The Disadvantages of unlocked phones

Whether you’re using a carrier phone and want to make the switch to an unlocked device or you think that it would be better financially to use a locked smartphone, it’s best to know that in some cases, the disadvantages of unlocked phones can outweigh the pros. At the same time, I am not really fond of anything that involves subscriptions and it seems that what the Danish MP Ida Auken was saying: ‘you will own nothing and be happy’ has proven to be wishful thinking. That was because the manufacturers have shown times and times again that the profit is all that they care about, so, with that in mind, let’s explore the current state of both unlocked and carrier-locked phones to see if it’s actually worth making a switch to the latter.

Source: Photo by Adrienn

The telecommunications giants have tried to persuade users to go with carrier phones over the last few decades, so the first thing that comes as an argument against unlocked phones is the support and the firmware updates.

1. Potentially quicker repairs from carriers

As everything that is offered under a subscription type of plan (for any device), the promise is that you get a far better support in case you experience any problems with your phone and you should also receive more timely firmware updates. But is it actually true? It can be with some carriers because if your phone develops some issues, such as the weirdly common bootloop behavior, it’s far easier to get it replaced or fixed when it’s under contract.

Otherwise, you’ll most likely need to ship it to the manufacturer and hope that it gets fixes. So it’s in the carrier’s best interest for you to have a working phone as quick as possible, while the manufacturers have less incentive to actually repair your phone.
Fun fact, I did send a Pixel 2 XL back to Google since it was shutting down in my pocket and it was sent back to me in the same state with the mention that there was no issue with the phone. It still restarts even today, which is why it ended up in a drawer.

2. Some unlocked phones are the last to get a firmware update (in the US)

The firmware updates do strangely come quicker on some carrier phones. And I say strangely because the manufacturer could push the new firmware just as quickly (or sooner) to the unlocked phones as well. So why does that happen in the US? Well, it seems that the manufacturers first need to check if the phone will properly work with all the major carriers in the US. So a quickly released update before being approved by the carriers could potentially disrupt the performance of the phone (this source explains it better).

Source: Photo by Tyler Lastovich

And it kind of makes sense, but at the same time, it doesn’t because Samsung is the main offender, so other manufacturers can make better deals with the big US carriers. And this doesn’t appear to be an issue outside the US, which speaks volumes.

3. WiFi Calling

The WiFi calling is probably the most important argument to why some people should stick to unlocked phones. That’s because besides some specific brand of phones (iPhones, mostly), the WiFi calling is not going to be available on unlocked phones, only with carrier-locked devices. But then again, do we actually care about WiFi calling nowadays? Most people have a good reception everywhere they go, the call quality is good, so what’s the point of the WiFi calling?

Well, it can be incredibly useful in areas where you don’t have a good reception from the carrier, while the Internet does arrive via cable to your home. This can be true when you live in the middle of nowhere, where the tower signal is close to zero, so, in this conditions the WiFi calling is useful.

It’s also worth mentioning that the carriers intentionally modify the hardware of some smartphones to make it work better with their network and the WiFi calling is also a hardware-related addition. It’s interesting to see that this feature is now more widespread on unlocked phones as well than it was before, but it most likely will take some time until it will cover all devices. As an objective opinion, I don’t think that it’s really going to happen when people rely on social media for calls (WhatsApp, Signal) and I am sure that the giant telecommunication companies won’t really be that happy to lose this small, but fairly heavy advantage.

4. Carrier phones can be cheaper

This is an argument that I saw appear from time to time saying that you get better prices when there are promotions, allowing you to trade your old device. And it’s true in certain conditions. For example, if you are a person that tends to change their phone every year or every two years and really like the current carrier you’re on, it can be better to go with a contract since even if you’re always paying for your phone, you get to change it with the newer model in a more affordable manner.

Source: Photo by ready made

But, if you prefer to stick with a phone for three or four years (or more), it’s likely wiser to use an unlocked device.
Also, be aware that the promotions aren’t always advantageous since what was true a years ago (or even a month ago) will most likely not be available today. Which is why today, an unlocked phone may be a better option than yesterday in terms of price and tomorrow the other way around.

After reading these disadvantages of using an unlocked phone, it’s clear that these are conditions created by the big carriers themselves to persuade people into a long terms contract. At the same time, more and more people do go over the unlocked side even if there are some disadvantages (that are clearly outweighed by the advantages, such as the dreaded bloatware), so the big (four) carriers can’t really ignore the growing trend. This can create a sense of competition and prevent the market to be suffocated by bad carrier deals on expensive smartphones.

This means that in the meantime, the user should be good regardless of going with a carrier phone or an unlocked one. But, hopefully, the paradigm switches towards the unlocked phones because the freedom of choice has always been the most important aspect of a healthy market.

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