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Why I'm ditching the Verizon Galaxy Nexus

Think about it: For the first time since the original Motorola Droid, America's biggest carrier was as a matter of fact carrying a pure Google Android phone -- a device that would run the latest and greatest Android version, free from bloatware and annoying manufacturer modifications and with fast and frequent updates straight from Google's Android team. Man, that sounded nice.

Sadly, it turned out to be too good to be true: During the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is technically a Nexus phone, it's a Nexus phone with a lot of asterisks. And that's why, seven months afterwards buying a Verizon Galaxy Nexus and signing a two-year contract with the carrier, I'm ditching the phone and saying so-long to the service.

The Verizon Galaxy Nexus tale

Looking back at the Verizon Galaxy Nexus tale, it didn't take long for the first signs of compromise to appear: Just previously the phone's release, we learned that Verizon was blocking Google's NFC-based Google Wallet application on the phone. The carrier was as well, we discovered, baking two bloatware-esque Verizon-branded apps into the device. And it was locking down the Android-enabled ability to use the device as a Wi-Fi hotspot, modifying the OS to prompt users for extra money if they tried to toggle on the feature.

But at that time came the upgrades. Stock software aside, the biggest advantage of a Nexus phone is the guarantee of receiving new upgrades directly from Google as before long as they're released -- a sharp contrast to the wait-and-see game that comes with most manufacturer-designed Android devices. With Verizon's Galaxy Nexus, that promise has gone unfulfilled.

I saw the writing on the wall with the incremental Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades -- the 4.0.3 release that the Verizon Galaxy Nexus never got and the 4.0.4 release that arrived on the phone a full two months afterwards its launch. With the shiny new Android 4.1 Jelly Bean release now officially out in the wild -- and nowhere nearly the Verizon phone -- I after all decided I'd had enough.

So what's my answer? Simple: I'm moving to an unlocked HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile's Monthly 4G prepaid service. It's something I've been considering since writing about the value of prepaid smartphone service a few months ago. The Jelly Bean upgrade was simply the last straw that pushed me toward the change.

The change, I'm happy to say, has been surprisingly painless: I got an HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus phone and ordered a T-Mobile prepaid SIM card activation kit. I popped the card in the phone, followed the kit's simple online activation instructions, and within a matter of minutes was up and running with my new device. Porting in my existing cell number took one five-minute follow-up call to T-Mo's customer service. However, I encountered no hassles and never even had to step outside of my home.

To be fair, it isn't a strictly apples-to-apples comparison: My new prepaid plan gives me fewer minutes than I had with Verizon; it as well doesn't include things like free nights and weekends or unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls. And the data speeds are slower, as T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G innovation isn't at the same level as Verizon's LTE (Long Term Evolution, latest standard in the mobile network technology) 4G innovation.

But hey, those are tradeoffs I'm willing to make. Between my buckets of mobile data and the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) lines in my home and office, I rarely crack the 100-minute mark. And the few months when I travel and do need more talk-time, I can just pay for the extra minutes I use. My new plan allows me to buy additional minutes as I need 'em at 10 cents a pop; all I have to do is leave some extra cash on the prepaid account, and the cost for any minutes I use over 100 is automatically taken from that balance.

The data speeds

As for the data speeds, HSPA+ may not be as zippy as LTE, nevertheless it's for all that plenty fast. We're not talking a Sprint-3G-level drop here; to be honest, in most practical phone-based uses -- Web browsing, social media use, and the likes -- I've found it tough to tell much of a noticeable difference. The main difference I can tell is in battery life: During the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is notorious for burning through battery power, the HSPA+ version of the phone has some admirable stamina. Chalk that up as another perk of the change.

There is, clearly, the cost of termination: I signed a two-year contract with Verizon when I bought my original Galaxy Nexus, and they don't let you out of those suckers without some serious bruises. Verizon's early termination fee for smartphones is $350 minus $10 for every full month of your contract you've completed.

That means I'll pay $270 to get out of my contract early. And yes, that actually sucks. Nevertheless when I factor in the amount of money I'll save each month, I'll more than make up that cost by the end of the year. And by the time my two-year contract term would have expired, I'll have made up the cost of the HSPA+ phone, too -- and saved an additional $300 on top of that.

I've been using my new HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus with T-Mobile service for a little over a week now. So far, I couldn't be happier: I have a true Nexus phone with Android 4.1. I have no bloatware and no carrier-added restrictions governing what I can and cannot do with my phone. And, most important of all, I'll continue to get OS upgrades suddenly in the future -- as before long as they're released from Google, with no carrier-added delays. This is the true Nexus experience, not the crap-encrusted Verizon version.

The technological benefits

Aside from the technological benefits, I'm pretty damn pleased with the long-term financial savings and lack of extended commitment my new setup provides. I feel like I've when all is said and done broken free from the chains the carriers have had us in for so many years. My phone is my phone, and I'm paying only for what service I want, when I want it. I'm paying about $600 a year less than I did with Verizon -- and if a better deal comes along in six months, I'm free to jump ship and move around as I please. It's as a matter of fact quite liberating.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is a terrible device -- not anything near it. If I were to limit myself to Verizon's network right now, it's after all the phone I'd pick. In terms of user interface, the device gives you a stock Google experience, which is vastly superior to the muddled and cluttered UIs most manufacturers insist on creating. And in terms of Android upgrades, relatively speaking, it nevertheless leaves you in far better shape than you'd be in with any non-Nexus device.

The problem is that compared to the true Nexus experience -- the one Google promises and as a matter of fact provides on unlocked phones outside of Verizon -- the Verizon Galaxy Nexus falls short. Within Google's Nexus universe, the Verizon model makes you a second-class citizen. And that's a designation I'm ready to leave behind.

It's easy to play the blame game -- a Google engineer once said that "operator approvals" are at fault for the slow upgrades with carrier-based Google devices -- however the truth is that Verizon's Galaxy Nexus represents a failure by all parties. Verizon failed to deliver on what a Nexus phone is promised to be. And Google failed by allowing Verizon to carry its Nexus name without fully committing to its Nexus model.

More than anything, I wish Google had been more honest about the realities of the Verizon Galaxy Nexus from the start. Nexus products appeal to some of Google's most loyal Android enthusiasts. Those people, along with the rest of the phone-buying population, deserve better than a half-fulfilled version of what a phone is promised to be.

• Android 4.1, Jelly Bean: The complete FAQ • Android 4.1, Jelly Bean: Hands-on impressions • Smartphone service for $30 a month? Yes, please

More information: Computerworld
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