Despite rumors to the contrary, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Nexus program lives on. Like the Nexus devices that preceded them, the two newest members of the Nexus family -- the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 -- run the latest version of Google's Android operating system.
Although previous Nexus devices didn't set sales records, they were fairly well-received -- the Nexus 7, in particular, fueled Asus' emergence as a top tablet vendor. Budget-minded consumers may have been attracted to the high-end hardware offered at an affordable price.
But it's hard to see these latest Nexuses as much of a bargain. Though both the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 are bigger and more powerful than their predecessors, they're also much more expensive.
Nexus has been synonymous with value
The last three Nexus devices -- the Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 -- were defined as much by their low price tags as they were by their hardware. The Nexus 4, for example, retailed for just $299 despite offering what was, at the time, one of the fastest available mobile processors. In fact, in terms of hardware, the Nexus 4 was almost identical to Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) competing Galaxy S3, but it cost half as much.
The Nexus 5 was slightly more expensive, starting at $349, but offered just as much value, with a large, full HD screen and a high-end processor. Samsung's competing Galaxy S4 offered superior battery life and a better camera, but again, was nearly twice as expensive.
The Nexus 7 enjoyed a similar price/performance gap with its peers when it debuted in 2012. At $199, it was $130 less expensive than Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) competing iPad Mini, yet it offered a faster processor and higher resolution display. The second version of the Nexus 7, released in 2013, continued the trend. At $229, it was a bit more expensive, but the gap between it and the iPad Mini with retina display jumped to a full $170 -- making Apple's tablet almost twice as expensive.
Bigger screens, bigger price tags
But the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 do not enjoy such an advantage. Granted, they're still cheaper than the competition, but not by a great degree.
Google's Nexus 6 starts at $649. It's closest competitor, Samsung's Galaxy Note 4, goes for $749. It's still $100 cheaper, but doesn't come close to the $300 and $350 discounts prior Nexus handsets offered. On its own, the Nexus 6 is an attractive phone, and it may steal sales from Samsung's phablet, but it's certainly not the bargain Nexus buyers may have been expecting.
The Nexus 9 is similar. It's $100 cheaper than Apple's competing iPad Air 2, but the price difference is less significant than the one between the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini. At $399, it's an expensive tablet by almost any standard, as the average tablet now retails for around $300.
Has Nexus run its course?
Unfortunately, investors will likely never know how well the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 perform -- Google hasn't released device sales in the past, and there's no indication it will do so going forward. But prior Nexuses have been influential, ensuring that there were quality, budget-friendly Android devices available.
The Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 are still available for purchase but are increasingly dated. Soon, they will be obsolete, and consumers will have to look elsewhere. Admittedly, with the number of low-cost Android devices increasing, bargain Nexus products may no longer be necessary. Still, the relatively high price tags carried by the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 represent a sizable shift in the market for mobile devices.