eSIM is the next big thing in mobile connectivity, and while Apple is doing everything it can, it’s clear that the Android world has a lot of work to do. Let’s take a look at the status of eSIM on Android and how things work on different smartphones, carriers and more.
What is an eSIM?
eSIM is an abbreviation for ’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 slide into your smartphone.
An eSIM contains basically the same information as a traditional SIM card, with your customer ID, mobile network details and more. An eSIM is built right into your device, so it can be reprogrammed if you want. Many phones that support eSIM even support multiple active connections at once, meaning you can switch back and forth between carriers.
Which Android smartphones support eSIM?
But like any emerging technology, eSIM isn’t available everywhere, and it’s pretty inconsistent where the feature is currently available on Android.
The only company that has fully embraced eSIM on Android is Google, with full support for the technology in every Pixel smartphone released since 2017. This is partly because Google’s cellular network offers Fi, eSIM support on Pixel phones and other devices. But Pixel phones from the Pixel 4 and above can also use eSIM on carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and more.
In addition to the Pixel, Samsung has also made a big push with eSIM support on its various Android phones.
A few examples of Samsung devices that support eSIM are 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 the Android 12. update for Galaxy S20 series, S21 series, Note 20 series and the rest of the foldable lineup as well.
But there are still many hits and misses within Samsung’s eSIM support. While the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 both support the feature, the “Fan Edition” models, S20 FE and S21 FE, do not. The company’s popular midrange phones like the Galaxy A53 also don’t have eSIM.
There are some other Android phones and devices that also support eSIM, but it is very inconsistent.
For example, Samsung’s LTE smartwatches use eSIM. Motorola also supports the feature on select devices, as well as select devices from Huawei, Honor, Oppo, Sony, and more. Our Andrew Romero has a full list of Android phones that support eSIM in the United States.
How do you set up an eSIM on major carriers?
The process of setting up an eSIM on Android depends on your smartphone and your carrier, and things are even more inconsistent there.
On a Pixel phone, just go to Settings > Network & Internet and then press the “+” symbol to add a new eSIM. You will be given a list of carriers and a shortcut to use the camera to scan a QR code from your carrier.
Notably, Google Fi also offers another setup method on Pixel. Instead of using a QR code, you can simply download and activate the Google Fi app with your usual Google account details – this includes transferring your eSIM to a new device. But right now, 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 those devices.
On Samsung phones, go to Settings > Connections > SIM Card Manager > ‘Add Cellular Plan’. From there you can scan a QR code from your carrier or transfer an eSIM from another smartphone, but this nothing but works on T-Mobile in the US.
But that’s just the software – what about actual carrier support?
There are several US carriers that support eSIM on Android, including the big three: T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. But even within those providers, you’ll find a lot of inconsistent messages.
For example, T-Mobile 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. to have to activate that device on a physical SIM card, but you can then convert it to an eSIM after the initial activation.
Furthermore, Verizon says on a support page that it only supports eSIM on the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, S22 series and the Galaxy Note 20 series – no foldable devices.
MVNOs are even more confusing in this regard. The Mint Mobile website, which is woefully out of date with its Android phone list, claims that none of Samsung’s or Pixel’s phones are compatible with the eSIM service, although our Max Weinbach found that he could use eSIM with a Pixel 6 Pro quite easily.
Google Fi, as mentioned, only supports eSIM on Pixel phones. US Mobile is also limited to Pixel phones only. And other carriers who to do eSIM support are not very well known about which devices are supported.
Visible, owned by Verizon, is arguably one of the best examples of clearly communicating eSIM support on Android phones, but even that carrier has its problems with the technology.
And it only gets worse from there
Really, we’re just scratching the surface so far. eSIM is a great technology, but the headache it can cause without a traditional physical SIM to back it up is immense.
One of the biggest concerns around eSIM devices is with international travel. Often, buying a physical SIM card at 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 for this with eSIM. Services like GigSky and AirAlo offer eSIM for international travel, which is quite convenient, but they can in some cases a lot more expensive than traditional means. In addition, local providers may offer promotions for additional free data that these other services do not offer.
Friend of the site Zachary Wander pointed out that Vodafone in Portugal, for example, offers a 5GB plan with 5GB of free bonus data. AirAlo offers access to that plan, but without the bonus details, despite being the same price. Adam Conway too points to this.
There’s also the headache of activation with all things eSIM. Most services require you to dig up your IMEI and EID and enter it on a website. Not exactly a huge hassle, but it’s a lot more complicated than just sticking a paperclip in your device and inserting a new SIM card that’s all ready to go, as Joshua Vergara pointed out in a tweet.
Another headache that can (and probably will) arise is when it comes to switching devices. In most cases, you can’t just transfer an eSIM from one device to another. Google Fi makes this relatively easy, as does T-Mobile on Samsung smartphones. But others just don’t. For example, Verizon 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 for every device to trust fully on e-sim card.
But with Apple doing just that in the iPhone 14, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Samsung, Google or other brands will go all-in on eSIM in the coming years. One can only hope that Apple’s push with the technology will help carriers smooth their processes and unify how the technology works on Android.
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