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Unlocked vs. Locked Smartphones

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Smartphones (Unlocked vs. locked)

When it comes to buying a new smartphone, one of the decisions you’ll need to make is whether to buy an unlocked or locked device.  Both options have their pros and cons, and the best choice depends on your specific needs and circumstances.  Let’s dive into the differences between unlocked and locked smartphones, the pros and cons of each, and provide guidance on which one you should buy.

Understanding Unlocked and Locked Smartphones

Before we dive into the pros and cons, let’s first understand what we mean by unlocked and locked smartphones.

  • Locked Smartphones:  These are phones that are tied to a specific carrier or service provider.  For instance, if you buy a locked Galaxy S21 Ultra from T-Mobile, you can only use the device on T-Mobile’s network.  Your Galaxy S21 Ultra will not work on Verizon or other wireless carriers.
  • Unlocked Smartphones:  These are phones that have no network restrictions.  You can virtually use whatever service provider and switch whenever you want.  You have all the control.  Just swap one carrier’s SIM card for another, and you’re good to go.

Pros and Cons of Locked Smartphones


  • Lower Upfront Cost:  Locked phones are often subsidized by the carrier, which means you can get a high-end phone for a lower upfront cost or even free.
  • Payment Plans:  Many carriers offer installment plans that allow you to pay off your phone over time, which can make even the most expensive phones more affordable.
  • Carrier Support:  If you have issues with your phone, you can get support directly from your carrier.  This can include technical support, repairs, and replacements.
  • Carrier-Specific Features:  Some carriers add their own features to their phones, which can include apps, settings, and services that are not available on unlocked phones.
  • Ease of Setup:  When you buy a locked phone, it’s already set up to work with your carrier’s network.  You don’t have to worry about compatibility issues or setting up network settings.
  • Insurance Options:  Carriers often offer insurance plans that can protect your phone from damage, loss, or theft.
  • Trade-In Programs:  Many carriers have trade-in programs that let you upgrade to a new phone and get credit for your old one.
  • Network Optimization:  Locked phones are optimized for the carrier’s network, which can result in better performance in terms of speed and connectivity.
  • Bundled Deals:  Carriers often offer deals where you can get a discounted phone if you sign up for a certain plan or add additional lines to your account.
  • No Compatibility Issues:  With a locked phone, you don’t have to worry about whether your phone will work with your carrier’s network.


  • Limited Carrier Mobility:  Locked phones are tied to a specific carrier, limiting your ability to switch carriers if you find a better plan or service elsewhere.
  • Travel Inconvenience:  If you travel internationally, you may face high roaming charges with a locked phone.  Unlocked phones allow you to use local SIM cards, which can be more cost-effective.
  • Delayed Updates:  Sometimes, updates to the phone’s operating system have to be approved by the carrier before they can be installed, which can result in delays.
  • Bloatware:  Locked phones often come with pre-installed apps from the carrier, also known as bloatware, which can take up storage space and cannot be easily removed.
  • Resale Value:  Locked phones may have a lower resale value compared to unlocked phones, as they can only be used on one carrier.
  • Early Termination Fees:  If you want to switch carriers before your contract is up, you may have to pay an early termination fee.
  • Limited Phone Selection:  With locked phones, your choice of phone models is limited to what the carrier offers.
  • Long-Term Cost:  While locked phones might be cheaper upfront, the long-term cost can be higher due to expensive carrier plans.

Pros and Cons of Unlocked Smartphones


  • Carrier Freedom:  Unlocked phones can be used with any carrier, giving you the freedom to switch providers as you wish.
  • No Contract:  With an unlocked phone, you’re not tied to a long-term contract with a carrier.
  • International Use:  Unlocked phones are ideal for international travel as they allow you to use local SIM cards, avoiding expensive roaming charges.
  • Wide Selection:  You have a wider selection of phone models to choose from, as you’re not limited to the phones offered by a specific carrier.
  • No Bloatware:  Unlocked phones typically don’t come with pre-installed carrier apps, freeing up storage space on your device.
  • Resale Value:  Unlocked phones often have a higher resale value as they can be used with any carrier.
  • Flexibility with Plans:  You have the flexibility to choose and change your phone plan as needed, and can take advantage of competitive offers from different carriers.
  • Faster Updates:  Unlocked phones often receive system and software updates more quickly, as they don’t have to go through carrier approval.


