Digging on the ‘Free’ Phones of Europe

Something truly annoying about the US is that when you buy a new cellphone, it will almost certainly be locked in to a network and thusly termed a “locked” phone. These phones are not irreparably locked though and can be unlocked via entering a simple code, which varies per each phone. Those who want to, can enter this in to their phone and voilá, they have a phone (if GSM and tri or quad band) that they can use anywhere in the world except Japan simply by slipping in another SIM card.
Why the phones are locked in the first place is just plain frustrating and is solely due to corporate greed and stupidity. People who want an unlocked phone will go to the trouble of getting the code to unlock it. Those who don’t won’t bother. The phone companies in the US (and in general, the world) lock phones to prevent you from hopping from one company or another if there is supposedly a better deal out there, which in reality, there ain’t. But, this is an ignorant train of thought. When one has a contract, one is stuck with their provider for one to two years. Usually, most of us don’t switch providers even at the end of the contract because A) there aren’t that many choices and B) it’s a real pain in the ass. So, why lock my phone that I’ve purchased? Surely it must cost extra to brand, lock, and sell the phones this way, so not locking would save money. Those mobile customers who have been supposedly “trapped” (insert sinister mustache twirling here) leave anyways if they’ve had enough, regardless of the locked phone, so again, why?
In Europe, the locking issue is much the same, but instead of having to turn to shifty deals on Ebay like in the US, you can walk in to any shop and pick up an unlocked (or in Spain, “free” or “libre”) phone. Major providers like, Orange, Vodafone, and Movistar all sell some degree of unlocked phones at their shops, which is something you’d never see in the US. In addition to these, there are countless electronics shops who have walls of the latest phones all in an unlocked version. Now, you have to keep in mind that you do pay a premium to get these unlocked phones. A phone that might be free with a contract could cost upwards of 200€ or more if it’s super fancy.
But, it was because of this freedom of choice while in Barcelona on Ronda de San Antonio that I picked up a completely unlocked, unbranded, and brand new Sony Ericsson K530i to use as my new primary phone, while my Nokia E61 (a fantastic albeit very large phone) will become my secondary phone. I am bouncing around so much these days that I have become one of those cheesy jerkwads with two phones, one with my American number and one with whatever country I am visiting. And no, it’s not one for my wife and one for my mistress; that’s too French for my refined tastes.
The K530i isn’t a super-insane, yogurt-making phone or anything, but it’s solid, has good battery life, 3G support (basic mobile internet is much faster in Spain than in the US), and most importantly, it fits my ogre-sized hands well for texting. For the pleasure of having this phone and its features, I paid about 140€. It’s not cheap, but it’s not more expensive than in the US where and if you can find it.
That’s the other problem with US phones is that with the exception of he iPhone, they’re seriously behind on features compared to those in Europe. So, whenever I want a new phone, I look to Europe for the wealth of unlocked phones that they have here and the ability to make video calls on just about any phone above 50€, because we all know that we want to make video calls, oh and listen to the radio!
Digging on the 'Free' Phones of Europe