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Old July 13th, 2013, 11:12 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Justifying the price - Google Play Editions

I've seen a lot of people around the web griping about the price of the GPE. These are mostly residents of the United States, given that we're the only ones to get them officially, and because we're the biggest country that almost exclusively use the subsidy model. Most people honestly think that a flagship smartphone is a $200 toy, not a $600 piece of mobile computing. Also, due to the subsidy model, most of these people don't realize that they are paying more than $600 for the cost of their phone. But, this is not meant as an insult. I'm hoping that this post will shed some light on the subject and encourage others to go for factory unlocked phones. I'm going to divide this post into two parts; explaining the costs and the benefits.

Benefits to an unlocked/unbranded device:
  • No carrier branding
  • No carrier bloatware
  • No carrier delays in firmware updates (this means faster updates, and more updates)
  • The ability to switch carriers by simply swapping the sim card (harder in the United states, but getting easier by the day)
  • Higher resale value even after 2 years (international phones have resale values approaching the iPhone)
  • and more!

There are two points that I want to highlight above. On the update front, my Galaxy S2 GT-i9100 (international unlocked/unbranded model) received Android 4.1.2 in January of this year. It has received at least one bugfix update per month since. The carriers (Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile) released one 4.1.2 update, somewhere around April. Later builds have been pushed to the international model since then with key bug and performance fixes. Those carriers won't push those updates. So, you get more updates, and you get them faster when you remove the carrier from the equation.

The other item that I want to point out is the resale value. The iPhone 4 came out in June 2010. The iPhone 4s came out in October 2011 (this was when Apple changed the release date from summer to fall). The Galaxy S2 international model launched in April 2011, roughly halfway between those dates. As for resale value, if you check Ebay, Amazon, Swappa, and other websites of that nature, you'll find that the S2 has a resale value about halfway between the iPhone 4 and 4s. However, the carrier-branded variants sell for $100 or less.

Explaining the costs:

I'm going to focus on GSM carriers only here, because you can't take an unlocked handset to a CDMA carrier. That excludes Verizon, Sprint, and their MVNOs. The major GSM carriers in the US are AT&T and T-Mobile. I took my S2 from AT&T to T-Mobile. With their recent spectrum refarming, T-Mobile is using the same frequencies as AT&T for most of their services now. So their phones are largely interchangeable (it's good to have a phone that supports AWS 3G/HSPA+ for unfarmed areas, but those areas are quickly dwindling). T-Mobile also has surprisingly good LTE coverage as of last weeks' announcement.

So, let's do a few cost comparisons. I'll start with AT&T, using the HTC One as an example. AT&T sells the HTC One 32GGB for $199.99 on 2-year contract. HTC sells it direct and unlocked for $599.99, and Google has the Google Play Edition for $599. We'll round to $200 and $600 respectively

AT&T gives you three choices for their plans nowadays. You can go on contract using their old plans or their mobile share plans. You can also go prepaid under their newly altered GoPhone plans. Here's how those looks. I will be designing these plans to FAVOR the contract (IE, cheaper phone) to show you just how lopsided this really is.

Mobile Share: unlimited talk/text for $45 on the smartphone, and $40 for 1GB of data. That's $85/mo. Total cost of the service and phone after 24 months is $2,240.

Individual plans: You get 450 minutes for $39.99/mo (we'll say $40), and 3GB of data for $30. Texting is either pay per text, or $20/unlimited. Most people using smartphones tend to text to some degree, so we'll add that on. This puts the plan at $90/mo, but gives you 2GB more data in exchange for fewer minutes compared to the above mobile share. Total cost over 24 months with the phone is $2,360.

On the GoPhone plan, you get unlimited talk/text and 2GB of data for a flat $60/mo (there's also no unfees, making it even cheaper, but I won't count that). For 24 months of service, plus the cost of the phone, we're looking at $2,040.

