Mar 01 AT 2:16 PM Taylor Wimberly 71 Comments

$99 ZTE Nexus 5? Why not?

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Could Google offer a premium mobile experience on a $99 Android phone this holiday season? I have no knowledge of Google’s plans, but I saw evidence at Mobile World Congress (MWC) that suggests it’s definitely possible if they wanted to. By the end of this year, consumers will be able to purchase smartphones that exceed the Nexus 4 in every way possible at only a fraction of the current retail prices.

Imagine a smartphone with a 5-inch 1080p display, 4G LTE modem, speedy quad-core CPU, and premium camera. This device might not include every single bell and whistle, but it would provide more performance, faster download speeds, better pictures, and cooler games — compared to the smartphone you currently use.

This magical smartphone that I’m describing doesn’t exist yet, but companies like NVIDIA and ZTE are pushing the limits of what’s currently possible. NVIDIA just announced their Tegra 4 family of chips, and ZTE committed to being the first partner to produce smartphones with both NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 processor and i500 LTE modem.

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At MWC I got to see NVIDIA’s reference Tegre 4i smartphone and witnessed what it was capable of through a series of demos. I was impressed with the Chimera camera photography, speedy performance, and TegraZone games, but the thing that really excited me was the estimated price point of devices based on Tegra 4i.

“We’re looking at unsubsidized smartphones based on Tegra 4i to cost between $100 to $300 USD, dependent on markets and OEMs,” said Matt Wuebbling, Director of Tegra Product Marketing at NVIDIA.

The current Nexus 4 sells for $299-349, and it has exceeded the expectations of Google, who has struggled to keep up with demand. If people were fighting with each other to scoop up a Nexus phone at $300, how many more would be willing to line up and order an all-around-better device at $100?

Google has said that selling unlocked phones through their Play Store is “here to stay” so we know they will continue to release more products and try to attract more customers. Last year we witnessed Google drive down prices with the releases of the Nexus 4, 7, and 10, and we expect that trend will continue.

That doesn’t mean that Google will abandon high-end mobile devices (see Chromebook Pixel), but it tells us that we should expect to see Google make their devices and services available to a wider audience by lowering the entry point. A premium 4G LTE smartphone experience at only $100 would attract a heck of a lot more customers than one sold for $300.

Phil Carmack, Sr. VP of Mobile at NVIDIA, recently said, “Tegra 4i will bring super phone capabilities to the mainstream smartphone market, and there will be nothing on the market like it.” I’m sure Qualcomm and Samsung have something similar planned for later this year, but only NVIDIA is talking about premium experiences in a $100 mainstream smartphone.

I know it’s a long-shot, but I would love to see Google collaborate with NVIDIA and ZTE to make this $99 Nexus phone a reality. We still hope to see more high-end “Pixels” and “X Phones”, but give us a $99 super phone for the masses.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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