Updated at 5 p.m. PST with additional details and at 10 a.m. PST December 13 with photo of the phone.
A blog post from a Google executive on Saturday morning dropped hints that the company would release a Google Android phone of its own.
In the post, Mario Queiroz, a Google vice president of product management, said the company had developed a "mobile lab" device that "combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android." According to Queiroz, Google has distributed the device to Google employees worldwide so that they could test the new technology and help improve it.
Quieroz's announcement came only a few hours after reported sightings of the device. CNET TV Associate Producer Jason Howell, who had a very brief hands-on with the gadget Friday night and first relayed the news on Twitter, confirms that the "mobile lab" device is an HTC phone running the Android 2.1 operating system.
"I knew it was an HTC device," Howell said. "It looked like the Touch, but was a lot thinner...it was a slick-looking thing and very nice." He also spotted a trackball and four standard Android menu controls, and he said the display was "supersharp" and rivaled that on the Motorola Droid.
Howell didn't get a chance to dig into the handset's specs or detail the changes from the 2.1 update, but he noticed animated wallpapers, slight visual enhancements to the user interface, and a camera on the rear face that resembles the HTC Touch Pro 2. Curiously, Howell said he didn't see any Google logo on the handset. TechCrunch published additional, though unconfirmed, details, including a Snapdragon processor, an OLED touch screen, and a voice-to-text feature, while TheUnlockr posted leaked photos.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the handset will be called the Nexus One. Although HTC made the hardware, the software and user interface is all Google, from the applications to the "look and feel of each screen."
The Journal also said Google will begin selling the device early next year, directly to consumers, thus bypassing the traditional carrier channel. As an unlocked GSM device, the Nexus One could be used with T-Mobile or AT&T, though it's unclear which carrier's 3G bands the handset will support. During his brief tour, Howell wasn't able to test the performance, but he said that the Nexus One he handled was running on an AT&T SIM card.
Reports that Google would release its own Android phone first appeared earlier this year. The move is significant, as it could pit Google against the carriers that it so far has used to distribute existing Android phones. Also, without a carrier contract and subsequent service rebates the Nexus One could cost a few hundred dollars. For those reasons, I was a little skeptical when I first heard the rumor, so count me wrong on this one.