An education on buying an unlocked phone (in the US)
This year I took the plunge and ditched my carrier of 6 years (Sprint) for the economical and exciting world of prepaid monthly plans. Not being tied down to a contract and the ability to switch plans was my main motivation. Providers now had to compete for my business with price, features and compatibility with an open system. I chose the Nexus 4 due to it's low cost and Google's blessing of OS updates. My budget and I had no complaints until two days ago, when this happened:
via www.dotkam.com (an excellent guide on recovering and wiping your data in case this happens to your Nexus 4 can be found at http://www.dotkam.com/2013/01/16/backup-and-reset-nexus-4-cracked-and-locked-screen/ )
A quick call to LG, and my phone was off to some dock in Dallas to be repaired. With my SIM card in hand, I took to the internet to find a temporary replacement. I had settled on getting a feature phone to hold me over until my phone was replaced. I needed a phone immediately, so Amazon was out. After searching the usual big chain candidates, I found it odd that I couldn't find any phones show up in the local inventories. Not dismayed, I re-assured myself that the stores' stock probably differs from the online stores and headed out into the wild.
My first stop was Sams Club. I figured their tech aisle, full of stuff like discounted DVD players and MP3 players from brand's you have never heard of, would have my phone. I assumed my phone would the same brand as the questionable MP3 player display. Unfortunately, I was only able to find a gallon of milk and 600 trash bags which fortunately were also on my shopping list. Strike 1.
My next stop was Best Buy. After browsing around the cell phone section for a while, an associate approached me to help. I was informed by the associate that selling unlocked phones is illegal. I replied that it is not, and Best Buy's website is selling them. This lead to a shrug and a "sorry". Strike 2.
Time was running out, and my last stop was Walmart. My current cellphone plan is Straight Talk, and the plan is sold exclusively at Walmart. I figured they'd have to have replacement phones since you can plug a straight talk sim into an unlocked phone. Unfortunately, I was informed at Walmart that unlocked phones were only sold through the web. I was left with choosing a "locked" (no SIM card slot) Straight Talk LG L3. I splurged for the android phone since the lowest priced feature phone was only $30 cheaper. I figured it was worth $30 to have all of my contacts transfered (through my Google account).
Strike 3 Let's call it a bunt that dibbles down the third base line...
My quest didn't (and hasn't) come to and end. Upon returning home, I logged into Amazon and bought an unlocked LG L3. Upon receiving this new phone, I will return my locked phone. Three retailers who sell a wide variety of cell phones failed to offer what I was looking for. One unfortunate retailer will have to pay to restock my return. I was living in ignorant bliss with my contract free Nexus 4, but I received a hard lesson on convenience and the apparent black market unlocked phones.
As a side note on the LG L3: This is actually a decent little phone (for the price). It runs Android 2.3 and has excellent battery life (2+ days easily). The internal memory limits you to only a few apps (which helps battery life), but I am really digging the size and pocket-a-bility of this phone. It has me craving a high-end 3.2" Android phone. I plan on keeping this in case my wife or I lose or break our main cell phones again in the future, I'll probably slap one of the 4.0 roms on there first though.