Slowly but surely, Samsung is doing a better job of offering and promoting its unlocked phone options. With each year of Galaxy S phones on U.S. carriers we get a closer launch of the U.S. unlocked variants, and the Galaxy S8 and S8+ are prominently displayed as being available unlocked on Samsung's website.
But what are the pros and cons of buying unlocked in the U.S. versus buying from a carrier as so many do already? We have you covered right here.
Reasons to buy a U.S. unlocked Galaxy S8
We so often preach the importance of looking for an unlocked phone rather than going directly to a carrier, but perhaps don't always enumerate the benefits. Here's what you can look forward to when buying a Galaxy S8 or S8+ unlocked directly from Samsung.
One of the most annoying aspects of buying a carrier-sold phone is all of the apps and software it includes. Some carriers add a dozen or more apps and trials on the phone, cluttering it up with tons of things you don't need or want.
When you buy unlocked directly from Samsung, you don't get any of that. We wish we weren't all subjected to this time after time, but the carriers continue to leverage their market dominance by adding in all of these apps, and the only way to avoid them is skipping their sales channel altogether.
Not locked to any carrier
We all just want to be free. Free from being forced into using one carrier. And when you buy a phone directly from a carrier, chances are for some period of time your phone will be locked to use on that carrier — especially if you're buying the phone on a financing plan.
While you may not go hopping from carrier to carrier every month, just knowing that you have the option is empowering. It can be a practical feature, too, if you travel internationally and want to use your phone with a local SIM card rather than pay your U.S. carrier for data roaming charges.
But all big networks are supported
Even though the unlocked Galaxy S8 and S8+ don't have any of the carrier software or apps pre-loaded on them, Samsung has still done the work to certify that they will work fully on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. That means you don't have to worry about compatibility when popping in your SIM, or switching between carriers in the future.
That also means you'll have options to try lower-cost prepaid carriers, too, since they almost all operate on AT&T and T-Mobile's networks.
Samsung and Best Buy offer financing, too
Carriers moved away from two-year contracts, but found a new way to lock us in: financing plans. Now, people are so often incentivized to buy from carriers just so they can pay off their phone over time. But when buying a Galaxy S8 or S8+ unlocked, you actually have the same sort of offering from Samsung and Best Buy.
Samsung offers 24-month zero-interest financing when buying from its website, while Best Buy offers the same terms using a My Best Buy credit card. Consider these options instead of just jumping at the carrier because you're afraid of that big hit of a full $725 or $825 price.
Reasons to be cautious
For all of the big upsides of buying unlocked, it isn't all roses. Here are some potential downsides you should be aware of.
When will the updates come?
Here's the big question any enthusiast looking at an unlocked Samsung phone has: will I get software updates? Last year's U.S. unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 edge lagged way behind in software updates. And for all of the crap we give carriers for delaying software updates, some of the carrier models have actually been kept up to date — with most getting Android 7.0 Nougat well before the unlocked model.
Samsung says it can turn this around and get the U.S. unlocked Galaxy S8 and S8+ their updates on time — and hopefully before carrier models — but history isn't on its side in this regard.
Limited color options
For some, it's all about looks. While you may be okay with the black Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+, many are intrigued by the orchid grey or arctic silver colors — and those aren't available for the unlocked models (at least right now).
This is likely the case so that Samsung can limit its inventory of devices that aren't likely to sell that well, but with any luck we'll see the colors come later.
No carrier incentives
For as much as we dislike what carriers do to phones, they do still sometimes offer really good deals on phones. If you're looking to get a discount on service, a buy-one-get-one deal or maybe a gift card rebate of some kind, you're most likely to find that at a carrier rather than buying unlocked.
Some would say that getting a carrier-branded phone in the end isn't worth whatever discount you got, but for a lot of people money is the number one consideration for buying a phone — do your research and see what deals are available.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.