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Unlocked Phone- Is It Really Possible?

Discussion in 'Android Devices' started by PGB1213, Sep 5, 2020.

  1. PGB1213

    PGB1213 Member
    Thread Starter

    Hello Everyone!
    I hope today finds you all well & enjoying today.

    I broke the digitizer on my ZTE Maven Z812. I use AT&T Go Phone. (Now called ATT Prepaid)

    Rather than replacing the digitizer, I wish to buy a new phone. I've seen many advertised as unlocked, but can't find any good information about how to go about setting one up.

    I also can't figure out what band I need. AT&T Support would not tell me. On line, I found lots of conflicting information. Many sites have different information than the others, so I thought it would be better to ask here than "wing it".

    Unlocked appeals to me because I won't have all the extra stuff the carrier throws in. One big example is AT&T Hot Spot on my Maven. It can not be turned off and the phone constantly seeks a network, thus slowing things down.

    Does one simply buy an unlocked phone and download the Android version of choice, then instal the SIM and register it? Will the Android download have basic stuff like messaging, calendar and contacts?

    Thanks Very Much for helping this amateur learn new stuff!
    Paul
     


  2. Dannydet

    Dannydet Extreme Android User

    Unlocked or locked, all Android devices have Android versions pre-installed from the manufacturer / carrier.
     
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  3. PGB1213

    PGB1213 Member
    Thread Starter

    Thank You Madasa & Dannydet for taking time to reply & for the helpful information. I very much appreciate you both getting me started & for the education.
    Enjoy This Day!
    Paul
     
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  4. PGB1213

    PGB1213 Member
    Thread Starter

    I thought of a follow-up question-
    My incentive for unlocking is to get rid of the extra apps that the carrier (AT&T) puts on the phone. These are apps I don't use & could not delete or even disable. One example is AT&T Hot Spots.

    Will unlocking allow me to do this, or is more drastic action needed?

    Thanks Again!
    Paul
     
  5. Hadron

    Hadron Smoke me a kipper...
    VIP Member

    And just to be clear, stuff like a contacts app, calendar app, message app, email app, browser etc will already be there (though you may choose to install different ones: personally the contacts app is the only one of these where I use the pre-installed version).

    An unlocked device will lack the carrier's own apps and some commercial junkware which the carrier has been paid to install. But the manufacturer ROM will include all the stuff you need, and in many cases will include stuff that you would still consider "bloat" (though one person's bloat can be someone else's "essential") ;).

    I have never bought a carrier-locked Android device, though as another Brit this is easier for me since all of our networks use the same standards, whereas all of the US networks are slightly or significantly different (though cross-network compatibility is much better than it used to be). The first thing to check is whether the phone is an unlocked US model or an import (imports are more likely to have compatibility problems, while the manufacturer's own site may be able to give a definite answer on compatibility of a US unlocked model). Then get the exact model number (e.g. Samsung SM-G973F/DS, SM-G973U, SM-G973W and SM-G9730 are all "Galaxy S10"s, but they are respectively Global, USA, Canada and China variants). With that information you can check exactly which bands and technologies it supports, and then check compatibility with your preferred network. You can probably get a fairly accurate idea of what bands are used by a given carrier from Wikipedia, or you can use an online site like willmyphonework.net.
     
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  6. Hadron

    Hadron Smoke me a kipper...
    VIP Member

    If it isn't an ATT model it won't have those apps in the first place.

    Note here that there are 3 uses of the word unlocked, so when looking to buy a phone you need to understand which is meant:

    1) Sold unlocked by the manufacturer. This means that the handset was never locked to a carrier and never had a carrier's apps installed on it in the first place. This is what people here have been assuming is meant.

    2) Sold locked to a carrier but unlocked by a previous owner and now resold. This means it will accept a SIM from any carrier, but it will have the original carrier's apps on it. Depending on the app and who you use it with they may not work, but unlocking will not change your ability to remove or disable them. An additional drawback with such a phone is that you probably won't receive any system updates unless you connect it to the original carrier's network. In short, this doesn't sound like what you want.

    3) Bootloader unlocked. This is a step towards rooting a phone, but entirely separate from carrier locking. If you were to use this to root the phone you would gain the ability to remove carrier apps, but you probably won't receive system updates over the air any more and some apps (finance, some media apps) will probably not work (depending on the app and how you go about rooting it and whether you are able to hide that from these apps). A bootloader unlocked phone will also be second-hand (no manufacturer sells them this way, US carrier handsets are often very hard or even impossible to bootloader unlock). This may meet some of your requirements, but unless you are willing to learn a lot about the phone software I don't think this is what you want either.

    So as said, I've assumed you mean number 1. I mention these others because if you are looking around for information or sales of unlocked phones you may encounter cases where they mean one of the other types, so knowing that there are different meanings may help you spot this and avoid confusions.
     
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  7. Added: @Hadron has caught up so ignore this :p

    @Hadron my post threw you slightly as the OP I see is in Detroit, but @PGB1213 the information is helpful, especially willmyphonework.net

    As I understand you,
    ... you may choose to switch from AT&T but are looking to buy a phone that works on most.

