This Ain’t No Nexus Phone
There’s a sign that’s been hanging on a wall in my childhood home for about twenty years. It’s a souvenir from the San Diego Zoo (which I’ve never visited, so it must’ve been a gift) and it’s basically the longest do-not-do list in the history of man. It reads as follows:
“PLEASE DO NOT annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, harass, heckle, persecute, irk, bullyrag, vex, disquiet, grate, beset, bother, tease, nettle, tantalize, or ruffle the animals.”
I transcribed that from memory just now, having apparently spent too many mornings lying in bed reading the sign’s text over and over. As I grew older and secured various jobs that required me to interact with customers, I thought about the sign more abstractly. I started thinking that maybe those tenets could be applied to customer service scenarios, in a “the customer’s always right” kind of way. Later, after a few years spent dealing with those very customers, I became less idealistic and fantasized about a world where the list was given to them prior to their dealings with employees. In this world, I imagined anyone bullyragging or disquieting me would find himself promptly ejected from the San Diego Zoo. Or at least the Nextel store.
It’s probably a good thing I don’t work in customer service anymore.
I am, in fact, going somewhere with this. Friends, I write today to proclaim that I am vexed. I am beset, bothered, nettled, and ruffled. I’m everything the sign says I shouldn’t be (with the possible exception of molested; let’s not get out of hand). I’ve been wronged, readers, and the culprit is Verizon Wireless.
You know what? All three of them are going to get the shout-out here, because …
Those of you hip to the Android scene likely already know the source of my discontent, but for those of you in iOS or Windows Phone land, or those just apathetic about the trials and tribulations of Google-phone users, allow me to drop science.
News leaked today, yet again, that owners of the Verizon Wireless version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus would soon be receiving the over-the-air update to Android 4.0.4. On its face, this seems a trivial bit of news, one of those gap-filling pieces that slots in somewhere between “First Mutual Bank of Omaha Embraces Wireless Payments” and “How Bad Is The Android Spotify App, Really?” No offense to anyone who’s written those articles, by the by. Oh, and the Spotify app is well and truly horrible. But I digest.
The reason the latest 4.0.4 update rumor is significant is because it is, at this point, sheer comic gold.
When I bought my Galaxy Nexus from Verizon Wireless last January, it was with the implicit assumption that I’d be among the first to receive Android updates from Google. While that seems like a pedestrian guarantee to someone outside the tech world, followers of the Android saga understand the gravity of that expectation. Carriers and manufacturers have been -and continue to be- notorious for delaying or plain refusing to deliver updates to Android phones as released by Google. Sometimes this is due to the handset manufacturer needing time to adapt their software skin to the new version of the OS, and sometimes it’s the wireless carrier slowing the process down, running batteries of tests on the new radio software to ensure its network won’t be torpedoed by the update. Those are legitimate reasons for moderate delays, but more often than not, what happens is that a manufacturer will issue only one or two updates before declaring the phone unsupported. The customer then needs to buy a new phone to enjoy the latest version of Android – for a few months. Then the whole process starts over again.
Google, realizing the need to play nice with carriers and OEMs but also eager to create at least one fork of Android that didn’t suffer from rampant fragmentation, in 2010 launched a new product that would deliver something which has since been termed a “pure Google experience.” The Nexus One, an HTC-built Android phone, ran the latest version of Android available at the time, with no skin or other customizations. The device shipped SIM-unlocked, with an unlockable bootloader. It was marketed to developers and early adopters, and it launched a string of follow-on devices that many customers have since come to rely on as a kind of antidote to Android’s fragmentation woes. The end result is an implicit assumption on the part of a Nexus phone buyer, and an unspoken promise on Google’s end, that the device will faithfully carry the torch of “spiritual successor” to the original Nexus One, receiving its updates directly from Google in a timely fashion, with little or no carrier or OEM meddling.
Well, as anyone not blinded by unqualified belief in pixie-dust fairy-tales can tell you, “implicit assumptions” and “unspoken promises” are two of the worst things to base a smartphone buying decision on. Sprint’s variant of the second-generation “pure Google” handset, the Nexus S 4G, waited over five months for its update to Ice Cream Sandwich. Meanwhile, its unlocked GSM-based cousin received it months earlier, when it was supposed to. And now, the red-headed-stepchild effect continues with we Verizon Galaxy Nexus owners, now lagging behind our favored GSM siblings by over two months. And we’re still getting teased with new leaks of a promised OTA update every other day or so.
And you know what? All of this would be quite another story if I were just waiting on some geekery. Like, if I were tapping my foot holding out for an esoteric feature to unlock, or a minor graphical bug to be corrected. But I’m not. I have a list of problems I’m eager to see fixed. Serious ones. The full account is much too long to post here, but they include deficiencies like the phone crashing on certain app events, battery life woes, and connectivity problems I’m still trying to verify (in that vein, if anyone would like to send me a Droid Razr MAXX to test this GNex against, I’d be eternally grateful. As should be plain by now, I have unicorns to offer). There’s also the niceties, of course, like the improved camera performance, something this device sorely needs.
Hardcore users will say I’m missing the point of Nexus devices entirely- that the purpose of Google’s Nexus phones isn’t to offer seamless and quick OTA updates, but an unlocked platform for installing my own custom ROMs through lightweight hackery. I get that. Really, I do; and it makes sense. Folks running custom builds like CyanogenMod and AOKP seem to be happy with those platforms and the enhancements they bring. And I’d love to join in the fun, when I get the time.
But in that respect I’m a lot more like the average Joe (no, not that Joe). Even though I have the inclination, I do not have the time. You know what the title of this piece was originally going to be? “Tired of Waiting: Installing Android 4.0.4 Without Verizon’s Help.” It got changed because I’m about to go out of town this weekend for a wedding, and I can’t afford to risk bricking my daily driver for an experiment. If my evenings were free, I’d be able to sit down and really go through the process of installing a custom ROM, which would no doubt be quite simple and safe with the help of some of Joe’s videos. But right now, my evening’s aren’t free. I just don’t have the time to geek out over my Galaxy Nexus at the moment.
If that knocks me down a few pegs on the nerd ladder, so be it. I was figuring out Preware and webOS Quick Install on my Palm Pre while all you other guys were learning the ins and outs of your G1s; sue me. But the important thing is: in the sense that I don’t have the time to do catch-up learning on phone modding now, I’m like most folks. And if that’s true, then I know how frustrated most folks are right now, seeing all the news buzz about 4.0.4 launching for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, but seeing only “Your system is currently up to date” when they check for updates.
I’m frustrated. Though it’s not evident anywhere on paper, I feel a bit like I was sold a bill of goods with this Verizon Galaxy “Nexus.” From everything I’d heard, jumping to Big Red from AT&T was supposed to be a major upgrade, and if I had to go Android, I knew I wanted to go with a Nexus device. Well, as it currently stands, my expectations on both ends haven’t been met.
In fact, this all reminds me of another piece I was going to write, entitled “As A ‘Pure Google’ Device, The Verizon Galaxy Nexus Is A Disappointment.” I guess I can mark that one as done now, too. Because this kind of weak-sauce isn’t the way to impress anyone, and I’m pretty stoked about my next review unit coming in so that maybe I can get a taste of what a modern Android experience feels like.
Are you also irritated with your Verizon Galaxy Nexus experience? Want to gloat about not having to deal with this mess, because you bought unlocked or went with another platform? Think I’m totally wrong? You know where to put them remarks, brothers and sisters in arms.