Google’s Nexus One.

It seems like only yesterday that the world was abuzz with rumours that Google would release a phone with all the non-Apple fans chomping at the bit for something to topple the iPhone giant. The world’s dreams were usurped by Android, which whilst it wasn’t the gPhone everyone was hoping for did signal in a new era of choice for people who wanting something more than Symbian or Windows Mobile but refused to cave into Apple. The past few days have seen the technology world all a fluster with the announcement that finally Google has teamed up with HTC (as if they’d chose anyone else) to create their very own phone, the Google Nexus One. On the surface it looks just like any other recent HTC phone, but I’ve got a feeling that Google wasn’t out to revolutionize the world of smart phones in the way that the iPhone did.

Let’s take a look at the tech specs of it to get a feel for what’s under the hood of this thing:

  • 1 GHz Qualcomm 8250 processor
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 4 GB microSD card
  • 512 MB of internal Flash storage
  • 5MP auto-focus camera with LED flash and digital zoom
  • GPS receiver
  • Light and proximity sensors
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 802.11b/g/n Wifi

Impressive, it definitely beats the pants off my old trusty Xperia X1 in terms of raw specs and is quite a step up from the iPhone. Still it’s technically just a HTC HD2 that has a slightly different casing that’s running Android 2.1 instead of Windows Mobile. Being brutally honest this is nothing that a few minutes on XDA developers couldn’t achieve so I’m not impressed with the re-branding effort that Google has gone through (at least Sony created a unique form factor). This doesn’t detract that it’s one of the most powerful Android phones around however, which does count for something.

Initial reviews of the Nexus One are looking positive, with many of them confirming that it is quite good as a phone on its own but nothing earth shattering. The Google brand carries an exceptional amount of weight but it seems many Android users are still lusting after a hardware keyboard, something that I myself have come to appreciate. The omission of multi-touch is a peculiar one since the panel they use in it is capacitive and thus, should be capable of performing such actions. It appears that this might be a legal issue, since the same phone in other countries has the capability built in. Overall it’s had a good reception, but nothing compared to hyperactivity that the iPhone caused.

Taking all this into consideration you’d have to wonder what Google’s motivations were. If they had released the Nexus One at the same time as they did Android you would’ve had quite a stir on your hands. Instead Google released Android into the wild much earlier which was a smart move considering that there is now dozens of Android handsets and thousands of applications available. On the other hand there seems to be a strange mix of sales channels for the Nexus One, with Google offering to sell you the phone outright (for about AU$580) and the traditional subsidiaries offering a cheaper phone with a contract lock-in. Whilst it’s not unusual to have the ability to buy an unlocked (although direct from the supplier is quite rare) it is strange that they’ve managed to slip through a phone that will work with all American networks, yet only partnered with one. Something else must be afoot.

Initially I couldn’t see a point to having Google sell the handsets themselves. In Australia it’s not hard to get yourself a phone that will work with all networks, even when you’re buying from a carrier’s retail outlet. The exception to this is pre-paid phones which are locked to their carrier’s networks, but even they are usually only an unlock code away from being free from the shackles of its carrier. This isn’t the case in the US, with most carriers forcing handset manufacturer’s to make models specifically for their networks so that a handset built for one network will usually have wildly different features (and sometimes even look different) from their overseas counterparts. It seemed counter-intuitive to me at the time but it is in fact an aggressive marketing tactic to drive brand loyalty and helps to keep their revenue streams steady. It would seem however, that Google has decided to take a shot at this tactic.

Offering to sell the phone directly to the customer with no strings attached shows Google’s commitment to open access to communication networks. They’ve been at the forefront of the net neutrality movement for quite some time and their steps into the smart phone space with Android was an attempt to make it more open, and it’s worked. The Nexus One is an organic progression of this idea as it puts the power of choice back in the hands of the users who are no longer chained to a single carrier because of their choice of handset. It’s an interesting move for Google and I can see that T-Mobile decided to get in on the action rather than be against it, although I can’t say whether or not Google attempted to negotiate with the other carriers.

I’ve been looking for a suitable Android phone for developing on and the Nexus One would suit the bill quite nicely. The lack of a true Australian version is something I can probably look past since I wouldn’t be using the Telstra network (Three uses 2100MHz for their 3G coverage) but its still a kick in the teeth for those of us who were lusting after some Google phone goodness. I can’t be sure if it would wriggle its way into daily usage but I’d be willing to give it a try (one of my friends, Brett, has a HTC Hero and it was quite a nice phone to use). Plus there’s something to be said for having a little bit of Google in your pocket 😉

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