Google faced its first stiff test in selling its Nexus One smartphone when the company's mobile help forum lit up with complaints about 3G service and other concerns late last week.
When Google launched the smartphone Jan. 5, it did so via its new retail channel Nexus One Webstore, marking a strategic shift experts claimed would give Google more control over how it sells Android devices and make buying them a leap of faith for consumers. Google alone provides the Nexus One through its Webstore and issues are addressed within two days in a triage-like fashion through Google's online support forum.
Consumers who bought the device for $529 unlocked or for $179 from Nexus One service provider T-Mobile are now complaining about everything from poor 3G coverage from T-Mobile to miscommunication about the smartphone's properties or pricing plans.
A college student from St. Louis with the handle of Spherical Puma lodged the first complaint Jan. 6:
""Has anyone been getting spotty to no 3g coverage? I switched from a moto cliq [Motorola Cliq, another Android phone], where I had 3-4 bars of 3g in my house constantly, to a Nexus One. I now either get 1 or no bars of 3g. I made sure that always use 2g was disabled, and I can't seem to figure out what the problem is.""
Mark Baird, a software developer from Knoxville, Tenn., chimed in Jan. 7:
""My [Android-based T-Mobile] G1 has 3G with full strength, but sitting right next to it my Nexus has 1 bar of 3G and keeps switching to Edge [Enhanced Data for Global Evolution]. If I let it sit for a while it may go up to 3 bars of signal strength but as soon as I start trying to use it the signal strength drops back down to one bar. I called T-mobile to make sure that I didn't need to activate the phone or something to get 3G service.They said my account looked fine and that they couldn't give me any more support since I had a Nexus One, that I had to call HTC. So I called HTC and they said that your 3G service is a T-mobile issue and they couldn't help me. The fact that my G1 works perfectly sitting right next to the Nexus though makes me think it really is a problem with the phone. I'm at the point where I'm about to send this thing back. It ruins the whole experience if I can't ever stay on 3G for more than a few seconds.""
Google is responsible for servicing the device, or at least directing users with 3G service complaints to T-Mobile if they chose the two-year T-Mobile contract.
A Google spokesperson told eWEEK Google is aware that users are reporting problems with 3G coverage "and we're investigating these reports."
The spokesperson also pointed users to this support Website, which points users to Google's help center, where there is a lot of troubleshooting information. A trip to T-Mobile's help forums showed this notice:
"Google and T-Mobile are investigating this issue and hope to have more information for you soon. We understand your concern and appreciate your patience."
The Google spokesperson also added this explanation of which company will service what:
""HTC will provide telephone support for device troubleshooting and warranty, repairs, and returns. Google will also offer self-help through our help center, user-to-user help through forums, and e-mail support to customers who are unable to find answers to their questions online. We promise to answer e-mail inquiries within 48 hours. T-Mobile USA will of course field calls regarding their service (including service billing inquiries).""
Google's redirection of complaints and pledge to answer e-mail inquiries within two days aren't sitting well with customers accustomed to simply walking into an AT&T store to get help with their Apple iPhones, or owners of the Motorola Droid, who can waltz into a Verizon Wireless outpost and seek aid.
Google must work its way through the painful grind of helping customers resolve their problems with the device, or at least pointing users to HTC or T-Mobile.