Android One is missing its most important device: a genuine pure Android flagship
As we enter the season of new smartphone launches – Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Sony, LG and Nokia are all due to announce new devices in the next few weeks – we have to address that Android One lacks its most important device, a real flagship.
For those who don’t know, Android One is essentially pure Android, but not on Google hardware, i.e., not the Pixel family. There’s some confusion around Android One as many see it as a lesser version of Android for budget phones, but that’s not true. It’s Android 9 Pie – the full Android experience – and the only difference to the Pixel comes in a few small places – launcher, camera app, dialler and some services like Google Call Screen.
While the Pixel offers a premium flagship experience, it’s the only credible device in this space. Pixel 3 is expensive and while Android One offers a range of affordable or mid-range devices, it’s a Pixel competitor that’s sorely missing.
Why do we want this competitor? Because there are a lot of devices offering flagship grade hardware at lower price points – around £500 for example – that fall down on software. The rise of cheaper phones from big Chinese brands – Xiaomi, Oppo, Huawei – all suffer the same problem.
The skins they apply might make sense in a market where Google isn’t dominant or is limited in some way – and where additional services offered by those companies plays an important part in the device experience – but in markets like the UK and the US, that’s not the case. Sure, those brands want to own the experience and differentiate, but are they providing the best user experience? Arguably not.
Can you imagine taking the great hardware of something like the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro and making it an Android One phone? It would be hugely appealing at that price point.
The closest we really get to that experience comes from OnePlus. Oxygen OS has been popular for some time and much of that comes down to not messing around with parts of Android that already work well. It doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to change everything.
So what about Nokia? Nokia has the widest range of Android One handsets and we think they are really compelling. There are some really strong mid-range devices in there that offer a software experience we much prefer to some rivals, but Nokia hasn’t really flourished in the flagship space.
The Nokia 8 was a nice try and the Nokia 8 Sirocco a twist, but both arrived too late to the game and couldn’t compete with the rivals out there. With the Nokia 8.1 we get a more compelling device design, but it slips towards the mid-range.
Presumably, this is to leave a clear path for the fabled Nokia 9 PureView to occupy that top spot. The Nokia 9 has been rumoured to launch at Mobile World Congress and might be the flagship phone we’ve been waiting for. But wait. Rumours suggest that the Nokia 9 will launch with last year’s flagship hardware – Snapdragon 845 – announced alongside rival brands offering Snapdragon 855 devices. Is that really a competitive hardware play?
It just feels that there’s a huge opportunity here that’s being missed. Nokia might correct that with the Nokia 9 – time will tell – but it’s really these emerging brands launching into new markets like Europe that could be driving the conversation here. Xiaomi already offers an Android One phone – the Mi A2 – so couldn’t a pure Android flagship phone wiggle its way to market?
Mobile World Congress will start 25 February, we’ll be bringing you all the news from the show, as well as big launches from the likes of Samsung in the same time frame. Fingers crossed we get our flagship Android One phone.