Unlock your cell phone

Cell unlocking is now easier than ever, but is anyone going to do it?

A bill has been passed that will once again make cell phone unlocking legal and easy for people who don't want their several-hundred dollar piece of equipment forced to use a particular carrier. As Chris explained late last week, this law is one of those that needs examined and evaluated by lawmakers every few years, as it's technically covered under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. That sounds a bit silly, but that debate is best left for another time. We're here to ask how many of us are really going to do it?

For those who just don't get all this mess, in the U.S. most phones bought from a carrier — whether in person or online — usually have software that only allows the phone to be used on that particular network. This applies even if you paid full-price for the phone, and even when you have finished any multi-yearly contractual obligation to the carrier. In reality, it doesn't affect most people. You use the carrier you use because they offer an acceptable level of service when compared to the monthly payments you give them. We're the first to say that switching your phone carrier isn't something to take lightly, and there's probably a reason you went with the carrier you're using in the first place.

But phones aren't cheap. Once you've pulled a stack of money out of your wallet and put it into someone else's, you really should be able to use your equipment anywhere that it will work. That's where cell unlocking comes in. It's something you can have your carrier do, or now that it's legal again, something you can pay a third party to do for you. This can be handy if you want to take a trip outside the country, or if you have no contract and want to give someone else a try. Or just want to know that you could do either of these things any time you wanted to do them.

So who is doing it? See the poll below, or look for it on the homepage in the right sidebar. Speak up and tell us all if you're unlocking (or already have unlocked) your phone.


Reader comments

This week's sidebar poll: Will you unlock your phone now that it's 'more' legal?


If and when my contract is up (or I find myself needing to slide another SIM in it for whatever reason), my Moto X will be unlocked because I intend to use it for as long as I am able, with or without AT&T. That said, I'm not running out to do it the moment Obama signs it.

I believe you're referring to unlocking the bootloader and that is not the unlocking that is being referred to here. Carrier unlocking of a device should have no real bearing on the warranty since it won't be doing abnormal other than possibly using more LTE bands than it did before.

it was customer service that told me it would void it out when i first got my x. then the xprts on the support forums said the same. i have always known they were different, i guess they did not. or else i did not explain myself well enough. i just got on motocare and did a chat thing. they confirmed what you are saying, that it will not void the warranty.
i have been ranting about this for ages. i sent an email to dennis woodside on it. even when i specifically split the two apart on that email... the response i got back was.."My name is Punit Soni and I am the VP of SW Product here at Motorola. Just wanted to respond to your email to Dennis.
We have fixed the warranty situation a few weeks ago. We no longer void your warranty if you unlock your bootloader."
i guess i just need to be happy to finally have the answer that i always wanted. even if it took ten months to get it.

Yeah, they'd been going back and forth on that for a while because of the unlocked and Dev edition Moto X's. I thought they had that sorted by the end of last year, though, so it shouldn't have taken ten months.

I'm glad this has passed for those who want to take advantage of it, but for me...meh

Posted from the Avengers: Age of Droid Ultra

The only people I see it worth any value are people on At&t and T-mo, since phones for Sprint and Verizon can only be used on their networks because of cdma. And OEM's make each cell phone specific for each carrier so they'll never be interchangeable for all carriers. Though Qualcomm says they have a multiband LTE antenna that works with all US carriers so they can use the one product instead of using several types

Until all phones are LTE only and /or VoLTE this doesn't seem to help 130 million on Verizon and Sprint, like over half the country that uses cell phones.

Nexus 5 & factory unlocked Moto X here. At this point not interested in carrier phones.

Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 via Android Central App

I also have both of those phones...still bought an att m8. Couldn't justify shelling out upfront for an unlocked one. Its not that huge of a deal for me.

Posted via Android Central App

I figure the price is the same, I'd rather get it "clean". Of course neither the 5 or My wife's X was that much $$, so there's that.

Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 via Android Central App

Nice... Unfortunately lots of people still buy crappy ugly branded carrier phones.