  • Higher Upfront Cost:  Unlocked phones are typically more expensive upfront than locked phones because they’re not subsidized by a carrier.
  • Compatibility Issues:  Not all unlocked phones work with all carriers. You’ll need to check whether the phone supports the network bands used by your carrier.
  • No Carrier Support:  If you buy an unlocked phone, you won’t get the same level of support from your carrier.  For example, if you have technical issues, you’ll need to contact the phone’s manufacturer instead.
  • No Payment Plans:  Carriers often offer payment plans that let you pay off a locked phone over time.  With an unlocked phone, you usually have to pay the full price upfront.
  • No Carrier-Specific Features:  Some carriers add features to their phones, such as Wi-Fi calling or VoLTE.  These may not work on an unlocked phone.
  • Warranty Considerations:  Some manufacturers may not honor the warranty for unlocked phones.
  • Potential for Higher Repair Costs:  Since unlocked phones aren’t tied to a specific carrier, you might have to pay out-of-pocket for repairs if the manufacturer doesn’t offer a robust warranty.

Which One Should You Buy?

The decision between buying an unlocked or locked smartphone ultimately boils down to your specific needs and circumstances.

If you’re tech-savvy, have the money to buy the phone you want upfront, often travel internationally, and want the freedom of switching carriers as and when you want, then an unlocked phone might be the best choice for you.

On the other hand, if you don’t have the money to pay for a device upfront or are reluctant to splurge, then a locked device might be a better fit.  Locked phones also offer the convenience of having your device payment and carrier plan in one place.

Remember, the most important thing is to choose a phone and a plan that best fits your needs and budget.

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Buying the Best Smartphone for Your Needs

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Best Smartphone For You

When it comes to buying a smartphone, the sheer number of choices available can be overwhelming.  From deciding between Android or iOS to choosing the right processor, there’s a lot to consider.  This guide will help you understand the most important attributes to consider when buying a smartphone, ranked from most important to least important.

1. Operating System

The first and most important factor to consider is the operating system.  Are you an Apple fan who prefers the seamless integration of iOS with other Apple devices?  Or do you prefer the flexibility and customization options offered by Android?  Identifying your preferred operating system will help narrow down your options and determine which features are most important.

2. Processor (CPU)

The processor is the brain of your smartphone, affecting its performance more than any other component.  Qualcomm and MediaTek are the two main manufacturers for Android, while Apple uses its own processors for iPhones but subject to change depending on their supplier.  For basic tasks like browsing and social media, an entry-level processor will suffice.   For more demanding tasks like gaming or video editing, you’ll want a high-end processor.

3. RAM

RAM (Random Access Memory) is where your smartphone temporarily stores data it’s currently working with.  More RAM allows your smartphone to handle more tasks at once, improving performance.  For basic tasks, 4GB of RAM may be enough, but for heavier multitasking or professional work, 8GB or more is recommended.

4. Storage

Storage is where your files and applications are kept.  There are two types: HDD (Hard Disk Drive) and SSD (Solid State Drive).  SSDs are faster and more reliable but also more expensive.  HDDs offer more storage space for less money but are slower and less durable.  Consider your storage needs in terms of both space and speed.

5. Display

The quality of your smartphone’s display can greatly affect your user experience.  Consider factors like size, resolution, and panel type.  Larger displays are better for multitasking and media consumption, but can make the smartphone bulkier.  Higher resolution provides sharper images but can drain battery life faster.

6. Camera

The camera quality is another important factor to consider when buying a smartphone, especially if you enjoy photography or videography.  Look at both the hardware (like the lens quality and sensor size) and software (like image processing capabilities) of the camera.

7. Battery Life

Battery life is crucial if you plan on using your smartphone on the go.  However, it’s often a trade-off with performance and weight: powerful smartphones with large displays tend to have shorter battery life.

8. Design and Build Quality

The design and build quality of a smartphone can greatly affect its durability and usability.  Consider factors like material (plastic, glass, metal), water resistance, and whether it has a headphone jack or expandable storage.

