Don't let slow dial-up Internet get you down. Super-fast up to 20Mb broadband from only 9.99 per month. Free setup now available - terms apply. PlusNet broadband.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Google + Nexus = Not the technical excellence I expected

[Short link to this article if you need it -  - or retweet me]

I bought a Nexus10 tablet - brilliant hardware for the money (especially that screen, although AMOLED would've been nicer but pushed up the price a lot I suspect). Good news right? Well I thought so except for two issues I started having with it (Google+ links included which in turn have links into forum threads from others talking about each issue)

  1. It crashed roughly once a day
  2. The notification LED on it seemed to stop working.

The background

At this time I couldn't be sure if both were happening with the "out of the box" Android 4.2 - it updated over the air (OTA) to 4.2.1 within 24 hours of using it 

In an effort to diagnose the problem I tried changing the applications I was using on it, but it didn't appear to make a lot of difference. I then decided it was worth having a shot at a factory reset... Which appeared to fix the LED notification issue. Great problem solved I thought. Until either the first or second crash/reboot when it stopped working again. Subsequently this has happened a few times - if I reflash/reset then the LED works until one of the first few reboots. Therefore that issue appears software related.

February 6th - calling Google

Here was a page I got to while looking up the contact details - with their own browser it doesn't seem like they want to provide any contact options!

So I called up Google to discuss these. The American lady on the end of the phone seemed very sympathetic. Almost too sympathetic. "I know how frustrating it can be ..." seemed to be her favorite phrase, empathising with me on the subject of hardware not just working as it should, and offered me a replacement device. Now bear in mind that the LED was clearly not broken, and many others had similar faults, it was hard to believe that it was a hardware issue. At the same time the issues appeared specific to the Nexus devices - particularly the 10 - which suggested it was in some way related to the hardware on there.

But what the heck - they're going to send out another one, put a "pending" charge on my account for it until I return the old one (within 21 days of receiving the replacement)

The second device

So I got the second unit, and decided to leave it at standard out-of-the-box 4.2 and not allow the OTA update. It appeared that the LED worked fine, and it took a while for the first crash to occur, but it eventually did.
Now at this point I still had the original Nexus. And while there wasn't an OTA 4.2.2 available to me yet (it was a staged roll out) there was a version of 4.2.2 which could be downloaded and installed. Since I had the other device, on February 13th I decided to give it a shot and pulled it up to 4.2.2. Once again the LED worked., but once again it stopped after a couple of reboots/crashes. I then followed a process to reset it it back to 4.2. Same happened - LED stopped working after a couple of reboots. So the second device appears to consistently fail with the LED, but the replacement - still on 4.2 - appeared not to have that problem, but still crashed. Here's a couple of screenshots from "Bootlog Uptime":

So the old one on 4.2.2 (on the right) seems more stable, but then I wasn't using it as much during that period. The original one on 4.2 was still crashing. For the next few days I used the 4.2.2 one and it started crashing slightly more regularly.

21st February - Contacting google again - via email

I thought I'd try to reason with Google at this point. After all, they're a major technology company who I have a lot of respect for, so surely they'll respond to their customers on a technical issue ...


I'm ready to return one of the devices back to you know (I've been running some more experiments on both before returning it) but I wanted to report the current situation.

My original device has been updated to 4.2.2. Every time an OS upgrade happens on it the notification LED appears to work correctly until the first - or occasionally second - restart (which,of course, happens in under a week because of the crashing issue)

The new second device you sent me appears to have no problems with the LED so far, but I've declined to perform any OS upgrade on it - it's still at 4.2. However it still crashes regularly - there is a screenshot of a log from the "Bootlog uptime" app at showing how regularly each of the two devices has been crashing so far. As per the comment in there, the 4.2.2 one is showing less crashes,but that's because I've been mostly using the new one to detect any problems.

The bottom line is that the crashing issues is still present on the replacement device. I do not know if the LED issue would be present if I allowed the system update to 4.2.1 or 4.2.2 to proceed, but I am reluctant to try it in case it doesn't work and I can't get the LED working reliably again.

Can you let me know whether there is any outlook on getting a fix for these issues, and what you suggest I do, because it seems reasonably clear that these devices have faults. The LED issue is common to many people (See ) and likewise for the crashing (See!topic/mobile/VFYnt7uN9d0%5B1-25-true%5D ) I would really like Google to acknowledge and provide a tracking mechanism/outlook for these issues as any self-respecting software development company would (I work for one myself) Despite the suggestions of some, the reboots are not specific to when Chrome is being used as the foregound application, although it is possible it has been started and in the task switcher in each case.

One of your other emails said "Thanks for using Google Play and we look forward to your feedback!" so there it is. Please advise how to proceed in order to get these significant issues resolved - I've been along time big supporter of google, but this is seriously damaging your reputation in  imy eyes. I would be delighted to work with you to resolve them, as a customer service of "Oh we'll just replace it" probably isn't going to appease your users if the fault is a software one.

