Commentary: After back-to-back bad experiences with his Nexus phones, this CNET editor won't be buying a Pixel anytime soon.
It's not me, Google. It's you.
We had some great times together. Starting with the Galaxy Nexus all the way through the final Nexus phone, the 6P, I have owned three of Google's flagship phones. Unlike phones from nearly all other Android vendors, Google's Nexus phones came with an unskinned, crapware-free version of the operating system and they were the first Android devices to get software updates.
Google followed the Nexus line with the Pixel phones last October. The new Pixel and Pixel XL come with an unskinned version of Android and continue the trend of timely software updates. They are also the first phones with the new Google Assistant, the company's answer to Siri and Alexa, aka the next-gen step-up "OK, Google." (That feature is now in the process of rolling out to all other Android models with the latest Nougat operating system.)
I really wanted a Pixel, but I couldn't in good conscience justify it. My Nexus 6P was still a more than capable device. But when my 6P suddenly died, I began to question whether I should purchase a Google phone at all.
Let's back up a bit to the Nexus 5 . I purchased one a few months after its release in late 2013. Things were good, initially. The phone was fast and had great software, and I loved the feel of it. I ended up using it for a little over a year with no problems, but then one day it randomly rebooted and refused to fully power on. I was stuck in what is called a bootloop, when the phone will boot up to the company logo, restart and then repeat.
There were two likely causes for this: faulty software and faulty hardware. I was never given a straight answer as to why this had happened. I contacted Google customer service (as a customer, not a representative of CNET) and worked with them to try to fix the problem, to no avail. When I asked about a replacement I was told my warranty had expired a few days earlier. I didn't contact LG (the company that manufactured the phone) since I had purchased it via the Google Play Store.
Feeling angry and helpless, I searched the Web hoping a fix would pop up somewhere. It turns out I wasn't alone. Users on multiple online forums had similar problems, many of which were caused by either a faulty power button or faulty software update. For me, I believe it was an update to Android 5.0.1 that caused the problem. The phone was still in near perfect condition and the power button worked fine and could still be used to shut the phone down.
I called Google again and explained how I believed the software update the company had issued may have caused the problem. I was told the same thing as before -- my warranty was expired and there was nothing they could do.
I wasn't happy, but what could I do? I moved on with my life.
I decided to skip Google's next phone, the Nexus 6 , but that was due to the massive size of the device rather than my disappointing experience with the Nexus 5. When the more reasonably sized Nexus 6P was announced in late 2015, knew I had to have it.
In hindsight, it's frightening how similar my 6P experience ended up being. The Nexus 6P was everything I could have wanted in a smartphone. It was fast, it had a great display and a good camera and it felt great in my hands. It will go down as one of my all-time favorites, even with the blemish I'm about to discuss.
After a little more than a year, the Nexus 6P randomly rebooted and remained in a bootloop. As was the case with the Nexus 5, the phone was in great condition with no modifications. It was running pure Android straight from Google.
This time I was certain it was the software. A few days earlier a notification on my phone had prompted me to update it to Android 7.1.1. I contacted Google customer service (once again, as a customer and not a representative for CNET) and was given the same spiel as last time: They weren't able to fix the problem.
When reached for comment by CNET, a Google spokesperson said the company was "not aware of a bootloop issue for the Nexus 6P" and noted that "if the Nexus 6P was purchased from the Google Store, we will replace the device regardless of warranty status." I purchased mine from Best Buy , an authorized third-party retailer, and was told to contact Huawei , the phone's manufacturer.
It took only a minute for the Huawei customer service representative to identify the problem. The man told me, "This is a known issue," adding that "the issue completely bricks the phone and it would need a completely new motherboard." I was shocked that a software update, one that was approved and sent directly from Google, could do this to my device. The rep informed me that "the Android update 7.1.1 caused a lot of issues on all devices."
I was told that because the device was out of warranty (by only two weeks), Huawei wouldn't replace it. The customer service representative suggested I check out a local repair shop. I reached out to uBreakiFix, a repair shop recommended by Google, and was told the shop "doesn't perform motherboard replacements because it comes out to be too close to buying a used device of that same model."
It seemed no one wanted to take responsibility for my broken phone. Unfortunately, I'm not the only person who experienced problems with the Nexus 6P. Despite Google's claims that it wasn't aware of any bootloop issue, users across multiple online forums complained of similar problems.
Part of the reason those two customer service tales were so convoluted was because of the weird status of Google's Nexus hardware. Google essentially worked with manufacturers such as Samsung , LG and Huawei to make customized versions of their phones, which Google then sold as "hero" Android devices. But that left the product with two corporate parents -- Google and the manufacturer -- and a confusing customer service path.
But with 2016's Pixel, Google took a different hardware approach. While the phone was still manufactured by a third party -- in this case, HTC -- it was designed by Google from the ground up. While the Nexus phones were essentially "Google Nexus 5 by LG," the Pixel phone is the "Google Pixel," full stop. The buck stops with them: Google controls things front to back, including all customer service obligations.
That's all fine and good, but it ultimately feels like a distinction without a difference. From my vantage point, Google's software updates bricked two phones in a row -- models that the company effectively put forth as the best Android experience at the time.
As mentioned above, a Google representative told CNET that the issues with a Nexus 6P with the bootloop issue would be replaced "regardless of warranty status" -- but only if it was purchased through the Google Store. That seems crazy to me. If Apple, Microsoft and Samsung products have different warranty terms when you purchase them through their respective stores, that's news to me.
Does the same thing apply to Pixel phones? Who knows. And as Google offers more and more of its own branded hardware beyond the Pixel -- Google Home , Chromecast streamers, Wi-Fi routers and maybe even more Chromebooks -- the question becomes ever more pertinent. (Some glitches have already been reported on Pixel phones and Google Home speakers, but they're both well within their one-year warranty.)
Ultimately, so long as you're purchasing a product through an authorized retailer -- new and sealed from, say, Best Buy -- Google should back the hardware with the same guarantees that it's offering to Google Store customers. Simply put, when a software update from Google breaks a device, Google should feel obligated to fix it, regardless of where it was purchased.
Until then, I won't be buying a Pixel phone.