9. Price

Finally, price is an important factor.  Smartphones can range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars.  Determine your budget early on and try to find a smartphone that fits within it while meeting as many of your needs as possible.


Remember that the “best” smartphone will vary greatly depending on individual needs.  By considering these factors carefully, you can find the perfect smartphone for you.

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iPhones vs. Androids – Pros and Cons

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iPhone vs. Android

If you are deciding between an iPhone or an Android phone and want to know the pros and cons of each, then read on!  It’s not a question of which one is better, but which one is best for you.

iPhone Pros and Android Cons

Here are the advantages iPhones have over Android smartphones.

  • iOS is a simpler operating system than Android, therefore, iPhones run smoother than Android phones. They run commands faster and have less hiccups with software.
  • They are more intuitive to use. A child can easily figure out how to use one.
  • You can count on iOS annual updates. Android updates are unpredictable because when Google updates the Android operating system, Google forwards the update notification to Android phone manufacturers who must customize the updates for their phones.  This takes time and doesn’t always reach the Android phone owner in a timely manner.  The only exception are Google’s own phones which receive immediate updates.
  • The iPhone’s home page is consistent with other Apple products like MacBooks and iPads.
  • Apple App store contains more vetted apps. Android phones use more 3rd party apps which are riskier due to lower vetting standards and may not work with some models.  Some Android core applications are not pre-installed and need to be found on Google Play Store.
  • iPhones have enhanced privacy controls. You can deny apps tracking, while Android phones cannot.
  • Unnecessary apps are not preinstalled on iPhones. Android phones may come with bloatware.  This is especially the case with budget Android phones because it is a source of subsidized revenue for budget phones.
  • Third party apps can be used on iPhones. Apple apps cannot be used on Android phones.
  • iOS is encrypted end-to-end. Android OS is only encrypted in transit.
  • Apple stores offer easy access to customer support. For Android phones, only certain manufacturers like Samsung have stores.  Otherwise, the phone needs to be shipped back to the manufacturer.
  • iPhones have higher resale values.
  • Apple Pay is preinstalled and widely accepted. Google Pay is losing internal tech support.
  • iPhones are simply more aesthetically pleasing, although Samsung and some other Android phones can hold their own, even if they are styling themselves toward the iPhone’s mold. There are other Android phones where you wonder if the designer has any creativity whatsoever. But in their defense, these models are typically low budget phones.  They are marketed for a different target segment than higher end phones.
  • There is high quality control. Quality control with Android phones varies.  But again, it is because of the breadth of offerings targeted to different consumer segments.  High-end manufacturers such as Samsung rival Apple in quality control.  Low-end budget models from different manufacturers will vary in quality.
  • With Apple’s Quick Start feature, transferring data from an old iPhone to a new one can be done simply by holding the old one next to the new one.
  • There are more accessories for iPhones.

Android Pros and iPhone Cons

Here are the advantages Android smartphones have over iPhones.

  • Android phones allow more customization for those who are more technically savvy.
  • They are less expensive than iPhones. iPhones are targeted towards the high-end consumer.  There are Android phones for all segments of customers.
  • When updates to the Android operating system are finally received, they are vetted out and often work without glitches. Significantly older iPhones may not be supported by the latest updates.  Although you can count on the annual frequency of iOS updates, they sometimes need patchwork.
  • Android phones use a more open and flexible ecosystem fostering more creativity from app developers, but at the risk of being less secure.
  • They use standard USB ports for peripherals. Apple prefers to sell overpriced proprietary peripherals which hinders convenience.
  • They have better integration to the cloud.
  • There are more options with Android phones, while iPhones are high-end across the board.
  • They have more apps available than iPhones.
  • Some models have upgradable storage, while iPhones cannot upgrade storage.
  • On some models, you can replace batteries yourself, while iPhones cannot.
  • If you are a do-it-yourself person, Android phones are better suited for you. iPhones require service from their Apple stores.
  • Guest accounts are available for other users on your phone.
  • Files can be transferred with PCs and easily managed on PCs via USB. You don’t have go through the cloud.  On iPhones, only pictures can be directly transferred, not other types of files.
  • Some models have split screen capability.
  • Higher end Android phones usually have more advanced features than their comparable iPhones, like a better camera and more storage capacity, for same or less cost.

