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4 reasons to buy a U.S. unlocked Galaxy S8, and 3 reasons to be cautious

Galaxy S8 with SIM cards
Galaxy S8 with SIM cards (Image credit: Android Central)

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

Samsung 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.

No bloatware

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 (opens in new tab) when buying from its website, while Best Buy offers the same terms using a My Best Buy credit card (opens in new tab). 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.

See at Best Buy (opens in new tab)

See at Samsung (opens in new tab)

Reasons to be cautious

Galaxy S8 and S8+

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.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

47 Comments
  • Won't ever buy an unlocked Samsung phone until the updates get better.
  • I won't ever buy any Samsung phone until the updates get better.
  • More like better off buying an international unit powered by Exynos so you can actually root the phone. :) I haven't been with the Galaxy line since the S4. S5 onwards Samsung has lost their roots...pun somewhat intended. :)
  • Totally agree, dropped Samsung after not getting root on my Note 4, loved that phone but root is priority #1
  • Doesn't root void Samsung Pay?
  • Nobody cares about rooting any longer this isn't 2011 or 2012 any more. Time for you rooting dudes to get your financial game in order it's lacking definitely.
  • Lol I feel you but I just don't use any of that stuff. I have no credit cards don't plan on it either, debit card is all I need. Can't wait to read about the massive data breach from Samsung or Apple.
  • LOL, look at XDA if you think nobody roots anymore.
  • Always buy unlocked non carrier devices but very sad the way Samsung and LG treats them. I mean any engineering organization with little brains will have a core platform (in this case TouchWiz) and then add carrier modification on top. So any updates they first have to update the core platform which means unlocked devices should be good to go for updates and then carries take over test the carrier portions of the changes. I'm not sure how Samsung/LG is managing all this but they look incompetent.
  • I still don't get why it's considered to be so BAD to be locked to a carrier. I've been with the same one for 5 years now, and before that 4 years with another. Guess what, they'll unlock the phone if I want once it's paid off if that's really what I want. How many people really hop around to different carriers? The main merit I can find with an unlocked phone is going overseas and dropping in a foreign SIM (assuming the unlocked version has more bands).
  • For me, it's been an issue with software updates from carriers lagging far behind unlocked models (Samsung's S7 Nougat update debacle being the exception to the rule), and reselling the device when I move on to a new one. Carrier-branded devices are harder to move on Craigslist.
  • I mean ... "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." the article pretty tightly sums up the main reason for wanting unlocked in this regard.
  • I'm talking about the sentiment of having an unlocked phone in general, not just this specific article. Most people who are not tech people seem to hang on to their phones for a long time from what I observe. How many people have we seen who have persistent software update notifications hanging around that they never bothered to install? Most people would rather save money and buy from a carrier store. I just got my wife a S7e from T-Mobile for $360 2 months. Those kinds of deals are more important than not having a few T-Mo installed apps for the non tech person. Even for someone like me who follows this stuff, I've never once felt slighted by being "locked to my carrier." All my phones (and even some tablets) received updates at some point. As long as it works properly on the software that it's currently running, that's the most important. Tech folks tend to trade up to a new phone before a new software version is even available (I know I do).
  • I just got my wife an unlocked S8 from Bestbuy knowing full well how badly Samsung lagged at updating the unlocked S7. She actually joked that that was good because she didn't like updates. When her S6 received the nougat update from marshmallow she couldn't have cared any less. She just said that her phone looked different and the battery was dying quicker. I had used her phone before the update and noticed that after the update performance on the phone was much snappier and improved but none of that mattered to her.
  • People do actually move carriers and consider it at least occasionally. Also as eahinrichsen said, they are harder to move and you get less money than you could get for the same phones, over selling one that is unlocked.
  • Yeah. I've been super happy with T-Mobile for a couple years no, but before that, I was switching between prepaid carriers at least once a year. The prepaid market is so competitive these days that I'm sure a lot of people do the same.
  • I agree, I was referring to post paid subscribers although I did not specify that in my post.
  • I've been on prepaid for 4 years now. I lived in a large city, Denver, but couldn't get Verizon signal in my office or at home. Was told to make phone calls from outside when I would call tech support. If you move around, it's nice to not be tied down to a carrier that is unwilling to help if you no longer get signal at your new residence or office.
  • From personal experience and also what i have been reading, carriers tend to be the most helpful on carrier models. Which doesn't mean much in many cases. But if you have a non carrier phone then they will be even less helpful and tend to blame any problem on the phone since it isn't their carrier phone.
  • I think it's more about wanting to go to say, Verizon from Tmobile
