Reading from the title above, the question on what the difference between locked and unlocked phones is can be quite… redundant. Isn’t it just the difference between two states of smartphones – one phone can be accessed, while the other is locked? Well, it appears there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this crucial difference.
If you’re planning to make a phone purchase, do try to consider the pros and cons of a locked phone versus an unlocked phone – especially when it comes to the contract. While this does make the decision-making process of getting a coveted phone much harder, it appears to be much worth the while in the long run. Should you choose an unlocked phone or a locked one?
A lot of people might consider the terms a bit confusing. What exactly are unlocked phones, and what makes it so different from phones that are tied to various carriers? In fact, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the concept that the world of unlocked mobile phones do have their own sets of common myths and questions that need answering and debunking.
Unlocked Phones: What Exactly Are They?
No, unlocked phones aren’t phones that can be used because they’re not locked. Rather, the status of a phone whether or not it’s locked or unlocked depends on its nature upon purchase. Unlocked phones aren’t tied to specific carriers, and can be used depending on the kind of carrier you want. In general, this means unlocked phones:
- Allow you to have more choices of smartphones and mobile phones versus what the carriers normally offer their users.
- You can easily integrate international SIM cards whenever you have to travel to other countries.
- There’s no penalty whenever you need to switch a carrier for various reasons.
- Phones that are unlocked generally have higher resale value, precisely because the user that will buy it will also have the same benefits.
Unfortunately, the primary caveat of unlocked phones is that it won’t always have every network feature a single carrier might offer. For instance, HD voice or Wi-Fi calling might not be as great with an unlocked phone, and there’s no guarantee that the carrier will have the data network or voice network be as smooth sailing as they’d like. In short, you’re on your own with this one.
How Exactly Do I Get Unlocked Phones?
Fortunately, if you do find yourself curious to use unlocked or locked phones, procuring them isn’t exactly difficult either. It will, however, take you a bit more time and effort to find the kinds of models you want.
It’s generally understood that new phones can be bought from carriers such as T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T – but again, these are normally locked phones and their specific feature offerings.
Third-party retailers such as Best Buy or Amazon are also great sources of unlocked phones, as a lot of sellers within these retailers source their phones directly from the producers and manufacturers themselves.
If you want to stay “pure,” you can easily go directly to phone makers such as Samsung, Google, or Apple to get the kind of phone you want as well – provided there are physical stores in your destination, of course.
Retailers and phone makers, interestingly, sell both variations of locked carrier phones and unlocked phones. For instance, Apple has both an unlocked version of its popular iPhone X release but also has a variation tied with callers such as Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, or AT&T. Likewise, Best Buy also sells an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S9, but it also has locked versions of the same product tied to different carriers.
How Do Locked Phones Work?
The long and short of it is really just a matter of software. If your phone is tied to a specific carrier, this means there’s a carrier software that’s integrated into the phone itself. Unlocked phones don’t have that kind of software, which gives them their “freedom.”
If you’re in the United States, however, you’re protected by the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. This legislation allows you to unlock your locked phone provided you’ve finished agreements and contracts with the carrier, plus finishing your full payment.
What’s A Universal Model? How Is It Different From Unlocked Phones?
Some people may be confused when they hear about unlocked phones because there’s something called the universal model as well. While an unlocked phone is a device that isn’t attached to a particular carrier, universal phones aren’t tied to specific networks.
This is why a lot of people consider unlocked phones as universal phones as well.
It can be remembered that smartphones are in fact designed to work o neither CDMA or GSM phone networks. This is similar to how radio has FM or AM options. In the United States, T-Mobile and AT&T are GSM-based networks, while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA networks.
The fact that universal phones can be used on any variation of these networks make it quite the attractive choice – but the network conundrum hasn’t always been this way. Before, unlocked phones were almost always attached to GSM, but newer phones such as the Moto G6 and Google Pixel 2 and the iPhone X were made universal as well.
To be sure, make sure you ask your phone manufacturer to check the network availability of your chosen device.
Should I Buy My Phone From The Phone Maker Or The Carrier?
This might not be the same across all countries, but phones sold by individual carriers and phone makers should be the same. For instance, carriers and Apple sell the iPhone X for $999. The price difference only arrives by the time promotions and sales come into the picture.
However, it should be remembered that not all phones are sold in both retailers and the phone makers themselves. Some brands such as Huawei and Moto only sell phones through retailers such as Amazon or Best Buy, or their own websites. This is the same with the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL of Google. Should you want to buy these phones from a retailer, Verizon will be your only choice.
Interestingly, Google does have an unlocked version of the Pixel 2 phones in its online store that works on all popular carriers in the United States.
The catch here is that buying an unlocked model directly from the phone makers allow you to have a massive advantage as you have a larger choice of phone models compared to the availability of these models as per the carriers.
If I Buy An Unlocked Phone, Can I Use It With All Carriers?
The long and short answer is both yes and no – as it really depends on the kind of phone you buy.
For instance, a Google Pixel purchased from Google will most likely be unlocked and can be used with all major carriers provided you put the corresponding SIM card. Unfortunately, this won’t exactly work with a OnePlus 6 from OnePlus – as it’s unlocked, yes, but it can only be used with GSM networks in the United States such as T-Mobile and AT&T. It won’t work with Verizon and Sprint’s network bands.
The major carriers do have their own pages named Bring Your Own Phone that allows you to double check devices you want to buy and if you can use it on a specific carrier.
What If I Can’t Buy The Phone Upfront?
A lot of people are starting to prefer financing a new phone instead of paying for the entire thing upfront. In fact, a lot of carriers and phone makers actually offer promotional credit to allow you to get your phone’s price covered by credit. However, financing this way will be in addition to what you normally pay monthly for a data plan for a phone carrier.
As to whether or not choosing to finance will cost you more in the long run, it depends on the kind of credit. For instance, some carriers and phone makers offer promotional credit finance options with 0-percent interest, with periods that normally last over 24 months.
Of course, interest rates can increase with credits that aren’t exactly great. And do keep in mind that some credit offers will need you to make an initial deposit aside from the cost of the phone itself, but this depends on your credit history.
Once I Directly Buy A Phone, How Do I Activate It With The Carrier?
If you have purchased a phone directly, you can easily activate it with the carrier of your choice by going to the BYOP page of your chosen carrier. Check if your phone model is compatible with their network – and if it is, you’ll be directed to choosing a data plan you like.
Some of these carriers have activation fees alongside their data plans, which is a one-time fee of activating devices with their network. These vary, though, as some may or may have fees.
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