Mar 01 AT 2:16 PM Taylor Wimberly 71 Comments

$99 ZTE Nexus 5? Why not?


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.


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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  • DSaif

    I’d say $199 ZTE/Huawei/Sony Nexus 4 & $299 Sony/Samsung Nexus 5

    • sarathkumar

      i want zte mobilephone $99 how much in indian currency and any shiping charges you tel immdiatly

    • uzunoff

      This is where I draw the line. I would NEVER buy a Chinese phone, no matter how cheap, no matter the specs. Period! Never !

      • thel0nerang3r

        Not sure what you mean by “Chinese phone”, since most phones are made in China.

        • uzunoff

          A phone designed and engineered by a Chinese company. Especially Huawei and ZTE.

          • Esoth

            I don’t know what you’re one about, but Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi have all designed amazing Android phones at amazing price points. Besides, as mentioned above, most smartphones are made in China anyway.

          • uzunoff

            Its not about the design and the quality of the phones, it is about the Chinese companies in general. Huawei and ZTE were recently blocked by the US government in investing in US due to concern about their cooperation with the Chinese government and the Chinese Army (PLA). There was a report produces by the house intelligence committee about their assistance and cooperation with the PLA special units used for espionage and intelligence gathering. Everyone that uses their products should be aware that at any point of time someone from the chinese government can get access to their device. The Chinese government is the biggest financier and customer of those companies. The government control over those companies is unquestionable.
            Here is a link to the report if anyone wants to read it.

          • pjamies

            uzunoff .. what is that Russian??

            Dude, Sorry .. China already owns the US, It’s called borrowed debt!!
            It’s time to let it go, and get on with life!

          • uzunoff

            Pjames, it’s not Russian.
            They might own a lot of US debt, but that’s not everything. I don’t think it’s time we raise the white flag and let them continue steal US trade secrets.

            They need us buying their crap as much as we need them to lending us money. But this is off topic. Bottom line I don’t respect them and they will not get a single $ from me.
            And yes I know that most electronics are made there.

  • Good_Ole_Pinocchio

    Taylor man I love you and all but this is an impossible feat. The specs you’re mentioning at $100? Where’s the profit? It’s not like we’re talking about Old Specs, or were talking 2 years from now. It’s just not feasible.

    • J3R3MY_H

      Its the video game console/Amazon model. Sell the hardware at a loss and make it up with software sales. Google Play revenue is growing all the time and Google is a company crazy enough to do this.

      • clocinnorcal

        Exactly! If Google/ZTE or whoever does this, it is designed to lose on the hardware but make up for it in software and ad revenue. Google IS crazy enough to do this. Will they? I don’t know, only time will tell!

      • rex

        If Google does this it will completely disrupt the entire industry and many companies (including Apple and Samsung) will not be able to sell their phones for a premium. Which is good. They’ve become too rich and powerful.

    • honourbound68

      Taylor’s just reporting what’s been said. Besides with economies of scale a $100 superphone is “possible”. I imagine that Samsung’s will take the S3 sales figures and put in component orders for at least the same amount for the S4. Remember the more they buy/order, the cheaper it can be made. Of course this doesn’t translate to being cheaper for the buyers as Sammy can just pocket the extra profits like iFruit does.

      As for ZTE/Huawei, if either of them produced such phone for just a QUARTER of China’s population expecting to sell all of them JUST in their country, that would be over 300 million phones. With volumes like that and considering that almost every component (except for maybe the Gorilla Glass) would be built in their country, they could produce a phone THAT inexpensively.

  • Adonis K.

    The current nexus sells for like 250$ in the USA but it sells for about 600$ in Greece and other countries that don’t have a Play Store… So even If ZTE makes another one for 100$, i wouldn’t care less.

  • Nick Gray

    It’s possible to sell an Android phone with the Tegra 4 chip for $100, but it certainly will not be able to complete with flagship devices from Samsung and HTC. Yes, the phone can be produced, but you’d have to give up thinks like an HD display, good camera sensor, 1-2 GB of RAM or even the notion of built-in storage.