Posted via Android Central App

There's 2 parts to it. The physical carrier labels can be ugly depending on how they are done (ie Verizon Galaxy Note II and the logo on the home button).

The other part is all the crapware the carrier puts on the phone before they sell it to you. You might be able to freeze it or remove it once rooted, but I don't want it there to begin with. That is the bigger issue IMO

I don't mind branding from the manufacturer since they made it. I don't want branding from the retailer. If I bought a pair of shoes from Footlocker, I don't want Footlocker's logo on my shoes.

This is great to see, especially with almost all of the cdma phones now supporting gsm/hspa+ and Sim card slots, this pressure is needed to ensure Verizon and Sprint comply with unlocking phones. The reason I pick on the cdma carriers is they never had to worry about it before about 2 years ago so the infrastructure was not in place. To be fair Sprint offered openly to unlock my G2 since it was bought outright, but I have heard horror stories about trying to unlock on all the carriers in the past.

Posted via Android Central App

I got the HTC M8 with Sprint, when I logon to my account t has the unlock codes there, it's been there since I got the phone. I don't know if that's a new policy for Sprint or they have been doing it for a while.

It's because Sprint allows unlocking for their phones to be used abroad, but not in the US. Pretty sure they give out the code for international unlock right away, but will absolutely not unlock for US bands prior to contract completion.

Glad to see they will allow unlocking but it should have never been illegal to begin with. I'm not sure how much impact this change in the law will make? Are that many people really unlocking their phones? Since there aren't that many carriers in the USA that use the same bands, I'm not sure it's that big of deal.

Posted via Galaxy S5 for now

A lot of people unlock their phones when they sell them. As long as the phone is a GSM phone, you can use it all over the world, if it's unlocked.

Posted via Android Central App

Good point. I've sold several phones and I have rarely unlocked them before selling but I can see that as a selling point.

Posted via Galaxy S5 for now

Well according to the poll, as of this moment nearly 40% of AC respondents have unlocked phones. I'm sure this isn't representative of the general population since we're a bunch of tech enthusiasts, but it does say something about the demand for unlocking.

All verizon phones come GSM unlocked, so a lot of people's phones are unlocked and they probably don't even know it! Lol

Posted via Android Central App

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people said their phone was already unlocked. I have purchased every Android phone I've ever owned as unlocked non carrier phones.

90% of non-US phones are unlocked... I'm sure a LOT of AC users are non-US residers..

The poll is missing: "I dont live in the US, so my phone is unlocked"-option :)

Motorola lets you unlock the bootloader without loosing the warranty on the Dev edition Moto X. I assume that this covers root as well. As for all of the other OEMs, even the Nexus, you will loose your warranty as soon as you unlock the bootloader in order to flash a custom recovery and supersu.

Posted via Android Central App

While it does "technically" void your warranty, most carriers and OEM's (at least in my experience, in the US) don't care and will still take the device back for warranty replacement. There are *many* reports of people on the forums saying that they were able to do so as well, and I have never heard of a case of someone being rejected for a warranty replacement *solely* on the fact that their boot-loader had been unlocked.

They have that clause in there so that, if you completely brick the device because you don't know what you're doing, they're not forced to eat the loss on your behalf. It's a "condom" clause: better to have it and not need it, than not have it...

Rooting a tablet is for some reason illegal. Not a phone though. Even though a tablet is just a big phone. Its still illegal.

It falls under some stupid copyright thing with modifying the factory software. I will have to go back and dig up the article with the specifics, but it's just another example of the government passing laws for things that it doesn't even remotely understand.

"It's orange and looks kinda round, so we'll assume it's a fruit and base our law on that."

You have to ask your cell phone provider within 90 days of purchase. If they say no, it is illegal. If it is after 90 days, it is illegal, if it was bought before 2013 it is illegal.

I am guessing that if you did not buy the phone outright, they are gonna say no.

