The SIM lock is short-lived, but the bad taste isn’t.
Verizon being the "exclusive" carrier for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL is a bit of an annoyance because it reduces the options for getting the phones in a store and with incentives from other carriers. But now it looks like that exclusivity is more restrictive than in the past — Pixel 3s sold by Best Buy are actually SIM locked to Verizon, so T-Mobile and AT&T SIM cards aren’t working.
To be clear here, Best Buy technically only sells a "Verizon" Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. But if we were to follow the past experience of the original Pixel and Pixel 2, these "Verizon" phones were actually identical to the unlocked models and could be used on any carrier of your choice — the only hurdle was getting Best Buy or Verizon to sell you one without a Verizon account.
But yes, Pixel 3s sold by Best Buy are SIM locked — its product pages even say so. Compare that to Best Buy’s listing for the "Verizon" Pixel 2 that clearly lists that phone as being unlocked, which it was. I was tipped off to the issue by a reader (thanks, Alex!) who had zero problems walking into a Best Buy and buying a fresh Pixel 3 XL without a Verizon account … but was unable to get it to work with either a T-Mobile or AT&T SIM. Putting a Verizon SIM in it, the phone worked fine — but it complained again as soon as it had another U.S. SIM inserted, so this isn’t just a "first-time setup" requirement.
Typically, the only reason why a Pixel would be SIM locked is if it was being sold by Verizon — or Best Buy as a Verizon reseller — on a multi-month financing plan. When the phone is sold full-price with no contract, Verizon account or financing plan, we would typically expect that SIM slot to be unlocked. This is not the case when the phone comes from Best Buy or Verizon this time around.
Verizon can, of course, unlock any phone that has a SIM lock to its network. Whether a Verizon representative (in store, online or on the phone) would be willing to do that for you when you’re not a Verizon customer is another question entirely. The current solution to this problem is to leave an active Verizon SIM in the phone for at least 24 hours, and the phone will then be unlocked automatically (some experience it taking longer) to then be used with any SIM. That’s fine for people who are actually using the phone on Verizon anyway and have access to an active Verizon SIM, but that’s not a step most people are willing (or able) to deal with if they didn’t plan on using it on Verizon in the first place.
For now, this means you should buy from the Google Store if you intend to use another carrier.
Thankfully, this isn’t a catastrophic problem … so long as you know what to do. You can still buy the Pixel 3 and 3 XL from the Google Store, including with 24-month no-interest financing. Those phones will never be SIM locked — and heck, you can even use it on Verizon if you wish. You’ll just have to accept the trade-off of not being able to get any incentives Best Buy and/or Verizon are offering with purchase.
For now, this means that you should stay away from buying a Pixel 3 or 3 XL from Best Buy or Verizon if intend to use it on a carrier other than Verizon. Unless Best Buy and Verizon are your only possible retailers for the phone, the best route to go is to buy it from the Google Store and know it will never be SIM locked.
October 19, 2018 at 06:19AM