Google Drops Hints on Its Own Android Phone

Google this weekend gave more evidence that it’s pursuing the release of its own Android-based smartphone, though it’s remaining shy about disclosing much in detail.

Mario Queiroz, vice president for product management at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), said in a blog post on Saturday that the company has begun distributing a “mobile lab” device to its employees. While Queiroz disclosed few details of the product, industry observers are saying that it’s the latest step in Google’s efforts to create a self-branded smartphone.

According to Queiroz, the mobile lab device “combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android — the Google-backed mobile operating system — ” and would enable Google employees to “experiment with new mobile features and capabilities.” He did not disclose a timeline for when testing might conclude.

If previous reports are to be believed, that hardware partner is HTC, the Taiwanese hardware manufacturer that previously produced Android-compatible phones for all the major U.S. carriers, beginning with the first Android device to hit the market, the T-Mobile HTC G1.

Over the weekend, various Google insiders and other industry observers have posted pictures of the mobile lab device, which reports indicate is running Android 2.1, a previously unreleased version of the software.

Additionally, reports claim the device is identifying itself as the Nexus One — a bit of detail that serves to reinforce a Wall Street Journal story this weekend that reported that Google is preparing to debut a smartphone called the Nexus One.

The Journal also reported that Google has begun sharing the device with employees, and that the phone would ship unlocked — that is, that it would be compatible with a number of different carriers.

Claims of leaks surrounding a Google phone are hardly new, though the latest series of reports would seem to both confirm earlier rumors and indicate that Google has working product in reasonably large quantities — and thus, could be close to shipping.

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