Personally I think it is ridiculous that it is illegal to unlock one's phone. It aught to be illegal to lock them in the first place. The carriers can cry all they want about contracts, but if you leave early you have to pay the early term fee. So that satisfies the contract. The bottom line is I own my phone, and will do what I please with it. Of course I have a Nexus, so this issue is moot for me anyway.
Posted via Android Central App

That is the point, If you are buying on contract with a subsidy, you do not own the phone they do. People forget that until you pay it off it is not really yours

Not really. If you leave the contract early they don't repo your phone. They simply charge you a fee. The phone is not tied to the contract.

They do not come and take it back, but they can turn it off and blacklist it until you pay it off. It is a common practice.

Posted via Android Central App

If so, that practice should be banned as well. They shouldn't have both ETFs and the ability to ban a phone for non-payment.

it is not really both.

If you decide you want out of your contract and you have a subsidized phone, they charge you a fee (EFT) to get out of your contract and to pay off the phone.

If you fail to pay that EFT then they cut you off an blacklist you.

They have to have some recourse to get their money back on subsidized phones.

Yup. The blacklist thing is their way to hold your device ransom. Not that I totally disagree with it. Carriers in the US rip off the customers, but don't be "that guy (or gal)" who keeps jumping from carrier to carrier without paying your bill. That just makes things worse for everyone.

That said, imagine if car dealerships were able to remotely kill-switch your car if you didn't pay your car note?

I avoid locked phones like the plague. The best way to do it is buy a phone outright and unlocked and hop between carriers and plans as prices and plans themselves change.

Posted via Android Central App

My Moto X is already unlocked. I am happy that this law was passed, but it should have never been illegal. Also, just because there isn't a law saying something IS legal, doesn't mean it is illegal. People AND the government need to realize the government isn't the answer for everything.

Posted via Android Central App

Just because it's legal doesn't make it easier as far as I understand. But if you know a way to unlock an att note3 before contract id appreciate it before next trip overseas.

And if they say no, try again at a later time, sometimes it depends on who you get on the other end. Can't hurt.

Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 via Android Central App

I think you're confused with the difference between an unlock code and an unlocked bootloader. I'm aware that SIM unlocking is what this is mostly about, but some carrier versions also have locked bootloaders that make it difficult if not impossible to install ROMs.

Technically it is illegal as per one piece of legislation or another (I think the DCMA) to modify the software on anything.

Beside like stated above, what you are talking about has nothing to do with the topic at hand

Posted via Android Central App

This law still doesn't help in most cases. Sure, you get a Verizon G3 off contract and decide to switch to AT&T. Big woop that it works because it has the proper radios. Now 6 months go by, everyone is getting a major update for the G3, but who is going to give you your updates? Verizon, AT&T? Ha, you'll find that you are stuck holding a Verizon phone on AT&T, and AT&T won't be able to give you the update. If your lucky, you'll get an update from Verizon, but I wouldn't count on it, as you just left them as your provider. (unless I'm somehow mistaken as to how you will get updates once on another carrier)
Until we in the US are on full GSM and can use unlocked phones without carrier branding in the UI (so we can get updates directly from the manufacturer, I don't understand what is so special about this law.
Has anyone switched carriers with a branded phone and got updates?
Posted via Android Central App using the all new HTC One (m8)

You make a good point! Maybe you'll be able to download the update, or maybe it's time to root the phone?

Posted via Android Central App

Most of the time you'll get updates from the original carrier (but it can depend on the phone/manufacturer). The update you get is tied to the model number, which doesn't change just because you switched carriers. The same is true if you remove the SIM entirely and use it entirely on Wifi. Most of the time the updates aren't even deployed by the carrier, they're deployed by the manufacturer after the carrier's approval. Neither of them tend to check how a given device is connecting to their update server, they just check the serial number/model number/whatever hardware ID they want.

