How the hack this happened
And boy do we mean hack…
As you may know, the Galaxy Nexus was the design mule for the Samsung Galaxy S II. Samsung intentionally ensured Google’s shared designs and efforts to create Android 4.0 alongside Galaxy Nexus, would net positive externalities for the rest of Samsung’s smartphone strategy.
And, their plan paid off for Samsung in a big way. Galaxy S II was, and continues in the prepaid arena, to be a sales success story. We’ll have a review of the Galaxy S II (4G WiMAX edition), newly launched on Virgin Mobile, shortly. And, Samsung carried this strategy forward with the Samsung Galaxy S III building on the same designs. Faster turnaround, allowing Samsung to begin work on the Galaxy S III, while its rivals (HTC, Motorola, and others) were still getting their hands around Android 4.0.
So, when LG was offered the option of building the next Nexus, it was more of a matter of the art of the deal. LG, beaten to a pulp in Android device sales, was likely offered the gesture as a means for Google to breathe new life back into LG’s Android efforts. LG is the largest manufacturer to not have received a Google partnership. (HTC – G1 through Nexus One, Motorola – Droid & XOOM, Samsung – Nexus S/Galaxy Nexus, Sony – PlayStation Suite (jointly developed in concert with Google)).
Plus, LG is at-risk for jumping ship from Android. LG is (as has been widely reported) working with HP’s Gram subsidiary on a webOS-enabled TV. It’s not a huge jump to see HP agree to bow out of webOS smartphones and let LG carry the torch.
Therein, we see how Nexus 4 evolved. LG agreed to create an HSPA+ only version of the Optimus G, designed specifically to not cannibalize Nexus 4. LG, in return, got the technical assistance needed to make Optimus G a success (at least, in terms of design).
But, at what cost for the Nexus 4? Well, obviously, the lack of 4G LTE. The phone was literally hacked from a standard Optimus G to not work on LTE. This has already been proven, as the 1900/2100 MHz LTE radio antenna (not to mention LTE chipset) were all left in the Nexus 4. And, hackers have already gotten it to work in the few AT&T markets that use those frequencies.
That’s great, but why did Google really dump LTE?
Google claims the dropping of LTE (a downgrade from the optional offering on the Galaxy Nexus, and the Nexus S 4G WiMAX before it), was because LTE was nascent, and Google was going for a the largest availability possible.
This is partly correct, and partly not correct. After all, Google isn’t one to tell customers to not use the latest and greatest. And, if Google could release two versions before (one HSPA+ and one LTE), why not do that again? So, what happened?
Google is facing increased blowback from carriers. Galaxy Nexus, for example, still cannot use Google Wallet on Verizon Wireless. The NFC is locked by Verizon from accessing Google Wallet, and thus Google doesn’t even offer the app to Nexus customers on the carrier in protest.
If you’re on Verizon Wireless, and have a Galaxy Nexus, you should call *611 from that phone, and take 5-10 minutes of Verizon’s time to let them know what you think about that. They
certainly quite probably don’t care what we think… but if all of you shut down their call centers to voice your disdain, we think they’ll listen a bit more closely. They are, after all, not throttling your grandfathered data because competition can win over your business.
And that’s just on the Galaxy Nexus LTE. WiMAX isn’t much better. Throughout most of the Nexus S 4G’s run, Google had to de-certify its own Nexus device as being compliant with the Android Open Source Project standards. Why? Samsung wasn’t permitting the sharing of even closed binaries for the CDMA and WiMAX stacks. Eventually, Samsung caved and Sprint signed off on the public code.
But, by that point, the experiences with Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S left Google raw. Google lost control of the software. And Google is all about the software.
A device that exclusively uses GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ gives Google the leverage. There is nobody that can stop them from implementing things exactly how they want. There aren’t 15 different LTE bands to support, and there’s no we-promised-we’d-make-WiMAX-open-access-but-ha-ha-you-trusted-us. Add in that WiMAX as a prepaid offering (in the United States) isn’t even assured to last the next three years, and you can see why making support for WiMAX wasn’t a Plan B to 4G.
Should I care?
In the battle for a free and open smartphone? Yes. In your purchasing decisions? No.
Nexus 4 will have the most powerful impact in the industry, of any phone since iPhone. LG can’t make enough to satisfy demand. The phone is perpetually sold out, and there is now a two month backlog… on the 16 GB version. You can’t even backorder the 8 GB version currently.
Why? Because for the first time, prepaid service has a phone as powerful, and more flexible, than the postpay providers. Why pay for a shared data family plan, when you can sign up with Straight Talk, and enjoy unlimited everything for $45/month. Or, sign up for a 5 GB prepaid data plan on T-Mobile for $30/month, and use Skype/Groove/Google for VoIP calling.
You still get faux 4G HSPA+ data speeds, and an internationally unlocked phone, with firmware that is completely controlled by Google.
The market has spoken. And, T-Mobile is seeing this wave continuing, which is why they are ending device subsidies, and welcoming the trend. Anything else would mean suicide for the carrier at this point.
So what is the Galaxy Nexus good for?
Couple things, price and speed… sometimes.
A used Galaxy Nexus can be had for as low as $149. Seriously. We bought one from Cowboom (Best Buy’s return outlet) to make sure. We got a Galaxy Nexus for Verizon Wireless with no dents or scratches, except for the one we put on it within the first day of use.
Keep in mind, there are two versions of the Galaxy Nexus. The HSPA+ international version going to be more expensive than the carrier-locked Sprint and Verizon versions, which are CDMA/LTE only.
But, also keep in mind that the Galaxy Nexus is available in 32 GB trim. Both Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 lack microSD card slots, a common criticism of both Nexus phones, and of Android 4.0 in general. Android 4.0 places a greater emphasis on internal storage, a la iPhone, and can make external storage options a confusing experience for non-techy users.
In the end, for GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ we suggest going with Nexus 4. Unless you need 32 GB. Or unless you need a good deal.
On Sprint and Verizon however, it’s a whole different ballgame. While there are newer, more powerful devices like Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, the price-to-performance tradeoff just isn’t there. You’ll pay two-to-four times as much for Galaxy S III / Galaxy Note 2, and have far less than double the device to show for it.
Plus, we don’t see Nexus 4 hopping on over to LTE any time soon. It could happen on Sprint or Verizon, but the full retail price will be sky-high compared to the $299 for the HSPA+ version.
While Sprint and Verizon both aren’t the most stellar companies on testing, approving, or even giving customers choices on firmware… you’re also much more likely to see Android 4.2 hit the Galaxy Nexus on those carriers, first. And very early on compared to other devices. Why? Google builds Android 4.2 on Galaxy Nexus first. The work for Sprint, Samsung, and Verizon is done for them for the most part. If you’re not into flashing firmware on phones, that matters.
Finally, keep in mind that the only way to maintain grandfathered unlimited data on Verizon Wireless at this point, is to use a used device, or to pay the full retail price for a phone. The Galaxy Nexus is a steal of a deal for keeping a good thing going on that front.
Nexus 4 – Faster, better device, but lacks 4G LTE. Also not available with 32 GB, and that’s a big deal since no microSD.
Galaxy Nexus – 4G LTE version is a killer used device, at a killer price. Likely to get Android 4.2 first on Sprint & Verizon. 32 GB version also attractive on both sides of the carrier spectrum. Verizon needs a slap on the wrist for messing with your NFC.