So, in the case of AT&T, people that choose not to buy an unlocked device because "it costs to much" are essentially paying $800-$920 for their "$200" phone, rather than the $600 that they considered to be too much. However, I am aware that there are people who understand this, but still buy on contract because of the cheaper up-front cost. It's an easier pill to swallow. T-Mobile has countered this by allowing you to see the full cost of the phone, but "finance" it in a manner similar to the subsidy. However, the difference here is that at the end of your 24 months, you're no longer paying for your phone.

You see, when you pay off your phone on AT&T (or any carrier, really), your monthly service cost doesn't drop. Imagine taking out a 5-year loan on a new car, but at the end of the 5-years, if you don't trade it in, you keep making the same monthly car payment. Does that make sense? Well, that's what US carriers are doing.

Conclusion: The point of this thread was to justify the price of the Google Play Edition phones. However, as I've explained above, it clearly applies to all unlocked devices. If you think that unlocked devices cost too much relative to a $200 on-contract phone, you're actually the person paying more for the phone, not the guy shelling out $600 up front. The choice between a GPE and carrier variant is a choice between stock Android and timely updates versus the extra features/bloat tradeoff of Sense/Touchwiz. It's not a matter of $600 vs. $200.
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Old July 13th, 2013, 11:17 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Very good report. I feel exactly the same way. The only thing that sucks about the GPE phones is no aws HSPA support. Hurts if you're a T-Mobile user in an unfarmed area without LTE. But they're great in every other circumstance.
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Old July 13th, 2013, 11:28 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by jhawkkw View Post
Very good report. I feel exactly the same way. The only thing that sucks about the GPE phones is no aws HSPA support. Hurts if you're a T-Mobile user in an unfarmed area without LTE. But they're great in every other circumstance.
There was some confusion on that. The S4 GPE has AWS HSPA+, while the HTC One GPE does not.
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Old July 13th, 2013, 11:32 PM   #4 (permalink)
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There was some confusion on that. The S4 GPE has AWS HSPA+, while the HTC One GPE does not.
Ahh, you would be correct. I could have swore I looked the day they launched it and wasn't listed there. Or maybe I don't remember correctly

Thanks for correction.
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Old July 14th, 2013, 01:31 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Ahh, you would be correct. I could have swore I looked the day they launched it and wasn't listed there. Or maybe I don't remember correctly

Thanks for correction.
You were correct. Google is famous for their Play Store errors on devices. When the Nexus 4 launched, it was listed as having HSPA+ 21mbps. When T-Mobile stated that it would support their 42mbps DC-HSDPA network, the internet went aflurry with rumors that T-Mobile was getting a unit that had different hardware. It took nearly a week for Google to fix this error.

I was watching the Play store like a hawk on the 26th. When the Play Editions went live, the S4 had the wrong frequencies listed (it had the HTC One's bands listed), and the wrong SOC (Snapdragon S4 Pro was listed, same as Nexus 4). They corrected the SOC within the first few hours, but it took nearly a week to get the correct bands listed. You're not the only one who thought the S4 GPE didn't support HSPA+ on AWS. This has been misreported numerous times in no small part due to Google's error.

I called Google on the 26th to confirm the bands. They stated that it would support 2G, 3G, HSPA+, and LTE on both AT&T and T-Mobile. They confirmed that the HTC One would not fully support HSPA+ on T-Mobile except for refarmed towers. The HTC One GPE is hardware identical to the Developers Edition sold direct from HTC. The S4 GPE is hardware identical to the T-Mobile version. And by hardware identical, I'm including radio firmware for the sake of simplicity.

EDIT: I wanted to expand on this (because I'm feeling particularly wordy tonight):

Quote:
Originally Posted by jhawkkw View Post
Hurts if you're a T-Mobile user in an unfarmed area without LTE. But they're great in every other circumstance.
If an area is not refarmed, it won't have LTE. So the HTC One GPE will fall back to Edge in these areas. Refarming is required for T-Mobile to support LTE. I'll do this for the sake of anyone reading who wants general information.