    While Google may not care about making a profit on its Nexus phones, that doesn’t mean that the OEM’s are doing all the work at cost. LG, Samsung and HTC have all made a profit for each Nexus device they have manufactured. Unless Google forces Motorola to build the phone at cost, $300 is more than a fair price for a high-end Nexus device.

    • Jimmy_Jo

      A legit Nexus with 32GB of storage @ $300 would make me cancel my contract and trhow my money at Google and Straight Talk or Simply Mobiile or some other prepaid service.

      64GB of storage for $350 and I would be the happiest of campers. That’s my biggest worry. Low internal storage and the inability to use cloud services when on the Subway in NYC.

      • cb2000a

        Most likely in the next year we will see some really good specs at the $300 price point. At that point no one will go on contract and will seek out the least expensive and most competitive carrier to do business with. It will mean $50 to $60 unlimited plans will be the norm. Verizon will be forced to drop rates or lose customers.

        • masterpfa

          It’s the way I have gone since my Nexus 1. I have since bought every phone I have owned, Desire HD, Galaxy Nexus and now Nexus 4, off contract, unlocked and SIM free and used my SIM only short term contract SIM, which is currently unlimited everything, talk, text and data.

          I cannot see this coming to light, but then again Asus and Tegra announced a little while back that they planned to release a Tegra 3 powered budget tablet the Memo 370T which did come to fruition as the Nexus 7

        • tojen

          Sorry, that’s not happening anytime soon. Maybe 5-7 years from now when sprint and t-mo have hopefully caught up to att and verizon in native network coverage and speeds.

  • heat361

    The door is open for Google to make cheap quality phones, but as of now I believe the $300-$350 price tag is here to stay. The nexus 5 will probably an either 4.7-5 inch phone in that price range unlocked and some people don’t see that unlocked is the way to go, especially when Google is bringing high end products at low prices.

  • Jeremy Sheehan

    Isn’t ZTE the company that couldn’t get it’s specs right at MWC? Told everyone it’s phone had 2G of ram, a certain processors, etc… And none of it turned out to be true? Excellent price point, but I would be wary of this one.

    • heat361

      Yes that’s them, but come on I’m sure people would buy an $100 unlocked nexus phone even if the company is a little crazy and can’t get their specs right.

  • Thomas Biard

    I don’t care if its $100 or $200. Ever since the advent of the Nexus 4 pricing, it shows that these “premium” devices can be just as good without having to have the pricetag of a decent laptop computer!!!!
    I’ll take any Nexus device sub $300 please!

  • redraider133

    This would be awesome if true. I could see this happening with ZTE trying to become better known as a brand and since they already make pretty cheap phones with high end specs.

  • redraider133

    I wonder if this will be slowed by the carriers and their contract model? Maybe this could help move from the contract subsidy model to no contract model and hopefully cheaper plans from the carriers. One can dream anyway

    • Taylor Wimberly

      Google doesn’t need the carriers to sell phones through the play store. Who cares what the carriers say as long as they don’t start blocking Nexus devices. T-Mobile welcomes all those wholesale customers to their growing network.

      • Jimmy_Jo

        Right now T-Mobile is my first choice for the Nexus I’m planning to buy.

      • redraider133

        Never said Google needs the carriers. I said maybe these super cheap would get the carriers to lower the plans for those who brought their own device. Not sure where you got that google needs the carriers.

      • redraider133

        Until tmo becomes a viable network for more than just those in major cities, it doesn’t really benefit the majority. I would jump to tmo in a heart beat if they expanded their network outside of large cities.

      • Stev

        Or can be used on straight talk on GSM or Tmobile. Straight Talk customer service in the Phillipines sucks but the price for Tmobile hspa+is affordable at $45…i havent exceeded 2gb in a month but I have used 150 mb in a day without problems. The one thing is streaming will get you if you do anything more than a couple songs or you tube videos

        • Stev

          Meant AT&T or Tmobile

      • Stev

        But realize Tmobile doesnt work for everyone

  • Arthur

    Didn’t Google admit that the Nexus 4 is being sold in the U.S. Play Store at a loss which is why LG is selling it for around $600 outside the U.S.? The N4 is easily a $600+ phone without the Google subsidies, it is a premium device with no shortcuts taken in build quality or specs.

