Thursday, 08 November 2012 12:57

Unlocked iPhones arrive at Dick Smith - but should you buy unlocked?

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If you've wanted to buy a new and unlocked iPhone, your only choice has been the Apple Store - but that's now changed. Whether an unlocked iPhone - or any other unlocked handset - is good value depends a lot on how you plan to use it.

Apple is now allowing resellers to offer unlocked iPhones, and one of the first is Dick Smith.

Starting today, you'll be able to buy an unlocked iPhone 4 or 4S at 50 Dick Smith stores around the country (stock levels permitting).

We couldn't find the list on the Dick Smith web site, so here it is (apologies for the strange order, but we decided against rearranging it to reduce the opportunity for errors to creep in):

NSW/ACT
Warringah Mall
Tuggerah
Erina
Chatswood Chase
Kotara
Broadway
Bondi
Miranda
Orange
Penrith Mulgoa Road
Sydney George Street
Mt Druitt
Parramatta
Dubbo
Wagga Wagga
Macarthur Square
Burwood Westfield
Canberra Centre
Belconnen
Bankstown Square
Albury

Queensland
Mackay Canelands
Rockhampton Stockland
Robina
Gladstone
Mt Gravatt Garden City
Toombul
Brisbane Queens Street

Tasmania
Hobart
Launceston

Victoria
Northland
Highpoint
Nunawading
Melbourne Bourke Street
Bendigo
Fountain Gate
Shepparton
Dandenong

NT
Alice Springs
Casuarina Square

WA
Broome
Innaloo
Rockingham City
Carousel
Perth
Freemantle
Kalgoorlie
Bunbury
Elizabeth City
Marion

How much? Please read on.


Prices are $449 for an iPhone 4 8GB and $679 for the iPhone 4S 16GB - the same as Apple's pricing.

If you want an unlocked iPhone 5, the Apple Store is still the sole source. The same goes for online sales of unlocked iPhones.

There have been calls to make the process of unlocking mobile phones cheaper and simpler (indeed, there is a proposal to prohibit unlocking fees on prepaid mobiles). Although that would seem to work against handset subsidies, carriers would still have the lock-in provided by the contract terms.

Charging an unlocking fee once the customer has met the contractual obligations by using the mobile service for the agreed period or by paying an early termination fee smacks of double-dipping.

Do the sums before deciding whether to buy a locked or unlocked phone. For example, Telstra will provide an iPhone 5 on an $80 per month plan over 24 months. But the same plan on a BYO phone basis costs $60 per month, so you're paying $480 for a phone that would cost $799 to buy outright.

On the other hand, an unlocked iPhone 5 plus a $39 Amaysim Unlimited service costs less than $74 per month (amortising the handset cost over 24 months) and you get more talk time and data - providing you're happy with the Optus 3G network.

For very light users (especially those happy to stick to Wi-Fi for data), an unlocked iPhone plus pay-as-you-go service from Amaysim or a low-end prepaid SIM from companies such as Gotalk or Virgin Mobile (as low as $15 for 180 days) works out even cheaper - just keep an eye on your actual usage and be prepared to switch to a more appropriate deal if it increases.

If you travel overseas and want to take your phone, an unlocked handset is almost essential unless you have deep pockets. Global roaming charges are very high, so you should seriously consider using a SIM purchased in the country you are visiting or a traveller's SIM such as TravelSIM, Go-SIM or Woolworths Mobile Global Roaming - either way, you'll need an unlocked phone.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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