Locked phones refer to cell phones that users buy through a network carrier and lock into a contract with this carrier for a certain period. Most people in the U.S. buy locked phones so that they don’t have to pay in full for their phones and can have the stability of a regular cell plan.
However, locked phones aren’t for everyone. In the U.S., more than 50 million people own unlocked phones — cell phones with no ties to a particular service provider. With these types of phones, users can switch carriers whenever they want. Unlocked phones also allow people to sell and buy used phones easily so that buyers can choose the ideal cell carrier for their needs.
Why Do Carriers Lock Smartphones?
Carriers lock phones to prevent their users from switching to other providers before their contract is up. Cell phones are costly, with prices soaring into the thousands. However, many manufacturers and carriers provide contracts with payment plans to allow interested buyers to pay off their phones over time.
If you purchased your mobile phone through a carrier like T-Mobile or AT&T, you probably signed a contract allowing you to pay off the total value of your phone over an extended period. With your contract, you instead pay monthly installments on your device, making it easier to purchase and budget for a high-quality phone.
While you are subject to that contract, your service provider will require that you only use their carrier services. This policy means you cannot change your SIM card and use another carrier. When you are under contract, your phone will have software on it that blocks SIM cards from other carriers.
How to Check If Your Phone Is Locked
If you aren’t sure if your cell phone has locks on it, you’ll have to call your provider and ask them, but they will first need some specific information from you.
To check if your phone has a lock on it, your carrier will need your phone’s specific make, model and serial number. Not everyone knows this information off the top of their heads, so all phones have a unique IMEI number that allows carriers to access this info themselves.
The easiest way to find your IMEI number is to open your call app, go to the keypad and type out *#06#. Doing this will display your IMEI number without you digging through your settings or files to find it. From there, you can take a screenshot or write the number down so that you have it later.
You can also find your phone’s IMEI number through your settings. For Apple smartphones, you can access your number by opening Settings, selecting General and scrolling to the bottom of the About section. Androids have a similar process. From Settings, go to About Device and select Status.
Once you have this information ready, your provider can tell you whether you have locks on your phone and how long you have until you can unlock your device.
However, the best and most straightforward way to check if you have an unlocked phone is to replace your current SIM card with another from a different carrier and try to make a call. If you have a locked phone, you will likely receive an error message when you restart your phone saying you have an invalid SIM card. However, if your call goes through, you have an unlocked phone.
How to Unlock Your Phone
If your contract has ended, you are usually clear to unlock your phone. However, read over your contract one last time before attempting to unlock your phone. Some carriers ask for an additional month or two with their provider before you can unlock your phone, even if you pay off your entire phone.
When you call your carrier to check your lock status and are eligible to unlock your phone, the easiest part is over. You can ask them to unlock your phone there. Be sure to ask them how long it will take before your phone is completely free of locks. It might take a month for your request to process and fully unlock your phone.
If you don’t want to go through your carrier, you can also contact an IT specialist and see if they offer services to unlock your phone. Many independent phone shops provide these specialized services — but prepare yourself for any fees they might charge.
Additionally, there are methods of unlocking your phone on your own, though it is a very technical process that involves coding or using a data cable and specific software. Before you attempt to unlock your phone yourself, be sure you fully understand the process and back up your information and data ahead of time for safekeeping.
If you want to unlock your phone early, that might be an option depending on the provider and their policy. Some providers allow you to unlock your phone before your contract ends, but you might have to pay a hefty fee. Review your agreement and your carrier’s policies to find the best option when deciding to unlock your phone.
Why People Unlock Phones
People unlock their phones for various reasons. Many individuals like the freedom to explore their carrier options without attachments to a singular carrier. With an unlocked device, you can explore and pick the best deals for your needs whenever you would like. You can find great deals and services across carriers, and switching your provider to take advantage of what they offer can benefit you financially.
Other people may need a flexible carrier arrangement to accommodate international travel. Not all carriers have service in all areas of the globe, and some require steep international data fees. In these cases, a locked phone might not be the best option for those who travel frequently.
Further, unlocked is best when selling your used smartphones. When selling an unlocked phone, you enable potential buyers to choose their own network provider. Instead of shopping by locked phones sorted by carrier, they can instead focus on what they want in a mobile phone — features, storage and more. As a used phone seller, you also have a larger potential audience to market to when selling your old cell phone.
Locked vs. Unlocked Phones
Both locked and unlocked phones have their perks and downfalls, leading people to choose one or the other. When deciding whether to buy a locked or an unlocked phone, consider what both sides offer so you can choose the best option for your needs.
