Two years ago, Google painted itself as a knight in shining armor, rescuing consumers from the tight grip of wireless carriers and phone makers. When the Federal Communications Commission auctioned off wireless spectrum– essentially, more wireless bandwidth — to companies such as Verizon Wireless, Google threw its hat in the ring, and in doing so asked that the FCC impose conditions on whoever won the auction.
Among those conditions were the ability to use a phone with any carrier, and to download and use any app you like on that phone. Even though Google lost the auction, it patted itself on the back for pushing those two conditions through.
Now, Google’s selling phones directly, and when it comes to walking the walk, Google’s only halfway there with the Nexus One. Yes, you can buy an unlocked version of the Nexus One for $529. You can also buy the phone for $179 with a two-year T-Mobile contract. But if, within the first four months of the latter option, you decide T-Mobile’s not for you after two weeks of ownership, Google sticks you with a $350 early termination fee in addition to the $200 fee from T-Mobile, plus the original $179 price tag.
What do you get for that $729 phone? One that only fully works with T-Mobile, anyway. The Nexus One isn’t equipped to run on AT&T’s 3G network, only the slower EDGE network, and it can’t run at all on Verizon Wireless or Sprint. Google says it’s working on a phone optimized for Verizon Wireless, but it’s certainly possible that you’d end up with the opposite situation — a phone that partly works with Sprint, doesn’t work with T-Mobile or AT&T, and carries the same early termination fees.
And good luck complaining to Google about this. The company’s only handling customer support by e-mail, and you’ll have to wait a day or two for a response.
The big picture is that the Nexus One is a great phone that carries the same old burdens customers have dealt with for years. I’m still waiting for the Google-branded phone that really shakes things up.