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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.

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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.

Robert Galbraith/AFP/Pool/Newscom

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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.

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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.

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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.