Besides all the software and hardware features that one must consider when buying a smartphone, another consideration is whether to buy a locked or unlocked phone. This is something that you should give careful thought to before making a splurge.
This article will fill you in the details on how the two differ and the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed choice.
Locked vs. Unlocked Phones: What's the Difference?
Locked smartphones are those that include a software code that prevents you from using SIM cards from other wireless providers. For instance, if you buy a locked Galaxy S21 Ultra from T-Mobile, you can only use the device on T-Mobile's network. Your Galaxy S21 Ultra will not work on Verizon or other wireless careers. Carriers often sell locked phones to their network, but you can still find locked phones through third-party channels like Amazon and eBay.
In contrast, unlocked phones are those that have no network restrictions. You can virtually use whatever service provider and switch whenever you want. You have all the control. Just swap one carrier's SIM card for another, and you're good to go. Unlocked phones can either be those sold without network restrictions or those first locked then later unlocked.
Related: Is My Phone Unlocked? Here's How to Know
The Pros of Buying a Locked Phone
One of the major benefits of buying a locked device is it usually costs less. Wireless carriers can subsidize the retail price by having you locked into their network. Alternatively, they spread the device cost over a certain period through payment plans, so you don't have to pay the full price upfront. Plus, it consolidates your bills in one place—you have your device payment and carrier plan in one place. Carriers also commonly offer promotions and gifts to make their offers attractive.MAKEUSEOF VIDEO OF THE DAY
Another advantage is support. If you buy a device from a carrier, you can visit any of their shops for customer support. Carriers also offer repair services in case your device has defects. Besides that, carrier insurance plans are also attractive and more competitive than what you can get from device makers.
The Cons of Buying a Locked Phone
The major downside of buying locked devices is the inability to switch carriers as you wish. And that is, in fact, the goal of carrier phones; to ensure you stick with them for an extended period. While you can request your carrier to unlock your device after you have finished paying for it, there are usually hurdles that you will have to navigate.
There is often a waiting period before your request to unlock is processed.
This can be a pain in the neck for you if your job involves traveling a lot. While you could still use your carrier abroad, roaming services are expensive. It's way cheaper to use a local wireless carrier in the country you visit. A locked phone can also be limiting if you travel to a location where your carrier has poor or patchy coverage.
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Another setback is locked phones can hinder you from taking advantage of the best deals offered by a different carrier. And as you may have noticed already, carriers don't sell many smartphone models, leading to fewer choices to pick from. When you want to sell your locked device, the price is usually lower than unlocked devices of similar model and storage configuration.
Lastly, carrier-locked phones can be expensive despite the enticing promotions and discounts offered. While the flexible plans are convenient, it's cheaper to buy a phone elsewhere by paying for the full price. It's not uncommon to find a device on an online store cheaper than the retail price in a local carrier shop.
Related: How to Unlock a Carrier-Locked Phone
The Pros of Buying an Unlocked Phone
Freedom is one of the main reasons you should get an unlocked phone. It's why unlocked phones have grown in popularity in recent times. Unlocked phones allow you to switch carriers at any time. You also don't need to buy a new phone to do this. The process is simple; remove one carrier's SIM card and replace it with another.
While there's still the issue of CDMA and GSM technology, most devices support both networks, meaning you can connect to virtually any wireless carrier in the US and worldwide.
Plus, if you're still on the hunt for the best mobile carrier, unlocked phones offer you the flexibility to try different carriers and make your judgment. If you travel often, you can use a local carrier than relying on expensive roaming services.
Unlocked phones also command relatively higher resale value than locked ones because of the freedom. It's also easier to sell an unlocked device than a locked one. If you go unlocked, you'll also have more models to choose from, as you'll not be limited to whatever is being sold by your wireless carrier.
The Cons of Buying an Unlocked Phone
The main disadvantage of buying an unlocked phone is that you'll have to do background checks to ensure the device supports radio bands used by local carriers. It's especially an issue if you're shipping a device from outside the US. Apart from the usual culprits (CDMA and GSM), you should consider network bands. The good news is modern smartphones have become more compatible than in the past. But still, you should do your research first.
Another downside is that unlocked phones aren't always available on payment plans. As a result, you're likely to pay the total price upfront, and with the ever-rising cost of smartphones, unlocked devices can be out of reach for many.
Should You Buy a Locked or Unlocked Phone?
Overall, unlocked phones have more pros that outweigh their cons and even the pros of locked ones. But if you face the tough decision of choosing between the two, it boils down to a few factors. Buy unlocked if you're tech-savvy, have the money to buy the phone you want upfront, often travel internationally, and want the freedom of switching carriers as and when you want.
One of the key reasons to buy a locked device is if you don't have the money to pay for a device upfront or are reluctant to splurge. It could also be due to the customer support and comprehensive insurance provided by wireless carriers. In addition to that, buying a locked device can be attractive if you don't travel internationally often and you're okay with your wireless carrier and content with the limited smartphone models they stock.
In short, there's no clear winner when it comes to choosing between a locked phone or an unlocked smartphone, but you'll find the option that suits you best.The 8 Cheapest Phone Plans With Unlimited Everything
Looking for the cheapest phone plans with unlimited everything? Here are your options and which one's the best value for you.Read NextShareTweetEmail Related TopicsAbout The AuthorAlvin Wanjala(182 Articles Published)
Alvin Wanjala has been writing about technology for over 2 years. He writes about different facets, including but not limited to mobile, PC, and social media. Alvin loves programming and gaming during downtimes.MoreFrom Alvin Wanjala
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