    There's an unlocked phone as in a phone that was purchased through a carrier such as AT&T but when the contract term has ended it would be unlocked with a free PUK Code supplied by the carrier. That as you know will still have carrier bloatware, but should work on other carriers subject to the bands needed, and I think this is easier than it was in the past.

    To start afresh and buy a new phone independently, say on Amazon, then they will truly be Unlocked / carrier free devices like we can also get in the UK, but it is worthwhile as you know, to check which carriers they may work on, and I haven't looked in to the current situation or read the links above.

    So an unlocked carrier supplied used device is seperate to an Unlocked manufacturer direct device.
     
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  8. bcrichster

    bcrichster ROMinator
    Moderator

    For "unlocked" devices per Carrier, I'd recommend a Google Fi device, usually found @ BestBuy. There's usually Pixel, Samsung, & Motorola's to choose from and they're pretty vanilla as far as preinstalled apps go. I'm actually running a Moto G Stylus at the moment and it's pretty nice with a 48MP camera, lg battery and metal Stylus. I had to pull away from ZTE devices as they became ridiculously difficult to deal with and are now basically banned for sales in the USA.
     
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  9. PGB1213

    PGB1213 Member
    Thread Starter

    Thank You Hadron & Masasa for your excellent explanations. Your explanations clarified what all my pre-posting internet searching managed to complicate & confuse. It sounds like a Factory unlocked phone made for the USA market is appropriate (after verifying it will work on the AT&T network).

    Thank You Bcrichster for your phone recommendations. I'll use a Google Fi device as my "anchor" when shopping.

    Thanks, too for mentioning Moto. I've been bouncing between Moto & Nokia. Moto seems to have a very wide selection of choices. It was nice to see that they have models concentrating on different features. One may have a stellar camera & display, but mediocre RAM & ROM. Another may have generous storage, but average camera. Then I learned that they are Motorola branded Lenovo products. Lenovo always has had a reputation for designing very well functioning & well built computers, so hopefully the phone is as thoughtfully built.

    At one point, I got a bit frustrated & explored iPhone. Bad plan. I'm sticking with Android. It was a common failure across most models and non-repairability of that failure that stopped me. (Oh yeah- Price for what one gets was also a consideration.)

    One test I use when buying most things is to look at sites that sell used ones to see if I can find a common flaw.

    Example: Search for a particular model phone on the used market and see how many are being sold "for parts" because a certain part broke. We may see many with "Touch ID" broken- as was the case with iPhones. I use this for power tools, televisions, etc.

    Next I check to see how repairable the flaw is & the part cost. Example: iPhone touch ID is not field repairable due to software linking. Another Example: ZTE Z-812 bad battery is repairable, even though it's soldered in. I searched Moto & the most common flaw is cracked screen. This would not be the phone's defect, rather a user error.

    Thanks Again All for helping me learn about locking and phone selection. Now I'm confident to shop.

    Enjoy This Day!
    Paul
     
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  10. Good luck. I've been looking at a lot of devices for many weeks. I would recommend Motorola and Nokia with some caveats. (I've had 3 Motos and have a current 2018 model Nokia for over a year)
    Most of the Moto G series and Moto One series (Moto G Stylus is one exception) don't guarantee more than one update, if at all. Most use now sometimes vastly superceded chipsets and spec, and some have 720p rather than 1080p displays.
    The Moto G 9 series models are just being previewed or just on sale btw, and the standard Moto G9 though it has a 720p display uses clever tech to enhance text. 720p is fine mostly anyway.
    There are model gaps in the Nokia line up above the new 5.3. A 6 and 7 series iirc have been delayed. I have a known charging issue on my model but it came out as I said in 2018.

    I would recommend looking at the large Chinese brands, Xiaomi and Realme (and Oppo). I wouldn't have said that a few weeks ago.

    The Poco X3 NFC just arriving is amazing and awesome value (the one for me), though the Mi 10 Lite 5G with an Amoled screen and 5G was reduced for a while recently. The Mi. com website has confusing pricing where the initial price gets reduced as you get to the checkout (some summer discounts have just gone) or the higher capacity version is the same price

    Anyway enjoy the search.
     
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  11. PGB1213

    PGB1213 Member
    Thread Starter

    Thank You Madasa for these caveats & suggestions.

    Following your suggestion, I've been studying the Chinese brands that you mentioned. So far, it seems one gets very good specifications for reasonable money. I will assume tech support is non-existant, but there's always Android Forums to the rescue. (And the people here have given me far more useful support than the manufacturer of my existing phone possibly could.)

    The Poco X3 NFC that you mentioned looks amazing for the money. The only place I've found it for sale so far is eBay, shipped form China. I couldn't find the pricing & purchase information on the Mi site. Hopefully soon a US vendor will have it.

    I had a moment of guilt about buying a Chinese phone until I searched where the USA brand names & Nokia (Finland name) brands are physically made. (So much for that guilt.) I was surprised to find the Moto name is now owned by Lenovo & Nokia name is owned by a different Finish company.

    Thankfully, my wife let me hijack her phone so I don't have to be in a giant rush to choose. Soon, but not an emergency.
     
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