Galaxy S8: What's the difference between U.S. unlocked and carrier versions?

Now that it's officially available to purchase, there are plenty of reasons you should consider paying the full price for the unlocked Galaxy S8 over a subsidized one from your carrier. Not only are you freeing yourself from the relative shackles of a contract with a carrier, but you're also signing up for an easier experience. Having a carrier loom over your device means that it's also included its own stuff right out of the box. By virtue, the unlocked Galaxy S8 is simply pain-free.

Here are the main differences between an unlocked Galaxy S8 and a Verizon model.

A bloat-free setup

Verizon bundles in a ton of stuff right out of the box.

Verizon bundles in a ton of stuff right out of the box.

By far, the unlocked and untouched version of the Galaxy S8 offers the quickest setup process of any of the carrier models. In this version, you'll only have to walk through the Google account login screen for Android, and then once more to log in to a Samsung account. On a carrier-branded version of the device, however, there is usually a third login screen added on, typically towards an account associated with the carrier. On both T-Mobile and Verizon variants of the Galaxy S8, for instance, I was asked to log in or sign up for an account with their respective online account services. I opted out both times.

Some people like what their carrier has to offer. Verizon, for instance, will bundle in the NFL Mobile app on the Galaxy S8 — and keep it there. If you're truly a fan of American football, however, this sort of forced inclusion probably isn't an issue. But in most cases, it feels like mandatory advertisement living in the app drawer.

Paying full price for the Galaxy S8 without a carrier contract won't pay for a wall between you and Facebook.

Opting out of logging in with your carrier won't opt you out of the carrier's apps either, and that's another mark in favor of the unlocked Galaxy S8. I was almost awestruck at the relative lack of bloatware in the app drawer right after logging in. There is very little that required tinkering with after the fact, save for a lone Facebook icon that will never leave the smartphone. Sorry to say, but paying full price for the Galaxy S8 without a carrier contract won't pay for a wall between you and Facebook. The app can be disabled, at least, but it can't be deleted without some trickery. At the very least, it's only a mere 12KB of annoyance (since it's not actually downloaded until you tap on the icon for the first time).

The Galaxy S8+'s app drawer on Verizon (left) versus the Galaxy S8 unlocked (right).

There are also Samsung's apps to contend with, though if you're staying on the Samsung wagon perhaps you should consider leaning into the company's ecosystem. The Samsung Gear app, for example, comes pre-included so that the phone is ready to go with the Gear 360 right out of the box, while Smart Switch is exceptionally helpful at migrating data from the old phone into the new one. When you're done with either of the apps, you can delete them entirely to reclaim that space.

The apps you can't delete from the unlocked Galaxy S8 are the Samsung browser app, the Galaxy Apps store, an included file browser, and Samsung Connect. You can't disable them, either, as they're effectively a major part of the Samsung experience. The My Files file browser app is at least useful for finding files lost deep in the abyss of the smartphone's file system, or dealing with external storage. Dupes still exist here, too; in addition to the two app stores that come preloaded, the unlocked Galaxy S8 comes with two unremovable email clients and two browsers.

Free to be you

Fewer apps outside of the box seem to signify more freedom.

Fewer apps outside of the box seem to signify more freedom.

Perhaps the best reason for buying an unlocked smartphone is that you're nearly truly free — free to be on any network you choose, anywhere in the world. All the major U.S. networks are supported on the unlocked variant of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and many of their related MVNOs. The device will work overseas in different countries, too, and you won't have to worry about calling anyone about your device before getting on the plane.

Update anxiety

The only downside is that if you're a person who is consistently concerned about receiving timely software updates, there's still some doubt concerning whether the Galaxy S8 will be on frequent schedule. Last year's unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 edge variants in the U.S. were severely behind the major carriers on the update calendar.

The price gap

Still, if a bloat-free Samsung smartphone is one of your goals in life, the unlocked Galaxy S8 or S8+ is worth the entirety of the cash it requires to purchase. If you're suffering from sticker shock, however, and are still considering purchasing the device through your carrier for the discount, consider the fact that stores like Best Buy and Samsung's online shop offer similar monthly financing.

See at Best Buy

Florence Ion

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.