Which gave this response, which did not give me confidence that the person on the end had any technical ability whatsoever - it was just another sales/marketing response:

Hello Stewart,

Thank you for contacting Google Play. I understand you had concerns regarding your Nexus 10. I understand how important this is to you. I'm happy to assist you with that today. Please let us know as soon as possible if you wish to return your Nexus 10 for a refund as you only have 2 more days of your buyers remorse. We appreciate your suggestions about Google Play. We frequently share customer feedback with our development team and will be sure to pass along your input. 

Thanks for your interest in our Nexus 10's..

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to reply directly to this email. Also, you may visit us at:

A generous offer, but I wanted to work with them if possible to try and get a resolution to the issues. I sent this back to them:

Thank you for the offer. However can you offer any suggestion as to the issues I mentioned? By seemingly not giving any acknowledgement of an issue or any suggestion that there will ever be a fix then you are doing your customers a disservice by keeping the device on sale. I would go as far as to say you are misadvising it as having a notification LED which doesn't work in any useful manner. I've offered all the info I have, I'd run diagnostics if it would help, but if all you can do is replace/refund (i.e. such issues are being hidden by sales teams rather than being addressed by the passionate developers I know you have working for you - I've considered joining you myself) rather than show any interest in such flaws then I'm staggered ... A vague promise of passing it along is useless.

I love the device. My choice would be not to get a refund if possible, but I need some assurance that the problems, which are not limited to just me, are being worked on. Can you give any reassurance in any of these areas, or can you find someone who can?

And got absolutely no response whatsoever. I guess they didn't want to provide any such reassurances. My respect for Google has now dropped significantly. They're not interested in dealing with resolving technical customer problems with their devices. I find myself thinking "Apple would probably have done this better" but as most people know I'm just not an Apple person. I figured I'd get the original unit packed up and sent back to google was within the 21 day period, but I'm keeping the second one. The screen's just too nice, and I need some sort of device ...

Where am I now?

So I did indeed keep the device despite the problems. On the plus side, the LED on the replacement unit was ultimately reliable - it's now running 4.4 (KitKat) of course. But it still crashes on average over once a week (78 times since I got it) So ultimately it worked, but it seems strange that they had what appears to have been a software issue that wasn't acknowledged by the staff.
Do I regret buying it? I had serious reservations after the above interactions with google, and I still think I'd still rather have had a 2nd gen Surface it it had been available at the time, but ultimately the Nexus10 has had plenty of use and was worth the money.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Blackcircles tyres and admin of "MOT for a fiver" promotion

[Short link to this blog if you need it - - or retweet me]

Last year the vehicle tyre supplier was running the offer of an MOT for £5 (via rebate) for anyone who bought particular types of tyre from them. As a result of this offer I felt it was worth giving them a shot as a supplier, as the offer seemed pretty good. I bought two tyres for a total cost of £416.86 (Yes that really is a reasonable price for what they were!) for fitting at a local centre. 

All good so far. I had the tyres fitted and then booked the MOT expecting to receive the appropriate documentation for the MOT voucher immediately afterwards. Unfortunately this didn't happen.

SXA> I had my tyres fited on Wednesday., According to your page at
SXA> the MOT voucher code will "be sent 1 working day after your fitting
SXA> has been completed or delivery has been received" 
SXA> Given that it is now Friday, and I've got the MOT booked for Monday
SXA> (based on the timescales in those T&Cs), can you clarify when I
SXA> can get my code please?

BC> Thank you for your email.
BC> Please confirm your Blackcircles Order number and we will look into this for you.

I gave them the number, and ultimately I ended up having a phone conversation with them where it became apparent that the order had gone through without the MOT offer being applied. Not a good start, and I had definately selected that open when putting the order in - I remember it being on the web form and given that this is why I was choosing to use them I was careful about applying it, so my attempt to take advantage of the MOT offer had got mysteriously lost.. They then put it through the system again with a different order number (same as my original with an 'A' suffix) and my offer voucher came through. Fortunately despite the assistant on the phone being unable to give any assurances that it would or that they'd be able to help if it got delayed, it did come through in time for the MOT.

Not the best start to my first dealings with BlackCircles, but we're back on track. It's worth pointing out that during the time between me getting the MOT done and sending in the documentation I recommended BlackCircles to a colleague and they also had exactly the same problem as I had above with the order not going through correctly with the MOT offer and had to make the same phone call I did. So something in their system seemed already keen to catch you out... Plus the initial requirement to register the voucher before the MOT also appears to have caught some people out too:

I got the MOT done, and then made the mistake for a number of reasons of delaying before I sent in the documentation. I thought it was within four weeks but on submission it appears not.

BC> Thank you for your claim in our MOT for £5 promotion. 
BC> Unfortunately we are unable to process it for the following reason: 
BC>    - Your claim was received later than 28 days from the MOT date.
BC> May we take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in our offer.
BC> For further information or questions regarding this promotion please email

Now I have to believe that they did receive it later, but let's bear something in mind here. This was my first order with BlackCircles. The offer was valid for an MOT up to a year after the promotion started and therefore the money for the offer would have been pre-allocated for those who took advantage of it (subject to anyone who didn't object to their order not going through properly in the first place as I described above). This experience defines my view of the company, and logically that artificial limitation didn't make a lot of sense. On that basis I tried to reason with them with a bit of common sense.

