Over the last day or so we've been seeing reports that Google is now replacing broken Nexus 5 units under its Google Play warranty program, even if those specific phones were damaged by an accidental fall or water damage. That's a pretty significant shift from the usual warranty coverage on the Play Store and elsewhere, which tends to cover a replacement or repair only if the unit is defective or malfunctioning.

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Photo credit: Joshua D.

The story originally broke via Google+ user Joshua D., whose account of his free replacement has amassed more than 200 shares and more than 300 comments on the Android subreddit at the time of writing. We at Android Police have been trying to get to the bottom of any change in policy. Here's what we found.

According to one Google Play Store representative, yes, there is an "unofficial policy" of granting one replacement phone for anyone with a damaged Nexus 5. The user calls the Google Play support line at 1-855-836-3987 (open 24/7) and describes the situation. (That's the American number, check your regional Play Store website for alternatives.) Google will ship out a new, working phone, at which point the user is instructed to return his or her damaged phone to Google. Sweet deal, right? Especially since the N5, with its slim bezels and soft-touch plastic shell, seems particularly prone to screen cracks.

Hold your horses. Another representative contacted by a different Android Police writer hadn't heard of any change in the warranty policy. As far as he was concerned, the one-year warranty does not cover accidental or water damage. Maybe he hadn't yet been informed, or maybe this change simply isn't universal. So, since this is an unofficial policy with nothing written down, it seems to be the luck of the draw as to which customers can take advantage of it. We've contacted Google's public relations department, with no response so far. We really aren't expecting one, either.

Here are the terms, as described to us by the first Google support representative above.

  • One: the free replacement policy only applies to the Nexus 5. Any other hardware, even if you bought it from the Play Store, isn't included.
  • Two: you can only access the Google Play Store warranty if you actually bought your phone from the Play Store. Those who bought it at a retail store, from a carrier, or via a secondary market like eBay need not apply. (Those warranties are handled by LG, according to the Google rep.)
  • Three: this appears to be a one-time deal. If you break your replacement phone, you're out of luck, Chuck.
  • Four: we've only called the United States Play Store support line to check the validity of this story. Other countries might be included, but don't count on it.

Now, a few words about responsibility. Some people, having read about this unofficial change here and at other news outlets, will mention these posts when trying to get a replacement device. (Some particularly naughty Nexus 5 owners might even break their perfectly functional phone to get a shiny new one.) I would advise against this: since this policy hasn't been posted anywhere, the Play Store staff can basically ignore it anytime they want to, even if it has become standard. After a few hundred calls from users demanding to take advantage of the new policy, they might just scrap it altogether. If you call up with a broken screen or water damage and get told that your warranty doesn't apply, don't make a big deal out of it.

That's it. Good luck to any of you with a shattered screen or a waterlogged phone. 

Source: Joshua D.