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Our Favorite Tech of 2011: Unlocked Phones

By Matthew Braga

Once I started travelling more often, I realized just how beneficial being unbeholden to a carrier could be.

Google’s Nexus One wasn’t just my first Android device—it was also my first unlocked phone. At the time, it meant I could switch carriers on a whim, should I ever grow tired of Telus. But once I started travelling more often, I realized just how beneficial being unbeholden to a carrier could be.

I’ve been to the U.S. four times this year, and on each trip I bought voice and data service from AT&T. While vacationing in Portugal in August, I did the same with European carrier Vodafone. Buying a foreign SIM is a much, much cheaper alternative to dealing with exorbitant roaming fees, especially when going overseas. And of course, if you’re the type that likes to tether, having an unlocked phone means you can do it for free. While some carriers charge extra for mobile hotspot functionality, an unlocked phone with unbranded or carrier-independent software can avoid this fee.

I’ve since moved on to a carrier-locked iPhone 4S. But my unlocked Nexus One—now my primary travel phone—has saved me too much money abroad to completely let it go.