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With Nexus 5, Google finally gets flagship phone treatment

<b>analysis</b> Google was close to getting its latest flagship smartphone on all of the carriers, with only Verizon Wireless opting out of selling the device.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read

The Nexus franchise is finally getting a little respect.

Google on Thursday pulled the wraps off its latest marquee smartphone, the Nexus 5, which comes loaded with high-end specifications and Android 4.4, or KitKat. But perhaps just as important is the confirmation that the phone will be broadly available in carrier stores across the nation.

That's right, the Nexus 5 will be sold through Sprint and T-Mobile, with only Verizon Wireless opting out of carrying the device. Updated at 3:26 p.m. PT: Google came back and confirmed that AT&T won't be selling the Nexus 5, but it will be able to run on its network.

Broader distribution is critical at a time when all of the big flagship smartphones, from the iPhone 5S to the Galaxy S4, are sold on every carrier in the nation. The industry has shifted away from exclusives with nearly every player pushing a universal device with multiple partners.

The Nexus 5 multi-carrier push is a far cry from the launch of the Nexus One, Google's first attempt to get into the phone business. It was sold through its own store, which eventually shut down amid complaints of poor customer service. Subsequent Nexus phones had one or two carrier partners, but little carrier support.

That was one of the knocks on the older Nexus phones -- devices that were highly coveted by hardcore Android fans, but tough to get because of the select carrier support.

And it's not like the support was consistent. The unlocked Nexus One would only work on AT&T or T-Mobile; the Nexus S was a Sprint exclusive; the Galaxy Nexus was available on Verizon Wireless -- with its Google Wallet capability stripped out -- and Sprint; and the Nexus 4 was only available through T-Mobile or unlocked.

A Nexus fan would have to jump through some hoops if that person wanted to keep upgrading from one Nexus device to another.

The Nexus 5 at least attempts to solve some of that confusion by offering a nearly universal single device able to run on all bands supported by the big three carriers. It will sell for the attractive unsubsidized price of $349, which comes with 16 gigabytes, and $399 for the 32GB version. It is available today unlocked in 10 countries through Google Play.

First Look
Watch this: Google Nexus 5 souped up with Android KitKat, LTE, and low price.

More importantly, the Nexus 5 will also sell in carrier stores. Despite Google's attempts to shift the smartphone retail paradigm toward its online model, most people still buy their smartphones in retail stores, and largely run by carriers.

Google maintained it had a strong relationship with Verizon, and hinted at projects that it was working on for next year.

The Nexus 5 may not benefit from the same kind of marketing support that a Samsung will throw at the Galaxy Note 3 or Apple at the iPhone 5S, but it represents a step in the right direction.

Sprint, meanwhile, confirmed that it would subsidize the Nexus 5, bringing it down to $150 with a two-year contract (T-Mobile has eliminated subsidies). The lower price could further entice buyers not normally familiar with the Nexus brand or not obsessed with the latest version of Android.

Perennially a favorite of Android fans, the Nexus franchise could reach the kind of mainstream awareness that the Galaxy S and iPhone family enjoys.

Now, if it can just get Verizon on board.