25 August, 2016
Unlocked Phones for Verizon
Recently Verizon Wireless has begun advertising bring your own device for activation on the Verizon Wireless network.
As a historically CDMA carrier, this is something new. In the CDMA standard, the unique identity is stored in the handset memory, not on a SIM card. As such, Verizon Wireless has traditionally had strict control over which handsets could be activated on their network (strict control meaning only handsets they had sold that were still in good financial standing were allowed activation on the Verizon Wireless network). Thus handset acquisition was limited to Verizon Wireless directly or the used market.
While the second hand (used) market is still open and thriving, several manufacturers of 4G LTE handsets have been including CDMA radios—allowing these unlocked handsets to work on both the GSM networks in the United States (AT&T and T-Mobile) as well as the CDMA network Verizon Wireless.
The major benefit of owning an unlocked mobile which will work on all of the major carrier networks (and the corresponding MVNOs) is the liberty to choose the best service and price from among all players. No longer are you locked to one carrier or to one network technology. You are free to choose whichever network will provide the service you need at a price that is fair (or at least as fair as wireless pricing gets).
As a secondary motive, you'll find that few of these mobiles are available directly from Verizon Wireless, giving you a bit more freedom from carrier soft(bloat)ware and a slightly higher uniqueness quotient (and maybe save yourself a bit of cash by choosing a capable but less expensive mobile).
The iPhone was the first unlocked phone to include both GSM and CDMA radios in one handset that would work on multiple networks in the United States. While it seems that Apple might have been looking out for their customers, it was simply a way to limit the complexity of the supply chain and allow for more units to be salable at any time.
It was a classic play from the Book of Jobs. There wasn't anything wrong with the AppleWriter printers—they were good printers that sold well even outside of the classic bastions of Mac supremacy (education, science and the graphic arts). But the complexity was too great for Steve, too many products; too little focus to make something "insanely great."
Thus the current line of iPhones, all three, the 6S, 6S Plus and SE, will work on both GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile) and the Verizon wireless network in the United States. The (unstyled) details of the SIM-free phones are here. This text is an overlay from the purchase page of the iPhone SE, the same idea is communicated by the phrase "activate on any carrier" from the older iPhone 6S/6S Plus ordering pages.
Now, for the iPhone, liberty comes with a price. Remember that the "big checkmark" also sells the iPhone, and, buying directly from Apple, you'll be forgoing any incentives from Verizon. As of today there isn't any current incentive on the iPhone (beyond the reality the Verizon will happily still sell you a new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, or a certified pre-owned iPhone 5S), but you can occasionally find a discount, particularly if you are buying for multiple lines.
During the brief dance with Motorola, the Nexus phones began to include both GSM and CDMA radios. While Google has sold the Motorola handset business and is back to using other manufacturers (Hauwei and LG) for the Nexus phones, the CDMA radios, and network flexibility, remain in the Nexus Phones.
The Nexus 6P is the flagship of the Nexus line.
The Nexus 6P has a 5.7" AMOLED display, 12.3 MP rear camera, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octacore processor and 3 GB of RAM (full Nexus 6P hardware details). A very serious flagship phone.
A very serious flagship phone that starts at $499. For those of you who are counting pennies, that's $250 less than the similarly spec'd Apple iPhone 6S Plus.
Now Verizon Wireless doesn't sell the Nexus phones, nor does any other carrier for that matter—unlocked directly from Google, or through another retailer, is the only way to get a Nexus phone. Thus, these unlocked phone will work on any network in the United States. The network support details for the Nexus phones clearly describe that network support, including a special directive for, you guessed it, Verizon Wireless customers (OK, it isn't a very informative directive, try cycling the power and then call Verizon Customer Care—nobody would ever think to do that).
Now, we've been discussing the Nexus phones, but only the Nexus 6P in particular. It turns out that the Nexus 6P has a smaller (and less expensive) cousin, the Nexus 5X.
The Nexus 5X has a 5.2" LCD display, 12.3 MP rear camera, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexacore processor and 2 GB of RAM (full Nexus 5X hardware details). A very respectable little cousin.
Ever more respectable when you look at the $349 starting price.
There is a special on the Nexus 5X through 11 September if it is purchased with and activated on Project Fi. If you are not a Verizon customer, but just looking to move to big red, this might be an attractive offer. And since you might already know what Sprint or T-Mobile service (the two cellular networks used by Project Fi) is like in your area, you'll know the worst that this service could be (assuming you have respectable Wi-Fi at home).
Google sold the Motorola brand to the Chinese PC company Lenovo, probably best known in the west for purchasing the PC business from IBM, becoming the source of the lovely ThinkPad keyboards. And it is the acquisition by Lenovo that has defined Motorola phones since.
The Moto X Pure Edition (2015) can be activated on Verizon Wireless. The Moto X name will be familiar to longtime Verizon customers. The first (2013) and second (2014) versions of the Moto X were available directly from Verizon. The 2015 version of the phone is not, even though it works just fine on their network.
When Verizon sold the Moto X, it was placed in the flagship category where no expense was spared (including the Verizon exclusive football leather backing). While the Moto X never quite measured up in computing power to the Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S phones, it certainly did equal (or surpass) them in screen quality. But remember that Motorola Mobility's new overlord is a PC company, and PC companies have been doing one thing for the last twenty years—racing to the bottom (on price that is).
The Moto X Pure Edition (2015) replaced the highly-saturated OLED screen of the two previous version with a more traditional LCD display. And that came with a price—the Moto X Pure Edition (2015) starting price is $399, about $100 less than the previous edition. Clearly Motorola is working toward a more aggressive price point for their "high end" devices than the Samsungs and Apples of the market. Classic PC play.
As an aside, the Moto X Pure Edition (2015) is currently on fire sale pricing beginning at $299. It has been that way, on and off, since the beginning of the year, and it is currently much more often on sale than off sale. The moto maker app is fully stocked at the moment, but remember that late September has been the time for a new Moto X introduction—there may be a new model coming. Traditionally Motorola has continued to sell through the stock of their last generation phone, at a discount, for nine months or more after the introduction of a new model.
As for Verizon and the Moto X Pure Edition (2015), they largely didn't need it. They have the exclusive on the Droid labelled Motorolas, which demand a flagship price, and plenty of basic smartphones and long-tail examples that approach the $100 price point; Verizon doesn't typically stock anything in the intermediate ($400) price range. Not a condemnation of the mobile, just a less-than-perfect fit with Verizon's typical offerings.
Remembering the modus operandi of PC makers, the next two phones are not surprising. The Moto G series went carrier agnostic for 2016.
That's right, both the Moto G4 starting at $199
and the Moto G4 Plus starting at $249
can be activated on all major U.S. wireless carriers, including Verizon Wireless.
The beauty here is that the Moto G4 series begins under two hundred dollars—a price point none of the other unlocked phones that can be activated on Verizon match. And a price point that Verizon doesn't even target, beyond a few offerings that you probably haven't heard of (Samsung Galaxy J3 V, Microsoft Lumia 735 and the LG K4 LTE, for example) wouldn't want to use anyway.
And therein lies the beauty of an unlocked phone—you can pair the phone you want with the service you want. Liberty at its finest; the promise of a free market.
If you want an expensive mobile on expensive service, it is yours. If you want a less expensive mobile on expensive service, it is yours. And, well, you get the idea.
There are several manufacturers who produce unlocked 4G LTE phones that include CDMA radios which can be activated on the Verizon Wireless network. The choice, and the freedom, are yours.