Google's Nexus One: less contract freedom than meets the eye

The newest Google phone, the Nexus One, will allow consumers to buy the phone unlocked. But watch out for the fine print.

Robert Galbraith/AFP/Pool/Newscom
Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, holds the Google Nexus One phone his company will produce, running the Android platform, during a news conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on Tuesday.

Nexus One – the Google phone of the moment – promises a lot.

It's slim, flashy, and powerful, packed with features from a 5 megapixel camera to a 1 gigahertz processor. It's top-of-the-line: available directly from Google for $529 (the Apple iPhone cost $600 at its initial release). But what really could have set the phone apart – its contractual scheme – isn't much of a game changer, after all.

The Nexus One, unlike the iPhone, comes unlocked, which should mean it can use either of America's two main networks that utilize SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards, T-Mobile and AT&T. But clicking through the Nexus One website shows that the phone isn't compatible with the AT&T or Canada's Rogers 3G networks. So AT&T users would have to shell out $530 for data transmission over the inferior Edge network, a clearly less-than-savory proposition for smart-phone purchasers.

Further, because the Nexus One uses SIM technology, Google had to develop slightly different internal engineering for Verizon (and, hypothetically at least, Sprint's) CDMA networks, leading to a situation where the freedom the Monitor wrote about during the fevered run-up to Tuesday's release might be further in the future than some had hoped.

Of course, the phone is available for $179 from T-Mobile in a standard two-year contractual scheme.

Nexus One pushes smart-phone users toward greater freedom. But only by inches for now.

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