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Samsung Unveils First of Three Android Phones

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The Samsung I7500
Source: Samsung
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Samsung today unveiled the first of its three planned Android mobile phones, the I7500, becoming the first major mobile phone manufacturer to unveil a smartphone based on the Google-backed open-source mobile platform.

The Samsung I7500 smartphone features a 3.2-inch touchscreen, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as an integrated GPS receiver. It also has a 5-megapixel camera, 8GB internal memory, according to the company. The device will be available in major European countries beginning in June.

The release of the I7500 comes at a time when industry watchers eagerly await the release of new Android handsets to see how the new operating system will impact the smartphone market.

While some carriers currently offer Android-based phones, major handset manufacturers have yet to produce models of their own. A smaller handset maker, HTC, in connection with U.S. carrier T-Mobile, became the first manufacturer to produce an Android smartphone with the G1.

Since then, total sales for the G1 surpassed 1 million since the launch six months ago, according to T-Mobile. Meanwhile, a second Android-based HTC phone, the Magic, is available through Vodafone for pre-order in the UK.

This year is likely to see growing momentum among the largest handset makers. Aside from Samsung, Android has yet to be built into a smartphone from any of the big names in mobile devices. Yet many have pledged their support, like LG, Motorola, Sony Ericsson -- all of whom, along with Samsung, are members of the Google-led Open Handset Alliance, which officially leads Android development.

For the time being, that means Samsung has a lead on the other major rivals in handset manufacturing, and it plans to expand on that lead. Samsung will unveil two additional Android handsets in the U.S. later this year, in addition to getting a jumpstart on other rivals investigating Android.

"Samsung is among the earliest members of the Open Handset Alliance and has been actively moving forward to introduce the most innovative Android mobile phone," JK Shin, executive vice president and head of Samsung's mobile unit, said in a statement. "With Samsung's accumulated technology leadership in the mobile phone industry and our consistent strategy in supporting every existing operating system, I believe that Samsung provides better choices and benefits to our consumers."

Android is also being closely watched as a rival to Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Mobile, the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone and Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry. For one thing, Android's open source model means it's relatively inexpensive for handset makers to build into their designs.

Yet despite the benefits of its model, the popularity of the G1 and the big-name support Android ahs received, however, some critics suggest that Android may be coming up short in delivering a platform more affordable than Windows Mobile, more widely available than Apple's iPhone OS and more customizable than the BlackBerry OS -- citing thus-far tepid response from carriers and phone-makers resulting in a lack of new Android phones.

Still, Android's slow adoption by manufacturers and carriers may only mean a case of growing pains for a new operating system. According to some industry watchers, the G1 may have been rushed to market before the majority of developers, carriers and handset makers were completely comfortable with the Android platform as it existed six months ago, which resulted in the long lag time between the G1 and other products.

In any event, the market is only going to continue increasing in complexity: On the non-Android smartphone front, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) is pushing ahead in its do-or-die plan to release its Pre smartphone by June, while Apple is thought to be readying its new iPhone. Meanwhile, Research in Motion plans to roll out updates to the BlackBerry Storm.