T-Mobile before refarming:
Edge network ran on 1900mhz (PCS)
3G/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA 42 mbps network ran on dual-link 1700/2100mhz (AWS)

T-Mobile, after refarming is complete (timeline not yet announced):
Edge network is gone
DC-HSDPA 42mbps network is gone
HSPA+ 21mbps network on 1900mhz (PCS)
LTE on dual-link 1700/2100mhz (AWS)

In the meantime, T-Mobile is leaving small swaths of spectrum for Edge and DC-HSDPA 42mbps in their old bands for the sake of legacy devices. T-Mobile plans to shut this down as soon as feasible. So, you'll have LTE over the majority of the network, and HSPA+ 21mbps in areas not served by LTE. Also, because it's dual-link, T-Mobile's network can support 100mbps LTE (as opposed to 50mbps on Verizon/AT&T), and is better positioned for LTE-Advanced. This carrier has the potential to make a serious leap as a competitor to the big two.

The main question mark is, what happens if T-Mobile wins the 600mhz auction in 2014? That's why they haven't announced specific timetables and final network states. They don't know and won't know until after this auction. In the meantime, they've been frantically gobbling up PCS and AWS spectrum anywhere they can lately.
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Old July 15th, 2013, 08:57 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I always buy unlocked phones for full price and use a prepay sim. Its the way the US should go i think. Electronics are really cheap there compared to the UK.
Because using pre-pay gives the customer choice, it forces the carriers to be competetive.
As for Google Edition phones, i dont understand why theyre more expensive (if they are) than OEM skinned phones. Id rather just root and mod a phone and be slightly behind with android versions
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Old July 15th, 2013, 08:58 PM   #7 (permalink)
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As for Google Edition phones, i dont understand why theyre more expensive (if they are) than OEM skinned phones.
Just to confirm for you, they are not. MSRP on the Galaxy S4 GPE is $649.00, $649.99 on the TW variant. The HTC One is $599 for the GPE, $599.99 for the developer model (which is a price hike, as it was $579.99 before the GPE was announced).

Carriers can and will alter the prices. For example, T-Mobile USA charges $629.99 for the S4 for existing customers, and $579.99 for new customers. But a carrier/retailer discount doesn't mean that the MSRP is lower.
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Old July 15th, 2013, 09:26 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Ah right. Id just read people moan about the price but i guess, as said, these people are just too used to "subsidised" phones
In that case, id defo buy the Play edition over the OEM skinned ones.. even though i think some of the hardware features are missing/disabled.
Aparenly the cameras are surprisingly good without the OEM camera app.. i suppose google will have worked closely with the OEMs to get it right..
Id say if you like the idea of a nexus but can afford to spend more money, get a Google Play Edition s4 or One
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Old July 15th, 2013, 11:27 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I always buy unlocked phones for full price and use a prepay sim.
Exactly the same for me, when I was in the UK. UK carriers do offer subsidized phones, if one is prepared to commit to a stiff two year contract. I don't think it's like you must have a two year contract, like in the US. AFAIK most phones in the UK are pre-paid, however when they're sold by a carrier they're locked to that carrier.

When I was there last month, I did see lot of places offering to unlock your phone, like every market stall and street booth that sells phone cases. Which is completely different to the States, where you can be thrown in jail for attempting to unlock a phone....DMCA.

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Its the way the US should go i think. Electronics are really cheap there compared to the UK.
AFAIK prices stated in the US don't include sales tax, like they include VAT in the UK. So the apparent prices may seem cheaper, but once sales tax is added at the point of sale, the difference is not nearly as much, if at all. That's as I understand pricing in the US.

It is Rip-off Britain of course, and for some things, especially books, they seem to think that 1 = $1.
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Old July 16th, 2013, 12:04 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I don't think it's like you must have a two year contract, like in the US.
This perception is one that I hope starts to fade. You don't have to have a contract in the US. As I illustrated in the first post, there are many cases where the "subsidized" phone costs more than retail.

