Locked and Unlocked Phones

The average person clicks on their smartphone 2, 617 times per day, so it’s best to have a mobile device that suits you completely. It used to be that buying a cell phone meant going to your local carrier and buying whichever one suited you best. Today, there are many different ways to buy a smartphone, which means you have more choices! You no longer have to limit yourself to what your local carrier happens to have in stock the day you go into their store.

These days, you can even buy unlocked phones from different places in the world. If you’re wondering what the difference between an unlocked phone and a locked phone is, we’ve got you covered. We’re going to discuss the differences between the two, the benefits of each one, how to tell which one is for you and where you can browse for both.

What Is an Unlocked Phone?

An unlocked phone is not tied to a specific carrier. This means you can choose from more cell phones than what a local carrier might keep in stock. Most unlocked phones use SIM cards, which means you can travel and keep using your phone by easily switching in an international SIM card. You can also switch carriers if you decide you don’t like the one you’re currently with, and there are usually no penalties.

Unlocked smartphones usually have higher resale values than locked devices, but you may not have access to every network feature that a locked phone might have, such as HD voice or Wi-Fi calling. The carrier you decide to use may not guarantee that their data or voice network will work perfectly on your specific phone.

If you have a locked phone currently, you might be able to unlock it if you have finished your payments for it and your contract or agreement has run out.

Benefits of Unlocked Phones

Unlocked phones can offer you freedom concerning carriers, plans and choice of models that you wouldn’t get with a locked phone.

Your unlocked phone might cost more upfront. Since they aren’t tied to a particular carrier, most carriers won’t finance unlocked phones. However, if you combine your phone choice with an inexpensive data or voice plan, you may end up paying less monthly than you would for a locked phone. For example, if you prefer simpler voice, text and data plans, you might be able to use them with an unlocked phone and save money compared to a more complicated plan with a locked phone.

If you are an international student, a business traveler or a digital nomad, you may benefit greatly from an unlocked phone. When traveling internationally, you can pay a lower rate or the same rate as the locals in the country you’re visiting for calls rather than paying for an expensive global plan. Once you reach your destination, all you need to do is buy a local SIM card and put it in your phone to avoid high-priced roaming rates.

When you get a new unlocked phone, you can take your old SIM card and put it in your new device as long as the SIM card’s size is compatible with your phone. You might also find yourself not being a good fit for a certain carrier. With an unlocked phone, you can find a better deal with a different carrier and switch to their services.

You can even use SIM cards for more than one network with an unlocked phone. For example, you might find a carrier with a good deal on domestic calls and a different one that has the perfect plan for international calling.

Eventually, if you’d like to sell your phone, an unlocked phone will be easier to sell. If you like getting a new phone often, an unlocked phone might be an excellent option for you.

What Is a Locked Phone?

Locked phones, often called carrier phones, can only be used with one particular carrier. You can purchase locked phones directly from different service providers, such as T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon, or through third parties that work with these service providers. Locked cell phones have software that prevents you from using them with a different carrier than the original one you bought it from. They are locked to that specific service provider.

Benefits of Locked Phones

Although unlocked phones have many benefits, locked phones do as well, which is why many people choose them! One of the main benefits of getting a locked phone is that your service provider will typically allow you to pay off your phone with a payment plan. You won’t have to pay for your phone with one big payment, although you may have to make a down payment. Carriers also generally require you to sign a contract and have penalties if you decide to leave before your contract ends.

Carriers often have discounts or special deals on certain phones to attract new customers and keep old customers. A payment plan combined with a special sale or discount can mean you save quite a bit of money.

If you choose to get a locked phone, you can go directly to the service provider for support by calling their customer service line for help. Carriers might also offer you a warranty for your phone so you won’t have to pay full price to get it repaired or replaced if it does have a problem.

It’s easy to get support and service for your phone if you buy a locked one through a carrier. If you have questions about your mobile device or it isn’t working, you’ll know exactly where you need to go to get help.

What’s the Difference Between Locked and Unlocked Phones?

Locked phones are available through service providers or third-party companies that work with these service providers. The carrier will connect your phone to your wireless account when you purchase it or after you set up your phone. You may be able to unlock a locked phone through your carrier, but there are typically a lot of requirements involved in this process.

You can buy unlocked phones from companies that aren’t connected to service providers. You can even choose phones from other countries. Unlocked phones do not have the software that locked devices have to stop you from getting service from different carriers whenever you want.

Why Are Phones Locked to a Carrier?

