The gPhone, Hardware And All
A little over two years ago, the world — or at least a whole lot of geeks — waited with baited breath for the revelation that Google would be entering the mobile phone market. The eventual announcement proved a curveball, however, as what the search giant unveiled were plans for an operating system, not a handset. Now, that curve has finally straightened.
Tempered though it was by the Open Source success that is Android, disappointment has lingered among some over the gPhone that was not. As of yesterday, however, those grieving their Google handsets can finally dry their tears: Company executives announced Tuesday morning that the gPhone is finally a reality.
Christened the Nexus One and manufactured by HTC — the acknowledged expert in Android phones, with nearly half of those available to its credit — the handset is what most observers would expect. It offers tight integration with Google's suite of web services, including a new Google Earth application and GPS-integrated Google Maps. It also adds voice-control options not found in previous Android offerings. While voice-based searching has long been available in Android, as has a limited set of other voice features, the Nexus One offers universal voice-to-text capability — wherever there is a text field, you can speak your way into it.
The usual lineup is present as well: Bluetooth, 5-megapixel camera with flash, accelerometer, integrated social networking, a virtual keyboard, and WiFi, among others. One unique feature is noise-cancellation, made possible by a pair of microphones on either side that allow the phone to automatically adjust to ambient noise level. It's 1GHz processor — Qualcomm's Snapdragon — is an item of note, as is the inclusion of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, something sorely missing on most offerings on the market. The obligatory full-feature tour is available from the Googlephone site, along with a YouTube channel filled with its own share of demos, tours, and feature overviews.
Google is well known not just for innovation, but also for deviation — from the norm, that is — and the Nexus is no exception. Unlike the vast majority of mobile devices on the market, the gPhone is not carrier exclusive, and can be purchased direct from Google for a bargain-basement $529. At the moment, T-Mobile — which offered the original Android-based G1 — is the only provider offering a US-based service bundle, and will happily subsidize the price down to $179 in exchange for a two-year contract. Additional carriers, including Vodafone in Europe, are in the works. The move, while hardly a first, is an interesting one, as it begins to break the lock-in that guarantees providers a captive audience.
By all indications, the Nexus won't be a one-off shot, either. The company's announcements speak of "connect[ing] Google's online users with selected Android devices" and "a simple purchasing process, simple service plans from operators, simple and worry-free delivery and start-up." Whether or not the Nexus and its progeny will live up to Google's pronouncements — "superphone" is the word-of-the-day it would seem — remains to be seen, but it is certainly poised to join Android in making a noticeable dent in the mobile phone world.
Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.