Google’s latest Nexus phone is bigger and faster than any model that came before. The Nexus 6 is also the most expensive phone Google has launched so far, with a starting price of $649 for an unlocked phone.

That led a lot of Liliputing readers to complain that Google had gone mad and that there was no way they’d spend that kind of money on a Nexus 6.

But here’s the thing: Google might not really plan to sell the Nexus 6 the way it’s sold the last few Nexus phones. It’s not priced like a bargain device that will sell at or near the manufacturing price… it’s priced like a flagship phone from Samsung, LG, HTC, or Motorola: and if you want to pay less than $649 up front, you can buy it the way most Americans buy one of those phones: through a wireless carrier.

google nexus 6

All of the major US wireless carriers will offer the Nexus 6, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. Sign up for a 2-year contract when you buy the phone, and they’ll knock hundreds of dollars off the up-front price of the phone (although it still might be cheaper in the long run to buy the phone outright and sign up for a cheaper pre-paid plan from AIO, Straight Talk, or a similar provider).

As CNET notes, this is the first time a Nexus phone will be available from all 5 major US carriers at launch. And that makes it the first Nexus phone that Google is really positioning as a competitor to an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy phone or other top-tier smartphone.

Historically Google’s Nexus phones have been developed to showcase the latest hardware and software working together in order to show Google’s latest vision of what an Android phone could (and maybe should) be. In some ways the Nexus 6 does that too… at a time when smartphones are getting bigger and bigger, it would have been silly for Google not to launch a phone with a huge screen. If you still want a phone with a smaller display, last year’s Nexus 5 is still a pretty good option.

But while Nexus phones are designed to appeal to developers and die-hard Android fans and perhaps to inspire other device makers, they don’t usually sit on store shelves next to the latest high-end smartphones.

When Google launched the Nexus One, the company went so far as to suggest it was attempting to change the ways phones were sold in the United States: The Nexus One wasn’t cheap. It sold for over $500 at launch. But Google sold it through its website and not in stores and the phone was unlocked so you could just it with any carrier.

The HTC-built Nexus One was popular with Android fans, but Google didn’t sell an awful lot of phones. That’s largely been the pattern with every model released since the first Nexus, including models made by Samsung and LG.

The new Nexus 6 which is built by Motorola could break the mold. Google is partnering with wireless carriers to make the phone available the way most US customers are accustomed to buying phones. So while fans of unlocked phones were hoping for another inexpensive Nexus device, customers who typically by new phones when the contract on their old one is up might not even know that an unlocked Nexus 6 sells for $649 and up.

Switching to the more traditional phone sales model could also generate more revenue for Google, Motorola, and wireless carriers.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the Google Play Store ran out of inventory of the Nexus 6 shortly after the phone went on sale this week… it’s likely that Google only had a limited number of unlocked devices available to sell. The rest will be made available through partners such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular.

Personally I’m still a fan of low-cost, unlocked phones that you can buy outright and bring to any carrier. So I’m hoping companies like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and BLU continue to innovate in that area even as Google starts to dabble in traditional phone sales.

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10 replies on “Google plans to sell the Nexus 6 like a traditional smartphone”

  1. Google: Just figure out a way to extract metrics from card use and drop the cloud BS.
    It’s a stupid policy that puts off lots of folks like me who would otherwise be throwing our wallets at your collective faces.

  2. This is all well and good, unless you’re a T-Mobile customer. In really happy I bought a OnePlus One… Pretty much a perfect print IMO.

  3. What remains to be seen is how Tmo will do Wifi Calling with lolipop/5.0. They say it will be possible due to 5.0, but will they let all the phones they don’t sell jump on board also or will they say they don’t sell it therefore they can’t support it????
    I for one NEED Wifi calling at work. Nothing penetrates the walls there. I would love to buy a $180 moto G (that is due for a 5.0 upgrade) and use it with Wifi calling. Thing is…will Tmo allow this??

  4. You can go with TMo pay full price or installment and save some money over the ‘Old Bad Providers’. Still expensive but not outlandish. Plans would be less expensive also.

  5. The problem with this rationale is that Nexus was never a “traditional” brand, because Google is not a traditional hardware vendor. If it were, it wouldn’t have sold off Motorola. Nexus was (and still is) a “halo” product for Android, intended as a reference device for vendors, and for enthusiasts as the target market. It is not a mainstream product, is not marketed like a mainstream product, and isn’t sold like a mainstream product.

    For any product to sell, there needs to be ample marketing (read: $$$), and Nexus toys never had much mainstream marketing done. Not just for the product, but to establish the brand. Which in turn means that the Nexus line has to be a complete line, not just one device from this vendor, and another from that vendor.

    The Nexus brand is little known outside of enthusiast circles. The notion that if you price it same as a flagship of a well-known brand, and push it through carrier channels, that it’ll sell “better”, beggars belief. The brand recognition isn’t there for the mainstream. I’ve yet to see any extensive marketing done for N6, either by Google or by Lenovo (and for N9, by HTC). Without marketing, and without brand recognition, do you seriously think that a product would sell simply by being premium-priced? If you think this, ask Microsoft how well that work for its Surface line.

    Comparing the Nexus 6 to the first Nexus One is nonsensical. N1 came into an emergent smartphone market, and there was no “cheap but good” phones anywhere. Today, there are plenty of “cheap but good” devices, and the market is well saturated, with a downward trend in pricing. The N6 is like a fish out of water with its premium pricing, no brand recognition, no product line, and little marketing spend.

    >Switching to the more traditional phone sales model could also generate more revenue for Google, Motorola, and wireless carriers.

    This is laughable. Again, Goog isn’t into hardware, else it wouldn’t have sold Moto. Motorola already has its own Moto X/G/E line, and carriers also have their own respective brands they cater to. The Nexus doesn’t fit anywhere as a traditional line, if only it’s not a line, but a single product (N6). The N5 is already old news. The notion that Nexus’ goal is to generate profit is idiotic.

    1. I think you’re wrong. Google has done tons of marketing. Its called the entire Nexus product line.
      I doubt it was there intention from the beginning, but the last few years they have been building a brand image. Regardless of the major shift in their business model, people are aware of their products, and they are familiar with them.

      But this is irrelevant, because you don’t actually need marketing in the cellphone industry. The average consumer doesn’t research their choice that well. They pick a phone, like a kid in a candy shop. All you need to sell a phone (in the carrier subsidy world) is good looks, and a pricetag.

      I know plenty of people who own Android phones, but have no idea what Android is, and are not familiar with the brands. And they only reason they bought it was because of the way it looks, or because it was free, or $99 on contract.

  6. Vast majority of phones are not sold with relevant carrier subs ( so don’t call this traditional) and the US is maybe 10% of the global smartphone market. As for pricing , just because others do it,it doesn’t make it ok.
    The US is one of the markets where Android has it’s lowest share, if the Nexus was about Android ,the US would have zero relevance. Google sold out, if to US carriers or to greed doesn’t really matter and it’s nothing new, Google has lost it’s way in the last 2 years.
    If Google cared about it’s users, about it’s own reputation or if Nexus was about Android, they wouldn’t have done this. But Google today is no better than Microsoft or Apple and to make it worse they don’t really pay any attention to the present ,they are too busy putting all their google in future projects.
    And they’ll mess up Project Ara too and Glass and driverless cars and the next thing because they won’t be able anymore to get anything right just like Microsoft has been for decades or like Intel can’t do anything right besides their big main core.
    If they don’t wake up and remember who they were,it will be too late soon.

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