Advantages of Locked Phones
One of the biggest reasons people buy a locked phone is because they don’t have to pay for it in full. Phones are expensive and huge investments — cell phone costs at retail prices range over $1,000, depending on the device’s make and model. Having the option to pay in monthly installments over an extended period is appealing to people who need that kind of guidance and accountability to maintain a budget.
Carriers offer services for users who have contracts with them, like promised warranties, repair options and protection plans. Users get many security features and other components through their service providers. Additionally, users can opt into monthly service plans to get perks like unlimited data or texting, enhancing their experience as a phone owner.
Since manufacturers are releasing new models of phones all the time, carriers often provide exclusive trade-in offers for people who use their services. These offers allow people to get a newer phone at a discount, so they don’t have to overbudget for the latest piece of tech.
Disadvantages of Locked Phones
The main thing that drives people away from buying a locked phone is that you are stuck in your contract with little to no flexibility. Because of this, you can’t switch SIM cards for other carriers until your contract is over.
While monthly plans help many budget and track their spending, some also have hidden fees that cause people to spend more than they realize when they initially agree to the plan. When considering a plan, it is important to carefully read the fine print to avoid any hidden fees. In addition to these hidden fees, you will have to pay extra charges if you go over your allotted texts or data each month.
Advantages of Unlocked Phones
With an unlocked phone, you have the freedom to choose any carrier and switch at any time. This freedom allows you to explore your options to find great deals and services offered by numerous providers. This opportunity can help many phone users get the most from their cell phone use and find a deal that gives them precisely what they need.
It is simple and easy to switch from carrier to carrier with unlocked phones. When you want to switch to a new carrier, all you have to do is purchase a SIM card with that carrier and pop it into your phone. Be sure to store all your cards somewhere safe so that you can return to them at any point when you want to use those carriers again.
Because you buy unlocked phones at full price, you also don’t have to worry about any monthly payments. You can fully enjoy your phone knowing you have already paid for it. Further, without a contract, you won’t have to worry about those hidden fees.
Unlocked phones make it simple and easy to transfer your information to a new device. All you have to do is move your SIM card from your old phone to your new one, and your service will be ready for you.
Frequent travelers love unlocked phones. With the ability to choose from any provider, international travelers can choose local and national plans that work for the country they are in. An unlocked phone can help you stay connected wherever you are, especially if you often travel for business or need your phone to check in on family members back home.
Disadvantages of Unlocked Phones
With an unlocked phone, you have to pay upfront. Unless there is a retail option that offers payment plans, unlocked phones can be pricey. It can also be difficult to find cheaper alternatives, especially if you are looking for a brand new phone.
Without ties or loyalty to one carrier, you don’t get access to their services or help. If you run into problems and need an expert to help you troubleshoot them, you will have to find a third-party IT service and pay their fees. You will also not have access to insurance or protection plans offered through network providers.
If you like to have the latest phone model, finding the money to pay for it without the option of a carrier granting discounts for trade-ins might be challenging. However, if you are someone who stays loyal to your phone model and uses it until it dies, unlocked phones can benefit you.
Where to Purchase or Sell Unlocked Phones Online
Since people have to buy their locked phones through their cell providers, the best places to buy unlocked phones are at manufacturer locations, like Apple or Samsung stores, or through a third-party location. Manufacturers are great resources because they are experts in their products. You can tell them what you want from your phone, and they will steer you in the right direction to find the perfect fit.
Third-party sellers allow you to explore your options without the influence of biased manufacturers pushing their products or carriers selling their deals. At a third-party location, you can also explore various brands and models to compare prices and features.
At Gazelle, we offer some of the best used smartphones online. Our selection includes options for both locked and unlocked phones, so you can choose the path that works best for you. Because we are a third-party seller, you won’t have to worry about contracts or hidden fees with us. Additionally, you can sell your locked or unlocked phone for cash with Gazelle. You don’t have to worry about unlocking it before trying to sell.
Buy or Trade In Locked or Unlocked Phones Online With Gazelle
Depending on what you need from your phone, both locked and unlocked devices have their benefits. While locked phones can be great for budgeting and managing monthly payments, unlocked phones allow users to choose their carriers and get the best deals.
When searching for phone options, it is vital to consider what you want from your phone and cell provider. Your phone needs to work for you and your lifestyle, so understanding what both locked and unlocked phones offer can help you figure out what you need when shopping for a new phone online.
At Gazelle, we understand the value your phone has in your life. Because of this, we offer a wide selection of phones in various makes and models. With our contact-free system, you can ship your locked or unlocked phone to us for free. Our systems allow you to get an estimate on your device within a minute, and you can receive your payment through various avenues — such as PayPal or an Amazon Gift Card.