Google’s first Android 4.0 phone, the Galaxy Nexus, is available for direct purchase online in the U.S. Google Play store for $399. With support for two GSM networks, solid hardware, a 720p display and updates direct from Google, this may be the Android deal of 2012.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Google’s flagship Android 4.0 phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, is now available for direct purchase online in the Google Play store. The company added a new Devices section on the Google Play website, although for now there’s just one device. Google is selling the unlocked, no-contract GSM version of the Galaxy Nexus for $399. The phone accepts a SIM card and works for voice and HSPA+ data on either T-Mobile or AT&T in the U.S.; at this price, it’s a great deal.

The handset, which debuted to show off the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android in October, will only be sold in the U.S., but that may change in the future based on this excerpt from a Google blog post:

“First available in the U.S., Galaxy Nexus costs $399 and arrives at your door unlocked, without a carrier commitment or contract. You can use it on the GSM network of your choice, including T-Mobile and AT&T. It also comes pre-installed with the Google Wallet app which lets you easily make purchases and redeem offers with a tap of your phone. Best of all, we’ll give you a $10 credit to get you started with your new mobile wallet.”

This isn’t the first time Google has directly sold a Nexus device to the public. In January of 2010, Google offered the Nexus One, another GSM handset, through the web for $529, with many hoping it would start a new era taking carrier control away from handset sales. That result wasn’t achieved, although there was still benefit to those, like myself, that purchased a phone direct from Google.

The Nexus One received software updates directly from Google, often far faster than other Android handsets, which get new software from the carrier, if at all. The Nexus One also helped spur many custom ROM efforts, allowing owners to run Android builds with the features and functions they wanted.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Google’s Director of Digital Content, Jamie Rosenberg about this development, asking if this was another attempt to wrest control from the carriers, but Rosenberg said the reason was otherwise. “We want to showcase the phone and Google Play,” he told me. “Yes, it’s another way for a consumer to buy a phone, but we see the Galaxy Nexus as a great endpoint for Google services.” And with 300 million cumulative Android devices now activated world-wide, that’s a lot of endpoints.

I noted that the new online store in Google Play is Devices — as in plural — and asked if other devices would be offered there. Google is rumored to be planning a low-cost Nexus tablet, possibly for its Google I/O developer event next month, but Rosenberg wouldn’t take the bait, saying there were “no other announcements at this time.”

Still, I can’t help but wonder if Google is really planning to give direct sales a full-on second attempt for two reasons: Google only controls the Android experience on devices that it sells direct and it has a hardware arm in Motorola once its purchase of that company takes place. Earlier this month, I suggested that Google could give a boost to both Android and ChromeOS through Motorola’s LapDock hardware. Selling that directly gives Google a chance to mold the customer experience.

While most consumers in the U.S. don’t buy their handsets outright, at $399 without contract the GSM Galaxy Nexus direct from Google is a steal. I paid $575 for this same phone in November, ordering it and having it shipped from the UK. I’ve already installed several custom ROMs and routinely swap SIM cards between T-Mobile and AT&T on it as needed, based on my coverage. And I also use it with a $30 monthly data-only SIM card with a VoIP client for free voice calls.

The 5 megapixel camera may be lacking compared to newer phones, but other than that, it’s as capable as any other Android device available today. Google Wallet works great with the NFC chip (see the experience here) and the pure Android 4.0 experience is vastly improved over the old software. Between the pure Google experience, 21 Mbps HSPA+ radio, a 4.65-inch, 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED display, dual-core processor and ability to work on two different U.S. networks — as well as those overseas — this may turn out to be the best Android deal of the year.

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  1. I wonder whether we might see Microsoft jump into this game fairly quickly. It would seem that mobile is very important to Microsoft’s future and I wonder if they might be so bold as to offer a similar deal on Windows Phone.

    1. Interesting idea, but I think the situation is ever so slightly different. Microsoft doesn’t yet allow any skins on WP so all of its partners are competing with the exact same software. If Microsoft sold directly, it would be competing head on with partners.

