Yeah, I’m documenting the process of changing cell phones? Why the heck is moving to the Galaxy Nexus a big deal?
First of all, I think we need to discuss why buying a new phone should be any size of a big deal. People buy phones all the time, even in an economy slower than an electric car full of overweight clowns.
That’s where you’re wrong … most electric cars accelerate well, even when filled with clowns. Also, the way many people buy smart phones gets broken by my little friend the Galaxy Nexus.
Straight from the Google’s Mouth
First things first, I didn’t buy my new phone from a store full of phones. The Galaxy Nexus is sold directly by Google, a company normally associated with funny doodles on a plain white search page … plus a way to remind yourself that those pictures from last summer’s vacation aren’t helping your job search. Now every human resources manager can Google your name and see that Yahoo you Binged in Cancun.
Latest & Greatest
The main reason I’m switching phones is to get the latest stuff … not hardware, software. The Galaxy Nexus has a good set of hardware specs, but it isn’t the latest in pocket computing. Software updates are where the Galaxy Nexus shines, since it takes the latest spin of Android directly from Google. My current phone is forever stuck on Android 2.2 unless I use a custom ROM, which is a bit of a pain.
Google makes the Galaxy Nexus as a developer phone, so it isn’t sold under the standard contract model. This means it isn’t subsidized, so I’m paying full price for the phone (a fairly reasonable $349).
Lock, Stock and Two Year Contracts
Here’s where most Americans get confused … not because they’re American, but because of the model for cell phone contracts in the US. The major cell phone companies (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon) subsidize the cost of the phone if you sign a two year contract. The phone gets cheaper ($0 to $200) but you’re stuck to the company for the duration of the contract.
At the end of that time I do “own” the phone, but then I have a two year old phone … which is the nerd equivalent of wearing white after Labor Day (unless you’re a Stormtrooper, in which case go on with your bad self). I don’t qualify for an “upgrade” (another subsidized phone tied to another two year contract) until 21 months into my 24 month contract.
And if that wasn’t enough to make you want to go back to rotary phones on landlines, your “land of the free” American smart phone is stuck to the carrier’s cell network. Each of the four main call phone companies use different radio frequencies (today’s version of AM versus FM) and two companies (Sprint & Verizon) use phones without SIM chips.
SIM Like It Hot
For GSM style phones, the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) is a little card that carries a phone’s serial number. Move the SIM chip from one phone to another and you’ve transferred the phone’s identity to a new phone. The serial number maps to a carrier and phone number. Of course, a “carrier locked phone” only takes a SIM from that carrier.
Yes, the cell phone company will unlock your phone … if you’re under contract or someone forces their hand. If you’re under contract you have to pay the contract termination fee to change carriers. Third parties can unlock most GSM phones for a small fee (just in case your cell phone company isn’t very helpful).
Most cell phone companies will unlock the phone if you tell them you need to use the phone overseas (don’t go to the store, do this via phone support). The unlocked Galaxy Nexus GSM phone saves me this trouble and supports all of the frequencies I need when I go to Europe or Asia. I’ve used the Samsung Vibrant this way to save money, switching to a local pre-paid SIM instead of paying for overpriced international cell plans. The Galaxy Nexus will do this out of the box.
That “fully unlocked” portability will come in handy when I hit the end of my current T-Mobile contract. I am tempted to change to a month-to-month carrier for cheaper bandwidth. This is much easier to consider when the phone goes between carriers.
First Things First
Of course, taking the time to write this post means I haven’t even turned on my new phone yet. I fail at nerd. My next post will detail the process of migrating phones, testing how well Google’s system migrates between devices.