Google takes wraps off Nexus One

The 'Google phone' is only available unlocked now for $US530

Three years after rumors of a Google phone first surfaced, the search giant has taken the wraps off its own branded and designed mobile phone, the Nexus One.

Initially available on T-Mobile's network or unlocked, Google said the phone will also become available from Verizon as well as Vodafone in Europe.

Customers can buy the phone now on a new Google Web page, Google.com/phone. It's US$530 unlocked. The phone costs $179 with a T-Mobile contract. The Vodafone and Verizon options are expected to be available sometime in the first quarter.

Buyers must use Google Checkout to buy the phone and must have a Google log-in.

HTC made the phone -- photos and details of which were leaked online in advance of Tuesday's announcement. The device has a 3.7-inch OLED display and runs a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor. It's 11.5 mm thick.

The trackball pulses light to alert users of events like new e-mails or text messages. The phone has light and proximity sensors, in addition to a compass and accelerometer. The light sensor will automatically dim the display when a bright light isn't necessary. The proximity sensor also dims the display light when a user moves the phone to the ear to talk.

The 5-megapixal camera includes an LED flash and takes MPEG 4 videos.

The phone also has two microphones, one in front and one in back, enabling noise cancellation. That means when users are in a noisy environment, the background noise is cancelled out.

In the demonstration during a webcast press event, the phone response seemed zippier than that of the Motorola Droid, perhaps due to the fast Snapdragon processor and upgraded software.

The software, Android version 2.1, builds on Android 2.0, currently in the Droid phone. It has more customization capabilities. For example, users can place widgets across five home screens instead of three.

The Nexus One also introduces the concept of live wallpaper. The background images, which sit behind widgets, are animated. In an example, a photo of a small lake with a reflection shows leaves floating in the water. Touching it shows ripples on the water.

Android 2.1 voice enables every text field in the device. That means users can speak Twitter messages, Facebook posts and e-mail messages and the phone will convert them to text to send.

"One question we asked ourselves some time ago was what if we work even more closely with our partners to bring devices to market which are going to help us showcase quickly the great software technology we're working on here at Google," Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google said. "We've done just that."

He called the Nexus One an exemplar of what's possible on mobile phones through Android and said the name, meaning point of convergence, is "where the Web meets the phone."

The most recent rumors of a phone that would be sold directly by Google surfaced in November, after employees began posting messages online about receiving the phones. At the time, Google said that it had indeed handed out phones to some employees but the company said the devices were experimental, meant to let workers test new features.

Google first announced Android in 2007 saying that it wanted to offer the industry a unifying mobile platform. It had complained about having to recreate mobile applications to work on each of the many wireless operating systems. Google said that Android -- which ironically added yet another platform to the mix -- could help solve that problem.

While Android got off to a relatively slow start, with just one phone model on the market for about a year, it has recently shown signs of posing a threat to Apple's iPhone dominance. There are now more than a dozen models of Android phones available.

On Monday, a ChangeWave survey showed that 21 percent of respondents who plan to buy a smartphone in the next three months prefer Android. That compares to 28 percent who want an iPhone -- four percent fewer then when ChangeWave asked in September.

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