The flip side of Nexus One: Low early marks for Google, the retailer

The revolution, if there is one, may not be automated. In the early going for Google's Nexus One phone, made by HTC and announced Tuesday, customers are learning that "support" for this phone is about as personal as Google Maps. Amid the immersive purchasing experience touted by Google executives during their Tuesday barn-raising ceremony, customers are discovering a definitive lack of the personal touch.

Exemplifying many of the problems early customers are having this week is a post this morning to the Nexus One support site by customer Martin Thorborg. He was paying full price for the unlocked phone, but had the simple problem of trying to get Google to ship the phone to his new address, after having moved since first creating his Google account. Attempts to change his shipping address with both Google and FedEx were all met with automated responses, telling him he was not allowed to cancel his order -- which he wasn't trying to do. Then later, FedEx sent him an automated message telling him he could not change the shipping address on his order "for security reasons."

Apparently FedEx will continue to attempt to ship the order three times to Thorborg's old address, after which it will be returned to Google. He'll be refunded, with the exception of the $45 shipping fee. Thorborg's last message to Google contained a reference to a certain bodily orifice.

"It might be okay to treat people like this when you get stuff for free, but when you pay $563.38 it is simply not okay," Thorborg told patrons of the support site. "Google, stick to what you know and let other people handle the Web shop."

In just a few hours' time, Thorborg received multiple messages from other customers, all in support. One reads in part, "You would expect a certain level of timeliness on service if you're handing over premium dollars for a device. [Nexus One] seems like a fantastic device, [but] I am actually somewhat surprised that the service level seems to be as low as it is. I expected [Google] to come out of the gate swinging and making a statement that they are serious about this."

Another support thread, also started this morning, is a gathering of dissatisfied customers, some who are experiencing bugs with the relatively new Android 2.1 software (for instance, photos that cannot be deleted), but many who simply can't get adequate 3G service. Google's carrier of choice for subsidized GSM phones is T-Mobile, but some customers finding no coverage there are experimenting with AT&T...and finding no solace there.

And since Google, in the name of openness, does not police its forums, individuals who do complain are being confronted not by automated messages, but by profanity.

"I love my Nexus phone. Unfortunately it can only perform as well as the network it runs on," reported user Adrian Tubke, who ended up being compared to other unmentionables. "I'm right here in Manhattan. My iPhone on AT&T was bad in terms of dropped calls and slow data. But the Nexus is even worse. Not the phone's fault. The Nexus makes my iPhone look like the golden choice again...Let's just get it over with. Where do I send the Nexus to return it and how long does it take to get my money back?"

As Tubke may be learning today, that might be a problem. The typical T-Mobile early termination fee starts out at $200, declining to as low as $50 for contracts with 90 days or fewer remaining. But as Google's Terms of Sale point out in the small print, Google itself may charge an extra "early termination fee" of as high as $350 additional. Thus customers dissatisfied with the phone may find that buying the rest of the phone is the only way they can walk away from it.

"You agree to pay Google an equipment subsidy recovery fee (the "Equipment Recovery Fee") equal to the difference between the full price of the Nexus handheld device without service plan and the price you paid for the Nexus handheld device if you cancel your wireless plan prior to 120 days of continuous wireless service," reads Google's Terms of Sale. "For example, if the full price of the Nexus handheld device without service plan was $529 USD and the price you paid for the Nexus handheld device was $179 USD with a service plan, the Equipment Recovery Fee you pay will be $350 USD in the event you cancel within the first 120 days of carrier service."
It doesn't appear that this ERF value declines over time, like a normal ETF. Both Google and T-Mobile failed to respond to Betanews' repeated requests for clarification all this week, even though Google does provide us with prompt responses on other subjects.

As Washington Internet policy advocate George Ou stated in a blog post earlier this week, Google's policy isn't anything new -- it's the sort of thing Verizon Wireless has done. But VZW, Ou says, doesn't cloak its ETFs in small-print language; thus, Google's presumably revolutionary business model actually ends up looking old-fashioned, and not in a good way.

"Google acting as the distributor of the Nexus One is not too different than Apple distributing their iPhone in Apple Retail Stores except for the fact that the former doesn't let you touch the phone in a brick and mortar store," Ou wrote. "I'm not knocking the phone because by all reports it seems to be one of the most impressive Google Android phones to date and the technical specifications exceed the iPhone. I don't have a problem with this Google business model for the Nexus One, but I don't see how it's anything new."

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