T-mobile's G2: Android done precisely, totally, wrong.

2010-10-08 11:42

Okay, don’t get me wrong. The fundamental hardware feature set of the phone? Great.

Here’s the thing. T-mobile has decided to have this phone seriously crippled in a number of ways, all of which conspire to screw legitimate users for no obvious benefit to anyone. And, being a company, they are of course blatantly, flatly, lying about the whole thing.

What did they do? They allocated a big chunk of the built-in storage to a special setup that lets them restore the phone to factory settings if certain things are changed. The sorts of things changed when one “roots” the phone (gets full access to the internal storage, so you can do things like shut off or remove unwanted applications.) What effect does this have? In their words, it “ensures optimum performance”. That’s a lie. What it really does:

  • It ensures that, no matter what your feelings are, you will run the provided Amazon MP3 app, and the Photobucket app. Period. Doesn’t matter whether you want to deal with either company. Those applications are running. If you shut them off, they are restarted. You cannot escape. Memory and battery life are both being dedicated to running these, and you don’t get a vote in it.
  • It means that, of the advertised “4GB” of storage the phone has, about 1.2GB is available to you. This isn’t the normall amount of storage used up by formatting and preinstalled software; this is a massive decrease in provided storage, far beyond what you’d see on any other device.
  • It prevents you from running a variety of perfectly legitimate programs that are not illegal, unlawful, dangerous, or harmful to the phone or the network.

That’s it. It doesn’t make anything run better. In fact, because one of the effects of this setup is to force certain unwanted applications to run all the time, it isn’t just that it’s not ensuring optimum performance — it’s that it is ensuring bad performance compared to what you could get if you were allowed to shut off unwanted software.

This is a pretty shitty thing to do, T-mobile. It’s shitty to screw your customers. It’s shitty to lie about it. No, you are not “ensuring optimum performance”. You’re screwing us out of storage space we paid for, and you’re wasting battery life (not one of this phone’s strong points) on software we didn’t ask for and don’t want.

Some people have argued, perhaps plausibly, that the concern vendors have is that people who root their phones sometimes damage them. True dat. And then some of those people file bogus warranty claims. Probably also true. And as a result, the natural thing to do is screw everyone else in a misguided effort to slow these people down… Is that gonna work? I don’t think it is. Is it a reasonable or rational response? No. Is it an ethical response? Hell no. It’s malware. It’s a rootkit. It’s the same kind of technology that botnet authors use, running for exactly the same reason — to assert control over someone else’s hardware.

If T-mobile really wants to do something to avoid bogus warranty claims from people screwing up their phones when rooting them, that’s super easy to do. Right out of the box, provide the phone with an easy user-accessible way to get root. As soon as you do this, people stop trying to “root” their phones in ways that can turn the phones into bricks; instead, they just use the software they want to use and go on their merry way. If you really want, install some kind of non-volatile storage and make a note in it when the root software gets run. No one’s gonna waste time trying to outsmart that, why would they care? People only do crazy stuff to get their phones rooted because that’s what they need to do in order to get access to the hardware they paid for. Give them the access free, and they’ll take the easy path.

Compare this with Sony’s PS3 woes; efforts on cracking the PS3 didn’t get serious until Sony took away the easy way to run Linux on it. Once Sony did that, people who wanted to do perfectly ordinary and legitimate stuff, using features they had paid for, suddenly had to break the security to do it… So they did. If T-mobile would stop shipping phones preconfigured to run unwanted crapware, and with core functionality disabled, T-mobile would stop seeing people bricking phones trying to fix them.

Anyway, long story short: If you don’t need any of the other functionality, and don’t mind running bogus crapware like the Amazon MP3 store thing, the G2’s a pretty nice piece of hardware. However, do be aware that it has much worse specs than advertised due to malicious software factory-installed by T-mobile. If you want the real, advertised, specs, you’re gonna have to wait until either T-mobile goes honest again, or the developer community figures out how to bypass and disable the rootkit. Which could be a couple of weeks, easy.

Before this, I used to recommend T-mobile as being a better-run company than their competition. Now, I’m not so sure.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. The good news is that if you upgraded to Gingerbread, your phone is now completely ruined, instead of just partially ruined as detailed above.

    GINGERBREAD is so bad, I don’t even want to eat the cookies anymore. Go everywhere and spread the word.

    — Jared Roddy · 2011-10-07 07:47 · #

 
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