The US will never be a full GSM country. Gsm is an old and crappy technology. CDMA is far superior but even that is old now. We will be LTE but there will always be different bands and people are going to want to not pay $600 up front for a phone. so subsidies will always exist.


LTE-A will get it all unified, as long as the phone can handle both FD-LTE and TD-LTE. The carriers can lock you into one or the other, but if your phone is unlocked and can handle both types, you will be able to take it to any LTE-A network in the world.

LTE-A is the only way out of the CDMA/GSM mess.

I just pit no since I won't be anytime soon. In the future, maybe, but I'll probably have a new phone by that time...oh well.

Posted via Android Central App

We are talking about Sim card unlocked, so you can put in a different carrier Sim.

Posted via Android Central App using the all new HTC One (m8)

When I pay for something with MY OWN MONEY I don't take into consideration the """legality"""!!!

Posted via Android Central App

When I pay for my own chainsaw I don't care how I use it to amputate limbs from people

Posted via Android Central App

Another reason why I bought the moto g and support the nexus/moto g even the gpe phones. They are unlocked, you pay one cost and they are yours truly. Wanna use T-Mobile pop a T-Mobile sim in. Want to go to att get an att sim or whatever sim and slide it in. No having to call or ask for it to be unlocked. All you pay for is the service and maybe the sim. That's how phones should be. When people start realizing this (in the USA) cell phone locking will be null. Unless you're on CDMA.

Posted via Android Central App

That's nice that you have 2 or 3 hundred dollars to spend on a phone. That is a lot of money and not everybody can afford that. Obama is our president and all our money is going to illegal immigrants so they can have free iPhones.

I wasn't all talking about phone service. I was talking about phone hardware and 2 year contracts or 2 year phone payments.

Because Obummer is bringing all these illegal immigrants and are giving them everything for free. That is separate from the Obummerphone. The Obummer phones are cheap old phones. Illegals get free iPhones.

First he is not bringing them here
Next, do not be that stupid that you believe the iPhone thing. Really, do not be. If you really think that is what is happening, please move to Canada or find a more permanent solution because you would be bringing the collective IQ of the Country down.

At the very least turn off Fox, Hannity and Rush.

I never unlocked my phone to be cool or anything. I did it because it's my phone and I feel I have the right to customize it any way I like.

Posted via Android Central App

I haven't owned a phone that didn't come unlocked in over a year and a half :-) The way cell phones should be sold.
Posted via Android Central App

um because rooting is suppose to let you do anything you want with your phone. So I would assume that means put a t-mobile sim card into my AT&T phone, right?

I never cared whether the law said it's legal or not. If I needed my phone unlocked I'd unlock it. I prefer to buy unbranded phones myself though.

I've always rooted and unlocked my devices, I also have always purchased outright, so I'm not sure how the law applied.. But honestly, I don't care. I'll do whatever I want with things I own, f the government for passing stupid laws like this in the first place.

I buy AT&T carrier branded phones all the time full price and buy the 10 to 30 dollar unlock codes almost immediately. Unlocked my N900A Note 3, need to look into my G3 getting one. It's essential if you're traveling overseas.

Buying gray market unlocked European phones lost its appeal once we became saturated with US only 4G LTE bands. Much rather have 4G in the USA and 3G elsewhere.

Posted via Android Central App

If you just buy a verizon phone it comes unlocked, saves you that unlocking fee :)

Posted via Android Central App

It doesn't matter to me since I don't plan on switching from T-Mobile anytime soon and my next phone might be an iPhone because of continuity.

Posted via Android Central App

Carriers figured this out years ago. You can unlock it, but for the most part the frequencies available will almost guarantee a sub-optimal experience. And once you find a model that has the right frequencies for your old carrier and your new carrier, you possibly end up in configuration land, having to set up your APNs or your MMS may not work, etc.

For most people, it's better to just bite the bullet and buy a new phone. Someone with a little forethought would even buy a factory unlocked phone, but even then, it's no guarantee (throwing shade your way Sony).

