Verizon is the major carrier partner for Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL. But that doesn’t mean it’s your only option for getting a device. Google will also sell Pixels directly from its own storefront — and if you care at all about system updates, unlocked bootloaders, or avoiding crapware, then the Google version of the device is the only one to buy. Granted, Verizon’s predatory business practices and relentless assault on customer privacy make it difficult for us to recommend buying anything from the company, but that’s something of a separate issue.
First, here’s what Google has said on the topic. In an email to 9to5Google, the company writes:
Verizon’s device has a locked bootloader, and comes with three pre-installed applications you don’t need — My Verizon, Go90 (a mobile TV app), and Verizon Messaging. The split between security updates and system updates means that while Google will guarantee you get your security updates, you won’t get newer versions of Android except on Verizon’s timeline — which basically means you won’t get new versions of Android until months later, if ever.
Just because Google is handling security updates doesn’t mean those updates will continue to flow to older devices, mind you — over the past few years we’ve seen Google refuse to patch older versions of Android, even when failing to do so left hundreds of millions of devices vulnerable to known attacks. Regardless, if you plan to buy a Pixel and use it for more than 18 to 24 months, you should buy it from Google — that way you’ve got the best chance of getting both security and operating system updates in the future. Repeated studies have shown Apple does a better job than Google and the associated carriers do of keeping devices maintained. But Google Nexus products have typically been the best-supported over the long term of all Android devices.
The Pixel is being advertised as a Verizon exclusive, but ignore that — the phone is actually widely available from major stores and outlets. Best Buy, Amazon, Target, and Google’s Project Fi all advertise the hardware, and the Pixel has been explicitly guaranteed to work on any US carrier. It’s not a Verizon-specific product, no matter what some of the ad copy says. So do yourself a favor and buy the unlocked Pixel, not the inferior Verizon-specific model.