SXA> I think this is a very disappointing response to have received. I made the decision
SXA> to try BlackCircles over the other providers in part because of the MOT offer (and
SXA> from some other recommendations) and a decision to enforce an entirely arbitrary
SXA> 28-day limit (I thought I had sent it back within that timeframe, but perhaps not)
SXA> appears to be purely for the purpose of trying to give any excuse not to honour the
SXA> offer. This feeling is backed up by the fact that the MOT offer got missed from my
SXA> original order. I definitely selected it, and a colleague subsequently had EXACTLY
SXA> the same problem when placing an order after I recommended you to them - both of
SXA> us had the order resubmitted with an 'A' suffix on the number after calling up to
SXA> complain. As mentioned this feels like it is an attempt to avoid honouring the offer
SXA> because it required both of us to call to complain about it. I almost missed getting
SXA> the email with the redemption details before my MOT was due because of this
SXA> delay - fortunately it came through on the day the MOT was booked for.
SXA> Regardless of whether this offer was administered by BlackCircles or (as it seems)
SXA> a third party, this decision to use various unnecessary tactics in order to provide
SXA> reasons not to fulfil an offer reflects badly on BlackCircles as a service provider.
SXA> As someone who works on a site with around 3000 people I was hoping to
SXA> recommend BlackCircles and the local fitter to send more business your way but I
SXA> can no longer do that, and will have no reasonable choice but to returning to an
SXA> alternative supplier for my subsequent tyre needs based on the service I have
SXA> received regarding this offer.

That email sent to their address at bounced:

> This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.
> Delivery to the following recipients failed.

I forwarded it to another address, let them know it had bounced  and got this reply:

BC> Thank you for your email regarding the ‘MOT For a Fiver’ promotion.
BC> While we understand your frustration the terms and conditions are set out so
BC> that the promotion is fair to everyone. There has to be a cut off date so that
BC>  the promotion doesn’t run indefinitely, we believe that 28 days is sufficient
BC> time for a consumer to send in the documents requested.
BC> As you your MOT receipt is dated 22/04/2013 you would have had until
BC> 20/05/2013 to make your claim.
BC> Unfortunately we didn’t receive your claim 29/05/2013 and as such the claim
BC> has been deemed invalid.
BC> We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

So they're sticking to the T&Cs although their assertion that "There has to be a cut off date" makes little sense - there is a one year cut off date for the offer already so this restriction is artificial other than to catch people out.

SXA> Your logic surprises me. While I completely understand the need to have an end date
SXA> on the promotion "to ensure that it does not run indefinitely", the same doesn't really
SXA> apply to the date from the MOT taking place. It should make no difference to you when
SXA> the MOT takes place, only that it is redeemed within a year (Or a year + 28 days). In
SXA> fact since the redemption money has presumable been reserved in advance, it is
SXA> actually better for you if people delay the claim as you can sit on the interest in the
SXA> time before redemption.
SXA> By enforcing this seemingly pointless clause within your agreement with BlackCircles,
SXA> as well as failing to put the offer on the original order despite it being selected, you
SXA> have damaged the company's reputation in my eyes and ensured I will not deal with
SXA> BlackCircles again.

So there you have it - unmoving adherence to a pointless condition and trying to "miss out" on including the offer on the initial order for both myself and the first (and last) friend I recommended them to earns BlackCircles a place in my customer experience hall of shame. I'm sure there are people who would say "It's your own fault for not sticking to the T&C" and that's technically true. But I object to T&Cs which service no real purpose other than to catch their customers out - how does that help the company? Are they really getting more benefit from new customers who come in and manage to use the offer than the negativity from people who have my experience? Has it been positive for their business overall?

During the above exchange I received an email outside the thread acknowledging the initial problems with the offer:

BC> Dear Stewart
BC> Thank you for your e-mail –I am sorry to hear of your disappointment with our recent promotion.
BC> Whilst we did experience some teething problems with the offer being applied to some 
BC> orders; there was never any intention not to honour the claims.
BC> You are correct in that the promotion was being run by an independent team and we did try 
BC> to ensure that our customers were fully aware of the conditions under which the offer 
BC> could be redeemed prior to placing their order (please see attached). As these conditions 
BC> were set out as part of a business agreement between Blackcircles and the promotions 
BC> company – I am afraid that I have no way to circumvent these.
BC> I would hope that you may feel able to consider us for your future needs despite this 
BC> issue and I would ask that you let me know if I can offer any further help.

Summary: I had to push for them to honour the offer initially, and I took advantage of it within the year - a reasonable condition. But trying to pretend that the 28 day condition is something that "There has to be" is nonsense, so they've lost any future business from me. It doesn't matter if the promotion is "administered by a third party" - I made the order through BlackCircles, and any problems with it reflect badly on them, and no-one else, from a customer perspective. I wonder if BlackCirtcles will reveal how many people in total who tried to take advantage of the offer ultimately weren't able to because of all the trip wires in the process?

Coincidentally last week I received an email asking for customer feedback. I shall be replying to them with the address of this blog. I hope they take note.