Here in the UK, carphone warehouse phones are all unlocked irrespective of carrier and now 3mobile has unlocked all it's new phones and just a phone call to get the code for older handsets.

Steve/Boanerges Performance

I bought a carrier phone (Verizon), because i wanted this carrier. I could care less wether or not the phone is "unlocked" or "rooted" whatever the difference may be. I like Verizon, and dont plan on switching any time soon.

Posted via Android Central App

Here in France, your phone can be unlocked right away if you buy it upfront from a carrier (payment plans are also available) with a commitment-free plan (you can leave whenever you want without ETF, as long as the phone is paid), for free.
It's great for the consumers.

Posted via Android Central App

I've already gotten my phone unlocked from AT&T a couple months ago. I plan to purchase unlocked versions of my future phones instead of purchasing through a carrier.

Posted via Galaxy Note 3

What a sickening state of affairs where something like this is covered by legislation and shows that people have to fight corporate influence in law-making. Yes, it could be a breach of contract between the carrier and the customer but why should the govt be involved. Will the cops break down your door and put your ass in the slammer?

I would never buy a locked phone. Always get a phone, pay full value up front, and be free to use whichever provider I prefer.

IMHO the law needs to go one step further. If you buy your phone at full price the carrier you buy it from needs to unlock it before you walk out of the store.

I ran into this issue with my first android phone (my touch 4g from T-Mobile). I was trying to use it on a vacation to Europe (back when unlocking was still legal) and was informed it would take like 2 weeks to get it unlocked by T-Mobile or I could pay (more money when I bought at full price) to get it unlocked by a 3rd party. That is ridiculous.

Posted via Android Central App

Why Sprint would tell Me that the 2 HTC ONE Phones and the HTC ONE MAX Phone that I have can NOT be Unlocked Domestically is beyond Me, because the Specs for the 2 HTC ONE Phones, are the EXACT Same for Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon.
They are Just making a B.S. Excuse.
Sprint says that they can ONLY be Unlocked for Just International Use.
I can understand them saying that for 1 of the 2 HTC ONE's that I have. 1 I got through an Upgrade and 1 I got off of EBay.
As for My HTC ONE MAX, it's still B.S. for their reason.

Nexus is already unlocked! And my next phone will be unlocked at the time if purchase... No more subsidized phones for me... The European model works

Posted via Android Central App

The unlocking doesn't really matter. In fact, I believe that it is the least of our domestic wireless issues. The bigger issue is buying any phone you want and using it on any carrier you want. For example, the Nexus 5 on Verizon. Because Verizon want's COMPLETE control, stating that it gives them the chance to give the optimal customer services, even though all their phones are super expensive and they can make a lot of money off of this scheme. I want to be able to buy a phone with all the proper frequencies and use it on any network I want. Importing a phone from China, like the Xiaomi MI4, and use it at my free will on Verizon, Sprint, ATT, T-Mo, it should be my call. But again, it doesn't make as much money for Verizon, so of course they won't do such a thing. Thankfully, I switched after my unlimited plan with Verizon was gone and had a Galaxy Nexus and upgraded to a Nexus 5 on ATT. But just curious, If I took my Galaxy Nexus into ATT to use as a replacement phone, I can do that because it is GSM unlocked?!

The Gnex is approved for all carriers. The Xiaomi more than likely is not. The carriers do not have to let anything on their network that they do not want to. I agree with you that you should be able to and that it is BS, but that is what it is.

Ok. So I understand in the old GSM vs CDMA days, that unlocking made no sense on CDMA networks, but was sensible on GSM networks. Which meant that unlocking in the US meant switching between T-Mobile and AT&T or other (now absorbed GSM carriers).

How does it work now? LTE is offered by 4 of the major carriers and requies a SIM card. Can I unlock my T-Mobile phone and plug in a Verizon SIM and have it work (i.e. between a historical GSM carrier and CDMA carrier)?

Or will that only work for the LTE portion and not on the voice portion?