Google is bringing the Samsung Nexus S smartphone to AT&T’s (s t) 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 (s s). Google (s goog) says that Best Buy (s bbuy) 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.