  • With some folks they just don't want the chain that a service provider represents. I myself buy unlocked but I also wouldn't say no to a locked device if it was a really nice device, a good deal, from the right manufacturer and the right service provider. For me it's just finding a carrier, or a manufacturer for that matter, that doesn't load my device down with bloatware. I had a Moto G1 which had hardly anything on it from Cricket which I quickly was able to remove and nothing from Moto. I also had an LG Stylo that had all kinds of stuff from LG and a few items from Cricket. I wasn't able to remove the bloatware from LG. Many Android folks such as myself we use third party apps for our dialers, texting apps, note taking apps and whatever else cause we theme our devices. I was forced to carry both the apps that I wanted to use and the identical apps that LG wanted me to use cause I couldn't get rid of the LG apps. Those apps were also using valuable memory that I was prevented from using cause I couldn't get rid of them. A few other things irked me about that device, so I went back to Moto but had the opportunity to buy my first unlocked device and let me just say - I'll likely never buy a locked device ever again. Get what I want and don't have to worry about bloatware??? Yes, please. I'll also be looking for service providers, like Cricket, that don't load up the bloatware; had Metro PCS for a time and they just about copied all the big Google apps with their own versions boding the question, why??? And sure enough, I couldn't delete any of it.
  • Verizon phones come factory sim unlocked. You can finance one from the Verizon store today and immediately pop in any GSM sim even domestic ones. Of course Verizon has Verizon bloat and you would need to check to make sure it has the features and band support that you need.
  • No mention of carrier-specific feature like VoLTE or Wifi-Calling? Not sure how it is on the other carriers, but with AT&T you generally don't get either of these without their carrier-specific model.
  • I wouldn't purchase one again. I purchased a S7 Edge unlocked and I received one security update and just got Nougat last month . Plus as said missing all the carrier specific features. Buyer beware... Learned my lesson..
  • Agree. It surprises me that tech blogs do not cover the issue when discussing the topic of using unlocked devices. Just because an AT&T SIM card works in an unlocked device does not mean that all carrier features are supported on the device. Unlocked Android device users on AT&T should be familiar with having issues with obtaining VoLTE or WiFi calling or worse - having issues with receiving MMS messages from other users on other carriers. I for one got tired of waiting for AT&T to open the door for full support and ended up taking my Pixel XL to T-Mobile instead just so that I could communicate via text conversations without issues while still using a device that I wanted to use. It's a compromise that I would have preferred to not have to make since service on AT&T is far better in my area.
  • One problem with being tied to a carrier with a locked device is if you travel international a lot. You can save a bundle by getting a local Sim card instead of a carrier international plan if you have an unlocked device.
    Plus unlocked lacks all the bloatware. Updates is a big issue though
  • I agree and I do keep a spare phone laying around for that reason. Honestly, when I travel internationally, my T-Mo plan has been sufficient. I'm not a heavy network user when going exploring since Im usually just taking a bunch of pics and then connecting back to Wi-Fi in the hotel. If I was staying somewhere more than a week or didn't have access to Wi-Fi, then that's a different story.
  • Every big carrier will temporarily unlock it for international travel
  • I have been with T-Mobile for over 12 years, however for the past 6 or 7 years I have been only buying/ using unlocked devices. I really don't like the carrier bloat. It's been a great experience so far.
  • Buy unlocked international version, a whole lot less bloat.
  • Just get an unlocked HTC and update problem solved. My unlocked HTC 10 got Android 7.0 on November 25, 2016 faster than any Samsung Nougat release.
  • T-mobile released the updates pretty fast on the s8 and s7.
  • Lol no.. It was some 6 or 7 months after Nougat was released. I wouldn't call that fast.
  • Is US the only country where carries can neuter the phones. I mean other countries also have carriers and they probably sell their own version too. We don't hear that in here. My gripe about carrier is if you're not using their SIM you don't get updates. And it won't download on their own network either, needs Wi-Fi.
  • Sakeylt, not true at all. I have an unlocked S7 from Verizon. It gets every update and it has my back up sim from T-Mobile in it.
  • Article leaves out the bigest negitive of all. at least with AT&T, no VOLTE or WIFI calling. I have the 950F just for the root capability and miss these features. Funny thing is that even though I aways root I haven't really found the need yet with the S8, ok well not wanting to trip KNOX is also a factor, lol. I'm not 100% on the US unlocked not getting these two things from AT&T but what I understand is if it doesn't have AT&T software and get it's updates from AT&T than it woun't be certified (by AT&T) for these features. How could the auther not know/mention this?
  • You get volte and wifi calling on phones not carrier locked to TMobile
  • Because you have the 950F not 950U1 which is the US unlocked model.
  • I wis I could but the price of the life I live prevents that. I put pencils in the little hand of my little buddy instead.........I do have an unlocked galaxy j3 I bought from Samsung that's extremely cool. From all I've seen with my j3 I would most definitely make that purches. But I'm poor boss....lol
  • Or you could just wait for a t-mobile bogo if you're lucky. I did that and I got t-mobile to unlock my s8 and I put it on cricket for my wife and kept the other one for my t-mobile account.
  • 1:
    12:23
    1+2+2+3= 8 Galaxy Note 8 is here
  • I traded in my unlocked S7 Edge for an unlocked S8+ since Samsung took $350 off the price. At least this phone starts off with Nougat so I'll be good.
  • Until O comes out. Kidding. Sometimes fast updates aren't all they are cracked up to be.
  • So am I the only person who noticed that the model number for all the new s8 and s8+ on each carrier is the same? usually there is a A, T, V, or P at the end to represent one of the carriers but now for the s8 they all end in U which is what they use for the unlocked US models. My S8 on tmobile has the
    same model number as my buddies on verizon. when we had S7s it was G930T for my tmobile one and his was G930V on verizon.
  • Thanks for wasting my time! This article was about unlock Galaxy S8 phone. You clearly say 24 month financing with Best Buy, that is not true!
    When I enter my best buy credit card at check out, only 12 month financing is available.
    For the record, the locked carrier versions​, yes, 24 month financing is available.
    Again, the article is about UNLOCKED Galaxy S8.
    Please correct it to only reflect 12 month financing at best buy!
  • Wow... Try Prozac
  • If I am going to buy unlocked device, it`d be pure Google, there is where the update comes faster than any other devices