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Are Unlocked Devices The Future Of American Mobile?

December 26, 2012 - Written By Joe Levin

Buying a smartphone in this country these days is a risky proposition. The majority of Americans go into their local Verizon or AT&T store and end up signing a two-year contract in order to get an expensive phone at a subsidized rate. It doesn’t matter how much research you do or how much a device is hyped, it’s still possible to end up with a dud. On the other hand you could get a phone that does everything you want, but then gets lost in the upgrade shuffle because your carrier decided they needed more time to “test” it before the new version of Android was ready for the masses. But I’ve got some good news for you…Things are changing. Changing slowly, but changing nonetheless.

If the launch of Google’s Nexus 4 has taught us anything it’s that there is a bigger market for unlocked unsubsidized smartphones than originally thought. Sure, you could point to the ridiculous specs and a bargain basement price tag. Or maybe the fact that Nexus devices get their updates directly from Google, on time and without carrier approval. But I think there is more to it than that. Freedom!

We hold our freedom near and dear to us here in the USA where the free market reigns supreme, so why wouldn’t we want to have those same principles applied with regards to our cell phone carriers? If you get crappy coverage on AT&T in your area you can now take your Nexus 4 across the street to the T-Mobile store and activate it. Maybe you want unlimited everything for a cheap price…Check out Straight Talk or Solavei. There are a ton of options out there for unlocked phones with the only glaring omission being Verizon.

T-Mobile to it’s credit seems to be embracing this idea full-bore by not only eliminating their Classic Plans and subsidizing of devices but even going so far as testing out a new pre-paid wing GoSmart Mobile. That of course is in addition to their own already popular pre-paid plans. The savings on these types of plans can enter into the thousands of dollars if you hold on to your device for the same two years that you would have been locked into under a contract anyway.

Of course what good are these plans if there are only a few phones out there to make leaving the safety of the big carriers with their heavyweight devices worthwhile right? I mean the Nexus 4 is near impossible to get so what else is there? Well you can start with a pair of phones reported on here in the past few days the Oppo Find 5 or the Xiaomi MI-Two.

The days of cheap knock offs coming from places like China are becoming a thing of the past. Mainly because a lot of our devices are being made there anyway. It’s now possible to get a beast of a smartphone for sub $600 from another country and have it up and running here in the states for between $30 and $50 a month. Also, if buying from another country still makes you a bit skittish, a great homegrown option is Swappa, where there’s always a nice selection of gently used unlocked devices.

We’re obviously not there, and probably won’t be for a while longer but like I said things are changing. Our Smartphones have become less of a luxury and more of a necessity these days. Couple that with the current fiscal situation we’re in as a country, making it imperative we look more closely at our personal finances, then breaking the chains of carrier contracts and their subsidies is a hell of a start.