Google Reveals Its New Phone

The Web giant launches an online store to distribute Android-based cell phones.

Google launched its own cell phone, a device called the Nexus One, at a press conference in Mountain View, CA, on Tuesday. Designed and built by the Taiwanese handheld-device company HTC in partnership with Google, the phone is being sold through a new online store that will sell not only Nexus One but also future devices based on Android, Google’s mobile operating system. Consumers can buy the Nexus One on its own, or with a service plan on T-Mobile’s network.

Voice mail: The Nexus One features the latest software for the Android operating system, including voice recognition for every text field and sophisticated 3-D graphics.

Calling the device a “superphone,” Mario Queiroz, a vice president of product management at Google, said the company wanted to create a phone to demonstrate “what’s possible on mobile phones through the Android platform.”

Stressing that the Nexus One is actually the first in a series, Andy Rubin, Google’s vice president of mobile platforms, said that devices sold through Google’s online store will always demonstrate “the best possible Google experience.”

The Nexus One includes a one-gigahertz processor that’s faster than that of most smart phones on the market today (Verizon’s Droid, for example, has a 550-megahertz processor, and the iPhone’s processor is estimated to be around 600 megahertz). Other hardware specifications include a 3.7-inch display, a five-megapixel camera, light and proximity sensors, and dual microphones that allow for noise cancellation.

“With that hardware, we’ve think we’ve got half the story,” said senior product manager Eric Tseng. “With the Nexus One, it’s not just hardware alone.” Tseng noted that the Nexus One’s processor allows the phone to run multiple applications simultaneously without slowing down, and to support a new 3-D framework that comes with the 2.1 version of Android, which was also announced at the event.

Tseng demonstrated several applications that showcase the 3-D graphics of the Nexus One, including a full-featured version of Google Earth. The phone let him navigate through the popular mapping software in three dimensions, flying over areas and zooming in. “We really wanted to push the 3-D capabilities that you get with these high-end chips to their limits,” he said.

Tseng also showed off some sophisticated voice capabilities, building on voice software that Google has offered previously. In Android 2.1, any text field can accept voice input, which will allow users to compose e-mails, text messages, and Twitter and Facebook updates without touching the device. These tasks are handled by Google’s servers. Tseng added that the voice software becomes more accurate with each use.

Kevin Burden, head of ABI Research’s mobile-devices group, says that exciting software that takes full advantage of the one-gigahertz processor will be very important to the success of the Nexus One. “You have to think the reason Google is [launching its own phone] is that it has certain services in its own lab that need this type of processor.” For the Nexus One to take off, Burden says, “it has to be more than just a phone.”

Though the Google Earth application looks nice, Burden doesn’t believe it is substantially different from what’s already available for the iPhone.

Google’s online store now offers the phone for $529 without service, or for $179 with a T-Mobile contract. The company says it plans to add more devices and carriers as soon as possible. In particular, Verizon and Vodafone contracts will be available beginning in spring 2010, as will a version of Nexus One that runs on Verizon’s network.

Though T-Mobile is the only current official service plan for the Nexus One, Queiroz said a user could insert the SIM card from any network that uses the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), including AT&T. The catch, however, is that the phone doesn’t support the frequencies that AT&T uses for its high-speed 3G network, so a user would only be able to use the Nexus One on AT&T’s slower EDGE network.

In addition to executives from Google and HTC, Sanjay Jha, co-CEO of Motorola, which makes the Droid, appeared at the press conference. Jha said that the Droid will upgrade to the software that’s available for the Nexus One.

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