Why did Google replace my defective phone with a refurbished one?

By | April 25th, 2017

When Alex Baretta’s Google Pixel went on the blink, the company agreed to replace it with a refurbished mobile phone. Baretta isn’t happy with that resolution: He wants an entirely new phone. But he hasn’t had any luck convincing Google that it should provide him with one.

Baretta’s story is a case of a company adhering to the letter of its warranty and exchanging a defective item only for a functional one. It is also a case of a dissatisfied customer’s failure in self-advocacy. And unfortunately, our advocates haven’t succeeded in obtaining a new phone for Baretta either – nor is it likely that we will.

Baretta purchased a Google Pixel for $750 plus sales tax. He successfully used the Pixel for a month. Then the device began to flicker, hang up, and crash on a regular basis and required rebooting at least once a day.

At that point, Baretta contacted Google to request assistance with the phone. Here are excerpts from a chat he had with a Google technician named Nathan, who advised Baretta to try a factory reset on his phone:

Nathan: I understand that you’re facing couple of issues like flickering and proximity sensor.

Baretta: I can only say that the phone is generally highly unstable

Nathan: Have you tried any troubleshooting steps apart from restarting?

Baretta: It [works] great for an hour or two, then the screen starts flickering.

Nathan: What steps? Like Safe mode?

Baretta: I tried rebooting into safe mode, but it doesn’t help. …

Nathan: … Have you tried factory reset which might fix the issue?

Baretta: I have not. I could try. But look, my time, unfortunately, is quite precious. I can’t spend my days troubleshooting a phone. The darn thing is unstable.

When the reset failed, Nathan assured Baretta that his warranty would allow Google to send him a replacement phone and processed a shipping order.

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But when Baretta learned that the replacement phone was not new but refurbished, he resumed his chat with Nathan half an hour later:

Baretta: Well, I clicked on the link you sent me. And I’ve landed into the Google store. Where I see that the replacement I would be getting is a refurbished one. That’s not going to fly. I paid perfectly good money for a new fully-functioning phone. And if the unit Google delivered to me is bad, I ought to be entitled to a brand new one.

Baretta: When I have a problem with an Apple device, if Apple acknowledges the issue, they just replace it at the Apple store with a brand new one. This is not how you guys can take on Apple. …
Baretta: I was finally able to reboot my phone. And reset it to factory defaults. … I have just barely finished to the process of reconfiguring the phone and it started flickering again. So either the Pixel’s OS is highly highly buggy. Which seems unrealistic given that you are selling plenty of them, and people are writing good reviews about these devices. Or the one in my possession is faulty. If that is the case, I want it replaced with a new one, not a refurbished one.

Nathan: I totally understand. It looks like a hardware issue in the device. … Our replacement devices undergo a comprehensive process to ensure a high standard of quality before they are shipped. All refurbished devices are thoroughly inspected to ensure they operate like new devices. They have been tested to make sure there are no mechanical or software issues.


Baretta: Ok, so say that I buy a car, a brand-new Toyota. The thing is found to be faulty and needs to be replaced. Toyota tells me, we’ll give you a pre-owned one, but don’t worry, we’ve tested it and it’s fine. No. Google entered into a contract with me to deliver a brand-new Pixel device in good working order, in exchange for good American money. I upheld my end of the deal. I want Google to uphold its end. Look, I can blog and Reddit about this. Apple will love to tell its customers that when a Google Pixel doesn’t work, Google replaces it with a used (but tested) one. Really, this is unprofessional.

Nathan promised to escalate Baretta’s request for a new phone to his superiors, but when he did so, they rejected it. And Baretta followed through on his threat to blog about this experience:

Google on the other hand is an arrogant company. … And the Pixel Phone shows it clearly.