    This ZTE “Nexus” might have mid-range to high internals but somethings gotta give, build quality might suffer, camera might not all be there, fit and finish might suffer, screen I highly doubt will even match the N4 much less 1080p screens we have seen lately.

    But it would be great for Google to have such a device on the market, with the right advertising, no device would match it spec for spec at that price point unlocked.

    • Jimmy_Jo

      Whoever is buying a $100 ZTE device who thinks it’s going to be able to compete with the HTC One or Galaxy S IV isn’t thinking clearly. This is for those willing to slightly compromise.

      • masterpfa

        When all is taken into consideration, I think this could, if it becomes reality, a great deal.
        Specifications, build quality etc may not match top end devices, come on let’s be realistic but when you factor in the price point this males it a no brainer. I for one could see me buying one for all my kids without breaking the bank.

        If this phone does come to reality and at a price approaching the prices touted here, I for one will be jumping on-board with my eyes open and accepting the package as a whole.

  • Fahad

    Any one else hate this kind of far fetched speculative reporting, with attention grabbing title?

  • DroidSamurai

    A $99 Nexus would be nice, but let’s just forget about whether it can be made at this price — I am just not going to buy a phone designed and made by a Chinese OEM. May be you guys from the Western world don’t have the kind of fear like me who came from Hong Kong and hear about how the Chinese government trying to force its hand into all kinds of things. A while ago, they were caught monitoring the communication system of many trucks going in/out of HK. I didn’t come to the US for nothing. May be ZTE really is an innocent OEM and will never plant a bug into their phones, but sorry, I am not going to give them the benefit the of doubt.

    • KennyL

      Amen to that. I will never buy a ZTE phone. Regardless of specs/price.

    • Mark

      Are phones from a different OEM but manufactured in China (e.g. Foxconn) ok?

    • freedomispopular

      As if the US government doesn’t monitor every thing…

  • Ronaldj666

    It’d be awesome if this actually happens. I doubt it would though with the specs mentioned.

  • Ichigo

    Man ill jump on it in a heartbeat, even if its made by Kyocera. A nexus at that price is too good to pass.

  • vforvortex

    Very unlikely IMO. And i hope Google doesnt give a Nexus branding away to a chinese manufacturer just yet before they show they can compete with big boys. When other phones are being sold unlocked for $500, no reason to drop price all the way to $99. doesnt make business sense.

  • aranea

    This is a good business idea. Those specs for that money I wouldn’t call them low-end either

  • ricky

    Man, How much does all this material cost to make up these phones 5 c a pop ? Id say go for it googs!

  • Chahk

    OMG, look at the size of that battery! /faints

  • LucenNox

    As much as I would like this, probably not going to happen. There would just be too many compromises to meet that price point.

  • squiddy20

    ZTE, a company under investigation by various US government and security entities, and who couldn’t get the specs of one of their own flagship phones right, for the next Nexus? I’ll pass.

  • Nathan D.

    That would be an awesome, I just hope that it happens sooner rather then later.

  • donger

    As long as it’s not made by Samsung. Why? Well because, it’s going to be made with cheap plastic and lower hardware/specs than their Galaxy & Note line.

  • Michael

    To be honest, if this is true, I could see myself picking one up. But at $99? Surely not?

    I’m due getting myself a present too.

  • Raptor

    All phones cost $99 or less to produce. It’s Apple who inflated the prices and salespeople who get commissions as a fraction of the price did the rest. Samsung phones made entirely out of own parts should cost even less to produce, $90 max and probably $50 few months after the start due to hurricane price depreciation of latest tech parts and materials.

