Getting Our Hands on Google's New Phone

Here's our Nexus test

The smartphone has gotten so ubiquitous lately, it's almost a surprise to look around and see people using anything but one these days.  Occasionally, I see someone flipping open a Razr to take a phone call, or typing away on some sort of AT&T text machine, but for the most part, it's a smartphone world.  Washington DC, where I was last week, is still leaning towards the BlackBerry, while Silicon Valley, where I live, has gone completely iPhone crazy, with a smattering of Droids, Pres, and the like.
Which makes Google's entry into the smartphone business all the more interesting.  Even as its Android software platform catches on (in phones like the Droid), the search giant wants its own phone.  Badly.  I'm writing this as I leave Google's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, just after the phone launch, playing with the "Nexus One" as I write. 
Google being Google, it wasn't enough to call the Nexus a smartphone.  The company calls it a "superphone."  Sigh.  Seriously, though, the phone, at first blush, is great.  Slick design, super thin, with a screen that pops, and all sorts of cool software touches, none more impressive than Google Voice, which lets you search, dictate e-mails and tweets, just by speaking into it.  No more typing e-mails or GPS directions while in traffic. 
Check out the Nexus in action below.
But is the Nexus a game changer?  Not really.  It's too much like the iPhone you already have.  Yes, there are some upgrades (a better camera, Google's choice navigation), but side-by-side, they're so similar, it's almost hard to tell what's being used if you're casually looking over someone's shoulder.  But there are a couple of big differences when it comes to getting one.  First off, Google is selling the Nexus on the web, and only on the web.  You have to go to Google's site to buy one.  No fondling in the store (in this case, T-Mobile at first, Verizon added eventually) to make your decision.
Also, while you can get the Nexus for $179 with a T-Mobile contract, you can, if you so desire, get an "open" Nexus for $529.  Then, you can choose your own carrier.  This is cool, but still too expensive.  I'd love a world where you see a cool phone, and can just buy it, instead of having to wait 14 more months until your current contract runs out.  But, we're not there yet, even though Google brings us closer. 
Bottom line, the Nexus should help Google, both in the cool factor (as if they could get much cooler), and by the sheer fact that the more people surf and search, the more people see Google's ads.  The new phone is yet another way the world's biggest search company will soon get bigger.
Scott Budman is now on his way to the Consumer Electronics Show.  You can follow his updates here, and on Twitter:  @scottbudman

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