Misadventures in phone purchasing

May 26

I have unusual cell phone buying habits for an American. I prefer to buy phones up front, unbranded, from third-party retailers for minimal pre-installed crap. No contract obligations, no “pay it off over your next several bills”, I just get a phone, slap a SIM card in it, and I’m good.

This is partly because my last few phones have been what I call “obscure hipster phones” — little-known models you can’t generally get at your local carrier store. If you go to the Nokia Live theater, they have a display of Nokia phones throughout the years … and not a single one of the Nokias I’ve owned are in the list*.

But as much as I love Nokias, it gets a little tiresome having obscure phones. And since Nokia threw the N9 under the bus in favor of the Windows Lumias, I was faced with a choice between sticking with Nokia and submitting to their hasty change to Windows, or getting an even more obscure hipster phone called Jolla. After much research, I decided to go for option C: get a phone with a widely-supported OS that hasn’t been abandoned by the manufacturer. Namely, the Nexus 4.

I knew T-mobile was selling the Nexus 4, so I called my local store to see if they had some in stock — they did. As soon as I walked in, the customer service guy asked me if I was the person who’d called, and went to grab a 16GB phone from the back. I asked if it was branded and filled with pre-loaded crap. “Nope, this is straight from Google.” Awesome. Then I asked the price. “It’s $49 up front, plus $17 off your next –” No no, how much if I pay for the whole thing right now? “$457”. Does that include tax and fees and whatnot? “Nope.”

… wat. $457? When pretty much everyone who wants a Nexus knows you can get it from Google for a hundred bucks less??

Now, I was willing to pay a markup for the convenience of having the phone right now, instead of having it shipped. And I like giving my money to local shops so at least a little of the money might stay in my community. But I am not paying a whole extra hundred bucks on a $350 phone for no reason.

And just like that, T-mobile lost the easiest sale they would’ve had all month. I knew what I wanted, I was ready to pay for the whole thing right there, they didn’t have to sell me on it or anything. But instead of getting their markup, they got $0**. Good job, beancounters.

Happened to be at Fry’s a little later, and checked their phone racks. If I read their crappy signage right (and let’s face it, at Fry’s that’s a big if) they were selling it for $550. Two hundred dollars over Google’s widely-advertised price. Even Newegg has a $100 markup on it. The cheapest price I found was some random retailer on Amazon — and if I’m looking at Amazon, I might as well buy from Google anyway since I’m not gonna save shipping time.

So in the end, Google got my money. I know situations like mine are rare, and most Americans have no idea of the real cost of their smartphones. But really? Nobody’s even gonna come close to Google’s price? There’s gotta be some weird kind of reseller agreement or something going on, because that’s just straight up weird.

And just for a little icing on the nerd cake, when trying to purchase the phone I found a bug in the Google Play store’s Wallet integration. Because when you do QA for a living, bugs come out of the woodwork at a moment’s notice. I’m like the pied piper of crappy code.

* The E71, N900, and N9.
** Well, besides the money they get from me every month anyway.