Samsung made unlocked versions of its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge flagship smartphones available to US consumers on June 30. Unlocked handsets appeal to those seeking an escape from heavy-handed carrier customizations, but they're also aimed at travelers who might wish to use their phones on other networks when overseas.
Most phones sold in the US today are locked, which means they can only be used for the carrier that sells them.
If you buy a Samsung Galaxy S7 from AT&T, you won't be able to use the phone on any network other than AT&T's no matter what SIM card you stuff inside. This is the way carriers want it.
Some carrier phones that are fully paid off or no longer under contract may be unlocked, but this requires asking the carrier directly and sometimes carries a fee (usually $20).
Unlocked phones have been around for years. They offer plenty of benefits, with a catch.
The majority of phones sold unlocked must be paid for at full retail price, often online, and aren't available through those convenient monthly payment plans. Many believe the rewards are worth the cost, and so the prevalence of unlocked phones has been growing in recent years. In fact, unlocked handsets accounted for 9% of all device sales in 2015, according to Strategy Analytics.
This month alone has seen a handful of handsets reach the unlocked market. For example, Sony made the Xperia X available to consumers online, as did Freetel with the Kiwami. OnePlus's latest smartphone, the OnePlus 3, went on sale recently, sold unlocked. The Moto G4 and Blu R1 HD will be sold unlocked next month, and the new Motorola Z Droid and Z Droid Force will be sold unlocked in the fall. You get the picture.
Samsung knows it needs to tap into this market, which is why the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are now available unlocked.
The unlocked S7 and S7 Edge are identical to the carrier-branded variants as far as the hardware is concerned. That means they have the same screen, the same processor, the same camera, the same amount of storage, the same battery, and the same waterproofing.
There are two major differences:
Samsung says the unlocked devices support GSM, HSPA, CDMA, and several versions of LTE for maximum compatibility with worldwide networks. The S7 and S7 Edge can be used on AT&T, Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Virgin Mobile, and other carriers in the US without issue. Traveling to Europe this summer, or headed to Rio for the Olympics? Buy a local SIM card, pop it in your unlocked Galaxy S7, and enjoy low-cost cellular service while traveling.
You might shrug your shoulders about the lack of carrier bloatware, but you shouldn't. The carrier-branded versions of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are crammed with ridiculous and unnecessary apps, services, and tools that hog up system resources and incessantly asail owners with ads, alerts, and popups. No bloatware means more room for the apps you actually want to use and fewer annoyances.
Samsung noted that the unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are available from Samsung.com, as well as Amazon, Best Buy, Ebay, Sam's Club, and Target.com. The S7 costs $669.99 and the S7 Edge costs $769.99.Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio