus series, so how did it manage to last six years? That’s a different case.
Besides receiving full support from Google and being able to sell at a higher price, Nexus partners got a lot more intangible rewards in return. For example: Like LG’s Nexus 5 and ASUS’ Nexus 7, the Huawei-made Nexus 6P became the Chinese company’s ticket to gaining more traction in the US market. It didn’t turn out as well as the two parties had hoped, but it revealed just how important branding was in the succeeding deal that didn’t push through.
“There was very little incentive in producing for Android One.”
The Nexus 6P is a fantastic phone and a great example of how stock Android should be handled, so naturally, Huawei was approached by Google to manufacture the Pixel phones. Problem: There was to be no third-party branding allowed on the new flagship devices, and Google would claim them as its own, one hundred percent.
According to insider reports, this development didn’t bode well for Huawei, who wanted as much global brand awareness as possible, and so the Pixel deal was subsequently handed over to HTC’s Taiwan-based plants instead. Why did HTC bite the bullet? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that the former leader in refined Android design hasn’t been doing well financially in the past few years, and any sort of collaboration that involves huge sums of money is heaven-sent for the struggling company.
Dead on second arrival
With all the team shuffling Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has been experiencing, it really makes us wonder where Android One currently resides. Last we heard, the program folded into Google’s new unified hardware division under former Motorola president Rick Osterloh, and plans were set for India to see more handsets launched in the near future — both of which were reported last May by Android Authority and The Economic Times India, respectively.
These bits of news sound all well and good, but if you consider the amount of hardware Google recently introduced and how weak Android One sales have been, it’s not surprising to see the least profitable division take a step back.
It’s a shame, really. There were signs of life when Japan launched its own Sharp 507SH, a waterproof Android One handset with a three-day battery life, three months ago. Last February, Google tried something different with the internationally available General Mobile GM5 Plus, which is the first and only midrange smartphone to come out of the One series, appropriately costing $300.
And it’s not like the older One handsets have been neglected, either. The latest version of Android has been rolling out to 2015’s second-generation lineup, and with some tinkering, owners of the first generation from 2014 can get Nougat on their devices, too.
Barely a billion
Back when I interviewed Caesar Sengupta, the VP for Product Management at Google and head of the Android One initiative at the time, when the program was slowly spreading throughout Southeast Asia, he emphasized their main goal: to deliver smartphones to the “next five billion.”
It seems like the Mountain View company’s greatest weakness is being overambitious. Remember Google Glass? Shattered to pieces. And how about Project Ara? We all know how that turned out.
This isn’t to say Android One is dead, but you can’t help but feel discouraged when you realize that releases from the likes of ASUS, HTC, and Lenovo never panned out, and likely never will. Imagine owning a high-quality HTC device equipped with the purest operating system in the market at a price below $300.
One can only dream at this point.
OPPO drops the F9, Motorola copy-pastes: Weekend Rewind
Why innovate when you can recreate, right?
Here are this week’s top stories on GadgetMatch.
1. OPPO F9 (water)drops!
We were getting teasers of this phone two weeks ago and now it’s finally here! The OPPO F9 is official and it comes with a notch that the company is essentially calling a “waterdrop.” That aside, it’s looking like a lean, mean, midrange machine with its 6GB RAM and 64GB of storage, an AI-enhanced 16MP main shooter with a secondary 2MP depth sensor for portraits, and a 3500 mAh battery.
Our hands-on and unboxing is up on YouTube so make sure you watch it!
Notches and gradients are all the rage in 2019, so we guess it makes sense that Motorola opted to fuse both the iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro. The result is the Motorola P30 because Moto probably couldn’t be bothered to think of another name. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 636 chip with 6GB memory. It will come in both a 64GB and a 128GB variant. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say. Moto must really want to butter up Apple and Huawei.
Xiaomi’s been cooking something but since this is the Internet and tech leaks are totally a thing, we already know what it is. Coming our way officially next week is the Pocophone F1. A leaked video pretty much already told us a lot of what we want to know: 5.99-inch display, Snapdragon 845, and 6GB of memory.
We’ll have our own video on this soon so definitely stay tuned for it.
Google is being generous in handing out pies. Android Go, a less data-hungry version of the mobile operating system, will also get Android Pie. The Go edition of the newest Android OS only needs half the storage space and can run fluidly, even with just a gigabyte of memory.
Not ready for the responsibility of raising a child? There’s an app for that! The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved Natural Cycles. It’s the very first app to be marketed as a method of contraception. It determines whether a woman is fertile or not then advises which days you should “abstain” or “use protection.”
However, the FDA warns that “no form of contraception works perfectly, so an unplanned pregnancy could still result from correct usage of this device.”
Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.
7 best affordable flagship smartphones of 2018
Best specs, lower prices
Putting the words “affordable” and “flagship” seems like an oxymoron at first, but manufacturers have reached a point wherein this magical combination is actually possible.
Yes, affordable flagships are a thing now, and they’re taking away some of the premium segment’s long-standing thunder. Why wouldn’t you want the best specs and features in a cheaper package?
This year has been kind to us with all the affordable flagships launched thus far. Here are the best ones to date:
Let’s begin with the brand that started it all. Originally called the “flagship killer,” the OnePlus line is synonymous with high-end power without the extravagant pricing. The OnePlus 6 is the latest entry, and it’s an absolute stunner from its gorgeous display to the fluid Android interface.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S
This is the one time Xiaomi likes to go a little more premium, and we support it a hundred percent. The Mi Mix 2S combines a ceramic body with a massive, notch-free display and incredible hardware for the price. Each generation improves on the predecessor — this is no exception.
Fortnite on Android, Meteor Garden: Now Playing
OPPO and Vivo phones contribute to class divide on Meteor Garden
This month has been nothing short of crazy for us at GadgetMatch, what with leaks and teasers of upcoming devices, back-to-back smartphone launches, and Android Pie’s release. Here are some of the things that have kept us sane the last few weeks!
Games to play
Fortnite on Android
Chay: You read that right. The highly successful battle royale game is finally coming to Android. At Samsung Unpacked, Epic Games announced that Galaxy devices will get exclusive early access to the game through the Game Launcher app. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes available in even more devices, and if we’re being honest, we can’t wait to see more memes (and dances!) as more people get to play it.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 on Android
Rodneil: If you’re itching for a Spider-Man game to help tide you over until the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PS4, then this mobile game released back in 2014 should tide you over. It looks good, the controls are simple, and the game also gives you the satisfaction of swinging around New York City as you please.
Movies to see
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Marvin: It’s tough to believe, but Mission: Impossible is on its sixth installment, and the latest may be the most death-defying one yet. Tom Cruise is once again Ethan Hunt, an agent who needs to track down a terrorist group before they blow the world up. His stunts are jaw-dropping to say the least, and the twists are surprising enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. My advice: Watch this in a cinema with great seats — it’s a long ride!
TV shows to binge watch
Kevin: Having been released back in 2016 and now waiting on its third season, Kim’s Convenience is a Canadian TV sitcom that focuses on a Korean family that runs a convenience store in Toronto. The show centers on everyday happenings and mishaps of the family. It presents characters who fit, and at the same time, break certain stereotypes while injecting a hint of moral in different (mostly funny) ways.
Orange is the New Black (Season 6)
Chay: Is there hope for the inmates of Litchfield? Will there ever be justice? These are always the questions you have after watching an entire season of Orange is the New Black. The longer the series goes on, the more invested you become in these women’s stories. This season, the spotlight is even brighter on my all-time favorite OINTB character: Taystee goes on trial to clear her name and fight the injustice she and fellow inmates have been suffering behind bars.
Kevin: If you’re into Rick and Morty’s tandem and outer space adventures, Final Space might be something you’d want to check out. The story follows a smart-mouthed prisoner who works on a space station, meets a cute alien life form, and immediately becomes friends with it, not knowing that it’s a valuable entity to the menacing Lord Commander. I’m just a few episodes in but it’s been entertaining and funny — something I would expect from Conan O’Brien producing the show.
Meteor Garden (2018)
Rodneil: If you loved the Taiwanese version that first aired in the early 2000s, then I suggest you give the 2018 version a chance. It’s great to see how the setting has been updated to modern times with some of the bullying part of the story happening in social media. There are cool tidbits too about how transactions are mostly made through QR codes and how the phones of the less privileged are OPPO while the elite F4 carry Vivo phones. It’s a nice glimpse to the current state of technology in China. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the cast actually looks like they’re still students versus the already adult-looking cast of the original adaptation.
Mob Psycho 100
Rodneil: I held out for quite a bit before watching this anime but when I found out that season two is already arriving at the start of 2019, I knew I had to binge the 12-episode first season. From the same creator as One-Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100 features Shigeo Kageyama — a young, overpowered psychic who’s trying his best to live life without taking advantage of his psychic ability. If you loved the over-the-top action and the ridiculously overpowered lead in One-Punch Man, there’s plenty for you to enjoy in Mob Psycho 100.
Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Part 3)
Marvin: It’s been a grueling couple of months, but Part 3 of Terrace House: Opening New Doors is finally available on Netflix outside Japan, and it’s certainly worth the wait. The cast gets a near overhaul, and with the new members come much more drama and the awkward first dates we’ve grown to love. But the real highlight of Part 3 are the commentators, who are able to turn any sad moment into a laughing fit for both the viewers and themselves. Part 4 can’t come soon enough!
Music and podcasts to listen to
Honey by Scandal
Rodneil: My fascination for Asian girl groups continues. Scandal has had plenty of their songs appear on several animé, and this album gives you plenty of those types of tracks. My favorites are “platformsyndrome,” “OVER,” “Koisuru Universe,” and “Short Short.”
“Long Gone” and “Lover Boy” by Phum Viphurit
Kevin: Thai-born, but New Zealand-raised, indie artist Phum Viphurit’s “Long Gone” is a mellow tune with just the right soul to make you groove and nod your head to the rhythm. “Lover Boy,” on the other hand, has more funk to its bass lines which is then overlayed with Viphurit’s smooth vocals — almost reminiscent of how John Legend made “P.D.A.” a chill, sexy track.
“Sana” by I Belong To The Zoo
Rodneil: “Sana” is a gut-wrenching Filipino track that tells the story of a romance that has gone stale. While that sounds like a run-of-the-mill heartbreak song, singer Argee Guerrero delivers each line with so much conviction that it’s hard not to imagine yourself in the shoes of the aggrieved party.
Psychobabble with Tyler Oakley and Korey Kuhl
Chay: In their first episode back after an eight-month hiatus, #TeamTylerandKorey discusses the top trends of the year, Bernie Mac, and how hotels are homophobic. Korey also reveals he had a vocal box replacement and was on vocal rest during the hiatus. It’s not clear whether that’s the only reason the podcast was MIA for a while, but it’s possible the Fullscreen shut down, which picked up Psychobabble for a video version in early 2017, is also a culprit. That’s bad news for anyone who paid for a subscription on the streaming service, but good news is all episodes are now available on Spotify, as well.
Cities to visit
Rodneil: Madrid is a beautiful city filled with mid-rise buildings that feature stunning European architecture. For some street entertainment, check out Plaza del Sol at night. If you’re looking for a place to eat, the cochinillo (suckling pig) in Las Cuevas De Luis Candelas, located just right outside Plaza Mayor is to die for. There’s also the restaurant Mr. Frank which seems like a nice date place. Definitely order the Provoleta con chorizo and Presa Ibérica con frutos rojos. The restaurant is located near the Congreso de los Diputados which is a great backdrop for your touristy photo.
Now Playing is the GadgetMatch team’s favorite games, movies, TV shows, and more each month. If you’re curious to know what we’re into at the moment, this is what you should check out. So grab your popcorn, get some drinks, and enjoy what’s now playing!
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