Unlocked phones vs. agreement phones: All we need to know

What to demeanour for when shopping a phone

Section Editor Jessica Dolcourt helps we confirm that phone is a one for you

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by Jessica Dolcourt

You’ve picked out the phone we wish to buy, yet a decision-making routine is distant from over. Should we buy it unbarred or from a carrier? Turns out, cost-wise it doesn’t matter. You could financial a new phone or compensate a full cost outright, yet what’s a improved deal? Would we trust (depending on your credit) both are accurately a same price? These are some of a questions we don’t consider about until we are forced to. But don’t worry, we’ll answer all of them. Or during slightest all of a ones we could consider of.

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What are a opposite ways we can buy a new phone?

There are 3 ways:

    • Directly from a phone builder like Apple, Google, Samsung, etc.

    • Through a phone conduit like ATT, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.

    • From a third-party tradesman like Amazon or Best Buy.

    Phone makers and retailers sell both unbarred phones and sealed conduit phones. For example, Apple sells an unbarred chronicle of a iPhone 7, yet it also sells models that are tied to ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. Best Buy sells an unbarred chronicle of a Samsung Galaxy S7 as good as a sealed chronicle for opposite carriers.

    What’s an unbarred phone?


    Unlocked phones have several advantges over phones that are not.

    Josh Miller/CNET

    An unbarred phone is not tied to a specific phone conduit and can be used on any conduit we choose. That means:

      • You don’t have to pointer a conduit agreement when we buy a phone

      • You have some-more models of phones to select from than what a carriers offer

      • When traveling, we can simply use general
      SIM cards

      • You can switch carriers yet penalty

      • Since it’s unlocked, it’ll have a aloft resale value

      The premonition is that we competence not get any network feature, like Wi-Fi job or HD voice, and a conduit won’t pledge that a voice or information network will work ideally on your phone. In other words, you’re on your own.

      How is that opposite to shopping a sealed phone approach from a retailer?

      The brief answer is software. Phones tied to a specific conduit are sealed by conduit software. An unbarred phone doesn’t have that software.

      But don’t fret, a Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act lets we clear your conduit phone once you’ve paid for it entirely and finished any contracts or agreements.

      What’s a disproportion between an unbarred phone and a concept model?

      An unbarred phone is a phone that is not tied to any specific carrier, while a concept phone is not tied to any specific network.

      In many cases, phones are both unbarred and universal.

      Smartphones are designed to work on possibly GSM or CDMA phone networks — consider AM contra FM radio. Here in a US for example, ATT and T-Mobile are GSM networks while Sprint and Verizon use CDMA. A concept phone can be used on any of those networks.

      For years, unbarred phones were roughly exclusively GSM. But recently, some-more smartphones are universal, like a iPhone 7, Google Pixel and Moto G4. When in doubt, always check with a phone manufacturer or your conduit for compatibility.

      Is it cheaper to buy a phone from my conduit or a phone maker?


      You can buy an iPhone 7 from Apple or from any vital conduit — a cost is accurately a same.

      Sarah Tew/CNET

      It indeed costs a same. For example, a code new 32GB iPhone 7 is $649 from both Apple and a carriers. Obviously, this doesn’t embody sales or promotions.

      Are all phone models sole by both phone makers and carriers?

      No. Some brands, like Moto and Huawei, sell phones customarily from their websites or by retailers like Best Buy and Amazon. While we can buy a Moto Z from Verizon, a Moto G4 is customarily sole online.

      It’s a same understanding with Google’s Pixel or Pixel XL. If we wish to buy it directly from a carrier, we have one choice: Verizon. But Google’s online store also sells an unbarred version that works on ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

      The large advantage here is that shopping an unbarred indication from a phone builder gives we entrance to a incomparable accumulation of phone models compared to a smaller preference of handsets that carriers typically offer.

      If we buy a phone unlocked, can we unequivocally use it on any carrier?


      An unbarred Pixel works on GSM (ATT and T-Mobile) and CDMA networks (Verizon and Sprint).

      James Martin/CNET

      Yes and no. For example, if we buy a Google Pixel directly from Google, it is unbarred and can be used on any vital carrier simply by putting a SIM label in it. However, if we bought a OnePlus 3TOnePlus 3TOnePlus 3T directly from OnePlus, it too is unlocked, yet can customarily be used on GSM networks like ATT and T-Mobile in a US — it won’t support Sprint or Verizon’s network bands.

      The 4 vital carriers any have Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP) pages where we can double check a device we wish to use on a carrier. Going behind to that OnePlus 3T, when we checked a certification on Verizon’s BYOP page, it let me know that a 3T was not concordant with a network.

      So if we buy a phone online and move it to my carrier, it unequivocally costs a same as only shopping it from a conduit directly?

      It unequivocally does.

      What if we can’t means a full cost of a phone adult front?

      Many people cite to financial a new phone instead of profitable full cost for it adult front. Phone makers and phone carriers offer promotional credit skeleton to cover a cost of your phone. Keep in mind, this financing is in further to what we compensate monthly to a phone conduit for a information plan.

      Does financing cost some-more in a prolonged run?

      That depends on your credit. Phone makers and vital carriers offer promotional credit financing during 0 percent seductiveness (usually over 24 months). Obviously if your credit is not great, your seductiveness rate will be aloft and in spin we will compensate some-more for your phone. It’s also value observant that some of these credit offers will have we compensate a money deposition in further to financing a cost of your phone — again this is all contingent on your credit history.

      What if we pointer adult for a devise like Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Plan?


      The iPhone Upgrade Plan is a good choice for those wanting both an iPhone and AppleCare+. A 32GB iPhone 7 ($649) and AppleCare+ ($129) will cost we $778. The Upgrade Plan offers 24-month financing for $32/month ($778 over dual years).

      Apple will let we ascent to a new iPhone as early as 6 months — we only have to compensate off half of a phone’s cost and trade it behind into Apple.

      Keep in mind, a phone is unlocked yet contingency be activated in an Apple Store on one for a 4 vital carriers. Also a financial remuneration you’re creation to Apple is in further to a cost of a monthly information plan. AppleCare+ has additional charges if we indeed finish adult regulating it: a $29 price for shade repairs and a $99 price for other damage.

      Once we buy a phone direct, how do we activate it on a carrier?

      Go to a carrier’s BYOP page to check a harmony of your new phone with a carrier’s network — ideally before we squeeze a phone. If things are compatible, you’ll be stirred to select a information plan.

      Here are links to a BYOP pages from a 4 vital carriers in a US:





        What’s this activation price carriers wish to assign me?


        One-time activation price or SIM label pack cost

        All of a carriers (except T-Mobile) assign we a one-time price for activating a new phone or other device on their network. ATT charges $25, Verizon and Sprint $30. T-Mobile doesn’t have an activation fee, yet a conduit does assign $20 for a SIM label kit.

        How am we going to remember all this?

        The good news is we don’t have to. If there’s one take divided it’s there are no financial advantages shopping a phone from a manufacturer or from a conduit — sealed or unlocked. However, going a unbarred track gives we a aloft series of phone models to select from, phones that carriers don’t customarily offer.

        Next, we’ll dive deeper into phone skeleton and that conduit offers a best deals.

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