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28 Apr 12 Android this week: $399 Galaxy Nexus; Metro UI vs Android; Kindle Fire rules

Next week the talk of the Android world is likely to be Samsung’s new Galaxy S III, but this week kicked off with a $399 Galaxy Nexus. The GSM handset — which works on both T-Mobile’s and ATT’s voice and data networks — is now available directly from Google. The company added a new Devices tab to the Google Play website where people can purchase the Android 4.0 smartphone.

Google attempted direct smartphone sales in January of 2010 with its Nexus One phone, but the effort wasn’t a raging success in the U.S. where carriers have the upper hand. The operators pay a large portion of the device cost directly to the handset maker and then make up the difference (and more) in lengthy voice and data plan contracts. Google has no wireless service to offer, so at that time, the $529 Nexus One was typically bought by geeks such as myself. (I still have the phone and I certainly got my money’s worth out of it.)

At $399, the Galaxy Nexus might gain a little more traction with mainstream consumers, but it’s likely that the same geeks interested in the prior model are the bigger audience. The phone appeals because of it’s dual-network capability, pure Android 4.0 experience and — perhaps most importantly — isn’t controlled by the carriers. Google will push software updates direct to the GSM Galaxy Nexus, meaning they’ll be sent quicker as there is no carrier testing or customization involved. The phone also includes Google Wallet pre-installed; notable as Verizon’s Galaxy Nexus handset doesn’t support the service.

While folks debate if the Nexus is a good deal at $399, another debate is rising: Will Microsoft be successful with its Metro UI? The answer to that question could affect Android device sales in the future. Microsoft is following Apple’s lead with a more consistent user experience between traditional and mobile computing.

Apple is bringing iOS elements and mobile data into Mac OS X while Microsoft is using the Metro UI — first seen on Windows Phone — to Windows 8. That could create a halo-like effect for Windows users who turn to Windows Phone in lieu of Android. Google still has an opportunity to merge systems of its own: ChromeOS is still maturing and Google could work to do some merging between it and Android. I’ll be looking to Google’s I/O developer conference next month to look for clues that might suggest just such a strategy.

Speaking of strategy, Amazon’s seems to be working well when it comes to Android. The Kindle Fire is reportedly outselling all other Android tablets combined. That’s an amazing feat for a device that’s roughly 6 months old.

The data hit this week from ComScore, with Amazon accounting for an estimated 54.4 percent of all Android tablet sales in the U.S. Part of the reason has to be the low $199 cost, while another is the lack of a monthly data plan needed, since the Kindle Fire is a Wi-Fi only device. And the range of easy-to-access content is a another likely factor. It may not be a pure tablet to some, but for many, the Kindle Fire is the only Android tablet they need.

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