The Pixel is their first consumer product. It faces a competitor which is the golden standard and the paragon of mobile devices: the iPhone. … You cannot hope to win if your arrogance makes you ship a product that is full of bugs, and flickers and hangs and crashes all the time. You cannot win if your product needs a “Restart” button, which your customer needs to resort to several times a day to unblock a frozen handset. You cannot win if, when a customer calls asking for their Pixel phone to be replaced because it is highly buggy, you admit to it, but instead of offering to replace it with a brand new one, you offer a refurbished one. You cannot win by being arrogant and disrespectful of the customers, whose loyalty is your biggest asset. …

Google is not a consumer company. They don’t have the DNA of one. … Google, on the other hand, is proving incapable of competing credibly with Apple in the consumer space. Not for lack of technical talent, but for lack of respect and appreciation for the customer.

It comes as no surprise that after Baretta’s hostility, including calling Google names such as “arrogant” and “disrespectful,” both in his chats and his blog, Google showed no interest in assisting him further. Taking a hostile tone with a company’s agents and issuing a blog post full of accusatory language are not appropriate — and generally not effective — means of attempting to resolve a customer service problem.

And Google’s Pixel warranty limits its obligation to replace a malfunctioning Pixel, such as Baretta’s, to providing the owner with a working phone. It does not guarantee that the replacement phone will be new as opposed to refurbished.

Baretta might have escalated his complaint to Google executives using our contact information, but he asked our advocates for assistance.

We reached out to Google on Baretta’s behalf, but received no response. Neither did Baretta. He had to settle for a refurbished phone:

They refused to issue a new phone. Eventually I had to settle for a refurbished phone. While their behavior might be consistent with the U.S. law, it is a sign of a highly arrogant and disrespectful company that has not [the] faintest consideration for customer satisfaction. Never more will I buy a Google product.

Well, Alex, as disappointing as having to settle for a refurbished phone after purchasing a defective one may be, we doubt that calling the company “arrogant” and “disrespectful” will convince anyone at Google to ship you a new phone, and thus we file your story as a Case Dismissed.



  • Reporter1

    Sorry, but I think after trying respectfully to get what he paid for and not succeeding, he had every right to call Google “arrogant” and “disrespectful” because it seems that’s exactly what the company is. Even if he had sent Google flowers and a box of chocolates, I don’t think he would have gotten what he wanted and what he paid for — a fully functioning new, not refurbished, phone.

  • sirwired

    Firstly, the Pixel is NOT Google’s first consumer product. There’s also Google Home, Google’s ownership of Nest, the Chromecast, and a few other efforts. It IS their first house-brand phone though.

    Also, Apple does NOT give out brand-new phones as warranty replacements. You’ll get a new one if you are in the 30-day return period, I think, but outside that, they ship out refurbs if they have them, same as every cell phone company pretty much since ever.

  • Jeff W.

    Before Pixel, there was Nexus.

    There certainly are some differences between the two product lines in terms of manufacturing and marketing. And Nexus phones were available through the various carriers. Pixel’s can be purchased directly from Google, but also from Verizon.

    There are probably more differences, but it started with Nexus and Pixel is Google’s next step.

  • sirwired

    Most notable with the Nexus phones is that warranty service was/is handled by the manufacturer of the particular phone.

  • sirwired

    Google was no more “arrogant” and “disrespectful” than any other consumer electronics company, none of which (Apple included) send out brand-new product if you are outside the return period and they have refurbs available.

  • MarkKelling

    The device was only one month old. It quit working. He was not returning it. He was exchanging it for a working model well within the warranty period.

    Given this, I do not think his request was unreasonable. Maybe if the device was 6 months or a year old, then a refurb would be acceptable.

    I guess I am just spoiled by how Apple handles these thing — they replaced my 2 year old phone with a brand new one of the same model when the screen popped off of it (I did purchase their extended warranty). It took a couple weeks while they tried to repair it, but they eventually sent me a brand new phone. (And yes, it is easy to identify a refurb Apple product from a new one.)

