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Get it right, Google!

June 23 2012

As some of you may know, I recently traded up from my Nexus One to a Galaxy Nexus. (Yes, I know this is poor timing, given that both Google and Apple are probably going to announce new phones in the next few months.) I did not want to do this. I love (still!) my Nexus One, despite its flaws. (Auto-rotation was broken, I couldn't put any new apps on it because it ran out of flash space, I can't listen to music because there's lint permanently stuck in the headphone jack, and, oh yeah, the screen wouldn't turn on when you pressed the lock button. Small details.) If I could've just gotten a new Nexus One, I would've. But, sadly, I do need a phone that I can use whenever I want to, not just whenever someone calls me, or whenever I have access to a power source, or whenever I set an alarm. So I bought a Galaxy Nexus, because they were free with contract from Amazon, and they were the best phone I could get on Verizon, which was where my family was moving.

One of the biggest appeals of the Android platform is that everything is synced. (Well, everything that you use through Google's services is.) You can pick up a new Android phone and, even on a different carrier, your contacts and emails and whatever will magically appear on your new phone. That part worked great. It's why I got another Android phone instead of an iPhone.

However, there were some problems with the ahem login process. You see, I have two-factor authentication enabled. This means that, whenever I try to log in to Google from a new device, they text me a code that I have to enter to successfully log in. (This is part of why I want a phone that I can wake up on demand.) As most of you have guessed by this point, there are some serious user experience flaws that Google needs to address.

The process for activating a Galaxy Nexus goes something like this:

  1. Take the phone out of the box, put the battery and sim card in, and turn it on.
  2. Click "Next" a few times to activate the phone with your carrier.
  3. Sign in to your Google account.
  4. Hurray! Now the phone is in a usable state.
Except that step 3 requires that I enter a code that Google texts me. And I can't see the texts until I get to step 4. So we're at an impasse, since my old phone number has been transferred to this phone, and so the text from Google is sitting on this phone, and you can't get to it because Google wants you to sign in to your Google account.

There is, of course, a workaround. You can say "Don't set up a Google account now", and then you can go check your text, and then you can go set up the Google account again. But this is a really shitty user experience. Google, you have the power. If you know that someone is setting up a phone for the first time, and you know that their account has two-factor authentication enabled, you should go look at their text messages and see if they get one from an authorized Google phone number that says "Your two-factor authentication code is 12345678" or whatever, and then log them in. That's one of the benefits of owning your own mobile operating system.

Anyway, rant over. I look forward to having a phone that I can use any time I want, instead of whenever I can hack the screen into unlocking. And I really hope I have a few months before someone announces a phone that I'll want more than this one.

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Drew writes code for fun and (sometimes) profit. He's currently studying Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He has previously worked at Facebook, Amazon, and a startup called Intersect.