When you’re buying an iPhone, it’s always a good idea to find out whether the iPhone that you’re buying is locked or unlocked. Brand-new or used, an unlocked iPhone can offer you many features and conveniences, one of which is the fact that you can use any carrier so you can switch networks very easily especially when traveling.
So, what really is an unlocked iPhone and how do you know if yours is?
What is an unlocked iPhone?
Most people acquire their iPhones as part of their chosen carrier’s service plans. Most of these carriers offer the latest iPhones for a specified timeframe based on the contract, and so the iPhone itself comes in cheaper. While an attractive offer, there’s a catch—you can’t use any other provider on the device, thus the term “locked.”
However, there has been an increasing demand for unlocked iPhones, which are not associated with a specific provider’s network. This means that these unlocked iPhones are purchased without a service contract made with a specific carrier. While these are more expensive, many people nowadays still opt to buy iPhones unlocked or are trying to unlock a locked iPhone.
Speaking of unlocked iPhones, there are two types of these that you should be familiar with.
Factory Unlocked vs Software Unlocked
When someone is offering you to buy iPhones that are unlocked, you have to know what they mean by this term. This is because there are the two types of unlocked iPhones and the term “unlocked” can mean two things
Some iPhones just have “unlocked” software so that apps outside Apple regulations can be added or removed. There are also those that are “unlocked” which means they are not tied with a cellular phone service provider. Let’s take a closer look at both types of unlocked iPhones:
- Factory unlocked. Factory unlocked iPhones are those kept “open” or “clean” by Apple itself. This means it is sold without a SIM card already inserted to and associated with it. The iPhone has all the basic device capabilities, but if you are to make or receive calls and messages, you have to have a call plan with a carrier of your choosing.
Factory unlocked phones are typically used by people who want to choose their own carrier, want to switch from different carriers from time to time, or are travelling and don’t want to rack up international roaming fees. For travelers, having iPhones unlocked means they can go to any country and just use the SIM card from a provider there so they get charged with local charges without having to switch their phones with something else.
- Software unlocked. iPhones with a software unlocked status means that they were previously locked and are “jailbroken.” In other words, they were hacked to work with other codes aside from the ones that they already came in with. Jailbreaking an iPhone breaks the Apple warranty and can also pose many risks. Since jailbreaking is practiced by people who are not certified Apple technicians, they may permanently damage the software of the iPhone and cause malfunctioning issues.
These being said, when you are buying an iPhone, let’s say from someone you know or from an online source, you must ask if the iPhone is factory unlocked or jailbroken.
Pros and Cons of Unlocked iPhones
While there is certainly a market for unlocked and jailbroken iPhones, you as a buyer must make an informed decision whether you really should buy one. Knowing the pros and cons of getting yourself an unblocked iPhone can help you decide if it meets your needs.
Pros of Unlocked iPhones
- You’re not tied down with a single carrier. Each carrier has different service plans than its competitors. The service plan of the carrier you want for your iPhone may not be exactly what you want, and this can be a big inconvenience in the long run. With an unlocked iPhone, there’s no need to sign a contract with a single carrier that turns out to have bad services and get stuck with them for a couple of years.
- You have the freedom to switch anytime. Having an unlocked iPhone gives you the freedom to switch carriers anytime. This is great especially if you have changing needs and you want certain carriers to cater to your needs at the time. You can switch to a different carrier after just a couple of months and there’s no need to pay a pre-termination fee or break obligation with your previous carrier.
- Save on roaming charges when traveling. This benefit is especially true for those who are travelling to different parts of the world several times a year. In this case, having a locked iPhone is simply impractical. Roaming charges are skyrocketing anywhere in the world you are, so having an iPhone that is unlocked allows you to just buy a SIM from any of the country’s local carriers and not pay roaming charges.
- Higher resale values. Let’s face it—as iPhones change models in a snap, people are always in the market to buy the latest and get rid of the older models. Resale of second-hand iPhones is in no short supply. And if you want an iPhone that you can resell for up to 30% more compared to the locked unit, then you should opt for unlocked iPhones.
Cons of Unlocked iPhones
- More expensive. Cellular phone service providers subsidize the cost of the iPhone and include this in the contract for a much affordable monthly cost within a given timeframe. With an unlocked iPhone, you have to shell out a huge amount of money upfront so you can get your hands on the latest iPhone model.
- Limited support and services. Not every cellphone service provider can provide support and services for your unlocked iPhones. Typically, these add-on services are meant only for iPhones that are locked with their service plans.
Weighing the pros and cons together can show you that unlocked iPhones are not for everyone. They are meant for those people who have specific needs and enough budget to accommodate the high cost of unlocked iPhones.
So how do you know for sure that the iPhone you’re going to buy is locked or unlocked? Below are three of the most effective and most widely used methods for knowing if your iPhone is unlocked.
How to Know if Your iPhone is Unlocked
These days, there are many iPhones that are up for sale online or even through your own social network. These iPhones may be advertised as unlocked—but how do you know for sure? There are many jailbroken phones that still have iCloud installed and connected to its previous user, making it easy for the user to block or blacklist you from using the phone. This is especially true in the case of stolen iPhones that are being sold online or offline to unwitting buyers.
- Put a SIM card from another carrier. One of the simplest ways to know if your iPhone is unlocked is to insert in it a SIM card from a different carrier. You can buy a new SIM card or you can borrow one from a friend or family member.
To do this, make sure you shut down your iPhone by holding down the Sleep/Wake button until the power off prompt appears. Slide the red arrow to shut down your iPhone. Then, find your SIM card holder along the edge of your iPhone. Eject the holder using a paper clip or the ejector that comes with your phone. Replace the SIM with a different one and close the holder. Turn on your iPhone and try to make a call or send an SMS. If either or both fails, then your iPhone is locked.
- Find your carrier settings. Your iPhone has carrier settings that allows you to see if it is associated or locked with a cellular phone service provider. Under the Settings of your iPhone, choose the “Carrier” or “Cellular” option. If under this you see “Cellular Data Network,” then you have an unlocked iPhone.
Then, turn off your iPhone and eject your SIM card. Power your iPhone back on. Your iPhone should show “No SIM” or “Service Unavailable” on the carrier status. Now go back to the Settings menu and if the “Cellular” or “Carrier” option is still there, then your iPhone is unlocked.
- Get an IMEI Check. While the methods above work, there’s nothing more accurate than an IMEI check. An IMEI check doesn’t only show if your iPhone is unlocked—It also shows if your phone has been blacklisted, was stolen or lost, or if it has other hidden security or privacy problems.
An IMEI is a unique 15-digit serial number for iPhones. It is used to tell iPhones apart. By checking on your iPhone’s IMEI, you will know more than just the unlock status of your unit. It checks if your iPhone was reported stolen or lost; in-contract with another carrier, locked with iCloud, was replaced with a new IMEI, or if it’s still under Apple’s warranty.
Get an IMEI Check for Your iPhone
To know your IMEI, just open your Phone app and dial *#06#. After a while, your IMEI will show on your screen, which is a 15-digit serial number. You can also go to Settings>General>About on your iPhone. There will then be a list of information about your iPhone, including your IMEI. Often IMEI is also displayed on the SIM tray or at the back of our iPhone.
By checking your IMEI, you can know for sure if you have a locked or unlocked iPhone. Getting a reliable IMEI Check service can also tell you more about the status of your iPhone, such as network identification (if it is locked), blacklist status and reason, Find My iPhone status, iCloud status, Warranty and Contract status, replacement status, and many more.