Parting Words

It really isn’t fair to compare iPhones to Android phones because iPhones are made as high-end products.  They are made by only one manufacturer, Apple, marketed as a high-end item.  Android phones are made by many manufacturers who do not have proprietary operating systems.  Depending on the manufacturer and the model, they are marketed to many different segments of consumers from high-end to low budget.  The fairest comparison would be between iPhones and other high-end Android phones like Samsung, for example.  But again, it is not a question of which operating system is better, but which one suits your needs best.

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Interested in a top smartphone?  First decision is choice of operating systems.  Should you buy an iOS (Apple) phone or an Android (non-Apple) smartphone?

SmartphonesOperating System

The advantages of iOS is integration with other Apple products such as iPads and MacBooks.  For example, your AppleID allows you to iMessage or FaceTime from other Apple products seamlessly.  Apple’s ecosystem is a closed one and makes this possible.  Security is generally better in an enclosed ecosystem.

The advantage of Android is it is more customizable than iOS since it is not operating in an enclosed ecosystem.  Tools are available to modify phone controls, for example.  Android supports a wider array of phones while iOS are limited only Apple models.  Android phones are generally less expensive than Apples.

Android is a Google operating system, so it runs Google native applications, i.e., gmail, Google maps, Chrome, etc.  With Android phones, because it is not an enclosed ecosystem, manufacturers can layer on their own software to phones.

This may be good or bad, depending on what it does.  For example, if the incremental software provides a proprietary feature, it can be a positive user experience.  However, if it slows down your phone or overrides your phone from other applications, it could be frustrating.

It cannot be said that one operating system is necessarily better than the other.

Make and Model

Next, determine the make and model you want.

Some people are early adopters and are willing to pay top dollars and sleep on the sidewalk to get first dips on the latest products.  No judgment here if you are an early adopter.  You are the risk-takers for consumers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, late adopters will be skeptical of anything new and prefer to save money and spend on only what is essential.  Nothing wrong with not wanting to deal with over-technology.

There are happy mediums in between the two extremes.  Usually, there is a great, reliable phone from a slightly older generation with all the features you want or need at a great price, new.  Better than buying a used car that is only a couple of years old, if you use that analogy, because we are talking about a new phone, not a refurbished one.

When considering the make and model, ask yourself, is it really worth the price?  Is having the latest camera going to make that big of a difference in the quality of your photos?  Is having 13 hours of battery life going to matter versus 12 hours?

Battery Life

How can you predict how fast a battery degrades and loses its ability to fully hold its charge?  That is not dependent upon the battery itself.  It also depends on how the phone will be used.  It depends on whether your method of charging has protection against power surges.  Would you have protection against power surges if you charge primarily in your car?  It could depend on if you accidentally left your phone lying in the hot sun, degrading the battery with excess heat.  Bottom line is there are so many unpredictable factors that can affect how a 12 hour battery life will end up versus a 13 hour battery life.  You may end up finding it didn’t matter anyway.


The size of the phone is also a consideration.  Do you really want to lug around something that resembles a mini-iPad?  Will that fit into your back or side pocket?  You are more likely to drop a larger device when using one hand.  On the flip side, not being able to read a tiny screen is also an annoyance.


Storage space is also important depending on planned usage.


Make reasonable decisions based on your needs and the value you are paying for.


Choice of carrier will also affect your decision.  Some carriers subsidize phones, so your choice is limited to their offerings.  The trade-off is a lower price.  Others allow unlocked phones where you can buy or bring in your own phone to use on their networks.  A sim chip change is all you really need to connect to their network.

However, be sure to check the carrier’s website to see if the make and model of your phone is compatible with their network.  Some older phones may be obsolete.

Unlocked smartphones will cost more than locked phones.  Do not let the cost of the phone sway your decision.  The quality of the carrier’s network is important.

You would be surprised that some of the non-major carriers have really good quality networks, some even better than the major carriers.

They may also offer a less expensive plan which will offset the price of an unlocked phone.  Always consider your total cost.


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