  • sirwired

    If Apple had happened to have any refurbs available in their warranty stock when you sent in yours for repair, that is what you would have gotten; you didn’t get a new phone because Apple is nicer in this respect.

  • MarkKelling

    Maybe I did get lucky. Maybe it was the extended warranty. I’m not trying to say Apple is perfect because, believe me, I have had my issues with them over the years being obstinate about the littlest things (in my view anyway) and they are way not perfect some times. But the experiences I have had with their phones (and those of many of my friends and relatives) have shown me they do try harder these days.

  • RightNow9435

    The results here sound like a good reason not to buy a Pixel. Replacing a new $750 phone that becomes defective after only one month(from the article, sure sounds like a “lemon”) with a used phone is not consumer-friendly at all.

  • BubbaJoe123

    He had a used phone. It wasn’t working. Google replaced it, under warranty, with a used, working phone. Entirely fair.

  • So, let me get this. The product warranty is…the departure dock side? This smells a bit scammy.

    Here’s what I would offer. Contact the FTC and (if financed) the CFPB. Most new products have warranties for a year. I mean…a month?

    The site that advocates for you? Why not just get real, and say this is the site that ABDICATES for you?

  • sirwired

    Errr… the warranty is one year, he filed a warranty claim, and Google did exactly what they said in the warranty they would do, which is provide him a working phone. Where is the scam?

  • You’re kidding? He paid for a new phone and gets a refurbished phone? There is an implied warranty that overrides ANY company’s stated policy.

  • FQTVLR

    My first iPad had problems. Apple replaced it with a refurbished iPad after 2 months of reset and restore. No new iPad for me.

  • sirwired

    At the time he filed the claim, his phone was no longer new. (If it was defective out of the box, he could have simply returned it, either for a refund or a full exchange for a new phone.) No implied warranty states you must be provided a brand-new product in exchange for your broken, used, one. The warranty (both express and implied) entitles him to a working phone, and that’s what he got. I’m not aware of any phone brand that guarantees a brand-new phone for the life of the warranty, or really, any period beyond the return period (as short as “as soon as you walk out the door”, up to 30 days, depending on retailer.)

    Because I love car analogies: If your brand-new car has, say, a bad windshield wiper motor after a week, do you think that telling your dealer there’s an “implied warranty” entitling you to a brand-new car will be effective? No, of course it won’t.

  • sirwired

    FYI, the current version of AppleCare amends (b) with “… or equivalent to new in performance and reliability.” so that won’t be a guarantee with future phones.

  • JMorgana

    No, but I would expect them to replace it with a NEW motor, not a USED one.

  • sirwired

    Actually, most car factory warranties explicitly allow them to use refurbished parts for warranty repairs. And what they hand back to you after the repair is still a used car, albeit one that you were the user for; it’s not a new car.

  • Mel65

    I get that the OP didn’t handle his frustration well, but I also totally get being irritated at paying $750 and getting someone else’s “fixed” problem phone after only a re weeks. That happened to me with my new Galaxy and it still makes me angry. If i wanted to pay $700 or more for a USED phone, I’d buy one on eBay.

  • BubbaJoe123

    If I had seen those chats, and I were a Google supervisor, I would inform Mr. Baretta that I apologized for his experience, and a refund check would be on its way as soon as he sent the phone back to us in the box we were sending him. I would also inform him that it’s clear that, unfortunately, Google was not living up to his needs, and hence, in 7 days, his Google account (including Gmail, Google Drive, etc. etc.) would be closed, so he should remove his data as soon as possible.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    This is more like a lemon law case to me. If I get a car that is a lemon, then “The manufacturer can replace your vehicle with a comparable one that is acceptable to you, or buy it back, whichever you prefer.” (see http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/CPD/lemon.aspx). I think Google should have either replaced the car with something acceptable (i.e. new) to the OP or bought it back at full price, allowing the OP to buy the iPhone or Samsung phone that would actually work.

