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Google unveils Nexus One Android 'superphone'

The Nexus One offers significant enhancements to the graphics of the Android OS, along with deep integration of voice recognition and control, and will be sold via Google's own web store
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Google introduced the Nexus One, an own-branded smartphone running a new version of the Android mobile operating system, in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The Nexus One can be ordered online directly from the company in the US, the first consumer hardware so available. Initial pricing is $529 (£330) without a contract or $179 with a T-Mobile US contract.

The device will be sold in Europe through Vodafone from the spring, although it can be ordered unlocked from the Google website by UK customers immediately. The Nexus One was described at the launch by Google product management chief Mario Queiroz as part of "an emerging category of devices which we call 'superphones'".

The Nexus One, which was initially distributed to some Google employees in December, has a 480 x 800 pixel, 3.7-inch Amoled touchscreen and runs on a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. It has a five-megapixel camera with an LED flash. At 11.5mm thick and weighing 130g, and with no physical keyboard, it is slightly slimmer and lighter than the iPhone 3GS. It comes with 512MB internal storage and a 4GB microSD card, together with a removable 1400mAh battery.

As with existing Android phones, applications can only be installed on internal storage, although Android chief Andy Rubin said that a future software release would allow applications to be installed, encrypted, on the microSD card. Rubin also said that contrary to speculation, HTC — not Google — had designed the Nexus One.

"We're just merchandising it online on our store, similar to any retailer," he said, adding that Google's new online store was "not intended to be a channel that's going to replace other channels".

The handset is the first to run on Android 2.1, a version of the operating system that goes under the code-name 'Flan'. This iteration of the Linux-based operating system offers graphical enhancements over its predecessors, such as animated wallpapers and refined icons.

The new version of Android also offers server-side voice recognition that can be used in every text field on the device. This allows users to compose emails by voice alone. It does not currently support tethering, although Queiroz said that this was not due to strategic reasons and that "tethering is something we're looking at for future releases".

The Nexus One will be the first Android handset to be sold through Google's new web store. According to Queiroz, "you can choose to buy a phone without service, or you can buy a phone with service from one of Google's operator partners".

Queiroz said that in the US, in addition to T-Mobile US, Nexus One would become available on Verizon in the spring.

The Nexus One has light and proximity sensors, to let the device know when to save power by turning off or dimming the screen. Stereo Bluetooth support is included, as is a 3.5mm headphone jack.

According to Google, the handset also offers active noise cancellation through the use of two microphones — a first for Android phones. The metal bezel around the phone also includes a space for personalised engraved messages on the rear of the device. These messages can be set when the phone is purchased through Google's online store.

Google has introduced more graphically refined menus and widgets, along with animated wallpapers that respond to the user's touch.

The company also showed off Google Earth for Android, which lets users manipulate a virtual globe in much the same way as they can on the desktop version of the application, although voice control has now also been added. The app will launch soon in the Android Market.

Also on Tuesday, Google announced 13 new members for its Open Handset Alliance, the industry group behind Android. The new members, taking the total number to 52, include NEC, China Telecom and Freescale Semiconductor.

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