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Google Unlocks Its Handset

Developers looking to create applications for the Android platform now have the option to buy a completely unlocked G1 handset from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG).

The Android Dev Phone 1 will be very similar to the G1 being offered from T-Mobile International AG but it will be completely SIM-unlocked and hardware-unlocked, according to the Android developer's Web site. For content creators hoping to get their programs into the Android Market, this handset offers an easy way to test applications on a physical device without having to sign up for a wireless service contract.

"The device ships with a system image that is fully compatible with Android 1.0, so you can rely on it when developing your applications. You can use any SIM in the device and can flash custom Android builds that will work with the unlocked bootloader," read the developer's site. "Unlike the bootloader on retail devices, the bootloader on the Android Dev Phone 1 does not enforce signed system images."

Prior to this version, content creators could purchase a contract-free version of the G1 and modify the firmware to enable a bootloader. But that process only works with retail units that have an older firmware, and it has the potential to break the phone if not done properly.

Customers looking to take their G1 onto other GSM networks should be advised that Google said this version is not intended for non-developer end users. Additionally, any unlocked G1 is capable of only using T-Mobile's 3G networks in the United States.

"Since the devices can be configured with system software not provided by or supported by Google or any other company, end users operate these devices at their own risk," Google said.

The move could eventually lead to more compelling applications for the first Android-powered handset, which is facing stiff competition from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iPhone 3G and BlackBerry 's touch-screen Storm smartphone.

The Android Dev Phone 1 also has a unique design on its back cover, and it costs $399 with free shipping in the United States. Users must join the $25 Android Marketplace program to be eligible for the device.

— Marin Perez, InformationWeek

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