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Summary:

Google is bringing Samsung’s Nexus S smartphone to AT&T’s network on July 24 for $99 with a two-year contract. Customers can preorder the handset today online or in a Best Buy store. Why launch a handset that’s a bit behind current hardware? Google Wallet comes to mind.

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Google is bringing the Samsung Nexus S smartphone to AT&T’s network on July 24, for $99 with a two-year contract. Until now, the Google-designed handset was only available in the U.S. for T-Mobile and Sprint. Google says that Best Buy will sell the phone this Sunday, but it can be preordered today at Best Buy’s website and in stores. The Samsung Nexus S doesn’t have the latest and greatest hardware, but it does have several unique features, including support for wireless payments through an integrated near-field communications (NFC) chip.

As the owner of a Google Nexus One handset since launch day, I considered upgrading to the Nexus S when it debuted in December. Google stayed with a 1 GHz single-core processor and 800×480 resolution screen, so I decided to pass. However, Samsung’s Super AMOLED display is a nice upgrade, with bolder, vivid colors and better outdoor viewing. The same screen technology is used on the AT&T Infuse 4G that I recently showed off on video. The Nexus S was also one of the first Android handsets to gain a front-facing camera, which can now be used for Google Talk video chat. And because it’s a Nexus phone, the handset is easier to root and install custom software, plus it should see Android updates faster than other phones.

But I think the real reason for the Nexus S appearing with support for AT&T is the NFC chip inside. In May, Google announced its Wallet service, a method to pay for goods by tapping a smartphone on a payment terminal. NFC payments have long been promised but haven’t yet been delivered in the U.S., and Google Wallet sounds like it has all the right pieces in place. Except there’s currently only one handset on one carrier that supports it, and that carrier is No. 3, Sprint, which has the Nexus S 4G.

At the Wallet launch, Google said it planned to expand support to more phones, and I suspect the Nexus S for AT&T is the next Wallet-capable handset. For $99 on a much larger carrier, Google can increase the Wallet user base much more quickly than it can through Sprint. Of course, releasing an AT&T version of the Nexus S only adds more potential to Google Wallet. But it doesn’t guarantee a large uptake for one key reason: Compared to the latest and greatest handsets with speedy dual-core processors, the Nexus S is already looking long in the tooth.

  1. I bought my Nexus One in July 2010 and I still rate it “very cool”. The Nexus S really didn’t provide a compelling reason to upgrade although I’m curious to see if another Nexus phone (Samsung?) comes out before the year ends.

    Otherwise, Nexus S – thanks but no thanks.

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  2. Just gave up my Nexus One for a Nexus S after passing on it last December. Reason: around 4x more app memory when I had run out on the N1.

    It was getting silly – Should I knock out LinkedIn or something else to get a demo app onto the machine?

    Although I didn’t like the Nexus S when I first saw it, I have to admit I like it now. Yes, it is not as sexy as the N1. It feels cheap and slippery in the hands. Cellular and WiFi reception are both worse. But the screen is better. And it runs much more quickly. A long press to start it means I can know when it’s off without turning it on (d’oh!). And then there’s all that space for apps.

    The only thing I’m not using is the NFC chip. Haven’t noticed opportunities, not psyched about one more security hole, etc.

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    1. Yeah, the limited memory on the Nexus One is a drag. And of course, many developers don’t allow their apps to run on SD. But I found that several apps that I like have web app counterparts which run nicely and allow me to better manage memory usage.

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  3. Why would AT&T support Google wallet when it supports ISIS? And doesn’t the unlocked version of the Nexus S support NFC yet not Google Wallet?

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    1. AT&T isn’t rolling out this handset; Google is by way of Best Buy and could enable it for NFC by way of a direct software update, not uncommon for the Nexus line. If AT&T blocked that, I’d expect the FCC pulled in because of potential claims that AT&T is blocking Wallet due to a competing service.

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      1. Any idea why there are 2 GSM Nexus S variants because if neither AT&T or T-Mobile is subsidizing the handsets directly, why can’t they just have one pentaband 3G handset?

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        1. Google could have asked Samsung to go with a pentaband solution, although I don’t know of any Samsung handsets that have pentaband support.

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  4. This looks promising, but then there are much better phones out there for the same price range..htc sensation..anyone?

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  5. I don’t know if I understand all the hoopla surrounding phones’ spec sheets. I did a side-by-side comparison between my Nexus S and the Evo 3D. The Evo didn’t open apps noticeably any faster than my Nexus. And it’s not like we’re running full-featured software suites on our phones, so dual-core processors are total overkill in my opinion.

    Speaking to the Nexus S specifically, I’ve had one for about a month and I like it. The phone is really sleek (personally, I love the plastic though it is a bit slippery), and it flies with Gingerbread. The only knock is some of the units have been suffering from weak 3G/WiFi radios (affects both GSM and CDMA models).

    Once Google and Samsung get that straightened out, this phone will be perfect.

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