Should You Get the Google Pixel Through Verizon or Unlocked?

Editors' Note: This story was originally published on Oct. 7 when Google indicated that Pixels sold through Verizon would get system updates at a different time than unlocked Pixels. We updated the story with new information from Verizon on Oct. 12.

Verizon has cleared up exactly when Pixel owners can expect to get Android updates on their Google-built phones. And since the carrier says it'll be at the same time as those who buy their Pixels directly from Google, you've got one less reason to shun Big Red.

Google's Pixel phone is available either as an unlocked version through Google or as carrier-tied phone from Verizon. When the phone was unveiled, Google executives said Pixel users will get system and security updates as soon as they're available. But a Google spokesperson later told 9to5Google that Google would handle security updates for all phones, but that system updates to the Android OS would be handled by whomever you bought your Pixel from. "System updates will be managed by Verizon for Verizon models, and Google for unlocked models bought from Google Store," the spokesperson told 9to5Google.

MORE: Google Pixel Hands-on: Beating Siri at Her Own Game

That prompted a lot of people — including me — to warn against picking up a Pixel through Verizon. Nothing against the carrier, which does have a wide-reaching, highly regarded network, but it also has a reputation for being slow on the trigger with system updates for Android devices. And timely Android updates is one of the major calling cards for Google-branded phones like the Pixel.

But Verizon has since clarified matters, telling Ars Technica that its Pixel phones will get Android updates at the same time users with Google phones do. "All operating system and security updates to the Pixel devices will happen in partnership with Google," a Verizon spokesperson told Ars Technica. "In other words, when Google releases an update, Verizon phones will receive the same update at the same time (much like iOS updates)."

Another Verizon spokesperson confirmed that message when we contacted them. So if the possibility of delayed system updates had you thinking twice about turning to Verizon for your Pixel, the carrier says you shouldn't be concerned. You'll get your updates once they're available from Google.

That's not to say there aren't other reasons why you might go with Google instead of Verizon, though they're not nearly as significant. For one, Verizon will install some software on its version of the Pixel. Specifically, Verizon says it will include My Verizon, Go90 and VZ Messages. That's not quite as much bloatware as you'll find on other Verizon phones, and Verizon notes that you'll be able to uninstall those apps if you want.

What you won't be able to do is unlock your bootloader: Verizon's version of the Pixel will come with an unlockable bootloader. That's a big deal if you plan on rooting or modifying your phone, though not much of a concern to ordinary smartphone users.

The price of the Pixel is the essentially same whether you get it from Verizon or directly from Google. At Verizon, the Pixel starts at $649, with monthly payments of $27.08, while the 5.5-inch Pixel XL costs $769, with monthly installments of $32.08. Google's store knocks 4 cents off your monthly installments. Both Verizon and Google are offering a free Daydream View virtual reality headset for Pixel preorders.

Philip Michaels

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.