Buying Android phones suck.
I’ve been using smartphones since 2008. And more importantly, I just realized I’ve been purchasing smartphones the exact same way since 2008.
- 2008: Blackberry Pearl 8130. Purchased from Verizon Wireless.
- 2010: Motorola Droid. Purchased from a Verizon Wireless third-party retailer.
- 2011: iPhone 4. Purchased from Verizon Wireless
- 2012: Another iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S purchased from Verizon.
- 2013: iPhone 5. iPhone 5S. Both purchased from Verizon.
Of course, this all meant signing 2-year contracts, dealing with activation and upgrade fees, the whole nine yards. A couple of weeks ago, I decided I had enough. It was time for me to leave Verizon Wireless for Straight Talk in promise of the same service for half the cost with no annual contracts (and yes, it’s been really good so far).
So, what do I do now? Well, I have a couple of options. I could buy a mid-range Android phone from Straight Talk (I wasn’t interested in another iPhone), or I could buy their nano-SIM kit and just bring my own phone. The concept was one I’ve heard about for a while, and it was exciting I could finally participate in being part of the “un-carrier” experience.
When I was phone shopping, I had a pretty basic checklist:
- Must be a factory-unlocked GSM phone with LTE.
- Must NOT be from a major carrier like T-Mobile and AT&T as this defeats the above qualification
- Must be < or = $650
- Must feature modern technologies such as NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, etc.
- Must be able to actually use my warranty (more on this below)
- Must be able to purchase directly from manufacturer.
As I began looking at phones, I realized that this would be a two-step process: deciding what phone I wanted, and then actually buying the device. Which do you think is harder?
If you thought deciding the type of phone I wanted was the hardest part, sorry! You’re wrong. Even with all the choices available to me, it was pretty easy to narrow it down to just a few: Nexus 5, HTC One M8, LG G3, Motorola X (2014), and the Samsung Galaxy S5.
All but two phones met the qualifications. The LG G3 product page is nice, but you’re directed to the “Big 4” carrier pages, as well as Best Buy and Amazon. Neither sell unlocked GSM versions of the G3. Immediate X. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was on my short-list, but while it’s one of the best phones available, it is ironically one of the most difficult to purchase outside the Big 4. The only model available directly from Samsung is the Verizon-locked S5 Developer Edition (even more irony when you compare other dev edition phones). All GSM variant inquiries are directed to AT&T and T-Mobile. While I wasn’t interested, trying to find this phone even from a third-party like eBay was so frustrating because there’s so many different models available. TL;DR - you’re looking for the quad-core model if you want LTE. The Exynos Octa-Core model doesn’t feature LTE bands, for whatever reason.
*How can two of America’s most popular smartphones be so difficult to purchase outside of a carrier?
I ended up buying the HTC One M8, even though it is still out-of-stock from HTC. I just wanted this all to be over with. I ordered the Developer Edition from Amazon, in hopes I wouldn’t be fucked by any non-existing warranties and potential bricked phones and sellers who are no better than actual bricks on eBay.
The worrying ended once I got my phone and checked my warranty status with HTC. I was in the clear. Thank goodness.
So, what sucks so bad about buying Android phones? Fragmentation. It’s not just a software related term anymore. Even the hardware has a serious disconnect from the manufacturer to the customer. Most people have become very accustomed to going to the Big Four (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) that the carriers have become the middle man in the smartphone world. They’ve needed to become the middle-man because it’s how they stay afloat, slowly but surely profiting from devices sold with their logo. And it just really fucking sucks.
Because of business values being put first, and the customer second, I wasn’t able to get my hands on the Samsung Galaxy S5. Sure, I could go to eBay, but look at the risks associated with that. I could end up with the wrong phone, or worse, a $500 paperweight - and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. I would’ve been bitching on Reddit, just like everyone else who threw too little caution to the wind. The LG G3 shares a similar story - it was easier to purchase, but I would be paying full price for a half-baked product.
The un-carrier experience is supposed to be the complete opposite. You, and your needs are first, then the carrier is second. Thankfully, more companies are wrapping this concept around their heads - like Google, Motorola, HTC, and Sony. I found it very easy to purchase unlocked phones from these manufacturers - Sony and HTC even offer extended warranties on their purchases. Not to mention, HTC has great customer support. Sorry, but you’re not getting that from the Big Four, take it from someone who has been to hell and back with Verizon.
So. Carriers. People still think they need them, and they probably do for quite a while. Everything is through the carriers, including phone support. And it’s all because of a ridiculous logo on the phone. And it’s because of this “business first, customer second” philosophy that the Android experience can be so crippled, so easily (especially on Verizon) to make things easier on the carrier. Carrier bloatware. Hardware restrictions. Unlocked bootloaders? Not something Kevin down at the local AT&T store wants to deal with - your phone not working because you flashed a custom ROM and got a virus. That NFL app on your Verizon phone? It’s there forever. Remember, business comes first.
All of this being said, I kind of wish I could make myself interested in the iPhone 6. Apple gets all of the small things right, like warranties, and making their devices available directly from the manufacturer (even if there are still staggered product launches). AppleCare+ can be added right at check out. Buying an iPhone is really as easy as buying milk and bread from the supermarket.
If your phone has a problem, just bring it to the Apple Store. It’s so nice for everyone to just say “Bring it to Apple. They’ll take care of it for you.”
Why can’t we get this right with Android?