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Should you buy the Galaxy Note 9 unlocked or from a carrier?

There are a lot of important questions when it comes to choosing a Galaxy Note 9. You need to be sure you're ready to drop $1,000 (or $1250 if you decide to really go all out on the 512GB model) on a phone in the first place. You need to make sure you're choosing the right color to show off your new phone to your friends. You need to find a case you're comfortable using for a while. But it's also important to think about where you're going to be buying your phone, which is something that doesn't always get as much thought as it maybe should.

Carrier controlled or unlocked, that's the big question you should ask before dropping cash on a Note 9. And unfortunately, the answer isn't quite as clear as it should be.

Financing a Note 9

The obvious first reason to buy a locked phone from a carrier is not needing to pay for the whole phone up front. U.S. carriers have largely moved away from making the phone purchase a direct part of a long-term contract, but plenty of folks still pay month to month for their phones through these financing plans. If you can "buy" a Note 9 from carriers for $40 per month, you may not care quite as much about that phone being locked to that carrier until you've paid it off, which is what happens with most U.S. carriers.

While Samsung does offer financing option on its website, you'll find it is much easier to get a financing deal from your carrier. That means, for the most part, if you don't want to buy your phone outright you probably want to buy from a carrier. Additionally, you can buy from Best Buy and other retailers which offer their own financing systems, but overall none are quite as openly available as what is on offer from carriers.

Updates for your Note 9

Samsung makes the updates for its phones and sends those updates to carriers for approval before they're available on your phone. Truth be told, Samsung's updates have never been particularly fast. That should mean Samsung phones which are not locked to a specific carrier would be easier to update, but historically that has not been the case.

On multiple occasions, Samsung's unlocked Galaxy S9 has gone months without a software update while the carrier versions of the exact same phone enjoyed regular security patches and software tweaks from Samsung. There are a couple of legal reasons for this, the first of which being that Verizon and others pay Samsung for their time to get those updates ready in a timely manner, but what it means in plain English is Samsung's unlocked phones don't get updates as quickly or as frequently as the locked versions.

Where should you buy the Galaxy Note 9?

There's a certain amount of freedom you get with an unlocked phone. You don't have to worry about consequences for switching carriers, or deal with any restrictions carriers may put in place at a later date. Your phone, out of the box, 100% belongs to you. That concept has value and is worth keeping in mind.

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But if you are concerned about dropping that much money up front, or if you want to make sure you get updates on your phone the day a security patch is available, Samsung's unlocked phones are probably not for you. In those cases, it is probably best to buy directly from the carrier or from a retailer willing to sell you a carrier model on a financing agreement you are happy with.

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Where are you buying your Note 9? Sound off in the comments!