  • sirwired

    That might be the case if he was on his third replacement or something, but he wasn’t, it was just a routine warranty claim.

  • Did he pay for it with a credit card? Many cards have warranties for electronics. One month is a fairly new device and he might find coverage under the CC provider.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    Pretty much every electronic device warranty replacements are either refurbished or remanufactured. With Apple each component is tested to make sure it works. This in theory may actually be better than a new phone in some respects. The warranty contract is quite specific about that – no implied warranty there. It’s spelled out.

    The time you had the phone doesn’t matter. Generally if there is a defect it will be noticed relatively quickly OR just after the warranty expires (they do stats to determine whay the warranty should be aka how many devices are we willing to replace).

    With phones the factory reset is done to rule out a software issue. If the phone it’s still failing immediately after a factory reset then you know for sure it can ONLY be a hardware problem.

    Now if the replacement phone also borked on the LW THEN a brand new phone would be reasonable.

  • BubbaJoe123

    1. Lemon laws are specific to cars, and aren’t relevant for other types of goods.
    2. Lemon laws only apply if the carmarker has repeatedly failed to fix a specific problem. If, upon the second appearance of the problem, the carmarker offered to swap the customer’s car with an identical make and model, with identical features, in the same or better condition, and with the same or lower mileage, and the customer refused, they’d lose their lemon law claim, since they’d refused to let the automaker make a reasonable effort to fix the problem.

  • DChamp56

    If it indeed failed within one month, he could have asked for a complete refund, and purchased a new one, OR get a better phone somewhere else.

  • cscasi

    And, how do we truly know that is true? Does Apple have it written somewhere that us consumers can readily find?

  • sirwired

    I found them easily enough… Googled Applecare, clicked either the link to “limited warranty” (which easily lead to the warranty text), or clicked the link to Terms and Conditions at the bottom for the extended version, both of which allow for the use of refurbs.

  • Bill

    give it up dude … even though you speak with logic and truth … nobody wants to accept it :(

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Bubbajoe123,

    I know that lemon laws are limited to cars. I was analogizing the instant situation to lemon laws. Even though Google may not have a legal obligation, I think they have a moral obligation when the product is less than a month old. I would have the same expectation of a refrigerator, lawn mower, hair dryer, or any other consumer product.

  • Carol Molloy

    A point of clarification about the CFPB. This is not the kind of complaint they handle. Yes, there could be financing involved, but the complaint is not about the lender’s terms and conditions, application process, billing or servicing. The CFPB’s mandate is focused on the financial transaction only. Example: You obtain a mortgage on a newly built home. There is a problem with the roof. The builder is responsible. The CFPB has no jurisdiction, just because you acquired the home with consumer financing.

    I hope this helps clarify their function.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Even though Google may not have a legal obligation, I think they have a moral obligation when the product is less than a month old.”

    Then you don’t think they have a moral obligation either (product was >1 month old), so what’s your point?

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    So I misspoke about the timing, but in this short time frame, I think they have a moral obligation. That’s my point.

  • Fishplate

    “EXCLUSIVE REMEDY: If a defect arises and you return your Phone during the Limited Warranty period (which is one year for new devices and ninety days for refurbished devices), Google will in its sole discretion and to the extent permitted by law either repair your Phone using new or refurbished parts, replace your Phone with a new or refurbished Phone functionally at least equivalent to yours, or accept the return of the Phone in exchange for a refund of the purchase price you paid for the Phone.”

    I honestly don’t see the problem here. If you aren’t happy with the phone, sell it back.

  • Barry

    As others have said, Apple also replaces with refurbished phones. See here https://9to5mac.com/2016/07/20/applecare-plus-class-action-refurb-lawsuit/

  • Barry

    I used to feel the same way but I don’t any more. The phone being sent in was not new. A refurbished phone is as good as new. There are bigger battles to fight than this one.

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