Buying a Google Nexus One Unlocked is a Terrible Experience – Fixing It is Easy

I have had my Google Nexus One for about a day. And I’m getting ready to box it up and send it back to them. It’s not because I don’t like the device – it’s kind of wonky in terms of UI, especially if you’re an iPhone user, but it’s still a very good device as you get used to it. It handles native Google apps well, with the notable (and mind-boggling) exception of Google Voice.

If you’re short on time, here’s the punchline – buying an unlocked Google Nexus One is horrible because neither Google nor T-Mobile can get you up and running quickly unless you know what to ask. If you want this phone, just get a contract and be done with it – the two companies haven’t figured out how to support users who come in with a device in hand. Here’s my saga in a few steps:

1. Ordered Google Nexus One unlocked from the online store.
2. Went into T-Mobile and got offered a FlexPay plan – no monthly contract and plenty of options for unlimited or metered voice, text, and Internet.
3. After a few clicks, I had everything up and running – Gmail, Google Calendar, and all of the other core services tied to my Google account. So far so good.

And then I got to Google Voice. Everything went fine until I went to set up my voicemail. All I wanted to do was to forward my voicemail from the Nexus One to my Google Voice number using conditional forwarding. The helper wizard on the device couldn’t make it work. The directions available on the Google Voice site didn’t work. So I picked up the phone and called T-Mobile. They were very pleasant, kind, and helpful, even though they regularly admitted they didn’t know much about the device.

I read the T-Mobile forums prior to the call and a lot of users suggested that you can’t actually do conditional voicemail forwarding if you’re on a FlexPay plan – they simply don’t allow you to do so. I broght this point up repeatedly during my roughly 1 hour call with their support folks. Finally, after some patient work by a Tier 3 unsupported deice rep, we both figured it out – it’s my plan, not the device. After about 30 minutes with the billing department, who kept trying to get me back to technical support, I finally just gave up and told them I wanted to cancel my account. It turns out there actually isn’t a way to convert from a FlexPay month-to-month plan to a postpaid account. And here’s the kicker – even if you bring your own device, signing up for a postpaid account obligates you to sign up for a contract. I don’t mind signing up for a contract if you’re subsidizing my device. But if I’m bringing my own phone, I find that to be a bit insulting.

So now I have this Nexus One and can’t use it seamlessly with Google Voice. It’s a phone, right? This should be a device that showcases how awesome Google Voice is, right? So what I’ve concluded is that buying an unlocked Nexus One is about the worst decision you could make for three reasons:

1. You pay more – the device costs almost $600
2. If you want to be able to use Google Voice to do everything, including voicemail, you need a contract as well.
3. Nobody seems to be able to support the unlocked version of the device and you’ll pull your hair out trying to get help.

Fixing this would be easy. Either Google or T-Mobile could simply direct people who want the unlocked device toward a plan that will actually allow someone to fully enjoy the device and provide a bit more support for those of us who want to get the device up and running quickly.

Overall, I can see the promise in this device. If you’re a power user of Google Apps, this phone is great. But I think I’ll sit this round out and wait until the support and setup issues get resolved before committing to this device.

  • Earlier last year – do not know if this is still applicable – Google Voice did not work with Google Apps for My Domain email addresses. So if you signed up for Google Voice under a GAPPS email address, the only way to make it work was via associating your email to a regular Gmail email address.

  • jwbito

    I have a G1 on Flexpay – works out well because I don't give anyone the number for the phone – I only get calls/text on my GoogleVoice number. It never occurred to me to try forwarding from the T-Mobile number.

    I'd like to try out the Nexus.

  • I have Google Voice forwarding working perfectly on AT&T on my Nexus One. The problem must definitely be that the FlexPay plan has restricted voicemail to T-Mobile-only.

  • Why don't you just sign up for a Even More Plus plan? They designed it specifically for the case where people bring their own devices. With 500 minutes voice + unlimited web, it's only $55 and it definitely works with Google Voice voicemail forwarding using the wizard, as that's how I have it set up.

  • nexusoneforum

    I expect Google to resolve these types of issues with the carriers over the next few months. Google won't stand for their device being harder to turn up when their whole goal is for it to be easier, and not lock in the customer.

    This is the bleeding edge though, so giving them a bit of time shouldn't be a big issue.

    http://www.nexusoneforum.net

  • Dave LaCivita

    So you signed up for a bad plan therefore the phone is lousy?

  • The Nexus One is a great device. I'm just baffled at the lack of coordination between Google and T-Mobile on this one. Do you like the G1?

  • Jose,

    Thanks for the comment. I believe what you mention might still be the case – keeping the consumer and enterprise versions of Apps in sync is not easy.

  • Were you able to get a plan with AT&T without a contract? I have a deal with AT&T on my iPhone and wouldn't mind having a second line with them if it works well.

  • Ari,

    Thanks for the tip. I'm going to go into the store and check out that plan.

  • I guess that's fair – I'd be happier if the product worked as it should right out of the box. My iPhone sure did.