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When I was there last month, I did see lot of places offering to unlock your phone, like every market stall and street booth that sells phone cases. Which is completely different to the States, where you can be thrown in jail for attempting to unlock a phone....DMCA.
We have stalls in our local mall that unlock phones. You just have to show proof of purchase displaying that you bought the phone prior to the grandfather date. Those who don't fall under that category should expect the DMCA exception to pass relatively soon. As of right now, the "law" isn't being enforced.
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Old July 16th, 2013, 06:37 AM   #11 (permalink)
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I tried the GPE rom on my Galaxy S4 for a few days, there are so many lost functions that I had to flash back, the new stock camera app I really didn't like.

Good to have the option but it's not for me.
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Old July 16th, 2013, 07:00 AM   #12 (permalink)
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I tried the GPE rom on my Galaxy S4 for a few days, there are so many lost functions that I had to flash back, the new stock camera app I really didn't like.

Good to have the option but it's not for me.
Then applying the original post's logic to you, a full-price unlocked Galaxy S4 (Touchwiz) would be better for you, if the option exists.No carrier bloatware, faster fimrware updates, and better firmware support. However, unlocked GS4 isn't an option on every carrier. Verizon and AT&T have them, while Sprint and T-Mobile have an unlocked bootloader on their carrier-branded models.

If the current carrier subsidy model wasn't so near-exclusive in the States, you could just buy a Samsung Galaxy S4 from Samsung, full price, and use on virtually any carrier (this would also require us to go to the Euro model of regulating all carriers use the same technology and limited frequency bands for universal compatibility).
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Old July 16th, 2013, 11:17 AM   #13 (permalink)
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@mike, i keep noticing that 1=$1 when it comes to phones and tabs but i didnt realise that didnt include tax
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Old July 16th, 2013, 12:43 PM   #14 (permalink)
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"Google Play Editions"? I'm not exactly sure what that means.....
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Old July 16th, 2013, 01:40 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Samstung and HTC have made Google Play Editions of the s4 and One. Basicly they run pure vanilla android. No Sense or Touchwiz so they should always get the latest version of android faster. Im not sure if the updates come from google or the manufacturer(?)
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Old July 16th, 2013, 06:17 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Interesting. I think it'd be cool if this was a requirement to be able to use Android. Phone manufacturers can have their version with their customizations, BUT, they also have to release a version with Vanilla Android for those who wish it.

Where are these sold? If it's through the Play Store then only the Nexus is available like that in Canada and that sucks (that we only get one option, not that the Nexus sucks).
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Old July 16th, 2013, 06:45 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Yeah youre right, every manufacturer should release a flashable more raw android version compatible with the hardware (or let google do or something) for the minority like me who dont want their gimmicky features (although id probably just end up putting a custom rom on it lol)
Tbh i dont know if theyre only available through Play or how the regional variations work mate. Im unfortunately not in the market for a new superphone lol
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Old July 16th, 2013, 06:48 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Interesting. I think it'd be cool if this was a requirement to be able to use Android. Phone manufacturers can have their version with their customizations, BUT, they also have to release a version with Vanilla Android for those who wish it.

Where are these sold? If it's through the Play Store then only the Nexus is available like that in Canada and that sucks (that we only get one option, not that the Nexus sucks).
Yeah, for the time being it's exclusive to the US via Google Play. No word on when is going to open up to other countries.
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Old July 16th, 2013, 06:54 PM   #19 (permalink)
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every manufacturer should release a flashable more raw android version compatible with the hardware
A year or so back, Google were of this very opinion and tried to get agreement from OEMs to make their overlays/skins/UIs an option. The device might run TouchWiz (for example) out of the box, but the user would be able to disable it in favour of the 'vanilla' Android UI if so desired.

For whatever reason the idea never gained traction.
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