September’s iPhone 7 release, complete with waterproofing, improved cameras and display, stereo speakers, upgraded internals, and more, was probably the most highly anticipated smartphone release of 2016. Shortly after Apple’s release, however, Google announced the successors to the popular Google Nexus line, and the first smartphones branded as “made by Google”, the Pixel and Pixel XL. Featuring an all-new design, all-new stock Android operating system, and highly impressive specifications, the release of the Pixel saw its fair share of hype, as well.
With the New Year ahead of us, both iOS and Android customers might be looking to purchase a new smartphone – whether for themselves, or as a gift for others. As always, however, the battle between telecommunications carriers complicates things. Although users enjoy a bit more freedom from their carriers – the days of being “locked in” to carrier contracts are slowly coming to an end – carrier availability is certainly still something to consider when purchasing a new smartphone. Thinking of purchasing either the Google Pixel or the iPhone 7? Let’s take a look at the carrier availability of each.
Google Pixel Carrier Availability
When the Pixel was released, Google teamed up with Verizon as the “exclusive” carrier partner for the new smartphones. Verizon is the only carrier that sells the Pixel and Pixel XL online and in stores, and Verizon users can take advantage of their trade-in program and financing plans to mitigate the up-front costs.
However, note the quotations around the word “exclusive” – the Pixel line is compatible with almost any carrier out there. The Pixel and Pixel XL are both available to buy unlocked and SIM-free directly from Google, and use the phones on practically any carrier – from Verizon, to Sprint, to T-Mobile, to AT&T, etc. etc. etc. Customers can even finance the smartphones from Google at $27/month.
That’s not all, however – the Google Pixel line is available on a number of non-traditional service plans, as well. The Pixel and Pixel XL are both available on Republic Wireless, a North Carolina-based virtual network operator that offers low-cost, Wi-Fi-based service plans. Republic Wireless offers
plans as low as $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and Wi-Fi, and plans as low as $20/month for unlimited talk, text, Wi-Fi, and 1GB of data. The service primarily uses Wi-Fi connectivity for the primary data and connectivity source, but it falls back to Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s cellular network when no Wi-Fi networks are available. Aside from its low prices, Republic Wireless is known for its incredible customer service – it’s a great option for smartphone users who are looking for a low-cost plan, and don’t use a whole lot of data.
The Pixel and Pixel XL, alongside the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P, are the only smartphones available on Google’s Project Fi virtual carrier. Project Fi, which won PCMag’s reader’s choice pick for best carrier in 2016, rolled out in 2015 as an invitation-only service. Like Republic Wireless, Project Fi uses Wi-Fi whenever it’s available, and switches to either the T-Mobile or Sprint network (whichever is stronger), when it’s not. Basic plans start at $20/month for unlimited talk and text, with each gigabyte of data costing $10/month. Group plans are also available – customers can add additional users to their plans for $15/month, and additional gigabytes of data for an additional $10/month per GB. Users only pay for the data they use, and unused data rolls over into the next month. There are also no contracts, commitments, or penalties – sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
iPhone 7 Carrier Availability
With the release of the iPhone 7, Apple went the more traditional route in regards to carriers. Users could purchase a carrier-specific iPhone 7 directly from Apple, either paying full price or through Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, or through traditional carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, MetroPCS, Cricket, etc. Each carrier offered their own promos to get people to purchase the brand new iPhone through them – T-Mobile even offered free iPhone 7 devices (well, actually $650 in monthly bill credits) to anyone trading in an iPhone 6 or 6s.
Roughly a month after it was released, however, Apple began selling SIM-free iPhone 7 devices through their website, allowing each customer to obtain a SIM from the carrier of their choice. However, due to Apple’s somewhat controversial decision to use two different modems in their iPhone 7 and 7 Plus devices, certain phones are incompatible with certain carriers. As per the disclaimer on Apple’s website, the iPhone for AT&T and T-Mobile, featuring the modem made by Intel, “does not support CDMA and will not work on Sprint or Verizon Wireless. It will use 3G cellular technology for voice services and either 3G or 4G LTE cellular technology for data services. However, the iPhone for AT&T and T-Mobile can roam internationally on many GSM carriers around the world.” By contrast the iPhones made for Sprint and Verizon, featuring the modems made by Qualcomm, will work with any carrier, and iPhones “activated on Sprint or Verizon Wireless, and the SIM-free iPhone, also have the ability to roam internationally on GSM networks.”
It all seems a bit unnecessarily complicated – but it boils down to the fact that the iPhone 7 models with Intel modems are, in short, inferior to the ones produced with Qualcomm modems.
As Google and Apple both offer their smartphones for purchase unlocked and SIM-free, users who are perfectly happy with one of the many traditional wireless carriers out there will have no problem getting either the Pixel or iPhone to work with their carriers (even though Verizon advertises the Pixel and Pixel XL as Verizon “exclusives”). While iPhone users may have a few more options for carrier specials and promos, Pixel and Pixel XL users are able to take advantage of non-traditional plans offered by Republic Wireless and Google’s Project Fi. And for users who aren’t tied to any specific carrier, Project Fi sounds pretty promising.