The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are really solid phones. You can say they're a bit on the spendy side considering how much cheaper the past few Nexus phones have been, but Google is clearly swinging for the fences here.
Part of that plan is a multi-pronged retail approach that includes partnering with Verizon in the U.S. to get the new Pixels out in stores and in front of average consumers. But just because Google has struck a deal with Verizon to carry the phones doesn't mean you need to go with that option — Google is also selling the phones directly through the Google Store, and through its own carrier Project Fi.
We've started to learn the details of how Verizon will handle the Pixel phones, and most of the news isn't good for the savvy consumer who thinks about the intricacies of how they'll experience their phone. Here's why you should seriously consider bypassing Verizon if you make a Google Pixel purchase.
Verizon is known for its bloatware just as much as any other carrier. Both its own-branded Verizon apps and plenty of pay-to-play partner apps fill up phones you buy from Verizon. If you buy a Pixel or Pixel XL from Verizon it won't have the full suite of garbage, but you'll get three apps nonetheless: Verizon Messages, Go90 and My Verizon. They should be uninstallable, but just knowing that they're pre-loaded is something you shouldn't have to deal with.
Having just three apps installed is a step in the right direction for Verizon, and I recognize that, but it needs to go all the way and stop installing these apps. You can install them from Google Play if you want, and that's how it should be handled.
Update: Verizon has since clarified its stance on the matter of updates. While the carrier will indeed certify and be involved in testing updates, it also plans to release them simultaneously with Google's release to unlocked models.
Part of the appeal of a Pixel phone (and Nexuses before it) is that it'll be update directly by Google on a regular cadence, guaranteed. This isn't entirely the case for the Pixels purchased from Verizon, however. In a bit of a capitulation, Google is letting Verizon handle platform updates going forward on the Pixels it sells — and this should be expected, as Verizon wants to verify things like network performance before thousands of phones get new software.
For what it's worth Google says that it is still handling monthly security updates itself, and Verizon has historically let those slide on through quickly with phones this year; just look at the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge's track record. But future platform updates potentially lagging behind their arrival on unlocked Pixels doesn't feel good — a couple days may be okay, but how long are you willing to wait? For an enthusiast owner, probably not very long.
This last point is one that probably has the smallest number of people who care but for those people has the biggest impact: Verizon will encrypt the Pixel's bootloader so you can't unlock it. Now this really shouldn't be all that surprising considering this is Verizon's policy for every phone it sells, but considering that the bootloader will be unlockable when you buy the phone SIM-unlocked, it's a bit disappointing.
If you want to unlock your Pixel's bootloader for future application of factory images, use of custom ROMs or other flashable customizations, don't even consider buying from Verizon.
The Google Store has you covered
Even if you didn't think the few extra apps, slower updates and an encrypted bootloader were a very big deal (though at least one of those should be), the biggest thing that should keep you from buying through Verizon is the availability of Google's own shopping experience.
The Google Store will sell you a Pixel or Pixel XL for the same price, with free shipping, in whatever configuration you'd like. It also offers you 24-month interest-free financing, just like Verizon will. The Pixel or Pixel XL you buy from Google directly will also still work on Verizon just fine — just pop in your SIM card and you'll be up and running in no time.
The only restriction will be the lack of HD Voice and Wi-Fi calling. (Update: Google has confirmed that the unlocked Pixels will work with VoLTE, HD Voice and Wi-Fi calling on Verizon. Hooray!)
It's important for Google to have Verizon as a partner. But that doesn't mean you should buy from the carrier.
Don't get me wrong. It's important for Google to get its new Pixels out in the world, sitting in Verizon stores and on Verizon's website, being sold to normal people who walk in and make their buying decision with a quick stop at their local carrier store on their way home from work. Those people don't care about slightly slower platform updates or an encrypted bootloader, and they'll enjoy using their Pixel or Pixel XL.
But that doesn't mean that you, the savvy consumer who thinks about all the details, have to make that decision. Because there is another perfectly good way to buy a new Pixel or Pixel XL that happens to also let you bypass Verizon's meddling in your phone: store.google.com.
When you add it all up, I struggle to see a reason why you'd buy the new Google Pixel from Verizon. Sure some people won't know about the Google Store, or will prefer to buy directly from Verizon as they have for years and maybe trade in their old phone for whatever crazy promotion Verizon is currently running. But you don't have to make that mistake. You can be ahead of the curve and buy from Google, knowing you're getting a better overall experience and an unencumbered phone, while using any carrier you prefer — yes, even if that's Verizon.
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