Google and T-Mobile are teaming up in a series of moves that should mean better experiences for Android users. But the biggest benefit of this partnership may stem from a part of the Google-T-Mobile alliance that won't appear for a little while longer.
Let's start with the more tangible aspects of the Google-T-Mobile team-up announced this week. Probably the biggest immediate news is T-Mobile's decision to use Google Messages as the default messaging app on every Android device the carrier sells. (Presumably, that goes for phones that would otherwise opt for their own chat client, like Samsung's new Galaxy S21 models.) The move should make texting a more seamless experience for T-Mobile customers while giving Google's Rich Communication Services a boost.
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Snarkier folks among us may hone in on T-Mobile's decision to promote YouTube TV as its streaming service of choice, if only because that means the shuttering of TVision, which T-Mobile only launched five months ago. Yes, it's clear TVision was never going to win the hearts, minds and eyeballs of streamers, but at least T-Mobile customers can get a $10 discount on the monthly cost of YouTube TV (or Philo, if you prefer a less expensive streaming option).
But for the biggest detail in the newfound friendship between Google and T-Mobile is something that will take a few months to surface. T-Mobile says it "plans to expand the array of Pixel and other Android devices the company will carry." It's that Pixel part that caught my eye, as it seems to suggest that going forward, when Google has a new phone coming out, you'll find it available at T-Mobile.
That will be a big change from the current state of things. Right now, if you want a Google phone, the only one of offer at T-Mobile is the Pixel 4a 5G. That's a fine option if you want a 5G phone for less than $500, but it's not the only Pixel out there, right now. Verizon, for example, sells both the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a in addition to the 4a 5G.
T-Mobile's public commitment to carry more Pixels could be put to the test as soon as this June. That's when the Pixel 5a is expected to launch. And the Google-YouTube announcement would seem to hint that you'll be able to get this budget model from T-Mobile when it does surface. We'd expect to say the same thing about the Pixel 6 when Google's flagship arrives later this year.
It's easy to see why Google and T-Mobile would be excited by this turn of events. The phone maker gets another place to sell its devices and the wireless carrier gets more devices to sell. But it's a good move for phone buyers, too. Because the fact of the matter remains that the way most people buy a phone in the U.S. is through their wireless carrier of choice. So having a particular phone available through more carriers makes that device an increasingly viable consideration.
And let's be frank, Google's phones deserve to be considered if you're in the market for the best Android phone. The cameras and photo processing smarts on the latest Pixel phones should be reason enough to push the Pixels to the front of the line when you're mulling over which phone to get. But you also get a better Android experience with cool Google-built apps like Recorder when you opt for one of Google's devices. And the company has become more conscious of price, selling the Pixel for less than competing flagship and creating a budget version of its phones.
Up until now, you've been pretty much limited to either getting your Pixel through Verizon or Google's own Google Fi service if you wanted to buy a Pixel through a carrier. (A handful of discount carriers also offer different Pixels, too.) So it's good to that T-Mobile figures to play a bigger role at the party. With AT&T also selling the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, that would give Google a presence at all three major carriers going forward, assuming everyone continues to offer Google's upcoming phones.
We're stuck with a phone duopoly right now where Apple and Samsung command most of the smartphone sales, at least in the U.S. Having another phone make in there pushing those two can only lead to more innovative smartphones. Maybe Google's the one to rise to that challenge, maybe it isn't. But we're never going to know for sure until the Pixel is available in as many places as the iPhone or the Galaxy devices.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.