I’m writing from Phoenix, where a trip home met an abrupt end today. After one canceled flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I hopped over to the Valley of the Sun in hopes of a different flight home, but Mother Nature had other ideas. Since so many travelers are in a similar bind, all flights home are booked through Monday. I’ll be attempting a trip to JFK tomorrow and will mostly likely miss the first Super Bowl of my adult life. What the heck does that all that have to do with Google’s Nexus One? Well, this travel challenge has offered me a great way to test the recent 3G fix in a number of T-Mobile coverage areas. As bad as my travel woes are, the radio in my Nexus One just might be worse off than me.
Not long after the Nexus One first arrived in early January, users reported 3G issues here in the U.S. Since the phone only supports T-Mobile’s frequencies here, AT&T’s network was a non-factor in the situation. I had my phone shipped to me in Las Vegas since I was there for the Consumer Electronics Show and really didn’t notice any issues. And when I returned home to Philadelphia, all was well at first. In fact, I was testing the 3G immediately after we landed — as we were taxing to the gate, I saw 2.1 Mbps down and 1.2 Mbps up. But once I recovered from the CES and started looking closer at the Nexus One, I saw issues. In the same location, an evaluation Nokia N900 handset with my T-Mobile SIM card offered speeds similar to my first test. But after a quick SIM swap to the Nexus One, the best my Android handset could do was lowly EDGE speeds. Clearly, something appeared to be wrong.
Sure enough, reports of the same 3G issues flooded the official Google Nexus One support forums. There were a few different configuration workarounds offered, but they didn’t work for everyone. Finally, Google indicated that it was working with T-Mobile and HTC, the handset maker, to address the problems. After a few weeks of waiting, a software solution arrived in the form of an over-the-air update for all Nexus One handsets. In addition to the 3G fix, Google added other welcome features — the most prominent being pinch-to-zoom functionality in the native Gallery, Browser and Maps software. But did the firmware actually fix the 3G problem?
I upgraded my handset firmware just prior to my current travel excursion. I was more enamored by the multitouch features and didn’t pay too much attention to my 3G signal, even though I live in a T-Mobile data coverage area. So while waiting for my flight to San Francisco, I refocused my attention on the radio issue. What a perfect time and place to do just that, I thought. After all, Philadelphia International Airport is where I first saw fast bandwidth speeds on the phone. Too bad, I never saw them again in that very location. I ran various speed tests over the course of three hours, but never even saw half of the throughput I had seen a few weeks prior in the same place.
While there are a number of factors that affect 3G performance — location, other users, backhaul — the results weren’t sitting right with me. On Twitter, I asked if anyone else was still having problems. A few minutes later Michael Gartenberg, a Technology Analyst at Insight and columnist at Engdget, replied via Twitter: “yep. 3g actually worse. I used to get 3g at home. No more. But I do have multi touch.” Again, data throughput testing isn’t an exact science, but I can’t think of a single reason why Michael couldn’t get 3G at home using the same phone — especially after the software update.
So over the span of the last three days, I’ve been testing my handset using the SpeedTest application from Xtreme Labs — available for free in the Android Market — and also watching the data indicator on the phone. Aside from testing in Philadelphia, I’ve also tested in various San Francisco neighborhoods and in Phoenix. Every single testing location used was squarely in a solid T-Mobile 3G coverage area — no fringe areas, for example.
And in every location, I saw either miserable 3G speeds, signals bouncing between 3G and EDGE, or — even worse –both. I’m calling the last situation “worse” for a specific reason — signal bouncing like that can hit your handset battery hard. In fact, I barely used my Nexus One this morning in San Francisco and in the three hours I waited for my flight, the Nexus One battery dropped from 100% to 65%. I’d expect that kind of drain in three hours when actually using the phone, but not when it was basically dormant. The bouncing back-and-forth is really maddening. Sitting with the GigaOm team yesterday, for example, the phone was stationary but showed every possible combination of bars and signals. I saw GPRS, EDGE and 3G plus everything from no bars of service to four full bars, and everything in between. This was over the course of two hours in the exact same location.
Since my travel woes have stranded me in a Phoenix hotel, I now have some time to check in on the very same Google Nexus One support forum that I originally used to track the issue. As of now, there are 977 posts in the thread, spanning 25 pages. While I don’t know the location and coverage specifics for each individual user, there’s a fair number of posts indicating that handset owners are still seeing the same issues I am, even after the firmware update. There are some that say the issue is fixed for them, which is great. But either my testing is bad in three different cities, or there’s still an issue for quite a few people.
Is it hardware or software? Perhaps it’s both, or maybe there are some coverage issues that are affecting results. It’s to the point that I don’t really know. It could be any and all of the above. But what I do know is that something is still wrong with the 3G signal on my Nexus One — and I’m not alone.
If you have a Nexus One and use a T-Mobile SIM, I invite you to chime in on the comments, but more importantly, to participate in a poll. I’d like to see how isolated or widespread this is, for starters. And it just might help bring more attention to whatever the issue is. When I return home, I’ll do some additional testing. If I still see the issue, I’ll be testing the support channels for my Google Nexus One.