Long known for its free online services like search and e-mail, Google has launched what it calls a 'superphone' that could tempt users of internet-ready mobile telephones from the major handset brands. Hong Kong is one of three markets outside the United States where Google is now taking online orders for the recently launched Nexus One, a touch-screen handset that is widely expected to rival Apple's popular iPhone. Local mobile network operators say they are interested in adopting the Google handset for their subscribers. 'We're looking into this ... but first we need to test the device and get more details about its key differentiating features,' said Stephen Chau Kam-kun, the chief technology officer at 3G network operator SmarTone-Vodafone. Nexus One runs the Google-developed Android operating system. The software is also found on some smartphones already in the market, including models from Samsung Electronics, Motorola and HTC. 'Our subscribers have a positive response to the Android-based smartphones,' said a spokesman for CSL, the city's largest mobile network operator. 'This is a good sign for the marketability of the new Google device in Hong Kong.' Chien Lee-feng, the director of engineering at Google's research and development team in Taiwan and Hong Kong, says Nexus One's processing power puts it above the iPhone and other non-Android-based smartphones. 'It belongs in the emerging class of devices we call 'superphones', with the 1-gigahertz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset making it as powerful as your laptop computer of three to four years ago,' he said. The Google handset can run online applications such as Google Maps Navigation and multiple Gmail accounts. It also has noise-suppression technology for clearer calls, and a tri-colour notification system to alert users of new e-mails, chats and text messages. There is one glaring disadvantage when pitted against the iPhone. The Google handset only has 512 megabytes of built-in flash memory to store applications. It comes with a removable 4-gigabyte SD card, which means consumers must buy higher-capacity cards of up to 32GB to get more room. By comparison, iPhone models come in 8G, 16GB and 32GB storage capacities. Users of Nexus One will also have access to fewer applications. There are more than 18,000 currently in Google's Android Market, an online store for such software. Apple, meanwhile, has more than 100,000 applications available for download at its online App Store. Consumers in the US, Hong Kong, Singapore and Britain can now place their orders for the Nexus One at www.google.com/phone . The Google handset is available without service for US$529, meaning any GSM network SIM card can be inserted into the device. The iPhone is currently more expensive in Hong Kong. Bought without a service provider plan, an 8GB iPhone costs HK$4,488 and the top-of-the-line 32GB model sells for HK$6,288. Both CSL and SmarTone-Vodafone say they have not yet been approached by Google to discuss Nexus One's release in local retail outlets. Chien said Google is in discussions with operators worldwide, though no details on possible partnerships are available now. That has not stopped mobile telephone shopkeepers in Hong Kong from being optimistic about the prospects of Nexus One. At the Sincere House Commercial Podium in Mong Kok, shop owner Wing Lau said she and other mall vendors have not yet received pre-orders, but anticipate shoppers to start doing so in a week or two.