      Google obviously lets partners differentiate themselves with custom software, so by selling a pure Android experience, it isn’t selling the exact same thing as partners are. A very subtle, but important difference I think.

      Also, with the $1B MSFT invested in Nokia, I think it will stick with NOK as the big partner for now instead of going direct.

      1. Kevin, I can see where you’re coming from, but for all intents and purposes, Nokia is the only hardware partner that matters for Microsoft (granted, I haven’t seen any other vendors WP sales numbers, but it feels like Microsoft is treating them as second tier vendors).
        So that said, I’m not sure Nokia would care if its Microsoft selling the phones directly to consumers or the carriers making the sale. Honestly, it might be easier to deal with Microsoft rather than the carriers.

        Its interesting Google is going down this road again, specifically with Samsung, given the pending Motorola purchase.

    2. It doesnt really matter if they try to sell direct or not. Not many people want this phone…the only people buying right now are people suckered into thinking it’s better. This will change as soon as Windows Phone 8 comes out, and the “suckers” will realize their phone was left out of the upgrade loop. How many Lumia 900 customers do you think will purchase another WP device after this mess?

  2. Wow that would be a great deal! Together with Mugen’s 4000mah battery this will be one helluva device! http://www.mugen-power-batteries.com/samsung/samsung-galaxy-nexus-i9250-gsm.html

  3. Craig Campbell Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    This is excellent news – even if it is $200 less than what I paid for the phone in november :-) I’ll bet half the grey-market import sites spat their coffee out when they read this today!

  4. Could this be a show for Samsung and other android mfrs that Google is not going to favor their motorola division over them? They’re going to be selling the GN for less than similarly equipped Mot phones, so that should make the other mfrs feel a little better.

    I hope it’s not just a one-time thing, and that Google continues to offer unlocked phones, and not just the top-of-the line ones. It will take more initiatives like this to help end the illegal bundling of service and equipment that the FCC and DoJ somehow ignore.

  5. Daniel Lamblin Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    Not to mention that T-Mobile’s sim only value plans are between $40 and $60 depending on how much you expect to call people.

    1. Agreed, Daniel. Or you could get the $30 monthly deal at WalMart (for T-Mobile’s network) which is unlimited data and messaging plus 100 minutes.

      1. Kevin: if I were to get an unlocked Galaxy Nexus directly from Google and were to bring it to WalMart and tried to get this $30 monthly deal for T-Mobile’s network… will they just put a sim in it and I’ll be good to go or does this $30 plan require purchasing a phone at Walmart? Please elaborate?

      2. AK

        You can buy a T-Mobile SIM from T-Mobile or on Amazon and call T-Mobile and activate it. You can pay the $30 a month by credit card on line, through the phone itself, or by buying a $30 card at Walmart, Best Buy or anywhere that sells them. You don’t need to involve Walmart at all.

      3. Thank you Blanca, appreciate it. AK

      4. Just buy the SIM directly from T-Mobile and make sure you activate it online and not via phone or at a T-Mobile store since the $30 unlimited text/data and 100 minutes is only available through Walmart activation or online.

  6. Who says procrastination doesn’t pay. Late last year,taking a cue from Mr. Tofel, I almost ordered the unit from UK but hold off. At this price, I will be all over this device faster than Seagulls descending on French fries at the beach. Gracias Kevin.

  7. You can buy this phone and use it with a prepaid plan that is a LOT cheaper (Eg: Simple Mobile and Straight Talk) for unlimited everything, compared to AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile plans. These prepaid plans are from T-Mobile and AT&T MVNOs. So, they are perfectly suited for this phone. That would make the total cost of ownership of this phone, over 2 years, very competitive compared to other phones you get subsidized from carriers.

    This deal from Google will cost me $435.83 with shipping and tax. A couple of weeks ago, I saw this phone for $429 with free shipping and no tax from Amazon.com. I fully expect this to be available soon for cheaper than Google’s store on Amazon.com.

