Google’s Galaxy Nexus: Unlocked and Contract-Free for $399

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The Galaxy Nexus by Samsung is one of the best Android phones out right now, and starting today, Google is selling it unlocked and contract-free for $399.

Considering that most wireless carriers charge upwards of $600 for contract-free phones, the unlocked Galaxy Nexus is a good deal if you plan to switch carriers at will, swap SIM cards when traveling overseas or upgrade to a new phone in less than two years.

You must be in the United States to get the unlocked version, and it only works with GSM carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon and Sprint sell their own versions of the Galaxy Nexus with two-year contracts.

The Galaxy Nexus runs the latest version of Android, and has not been modified by wireless carriers or by Samsung. That improves users’ chances of getting updates in a timely manner, and it also means the phone includes Google Wallet, which lets users pay with their phones instead of credit cards at select retailers.

Google hasn’t sold smartphones directly since it launched the Nexus One in January 2010. Although the phone mostly received positive reviews, it didn’t sell well, and Google wasn’t adequately prepared to deal with customer service requests. Later that year, Google said it was finished selling phones online, and would leave the job to wireless carriers and retail stores.

The company has apparently changed its mind, and now says it has better customer service in place, including phone support.

The unlocked Galaxy Nexus will be sold through the Google Play Store, under a new “Devices” section. “We want to give you a place to purchase Nexus devices that work really well with your digital entertainment,” Android boss Andy Rubin said in a blog post.

Rubin’s use of the plural “Nexus devices” hints of more Google hardware in the works. Might we see that cheap Nexus tablet soon?