  • I'm actually using my iPhone's plan (it is very cheap as it's part of a family plan). I don't know if you can get an AT&T plan without a contract.

  • Dave,

    I actually think the device is very impressive – much better than I had expected. If it had a good music solution, I might give up the iPhone. My complaint is more about the lack of coordination between Google and T-Mobile. I was hoping the overall experience of purchasing and setting up the phone would have been better.

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  • nexusoneforum

    Did it? I don't think the iPhone experience was perfect by any stretch as well.

    It didn't do MMS, something that I believe is a “required” feature, but people gave it a pass.

    It didn't do push… and even the first implementation of push that they advertised wasn't really push, but people gave them a pass.

    Many people had a heck of a time turning up service AT ALL. Many people who bought them went days or weeks with the provisioning process and being unable to get service due to the demand initially.

    People tend to forget these details and the problems that Apple had at initial release of the iPhone, and some of them took years to fix 🙂

    However, since you couldn't forward your voicemail seamlessly because of the particular T-Mobile plan you were on we tend to forget these Apple shortcomings 🙂

    All in all I think Google has done a good job. Perfect? No, not by any stretch of the imagination… but not a bad “first try” IMHO.

    Just my 2c.

  • John,

    Thanks for your comment – you raise a lot of good points. I didn't have any major problems getting my iPhone or iPhone 3Gs up and running, but many others did. The big difference, as I see it, is that the iPhone has raised my expectations for what I expect my phone to deliver in terms of an integrated experience. Compared to what was available in the market when the iPhone came out, i was willing to tolerate some level of frustration because the benefits were so clear. Now that I have an iPhone, getting me to switch means you have to clear a higher bar. For Blackberry users who are on Google Apps, switching to a Nexus One should be a no-brainer.

    I don't use MMS and I was able to work around the lack of push for awhile. Now that I have it, it's a must have.

  • jwbito

    If the G1 had a bit more battery life, I couldn't complain. However, with the new version of Android, I'm starting to feel like I'm running WinVista with 1Gig of RAM.

    Before my next trip abroad, I'll see if the Nexus supports the European 3G standard – that would cinch it for me. It was a bummer to have the G1 in Europe with no internet.

  • The product worked exactly as it was supposed to… You bought a wireless plan that didn't support a feature you wanted. No phone in the world will do what you want to accomplish without network support.

  • Yes, I agree with that – I'm not blaming the phone itself. This post is more
    about my frustration with the buying process and the lack of coordination
    between Google and T-Mobile than it is about the device itself. When I
    bought my iPhone and almost every other phone I've ever owned, they've never
    offered me a plan that would allow me to make full use of the phone. Google
    has since updated the Google Voice configuration page to let people know
    that you can't enable Google Voice with T-Mobile pre-paid plans. Problem
    solved in my book.

  • It sounds like you weren't ready to buy an unlocked phone then–if you're buying the device on your own it's up to you to make sure it's compatible with what you want to do on your carrier. If you had bought the phone from T-Mobile you wouldn't have had an issue because you would have gotten the subsidy and gone on the plan that included call forwarding.

    Unlocked phones are great, but they take more homework.

  • John,

    That's why I was surprised. This is the 10th unlocked phone I've bought in
    the last 5 years and it's the first time I've ever had this type of
    challenge getting it all set up.

  • tsang_alan

    You r right. The UI of Nexus one too simple…. just like a neat OS. Not much pre-installed apps. I think the nexus one is just a trial version for google. Also, google is not prepared to make a huge sale to piss of his customer.. (HTC, Moto, Anycall, Sony Erission…..)

    If you need a user-friendly UI, use HTC's android phone (E.g. Hero). It's cool. Or wait for the HTC to launch the ROM for Android 2.1 and flash it

  • mxstone

    Even if you bought any other unlocked phone, the issue would still exist, correct? This is purely a T-Mobile issue. “T-Mobile Flex Plans are crippled” would have been a more accurate title, though the inclusion of Nexus One got you more page views.

  • Josh

    Did you ever follow up on this? Were you able to convert to an Even More Plus (no contract) plan?

  • I was, actually. I'm now a very happy customer with a nice new phone. Just
    wish it hadn't taken so many calls to end up on the right plan.

  • rbrc

    What I find confusing about your article is that tmobile as “Even More Plus” plans which are non-contract post-paid plans. Why wouldn't you sign up for one of those?

  • I did get on a plan that works – Even More Plus. Much happier now. Nobody at
    T-Mobile told me about those plans when I signed up. Not sure why.
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  • Luqman

    Ugh! Wish I had read this before I just bought my unlocked Google phone!

  • Luqman

    Try DoubleTwist. http://www.doubletwist.com for a music solution that will sync with your phone.

  • Luqman

    Ugh! Wish I had read this before I just bought my unlocked Google phone!

  • Luqman

    Try DoubleTwist. http://www.doubletwist.com for a music solution that will sync with your phone.

  • Pschelino

    go to simple mobile no hasslenmysimplemobile.com My nexus one worked right out of the box I just had to enter the apn settings which were on their website.nIts simple, really!