  • GordonX

    i like this. it reminded me about “LIMITS” and that sometimes you have to forget about limits and try to do the unthinkable – whether it be features or costs or whatever. if you focus on limits you limit your outcome – reminds me of how Blackberry failed and Apple/Android succeeded – from The Verge -

    “The differences went deeper than just strategy. Apple was at its core a consumer electronics company headed by a non-engineer; RIM a wireless technology company founded by an electrical engineer. Lazaridis believed in quantification, in the rational world of numbers and formulae. “One of the things that we’ve really internalized here at RIM,” he often explained, “is the belief in the numbers, belief in mathematics, belief in the limits imposed by physics, and the general understanding of physics. If you don’t understand the limitations you can’t design something that works well within those limitations.” So in thinking about smartphone design, Lazaridis and his company thought about limits. There was the size limit: the phone had to be small enough to be portable, but large enough to be usable. There was the battery life limit: a dead device is a useless device. And finally, there was the bandwidth limit: Lazaridis believed in conserving bandwidth to enable networks to scale. Too many bandwidth-hogging devices would bog down the network – as AT&T came to realize as the iPhone grew in popularity. RIM designed its phones within limits, and its conservative designs had their appeal. Size and battery life appealed to road warrior professionals using the devices; low bandwidth usage appealed to the people who managed the devices, and to the telecom carriers. Apple ignored RIM’s self-imposed limitations, producing an iPhone with less than stellar battery life that (eventually) gobbled up bandwidth. Network utilization was the carriers’ problem, not Apple’s, and it bet customers would tolerate a short battery life because the phone could do so much.”

  • Shon_G

    ZTE? Seriously? Imo, they are just an uppity kirf manufacturer that cuts hardware quality to be able to pack in spec boosters like that 1080p display. I’d rather have a quality 720p or even qhd by a proven manufacturer than the stuff that fell off the back of a truck that so many of these Chinese manufacturers use. Why not Motorola? Or HTC? Heck, I’d buy a Samsung device before I purchased a ZTE.

  • murad mahmoud

    it’s can be, but google always want a big company as samsung or lg .

    arabic android blog

  • Stev

    Nexus + prepaid $45=good deal

  • tmihai20

    If Google wanted to do this, they would have done it by now. It would be really great for us, customers, to have such cheap and powerful smartphones, but I’ve read the same news about the Tegra3 and the current Qualcomm chipset a few years ago. Manufacturers have a way of making things pretty to build up the hype. Don’t think that a ZTE with Tegra4i would be less than a Samsung/HTC with Tegra4i. I am very skeptical about this announcement.

  • Jacob Boswell

    Anyone think there might be a 32 GB Nexus 4 in the near future?

    • masterpfa

      I doubt it but I would love to at least see an end to 8gb Nexus phones

  • rex

    The latest cheap Nokia phones can be had for less than 150 Euros ($200US) and they are good enough for most of the users. I also noticed from my experience that these phones are actually artificially made worse to justify the price. Plus the windows phone is horrible, useless and lacks apps, but that’s a topic for a different discussion.

    If you’re selling the best device, let’s say something like Nexus 4, for the lowest price you can reach a very low price, something around $150. But, then you’re going to be selling the device for little or no profits at all.

  • rhy o’drinnan

    Do this and release it the same day as the iphone 5s. Kill apple once and for all!

    • sbala

      Nexus 5 will sure kill ip5

  • Paul Atreides

    $99 and “superphone” don’t go together. Don’t believe the hype.

  • Lars

    ehm it should be noted that “tegra 4″ and “tegra 4i” and note same. it more comparable to celeron vs pentium. 4i is a budget friendly version with less power.

  • jamal adam

    This would be the most awesomest thing. Even if the smartphone was $199, it would be an amazing deal. If Google can manage that, I think they have just reached out to the whole world and those that can’t afford the more expensive high end smartphones.

  • Jesse George

    The best part about this entire thing is the availability of a stock Android super phones being available to developers for cheap which should increase the number and quality of apps.

  • imdiane

    This pricing would definitely be tempting!! Let’s see who Nexus chooses for its new Nexus partner.

    I really hope they go back with HTC. It was true innovations back then.

    • edie

      htc is greedy too expepensive !!!

  • huz

    nexus 5 tegra 4 5inch 1080p hd camera rear 13mp front 2.0 , bt 5.0 ,nfc,
    support internal up? internat $199 32gb ,$399 64gb,$599 128gb

    from japan Docomo Fujitsu Arrows v F-04E “internal 64gb+64gb sdxc = 128gb” MEMORY

  • edie

    Samsung is too greedy like apple…if this phone become real be awesome in 140$ be still ok..better batteray n less hot cpu.if they inch is superb ! From kuta bali indonesia..i love this forum.