The iPhone XR pre-orders started last night, but unlike the XS, there isn’t an option to “Buy without a carrier.” Good news: you can still get your iPhone unlocked. Here’s how.
First Off, What is an “Unlocked” Phone?
This topic can get a little bit complex, so I’m going to hit you with the quick and dirty here: “Unlocked” means that it’s free to use on any carrier you want. So if you’re currently on Verizon and decide to switch to AT&T, you can take your phone with you as long as it’s unlocked.
That’s an overly-simplistic explanation of what an unlocked phone is because with iPhones it can get a bit more complicated than that. But here’s the gist: there are two different types of networks—GSM (AT&T/T-Mobile) and CDMA (Verizon/Sprint)—and not all iPhones are compatible with both types.
- The Verizon and Sprint versions have both types of chips, so they will work on any carrier.
- The AT&T and T-Mobile versions only support GSM, so you can’t use them on Sprint or Verizon.
Note: This only applies to non-LTE connections. All iPhones support Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint LTE bands.
This is something you’ll keep in mind when buying your new phone—if you’re on a carrier that isn’t one of the big four, you’ll need to know if it uses CDMA or GSM.
How to Get an Unlocked iPhone XR
If you’ve bought an iPhone in the past (or if you look at the XS page), then you’ve seen the “Buy without a carrier” option, which is surprisingly missing from the XR’s buy page.
Just because there’s no specific “Buy without a carrier” option, however, doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the four options presented during checkout. All these options are unlocked—as long as you pay for them in full. That’s the key: if you finance the phone, it’s locked to the carrier. If you pay in full, it’s yours.
For example, I’m on Cricket Wireless (which is a subsidiary of AT&T and thus a GSM carrier), so I chose the AT&T option. I know my carrier is GSM, and I know this phone will work (but so would any of the other options, technically). Since the phone is paid for in full, it’s unlocked out of the box, as noted on one of the final checkout pages:
And if you click the “See carriers compatible with this iPhone” button, you can confirm it will work with all major carriers, which can be extrapolated to cover subsidiaries and other MVNOs.
So, just because there’s no direct option to buy an unlocked XR doesn’t mean that the option isn’t available. You just have to know where to look.