Google employees given HTC-made Google Phones, January launch imminent?

TechCrunch was certain that rumors of a pending honest-to-goodness Google Phone were the real deal, and now according to the site, Google employees are already tweeting with the devices in hand. If you believe what you see on Twitter, Google drones were given the HTC-designed handsets at an all-hands staff event, and the phone is quite a looker. One tweet reads "ZOMG we had fireworks and we all got the new Google phone. It's beautiful." while another says the phone is "Like an iPhone on beautifying steroids." One other, non-Google user on Twitter who's seen the device says that the device is a bit thinner than the iPhone, has a trackball (a la Hero), and has no physical keyboard... which sounds like the Bravo / Passion we've seen a lot of lately (and we hear is coming to the US soon). Apparently the device is running Android 2.1, is unlocked and AT&T-ready (no word on 3G status, but this could line up with our speculation about this being the carrier's first Android phone), and will be due sometime in January. We're guessing if that last bit is true, it will coincide with a CES announcement, but anything could happen at this point. If the device is out in the wild in such a big way, an end of the year press release wouldn't shock us either; of course, it's entirely possible that this is going to end up becoming the Android Dev Phone 1's true successor or an elaborate prank on Google's part in response to the rumors that have been building steam over the past couple weeks (they're crafty and they have a sense of humor -- it could happen). Anyhow, check out one of the tweet-tears after the break, and stay tuned for more info!

Update: Google all but confirms that devices are floating around on campus in a post on its blog:

We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it.

Not only that, but TechCrunch has more details on the device, claiming it will be a Google controlled, HTC-built model actually dubbed the "Google Phone," and will feature a "super high resolution OLED display," a Snapdragon CPU, a mic on the back of the phone that helps to eliminate background noise, is "really, really fast," and most importantly, will be sold unlocked. Essentially, TC claims that the phone will function on any GSM network you throw at it -- we assume that means an extremely rare pairing of both T-Mobile and AT&T 3G bands in the radio. Of course right now this is all speculation and hearsay -- until we get some solid facts (and maybe a device or two on camera), don't pull out the credit card just yet.

Update 2: Jon Gruber over at Daring Fireball says that the Google Phone is identifying itself as "Nexus One" (a Blade Runner reference) in its user agent string, though apparently Sony is calling its Android UI "Nexus" as well. Furthermore, a tweet from the man claims that he's heard the phone sports 3G for T-Mobile only, thus seriously dashing hopes that this would play nice all over the US of A. Again, grain of salt everyone.