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Google unveils 'Nexus One' smartphone

Search engine company takes on Apple's iPhone with the Nexus One phone, launched on the eve of the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 2:26 PM

Google unveiled its entry into the mobile phone marketplace Tuesday with a smartphone dubbed the "Nexus One."

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The Google announcement comes on the eve of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the Las Vegas trade show that is one of that industry's premiere events.

As always in the consumer electronics world, the latest much-anticipated gadget has technical specs that appear to edge out the previous must-have item. The Google phone comes equipped with a five-megapixel camera and a flash for taking shots in dark environments, for example; Apple's latest iPhone, the "3G S," comes with a three-megapixel camera and no flash.

Other flashy new Nexus One features include a light sensor, designed to detect how bright an environment is; the device adjusts its screen brightness accordingly, in an effort to save battery life. The device also features noise-canceling technology, an effort to make the phone easier to use in noisy areas.

With the new phone, every application will be accessible to voice commands, said Erick Tseng, a product manager at the search engine company. He spoke a sample e-mail message into his Nexus during an onstage demonstration.

"Check out this new voice keyboard," he said, composing a message in Gmail, his company's e-mail service. "I just hope this demo works." It did.

Mario Queiroz, also a product manager at Google, described the Nexus One as "an exemplar of what's possible on mobile phones through Android," his company's software designed for mobile phones. Although other companies have used Google's software to design their phones, Queiroz said that Google wanted to offer its own phone as a showcase for the company's technology. The phone will be on sale at www.google.com/phone.

The phone will initially cost $529, without a cellphone carrier's contract, or $179 with a two-year contract with T-Mobile. The company said it expects other carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, to offer the phone soon.

The question for many is whether the Google device will turn out to be an "iPhone killer." Early looks at the Google device have already drawn mixed reviews.

The AOL-owned tech blog Engadget tried out the gadget and gave it a generally unimpressed write-up on Saturday.

"Is this the be-all-end-all Android phone/iPhone eviscerator? In two words: not really," wrote the site's reviewer, who compared the device with products already on the market that use Google's operating system for mobile devices. "It's really not very different than the Droid in any substantial way."

The search engine company is entering a hot field: In a consumer market where electronics sales have been flat, smartphones have shown steady growth. Research firm Forrester reported on Monday that 17 percent of cellphone subscribers in the United States use a smartphone. That's up from 11 percent at the end of 2008 and 7 percent the previous year.

Despite widespread fanfare for Apple's device and its nearly button-free touchscreen, the BlackBerry still holds a two-to-one sales advantage over the iPhone, the research firm noted.

"Broad availability across all operators and a range of form factors and prices helps," wrote analyst Charles S. Golvin, "but also some people just want a keyboard."

Google's move into the handheld phone marketplace underscores how the company has become a competitor with Apple, a tech company that the search engine giant once mainly counted as an ally.

Until summer of 2009, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt served on Apple's board, but he left not long after the Federal Trade Commission said it was launching an investigation into whether his work with Apple raised competitive concerns.

Apple, meanwhile, announced on Tuesday that 3 billion software applications have been downloaded from its App Store by iPhone and iPod touch users worldwide. The company is expected by many tech pundits to introduce a tablet-shaped computer device at an event later in January.


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