Psst! You want a Nexus One from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) -- for free? Boy, have I got a deal for you!

Now you can get a Nexus One smartphone for free with a two-year premium service contract. The downside for us Yankees, of course, is that you'll have to go to Europe to get it. This first instance of heavily discounted Nexus One phones comes from European mobility giant Vodafone (NYSE: VOD).

Since Vodafone owns 45% of Verizon Wireless, you would be forgiven for thinking that a similar deal is coming stateside soon. However, things rarely work that smoothly in the wireless world; Verizon (NYSE: VZ) actually moved in the opposite direction today.

Contradicting what Google and Verizon said when the Nexus One first launched, there are now no plans to bring that handset to Verizon Wireless at all. Instead, Google has pulled a bait-and-switch on prospective Verizon and Nexus One fans: "For Verizon's network, you can buy the Droid Incredible by HTC, a powerful Android phone and similarly feature-packed cousin of the Nexus One." But it's not exactly a Nexus One.

What does all of this add up to? You could look at the event as a bit of a slap to Google from Verizon. Google’s decision to sell Nexus One directly to consumers was a shot across the bow to the American carriers' preferred method of locking consumers into contracts with subsidized phones, and it may have ruffled some feathers at giant Verizon. The wireless titan's decision not to join the Nexus One party means the phone won't be promoted on the country’s largest network.

The news isn’t all bad for Google; its main goal is just to push further adoption of its Android platform. Having Verizon aggressively push other handsets like HTC’s is still a win for the company.  In Europe, I see the news as pretty much a wash from Google's perspective. The attractive pricing through Vodafone could move a bunch of Nexus One units in Europe, but it's unclear how much marketing muscle the network will put behind this phone. High-powered Android handsets are already commonplace on the other side of the pond, so the hardware won't necessarily sell itself.

We're heading into a hot summer, with slews of Android models rolling onto our shores just in time for the expected next-generation Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone announcement. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) is undoubtedly busy working up another angle of attack on the consumer smartphone market, while Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) has been strangely silent lately -- when it isn't talking about exit strategies. And if Apple lets the exclusivity deal with AT&T (NYSE: T) drop, wouldn't it be fun to see Ma Bell slapping a free-with-contract Nexus One onto the pedestal the iPhone left behind? Pure speculation, of course, but it doesn't hurt to dream.

Smartphones are red-hot these days, and there are many ways to invest in that phenomenon: handsets, software, services, or components. The hardware guys build the engines for this race; service providers control the marketing gas pedal; and the software designers are mercenary drivers for hire. While these kinds of handset and carrier arrangements fill the news; there’s many ways to invest in this trend. The carriers and smartphone makers are just the most obvious beneficiaries. 

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. It's National Poetry Month until the end of the week -- and then back to 11 more months of dreary prose. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.