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The Difference Between Locked and Unlocked Android Phones

Buying a brand new smartphone or tablet these days can be a headache. Unlike before, you can simply go and purchase a phone from a store. Now, you have several options that you need to think about before making a purchase.

Among these options, you have the option to buy a locked smartphone and an option to purchase an unlocked one. However, what is a locked and an unlocked smartphone anyway and what’s the difference?

Must Read: 7 Best Lightweight Browser Apps for Android in 2019

Locked vs Unlocked Phone: What is the Difference?

Before anything else, let’s be clear about the type of “Locked vs Unlocked” phone that we are pertaining about. Basically, locked phones are phones that only work with a certain telecom cellular carrier company. Example, you bought a Samsung Galaxy S10 from T-Mobile. That specific phone will only work with a T-Mobile SIM card for its cellular communication feature to function properly. If you try a different non-T-Mobile SIM card, you will get an error “Phone Not Allowed: MM#6 Error.” This error means that you are prohibited from using a different SIM card other than T-Mobile. This is the case for locked phones.

On the other hand, unlocked phones will simply accept any SIM Card from any telecommunication company that works and functions in your specific country. For example, an unlocked phone will work with either a T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon SIM card. Unlocked phones are simply not anchored, tethered or linked to any carrier.

Locked Phones

In this section, we will enumerate and discuss the advantages and disadvantages that you can get from purchasing a locked phone.

Locked phones are phones that are directly purchased from telecommunication carrier companies. Locked phones usually are available in various payment plans that come with promos and add-ons.

1. Advantages of Purchasing Locked Phones

The main advantage that you can get from opting to buy a locked phone is getting it for a drastically cheap price.

T-Mobile Phone Plans locked phones
T-Mobile Phone Plans

You can even get a Samsung Galaxy S10 for just $100 with locked plans from T-Mobile. However, you will have to pay the rest in a 36 months contract.

Other advantages of locked phones are:

  • The Telecom Brand that you purchased it from will handle everything that may happen to the phone. Including warranty, repair, and protection plans.
  • Locked phones are available with affordable monthly plans with the telecom brand. You can purchase one with unlimited calls and text and more!
  • Discounts if you want to trade in your old phone and get the latest ones.

2. Disadvantages of Purchasing Locked Phones

Locked phones also come with a multitude of disadvantages. The most notable ones are having to sign a contract, being stuck with a specific telecom carrier brand company, and possibly hidden charges that you may not be aware of unless checked.

Other than that, there are other disadvantages that you can suffer from purchasing a locked phone:

  • Possibly paying a bigger monthly fee than you expected.
  • Additional charges may occur if your specific carrier usage exceeds your contract or plan.
  • Unable to swap SIM card from other telecom carrier brands.

Unlocked Phones

In this section, we will also enumerate and discuss the advantages and disadvantages that you can get from purchasing an unlocked phone.

locked unlocked phones
Unlocked Smartphone

Basically, unlocked phones posses all the freedom that you can get from it. You can basically use any SIM cards from any carriers and you won’t have to worry about any monthly recurring fee or contract unless, of course, if you purchase an unlocked phone with installment plans.

1. Advantages of Purchasing Unlocked Phones

The main advantage of purchasing an unlocked phone is the freedom and not being tethered, locked, or link to any telecom carrier company. Furthermore, you can use different SIM cards from a different carrier that works and functions in your country.

Other than that, here are the advantages of unlocked phones:

  • No monthly recurring fee (except for installment purchases).
  • No hidden charges or overuse charges.
  • Supports any SIM card from different carriers.
  • The transition to a different phone is easier.

2. Disadvantages of Purchasing Unlocked Phones

Unlocked phones may possess all the advantages that anyone could want from a phone but it also has its fair share of disadvantages. To name some, you have to pay fully for the device.

Other than that, here are the disadvantages of purchasing an unlocked phone:

  • Paying full upfront.
  • You have to visit service centers if something happens to it.
  • You can’t trade it in for discounts to get the latest models.
  • You have to pay for a much more expensive SIM card plans.

Unlocked Phones – Everything You Need To Know

When it comes to unlocked phones, there are other means that refers to a phone being unlocked. Other than it being locked to a single carrier, unlocked phones could also mean a phone that has its bootloader unlocked.

To be precise, the bootloader is software that runs as soon as the phone is booted. This bit of code executes even before the operating system starts to run. It can instruct your operating system to load normally if it meets approval. So basically, a locked bootloader is the manufacturer weighing in about whose operating system you should use.

Android Phone Rooting

If you value that ability to install custom ROM to your phone or the ability to ROOT it, then you would want a phone with an unlocked bootloader. Cases like this are the reasons why it is important to know these terms. Otherwise, you might end up having trouble later on if a misunderstanding occurs.

Telecom Carriers and Their Take to Unlocking Phones

As long as you know better than to install shady modified software on your device, it does seem that having both your SIM card and your bootloader unlocked is the way to go. However, it is important that every consumer should be aware and be informed about the Federal Communications Commissions take on this.

According to FCC’s statement on February 11, 2014, “CTIA-The Wireless Association adopted six standards on mobile wireless device unlocking (“the commitment”) into the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless ServiceOpens a New Window” If you want to know more about this, simply click here.

This includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon. Although, certain requirements must be fulfilled first.

  • Usually, the phone must be paid off or the contract fulfilled.
  • AT&T will only allow five phone unlocks per account each year. This may actually seem like a lot but probably not for a large family.
  • One year is the maximum wait time for prepaid phones to become unlocked after activation.
  • The account commonly has to be with the same carrier still. For non-customers and former customers, it can be done “at a cost.”
  • Payment status does not apply to military personnel who can present deployment orders.
  • Phones that have been lost or stolen are ineligible.

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Final Thoughts…

Physically, both types of phones are the same. The key difference is the software setting that prevents the use of another cellular network in locked phones.

If you can afford the upfront cost of an unlocked phone, the answer seems clear. What are locked and unlocked phones when it comes to rooting or custom installation of ROMs?

It really is much less restrictive to start out with your SIM card and bootloader unshackled if you can afford it. If the cost is prohibitive you have to decide how much these factors are worth to you, or how much effort you are willing to put into circumventing the locks. If you’ve rooted, unlocked a bootloader, or installed a custom ROM before, your chances of success are probably greater. If you are risk averse, it might not be for you.

How has having a locked SIM card or bootloader affected you? How have you dealt with it? Please share your stories and insights below.

How has having a locked SIM card or bootloader affected you? How have you dealt with it? Please share your stories and insights below.

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One Comment

  1. My moto e4 from Wireless_Experts_Inc was unlocked and worked well on the Fido net for about 18 months. But now it has become LOCKED with Verizon. Since it was not purchased from Verizon they were not willing to unlock it for me. I am still hopeful that Wireless_Experts can fix it. Ian

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