Google Gives ‘Google Phone’ to Employees

TechCrunch reports that Google has given out unlocked Android 2.1 “Google Phones” to some of its employees.

Several Google employees have confirmed on Twitter that they had received such a device. Google employee Jason Howell had this to say about it:

The new Google Phone runs on HTC hardware. I saw it w/ Android 2.1. Homescreen has new visual enhancements like animated desktop wallpaper.

Google product management VP Mario Queiroz has confirmed that Google has given devices out to their employees in a recent post to Google’s official mobile blog.

We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe.

It’s not just Google employees confirming the devices existence. John Gruber of Daring Fireball has found the following user agent string in his web site statistics which he believes to be the Google Phone:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.1; en-us; Nexus One Build/ERD56C) AppleWebKit/530.17 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/530.17

The device is said to be released in January of next year and identifies itself as “Nexus One” in its user agent string. The device is unlocked but uses T-Mobile’s 3G band, so those who use it on AT&T will be stuck on EDGE.

In terms of handset features, we know that the device is thinner than the iPhone, uses a Snapdragon chip, has a high resolution OLED display, two microphones (one on the back to reduce background noise), and voice to text for dictation.

Google’s head of Android development, Andy Rubin had previously disputed rumors of Google building Android hardware. Although this is true (since HTC is building the hardware) Michael Arrington was pretty close to the mark when he claimed that Google was building Android hardware back in November.

Update 12/12/09: Jessica E. Vascellaro reporting for the Wall Street Journal:

Google Inc. has designed a cellphone it plans to sell directly to consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The phone is called the Nexus One and is being manufactured for Google by HTC Corp., these people said. […]

The Internet giant is taking a new, and potentially risky, approach to selling the device. Rather than selling the phone through a wireless carrier–the way the bulk of phones are sold in the U.S. today–Google plans to sell the Nexus One itself online. Users will have to buy cellular service for the device separately.

Google selling their own branded handset could alienate other handset manufacturers and cell carriers but in the end I think it is worth it. I think having at least one completely Google controlled device on the market is good for Android as a whole.

But, I’m sure Verizon and Motorola are particularly upset — I think the future of both companies relies on Android — this news of a Google branded device is just a slap in the face.

Update 12/17/09: Engadget‘s Joshua Topolsky has written up a great piece regarding what we do and don’t know about the Google Phone. Kit Eaton writing for Fast Company has rundown the hardware specifications.

Update 12/20/09: tnkgrl Mobile managed to get some hands on time with the Nexus One. There’s a lot of new details here but some of the more interesting bits are that it’s faster than the Motorola DROID, has no multitouch support in the browser or in Google Maps, and the trackball can be used to focus the camera.

Update 12/26/09: Engadget claims to have the full tech specs on the Nexus One along with information regarding its release. From Chris Ziegler’s article:

Unfortunately, it sounds like you’re going to need to cross your fingers (or pull out that eBay emergency stash) to get one out of the gate, because we’ve got some intel here suggesting that it’ll be available only by “invitation” at first. Our tipster doesn’t have information on how those invites are going to be determined, other than the fact that it’s Google doing the inviting.

Gizmodo‘s Jason Chen managed to get some hands-on time with the Nexus One. Here’s what he had to say about the device’s speed compared to the DROID and the iPhone 3GS:

When comparing the three phones in loading a webpage over Wi-Fi, the Nexus One loaded first, the iPhone 3GS came in a few seconds later, and the Droid came in a little while after that. This was constant throughout many webpage loads, so it’s indicative of something going on inside with the hardware.

I ran all three through a Javascript benchmark engine for some quantifiable numbers, and while the results were similar between the Nexus One and the iPhone 3GS, the Droid still came up at about 60% of the other two. Surprisingly enough, Mobile Safari on the iPhone scored better on the Javscript benches than the Nexus did, even though the Nexus was able to pull down and render actual web pages faster.

Update 1/6/10: Google Nexus One