Take the plunge and ride into Freedom Country by buying an unlocked phone direct from HTC
For now, the new hotness in the smartphone arena is the HTC One M8. So Aluminum, much camera, very screen, and it's getting a lot of attention — deservedly so.
But while you're out there, looking and lusting, there's something I want you to think about before you buy — telling the carriers to GTFO with their locked and branded versions and buying one directly from HTC. Yes, you can do that, and here are 10 reasons why I think you should.
Before we start, I have to mention that none of this applies for Sprint and Verizon customers in the U.S. You will need a carrier-certified device, with a serial number that is valid in the carrier's computer system for activation. All the radio differences aside, Sprint and Verizon get to decide what phones you use on their networks, not you. That's not saying an unlocked and unbranded device won't work — see the Sprint Nexus 5 — but that they just won't allow it. We'll leave the discussion of how much that sucks for another day.
1. Value-added bloatware
If you buy your phone from AT&T or from T-Mobile or from Rogers or from any other carrier, it's going to have crap loaded on it that you will never use, and you never wanted to begin with. You can disable some of it, but you're still buying a phone with your money that someone else decided to install garbage on. I'll decide what garbage gets installed on my phone, thank you very much.
HTC has been fairly transparent about the update process for the past six months. One of the things we are all able to see is that carriers hold back updates for your phone so they can test and make sure their crapware works. Sometimes, for just a few weeks. Sometimes — hello T-Mobile Galaxy S4 — it takes much, much longer.
3. Carrier locks
Even if you pay full price for an HTC One M8 from T-Mobile, you have to wait 40 days to get it unlocked for use on another network (or for use overseas), according to their rules. You can probably find someone willing to unlock it early for you, but they don't have to. Other carriers have even worse official policies, and when it comes down to it they don't have to unlock your phone unless you're a current customer in good standing. Resist the urge to buy outright from the carrier store and wait the few days it takes to get one shipped, and they're already starting to hit customers' hands.
Granted, most people won't care much about this, but we all should — even if we never want to unlock our bootloaders. Phones are not cheap, and once you pay all that money you should own your hardware. That means it should be your bootloader to unlock so you can break things, not AT&T's.
5. External branding
Some people out there care about how their expensive new phone looks — especially with a phone like the HTC One M8. Buying one unlocked means never having to see the carrier logo stenciled, anywhere. Little things mean a lot.
6. That vacation to Rome
Your North American HTC One M8 would probably work well enough in Rome while you're there on vacation — you shouldn't be looking at your phone much anyway then. But look at the carrier locks section above. It's not really up to you when you buy a locked and branded phone. The option you're given may turn out to be very, very expensive.
Remember how one big and red carrier we won't name took features out of the Galaxy S4? Or another equally silly carrier stopped sideloading for about two years? Yeah, that's not going to happen when you buy an unlocked phone. You'll get everything you were showed at the unveiling event, with no little surprises.
8. Prepaid plans
You see us talk about them a lot, and maybe you want to try one of the unlimited talk and xxxGB of data plans for $40 yourself. See the Carrier locks section above about that. Having to say "pretty please" after you've plunked down a handful of money is no bueno. Prepaid service has come a long way, and it really is worth looking at. Make sure you can look at it by buying an unlocked HTC One M8.
9. Get the software updates you're supposed to get
If HTC decides your M8 can run the next version of Android very well — and they are committed to doing just that — do you want your carrier having any say in the matter? HTC builds phones and writes software. Your carrier sells the products that make them the most money. Think about it for a minute — AT&T would rather sell you a new iPhone than make your current phone even better. Don't give them that chance.
10. The whole subsidy model sucks
Only in North America does buying a new phone mean sticking with a carrier you may not like for two years. They lure us with cheap and free phones, then sneak behind you and thrust in the fangs while you're dazzled by the prices. This needs to stop, and you can do your part by not buying into it. Find a friend from Europe and ask him or her what a competitive cellular carrier market is like.
There are plenty of other reasons why you should at least consider buying your M8 direct from HTC. This is just a list of the 10 I think are most important. Feel free to fill the comments with your reasons — and reasons why you think it's not a good idea — so we can discuss and maybe learn a little bit together.