eSIM is the next big thing in cellular connectivity, and while Apple is putting everything into it, it’s clear the Android world has a lot of work to do. Let’s take a look at the state of eSIM on Android and how things work on different smartphones, carriers, etc.
What is an eSIM?
eSIM is the abbreviation of “embedded SIM”. A quick explanation for this is that eSIM is a virtual version of a SIM card, rather than a physical item that you slip into your smartphone.
An eSIM basically contains the same information as a traditional SIM card, with your customer ID, mobile network details, etc. An eSIM is integrated directly into your device and is therefore reprogrammable according to your needs. Many eSIM-enabled phones even support multiple active connections at once, meaning you can switch between providers.
Which Android smartphones support eSIM?
But like any emerging technology, eSIM isn’t available everywhere, and it’s pretty inconsistent where the feature is available on Android at this point.
The only company to fully embrace eSIM on Android is Google, with full support for the technology in every Pixel smartphone released since 2017. This is partly because Google’s mobile network, Fi, offers eSIM support on Pixel phones and other devices. But Pixel phones from the Pixel 4 and later can also use eSIM on carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and more.
Beyond the Pixel, Samsung has also made a big push with eSIM support on its various Android phones.
Some examples of Samsung devices that support eSIM include the company’s latest releases, such as the Galaxy S22 series, Galaxy Z Fold 4, and Galaxy Z Flip 4. Samsung has also expanded support for the feature with its upgrade. Android 12 update to Galaxy S20 series. , the S21 series, the Note 20 series and the rest of its foldable range as well.
But there are still plenty of hits and misses in Samsung’s eSIM support. While the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 both support this feature, the “Fan Edition” models, S20 FE and S21 FE, do not. The company’s popular mid-range phones, such as the Galaxy A53, also lack eSIM.
There are other Android phones and devices that also support eSIM, but it’s very inconsistent.
Samsung’s LTE smartwatches, for example, use eSIM. Motorola also supports the feature on some devices, as do some devices from Huawei, Honor, Oppo, Sony, etc. Our Andrew Romero has a full list of Android phones that support eSIM in the US.
How to configure an eSIM on the main operators?
The process of setting up an eSIM on Android depends on your smartphone and your carrier, and that’s where things get even more inconsistent.
On a Pixel phone, just go to Settings > Network & Internet, then tap the “+” symbol to add a new eSIM. You’ll get a list of carriers and a shortcut to use the camera to scan a QR code provided by your carrier.
Notably, Google Fi also offers a different setup method on Pixel. Instead of using a QR code, you can simply download the Google Fi app and activate it with your regular Google Account credentials – this also applies to transferring your eSIM to a new device. But at the moment, Google Fi only supports eSIM on Pixel phones. Oh, and the Pixel 2, 3, and Pixel 3a all only support eSIM on Google Fi — you can’t use an eSIM from Verizon or other carriers with these devices.
On Samsung phones, you go to Settings > Connections > SIM card manager > “Add mobile plan”. From here you can scan a QR code from your carrier or transfer an eSIM from another smartphone, but this only works on T-Mobile in the US.
But that’s just the software – what about the actual operator assistance?
There are several US carriers that support eSIM on Android, including the big three – T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. But even within these operators, you will find many inconsistent messages.
T-Mobile, for example, supports eSIM on most modern Samsung phones. But let’s say you just bought the brand new Galaxy Z Fold 4 or Galaxy Z Flip 4 from Samsung. According to T-Mobile, you have to activate this device on a physical SIM card, but you can then convert to eSIM after initial activation.
Beyond that, Verizon says on a support page that it only supports eSIM on Samsung’s Galaxy S21, S22 and Galaxy Note 20 series – no foldables.
MVNOs are even more confusing in this regard. Mint Mobile’s website, which is woefully outdated with its list of Android phones, claims that none of the Samsung or Pixel phones are compatible with its eSIM service, although our Max Weinbach found he was able to use the eSIM quite easily with a Pixel 6 Pro.
Google Fi, as mentioned, only supports eSIM on Pixel phones. US Mobile is also limited to only Pixel phones. And other carriers who do eSIM support is not very clear on supported devices.
Visible, owned by Verizon, is perhaps one of the best examples of clear communication of eSIM support on Android phones, but even that carrier has its issues with the technology.
And it only gets worse from there
Really, we’re only scratching the surface so far with this. eSIM is great technology, but the headaches it could cause without a traditional physical SIM card to back it up are immense.
One of the biggest concerns with eSIM-only devices is for international travel. Often, buying a physical SIM card in a store while traveling, or even at the airport itself, is a quick and easy way to avoid expensive roaming charges abroad. There are also solutions to this with eSIM. Services like GigSky and AirAlo offer an eSIM for international travel, which is pretty handy, but they box be much more expensive than traditional means in some cases. Additionally, local carriers may offer promotions for additional free data that these other services do not offer.
Site buddy Zachary Wander pointed out that in Portugal, for example, Vodafone offers a 5GB plan with 5GB of free bonus data. AirAlo offers access to this plan, but without the bonus data, although it is at the same price. Adam Conway too report it.
There’s also the activation headache with all things eSIM. Most services require you to dig up your IMEI and EID and enter them on a website. It’s not really a big deal, but it’s a lot more complicated than just sticking a paper clip in your device and inserting a new SIM card out of the box, as Joshua Vergara pointed out in a Tweeter.
Another headache that can (and probably will) arise involves switching devices. You cannot simply transfer an eSIM from one device to another in most cases. Google Fi makes this relatively easy, as does T-Mobile on Samsung smartphones. But others just don’t. Verizon, for example, requires customers to contact support to transfer an eSIM between devices, even on iPhones.
Is Android ready for an eSIM-only smartphone?
In short, no. Android is far from ready to be used by any device fully on eSIM.
Still, with Apple doing just that in iPhone 14, it’s almost guaranteed that brands like Samsung, Google, or others will launch on eSIM within the next couple of years. One can only hope that Apple’s push with technology will help carriers simplify their processes and unify how technology works on Android.
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