The Galaxy Nexus: Still Around After All These Years

When it was introduced in 2011 it was eagerly anticipated and well received. It was the challenger of the iPhone 4S, albeit, much more affordable. However, while the 4S is frozen in time with its last official iOS update in 2016, the Galaxy Nexus is still around and holding on. The Nexus was never a bestseller. However, for many years now it is on unofficial support and became a folk hero of sorts. It was the first smartphone I used in my research projects. It still remains an incredible valuable tool to get insight into Android apps and the app ecosystem as a whole. If you want to run a new version of Android on a Galaxy Nexus, here is what you can do.

The Galaxy Nexus and its younger sibling — the Google Pixel — both running Android 7.1.2 Nougat. Of course, the picture was taken on a Galaxy Nexus, too.

Assuming you are working with Windows, get the Nexus Root Toolkit to unlock the phone’s bootloader and obtain root access. Once you have root access, install a custom recovery, such as ROM Manager. The custom recovery allows you to flash an unofficial Android ROM onto the device. LineageOS provides such ROMs for the Nexus. However, you will probably need to do some searching before your find what you are looking for. After you have installed the ROM, you will finally need to flash Open GApps on your phone if you want to use the Play Store app or other Google apps. Voilà, there you have it! You may encounter some setup details that may be tricky to resolve. However, there is quite some support in the community for the Nexus. I found that Android 7.1.2 runs stable and surprisingly smooth.

What will the future hold? As Android is aimed at dominating the lower and mid-tier smartphone markets, hardware will probably not be the limiting factor. Its 1GB of RAM can keep the Nexus afloat for a while. Rather, the decisive factor will be at what point the creation of the unofficial Android ROMs and other tools becomes too time-intensive. These customization options are exactly the reason for why the Nexus holds such value as a research tool. I never had any trouble running Xposed or its modules, such as Xprivacy. Also, the phone is carrier-unlocked and has a replaceable battery for quickly resolving freezing states. It is impressive how much mileage the Nexus provides even today. I hope it sticks around some more. However, if not, here is to hope that Google’s Pixel will be a worthy successor.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Wesleyan University

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