Where to buy the Galaxy Note 9: Best deals for your new phone

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

17 Comments
  • Don't forget Verizon and Us Cellular versions of the phone are factory unlocked! Also with the carrier versions when you pull the Sim and put in let's say an At&t it reflashes itself to an at&t build.
  • Erm. Unlocked yes, but not really factory unlocked and free of carrier bloatware
  • I've gone both routes and now buy from the carrier (at&t in my case) as some functionality (like voice over wifi) only (easily) works with the carrier version
  • Or, buy unlocked and then flash your carrier's firmware onto your phone to get the best of both worlds...
  • Also, on my wife's unlocked S8+ she can't get visual voicemail with Sprint. Sometimes the settings menu puts things in a different place too. To enable wifi calling on her phone you have to go to settings on the dialer to enable wifi calling. On my locked phone it is in the regular settings menu and as an option from the notification panel.
  • It's a CRAP shoot no matter which way you go...
  • I bought the note 8 unlock straight from samsung and I have to say im disappointed. I have to wait way longer than carries version to get updates like security update.major os update have to be approved by carriers before we get them. Isn’t the point of buying unlock phones so you dont have to wait on carriers to approve the updates?
  • Download the downloads from Sammobile and flash using Odin. I have an S8 and once an S8 update for my SKU comes out, I download and am good. Like now I'm on 01 August security patch without much hustle.
  • I bought an unlocked Note8 from Samsung when they first came out. I've been getting regular updates no problem. The issues I had when I was with Verizon was no WiFi calling and no Visual Voice Mail. Acording to Verizon it is not allowed. The other issue is black was the only color available. A year ago I switched to T-Mobile unlimited 55 plan and I was happy to see WiFi calling and Visual Voicemail. For me the service is great. Hit 35 gb of data (no slow down) one month on vacation.
  • Normally, I'd go for the unlocked version since it's compatible with all major carriers. However, since TMO is giving me $500 for my S7, I've ordered one thru them this time. Also, I don't see myself leaving TMO any time soon. And I don't mind the bloatware (considering the savings). So it's not a problem.
  • I'm surprised bloatware wasn't mentioned as a major consideration. As a long time Pixel/Nexus user, this is huge to me. I'm underwhelmed with what I have heard about the Pixel 3 XL but I'm used to having zero bloatware on my phone. I'm thinking MAYBE I could live with only the Samsung crapware, and perhaps even the goofy TouchWiz interface, in exchange for the additional functionality, beauty and power of the Note 9 but definitely not my carrier's junkware on top of all that.
  • Just use a 3rd party Launcher. I have used Nova Launcher for like 5 years, across multiple devices. You don't have to worry about TouchWiz
  • Unless you really know you're leaving carriers get the carrier version. Features like Visual Voicemail, HD Voice (VoLTE), WiFi calling, etc don't usually work, and in recent years the US Unlocked version has been last in line for updates. You can still get them unlocked if necessary and carrier bloat can be removed or hidden.
  • How do you remove carrier bloatware?
  • It's funny, seems like different folks have had different experiences with recent Samsung mobiles (starting with the s8)... For me, I bought my "Verizon s8" phone through costco's in house dealer - with financing - I paid it off early and once i did, it auto-unlocked - it was fully branded as a Verizon phone - everything worked as it should (WiFi Calling/Hotspot/Volte/Visual Vmail) - I swapped in a T-Mobile SIM - and it asked if I wanted to re-brand it to the new carrier - 10mins (or less) later, it was a "T-Mo s8" and again - everything worked, mentioned above - no issues. I even get prompt security patch updates and os upgrades right along with everyone else on t-mo in my area when they roll them out... Funny thing was that T-Mobile's own software to check compatibility said I wouldn't have access to band 12 (Lower 700 "A" block) - Customer service at T-Mo was emphatic (as was the XDA Forums) that I wouldn't have WiFi calling / Visual Voicemail or VoLTE - oddly enough - everything worked as it should (and I've verified t-mo's 700 support with 3rd party realtime channel readers). Some of these comments and the way things are worded in this article make me wonder - did they remove the alternate carrier flashes from the s9 or note 8/9? If I buy it from T-Mo - (my current provider) and i want to switch back to VZW - will it rebrand once i've paid it off or is it forever locked with t-mo's custom build???
    I'm assuming that the Samsung version doesn't support the auto-branding based on SIM card support - damn shame because i would prefer to buy it direct from them this time around - i don't like t-mo's "bill credit" method of "discount" on trade-ins and don't want to deal with 2yrs of payments - rather just pay it off early or buy it out-right. Far as sprint goes - they still don't have volte - and seriously - there's not a chance i'd
    ever go to them (even though they offered me a year of free unlimited service) - i couldn't stand to give up data and talking at the same time - by the time they get massive mimo running t-mo will probably own them and shut everything but massive mimo down - like they did with the metro acquisition anyway...
  • I was going to wait, but you aren't going to get better deals than the pre-order deals. I have a Unlocked Note 8 bought directly from Samsung, running on T Mobile. With the promo for former Note 7 users I paid $556 cash for it. Plus the extra I had to do to buy an approved phone on ebay for trade in promo & turn in my LG V20 and jump to a cheap phone and pay that off. I ended up paying like $720 in total. Still not bad. Note 8 was the 1st unlocked phone I have bought, and I was expecting it to get updates 1st, not last. I get WiFi Calling, visual voicemail and VolLTE fine. The only thing that wasn't readily active was Video Calling. Their was a workaround with an app, that enabled, but since like 2 updates ago Video Calling got disabled again. And I haven't been willing to flash anything to make it active again + I don't video call at all. This time around probably going to buy the T Mobile version, the huge jump in internal memory makes the bloatware a non-issue. The bottom like is I don't want to pay $1100 for a phone (with tax in my area). Eventhough Samsung is only offering $400 for Note 8 vs T Mobile's $500 credit. The T Mobile credit is spread out over 2 years, you can't pay it off early, you have to do the whole 2 years. Which, factoring the $15 EIP/insurance fee you also pay, you will end up paying a total of $988 for the phone + they want you to put $400 down ($280 down + tax on $999 & $7 shipping). I can get the Note 9 directly from Samsung for $600 total price, when turning in my Note 8. I'm not wasting money anymore paying for insurance, Jump and all that. I'd rather buy it outright. I usually keep my phones for minimum 1.5 years. With the specs of the Note 9, I know I'll probably keep it like 3-4 before an upgrade. So, seems better to buy direct from Samsung if you got the cash, but they also have financing & an upgrade program. I don't qualify for financing thru them tho. Samsung doesn't charge sales tax & offer free 2 day shipping + plus the free gift of the wireless headphones.
  • I dont like phone contracts so I always buy unlocked. If you can't afford to pay cash for it then you can't afford to have it. I never buy a phone when it's first released. I always wait at least a year to see what happens. The longer you wait, the less you pay anyway. I still use a Note 5. I don't see the point in upgrading. My Note 5 serves me well. I was going to upgrade to a 7 but it literally went up in smoke. Note 8 is longer but looks shorter in width than the 5. My only complaint is that I've lost the stylus 2 times and they are on order. If there is an alarm on the phone for when it falls out, I never heard it.