Update: Check our breakdown of exactly what's going on with region-locking on the Note 3 for more details.
Here's some alarming news for those wanting to pick up an unlocked, SIM-free Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and use it internationally. Reports have been surfacing over the past day from Note 3 owners in Europe and Latin America that their devices come with stickers warning that they're only compatible with SIMs from their particular regions.
Like many others, our European Galaxy Note 3 box is sealed with a sticker saying it's "only compatible with a SIM-card issued from a mobile operator within Europe," before going on to list individual countries. And while we were able to load a T-Mobile USA SIM into our UK-specific phone without any error messages, enough other "unlocked" Note 3 owners are reporting problems to indicate a widespread issue.
Users on the XDA forums are reporting SIM lock-style restrictions on both the unlocked European LTE Note 3 (SM-N9005) and unlocked Latin American HSPA+ Note 3 (SM-N900) when used with SIMs from outside their approved regions. Using a Vodafone UK SIM in the American Note 3 produces a SIM lock screen, one poster writes. Nirave Gondhia from UK Mobile Review reports that his UK Note 3 refuses to accept SIM cards from the U.S., United Arab Emirates or Singapore. Curiously, it appears the lock doesn't apply to the Asia/Pacific version of the phone.
In practical terms, this means if you travel outside of the phone's intended market — for example, using your Euro Note 3 in Asia — you'll be forced to keep your European SIM in place and use an expensive roaming plan, as the option of popping in a local SIM is eliminated. That could be a major inconvenience (and expense) if you're a frequent traveler. However roaming between countries within each region — for example, using a Note 3 purchased in the UK with a French SIM — shouldn't be affected by this regional SIM lock.
It's unclear why this restriction is in place; the Note 3 is the first "unlocked" handset we're aware of that's actually locked to specific countries. We've got emails out to Samsung seeking further clarification, but in the meantime you may want to hold off buying a Note 3 if you plan on using outside its intended target market.