Phones are locked to a carrier through a particular type of software. The manufacturer puts this software on the phone to prevent you from using it with a different carrier. This ensures that you don’t buy a phone from one carrier and then immediately take it to another carrier with lower prices for services. Generally, you can use a software code to unlock a locked phone.

If My Phone Is Unlocked, Can I Use It With Any Carrier?

There are some limits to the carriers you can use for unlocked phones. For example, if you have a Google Pixel, you can use it with any major carrier’s SIM card. However, if you purchased a OnePlus 6 directly from OnePlus, you can only use this unlocked phone on GSM networks, such as AT&T and T-Mobile. So, you wouldn’t be able to put a SIM card from Sprint or Verizon into this phone.

You can look on the websites of major carriers to see if your unlocked phone is compatible with that carrier.

How to Know If an Unlocked or Locked Phone Is Right for You

After learning about the benefits of a locked phone and an unlocked phone, you may be wondering what other factors you might consider when deciding which one is best for you.


If you have a tighter budget, a locked phone might be your best bet. Most carriers will offer a payment plan to help you pay for your locked phone. If you buy a phone from a wireless carrier, you won’t have to buy it outright, which is excellent because many phones can cost more than $1,000. Your carrier will often ask you to make a down payment and then pay off the rest of the phone over time. This down payment will vary between carriers depending on what phone you want.

If you make payments to your carrier on time and have good credit, you might earn special discounts and save even more money. These discounts could include a buy-one-get-one-free deal or a percentage discount. Free gifts may even be a part of your purchase with a carrier. You can often buy insurance plans from your carrier, which may be cheaper than plans offered by third parties.

If you have enough money to buy a phone outright, you may spend less money overall than if you pay for the phone over time. Carriers typically will charge you the list price for a smartphone, but they can easily hide extra fees in monthly payments.


If you travel a lot, an unlocked phone may offer you the greatest benefits. Even if you’ve fully paid off your locked phone, it may be a challenge to unlock it once you realize it would be best for you to do so. You may be in a rush to move, but your carrier may want you to go through several processes before they unlock your phone. These processes are especially inconvenient if you are planning to move to a foreign country.


When you buy a locked phone, you can only use it with the original carrier. You may be able to switch carriers once you pay off your phone and unlock it, though.

Although it’s possible to find a carrier that suits you perfectly, if you want the freedom to switch carriers at any time, an unlocked phone might be for you. You don’t even have to have a carrier with an unlocked phone if you want to use your phone as a Wi-Fi-only device.

Phone Selections

If you opt for an unlocked phone, you will have more phone choices. This is because carriers typically sell from a limited collection of cell phones. For example, if you want a OnePlus 8 phone, you wouldn’t be able to find it at a Verizon store even though they are compatible with one another.

An advantage to an unlocked phone is that you can choose from the hundreds of mobile devices offered around the world. You wouldn’t have to pick from whatever phones your local carrier happens to be selling at that moment. With an unlocked phone, you can even choose from the devices offered outside your own country. There will be limits in some countries, but overall, you will have a wider selection of phones available to you if you’re looking for an unlocked device.

This nearly endless pool of options allows you to find the perfect phone for you at the best price possible. With a carrier-locked device, you could be stuck paying the list price for a cell phone that’s not even what you really wanted simply because that was your only option. With unlocked devices, that isn’t an issue.

Software and Apps

If you’re a fan of fast software updates, you should know that unlocked phones get updates straight from the manufacturer, which tends to be quicker than getting them through your carrier. Overall, unlocked devices are typically more updated than locked phones.

If you like the extra apps that carriers offer you, consider a locked phone. If you don’t like apps using up storage space on your phone, an unlocked phone will have fewer apps carriers have pre-installed.

Browse Gazelle’s Locked and Unlocked Phones

Locked phones are an excellent choice if you can’t pay for your phone in full right now or if you’re interested in a special discount from a specific carrier. An unlocked phone might be a better fit for you if you travel a lot or want to browse carriers before committing to one.

Whether you decide a locked or an unlocked phone is right for you, check out Gazelle. We have locked and unlocked phones, including iPhones, Google phones and Samsung Galaxy phones. You’re sure to find the smartphone that fits your needs and style best.

You can expect the following when buying from us:

  • Our Gazelle certified guarantee
  • A 30-day return policy
  • Honest pricing
  • A secure website experience
  • Quick shipping and easy checkout process

If you want to know more about our products and what we do at Gazelle, get in touch with us at 1-800-429-3553.



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