Google Unveils the Nexus One, Coming to Verizon in Spring 2010

Google took the stage at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (10 a.m. PST) this afternoon at its headquarters in California for a little announcement.  Okay — a BIG announcement;  Google has unveiled what it calls the “next stage in evolution for the Android” — the much rumored Nexus One (N1) smartphone, fondly nicknamed the “Google Phone” by the blogosphere.

The company calls the new phone a member of a new class of devices called “superphones” — ultra-capable, web-ready phones.  Mario, VP of Product Development at Google took the stage to personally introduce the phone.  He describes, “[We’re often asked] what if we work even more closely with our partners to bring devices to market to showcase the great software technology we’re working on at Google.”

He says the N1 is the answer to that question and the “exemplar” of what can be done with Android.  He also revealed the hardware partner, stating, “The Nexus One was designed in very close partnership with HTC.”

Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, then took the stage to fill in the hardware details.  The phone features a eye-catching 3.7″ 480×800 AMOLED display (bigger than the iPhone’s 3.5″ screen and higher resolution than the iPhone’s 320×480).  The phone is also powered by the 1 GHz Snapdragon QSD 8250 processor from Qualcomm, as rumored.  That makes it on paper faster than the the current generation iPhone 3G S, due to the latter’s underclocking (which is powered by a Samsung S5PC100 ARM Cortex-A8 833 MHz CPU underclocked to 600 MHz).

Whereas the iPhone features a plain nondescript home button, the Nexus One’s bottom interface device doubles both as a trackball and a button and a multi-color LED notification device.  The phone also features a wealth of sensors to enrich the performance, including light and proximity sensors, compass, GPS and accelerometer (it draws the iPhone in this category).

The phone is 11.5 mm thin and a mere 130 grams (narrowly beating the iPhone 3G S in both categories).  It features a 5 MP camera with LED flash, MPEG4 capabilities, and one-touch YouTube uploads.  The phone features stereo Bluetooth, a 3.5mm headphone jack (four contact points for microphone and remote), and active noise cancellation.  A second microphone in the back of the phone provides active noise cancellation during phone calls.  To top off the sweet hardware package, you can get custom engraving on the metal bezel on the backplate.

The 1400 mAh battery is expected to deliver 290 hours on standby, 10 hours talk time or 5 hours while browsing the internet.

The phone’s only serious weak point is app memory — currently you can only store apps on the 512 MB internal ROM, though soon you will be able to copy apps to the SD expansion.  Considering iPhone apps run as large as 10 MB, this is a serious shortcoming.

The phone also features Android 2.1, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system.  The new OS is compatible with Facebook, Google Maps, and all the other apps from past versions of Android.  The phone features five home screens, so you have a fair amount of room for your favorite apps.  The phone features a rather nice news and weather widget that helps you get your info fix on the go.

Arguably the phone’s single most impressive feature, though, is its incredible voice-to-text interface that allows you to literally read email messages and texts to your phone, which the N1 faithfully transcribes.  All text fields on the phone can be given text by voice.

The phone also offers a rich graphical environment, including some pretty sweet looking “interactive wallpapers”.  The one demoed was a fall lake, with leaves falling into it.  Touching the screen would create ripples in the water, as did the falling leaves — pure eye-candy, of course, but nice touches, nonetheless.    The phone also gets a special tilt-driven Cover Flow-esque photo interface that automatically syncs to your Picasa account if you have one.

The phone’s powerful graphical capabilities also power a new mobile version of Google Earth that allows a 3D “flight” mode, that lets you explore the world in full 3D magic.

You can purchase the N1 through Google’s new Google web store, which aims to offer a “simple purchasing process” and “simple offering of plans from operators”.  Currently, the N1 is offered through the site, but more phones, including some from Motorola are coming.  Once you select a phone, you can check out or select one of the available carriers for a discount on the device and new contract.  The N1 is currently only offered on T-Mobile, but will be available on Verizon and Vodafone sometime in the spring (though it’s unclear whether this CDMA-ready version will retain its GSM capability).  The phone will currently work with AT&T, but only on the slower EDGE network — rather disappointing.

The T-Mobile phone can be had for $179 for new customers (or $280 if you’re a returning customer w/out a data package, or $380 for returning customers with a data package), while an unlocked N1 retails for $529.  T-Mobile’s plan runs $79.99 per month and includes unlimited texting/MMS, web data and unlimited minutes.  The purchase web form allows you to specify your custom engraving (2 lines), if you want it.  The store current ships to the U.S., UK, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  The new online store idea seems like a great one — you can get your new smartphone and not have to worry about being accosted by  phone store sales staff.