    I think Samsung milked this phone for as much as they could from the carriers till now. That is why they did not let Google sell these phones. Now that the release of Galaxy S3 is imminent, they must have figured that they could milk this device some more through the Google store cuz there are many people who like to buy a Nexus device directly from Google. Google would have sold a LOT more phones if they offered it through their store a few months ago at a competitive price. Google has a bad track record of being able to negotiate with hardware/carrier partners.

  8. Suresh R Iyer Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    @Kevin: do you think it would be a good idea to buy this from US exclusively for use outside the US, like say, in India, where Google and Samsung decided NOT to bring Nexus (despite launching the website http://www.google.co.in/nexus/ (along with the .com version of the site) where it still says “Coming soon”). Of course, I did notice that you wrote “ability to work on two different U.S. networks — as well as those overseas —”, but am just confirming whether I need to check the frequency of the GSM carrier waves used in India vs that the phone supports or the phone will work wherever GSM works, across the world? Finally, we are just starting with 4G in India (the leading GSM provider Airtel has launched “4G LTE-TDD”? Is that LTE-TDD thing a GSM feature or CDMA feature? Does this $399 galaxy nexus support LTE? Or it supports only 3G? [Apologies if there are too many newbie questions].

    1. This $399 Galaxy Nexus supports HSPA+(3G),also GPRS and EDGE which means there is also a 2G radio.So there should be no problem with this nexus in India.

    2. Gautam’s answer should help on the network, but here’s a listing of the frequencies/networks in case you want to double check with your provider in India: GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 HSPA 850/900/1700/1900/2100. As far as LTE-TDD, the Nexus that Google is selling won’t work with that network technology, nor with LTE; HSPA+ is the 3G/4G tech supported. Hope that helps!

      1. @Kevin: A small request – it would be great if you can publish a Galaxy S3 vs Galaxy Nexus [vs if possible HTC One X] comparison once the S3 is out. [I can see that you have already received a One X review unit from your latest post]. Considering the potentially different price points, I think it might be a fair comparison – which is the best value for money ICS phone. Thanks.

    3. This phone will work fine with at least a couple (if not more) Indian 3G service providers. Not sure about 4G / LTE in India.

      1. will it work with Airtel

    4. Hi Suresh, did you check the frequencies. Will will work with indian carriers. See if this helps. http://blog.anands.net/2010/08/03/choosing-a-3g-phone-for-india/
      Let me know about your decision/conclusion

    5. Thanks, Gautam/Kevin/AS for the replies.

      @Gautam: ok, good to know it will work anywhere (2G) in India.

      @Kevin: I checked http://goo.gl/0cKf8 and I guess 1900 MHz is what we have in India. So I think it will be a safe purchase that way. Thanks for your passionate and informative Nexus posts!

      1. sir can it works with airtel 2g sim

    6. Hi Suresh, the unlocked version will work in India, both on the 2G and 3G networks. I bought one and am using it in India.

  9. Frequencies in India are 900/1800. Now my question is will i get 3G ?? Kevin plz help

    1. I have used a T-Mobile compatible Nexus One in India with BSNL 3G without any problems. My phone showed that it was getting 3G signal, although the speed was lesser than what I get from T-Mobile 3G here in the US. Galaxy Nexus supports all the frequences that Nexus One did. So, short answer – there are service providers in India whose 3G frequences match Galaxy Nexus.

    2. @pawan: I think it might work in India since NDTV was able to review it (http://goo.gl/784Oi), and interestingly the phone can be seen displaying “namaskar” in devanagari: http://goo.gl/4koXO.

      I think I will wait for SG3 official news (specs etc.) and then take a call. Also, I am keeping an eye on http://goo.gl/ur6fM to see whether the prices would drop (on Amazon) as Google has entered the fray directly now.

      Hope this helps.

      1. I am also from India and thinking of buying this phone from Google play @ $399. I also had the same concern, whether this phone would work in India. Thanks Suresh and the rest of the folks for clearing this out for me. Please update here if you find out that it gets cheaper than $399 on Amazon.

  10. Larry Stylinson Monday, May 14, 2012

    Google’s Galaxy Nexus paired with T-Mobile’s Monthly4G plan is a savings you can’t ignore. It pays for itself within a 6-9 months of service depending on the plan you get.

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