Google hopes to change wireless retail game with Nexus One

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 6:10pm

UNDATED - It wasn't much of a secret, really, but the sleek, Android-powered Nexus One is finally here, and yes: you can buy it directly from Google, over the Web. As expected, the unlocked, no-contract Nexus One will cost you a pretty penny, but subsidized versions will also be available from T-Mobile and ... what's this, Verizon Wireless? You betcha.

Announced Tuesday during a press conference at Google's Mountain View headquarters, the Nexus One (designed by phone maker HTC under Google's strict supervision) is available for purchase right now on Google's new Web store rather than through a carrier—a twist that some observers see as a paradigm shift in the wireless market, where the balance of power is usually tipped in the carrier's favor.

Then again, Google is sticking with the practice of charging an arm and a leg for an unlocked, no-contract handset. If you want it unlocked for use with any SIM card and without a contract, the phone will set you back a cool $530. Here in the U.S., you'll be able to use the Nexus One with either an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM card; that said, AT&T users will only be able to tap into the carrier's EDGE data network, while T-Mobile customers can use both EDGE and 3G.

Another option is to opt for a traditional two-year contract with T-Mobile, which brings the price of the Nexus One down to $180. That detail has already been well leaked; one of the surprises Tuesday, however, was the news that Verizon Wireless in the U.S. (which currently has the Android-powered Motorola Droid) and Vodafone in Europe are also on board with the Nexus One, with versions of the handset for those networks due in the spring. Interesting. (I should note, though, that the current unlocked Nexus One will only work on GSM-based networks, not CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint; I'm assuming that the eventual Nexus One for Verizon will be a CDMA phone.)

If you've been following all the rumors over the past few weeks about the Nexus One, few of the hardware details revealed by Google on Tuesday will come as a surprise. Yep, the Nexus One is slim and trim, alright, measuring about 0.45 inches thick and weighing in at a relatively light 4.6 ounces, and as predicted, it'll come with a speedy 1GHz "Snapdragon" processor under the hood, a five-megapixel camera with an LED flash, Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth, a slot for microSD memory expansion, and a standard 3.5mm jack for headsets. Missing in action: a slide-out keypad and "multitouch" for the Web browser (for "pinching" or "zooming" Web pages).

Also on board the Nexus One: the latest version of Android (version 2.1, to be precise), which adds a series of interface enhancements, more home screens (five, up from three), live news and weather widgets, "live" wallpaper (which, as demonstrated during Google's press conference, might feature a forest scene with falling leaves and water that ripples at your touch), and even built-in voice recognition for any text field on the phone (meaning you can simply speak rather than type out a text message).

Now, I haven't personally seen the Nexus One yet, but the bloggers at Engadget have, and their praise is, well ... somewhat guarded. No question, they say, the Nexus One is a sleek, sexy, and speedy handset, but the bloggers conclude that the much-vaunted 2.1 version of Android doesn't look all that different from the Droid's version of Android. Also, while the Nexus One is "fast," says Engadget, it's "not so much of a leap up from the Droid."

So yes ... it sounds like the big news with the Nexus One is the way in which it's being sold, not so much the handset itself (although the hardware certainly does sound impressive). But while I'm pleased that Google is selling the Nexus One unlocked out of the gate, the unsubsidized $530 price tag is awfully steep (otherwise, I would have definitely bought one myself).

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