updated 11:15 am EDT, Tue April 24, 2012
Google sells unlocked HSPA Galaxy Nexus itself
Google on Tuesday opened up a Google Play Devices section for its web store with an emphasis on selling Android hardware directly. The first offering will answer a longstanding call for direct sales of the Galaxy Nexus in the US. Americans now buy the unlocked, HSPA+ version of the Android 4.0 flagship for $399, or far less than it normally costs at importers.
The unlocked version can work on 3G for both AT&T and T-Mobile users, as well as go abroad using local carriers' SIM cards instead of paying a premium for data roaming. Google Wallet also comes preloaded on this version, getting around Verizon's block on its model. Sprint's version was, until now, the only official US model to have Wallet support.
Google's store strategy immediately hints at more hardware coming in the future and confirms rumors that Google might bypass carriers and retailers entirely. Without any retail stores of its own, like Apple, Google is limited in what phones and tablets carriers and retailers are willing to stock. Although Google had to give up direct Nexus One sales relatively quickly after low turnout, the difficulty in selling a wide range of carrier-independent Android tablets and Nexus-badged devices may have spurred a return to the strategy.
US carriers often insist on locking 3G and 4G Android tablets to their networks and sometimes making it difficult to get a good price without subscribing to a two-year data contract. The iPad's success has been credited not just to Apple stores, but to Apple's insistence that customers always have an option for an unlocked 3G or 4G iPad. It has also always sold the iPhone directly and is regularly credited for providing a better, faster experience than at carrier stores. Galaxy Nexus buyers would have to get the phone SIM themselves but would otherwise now have the same freedom to activate on their own terms.