Strong opinions, weakly held

Unlocked cell phones

You may know that I’ve been eager to buy a new cell phone for awhile now. My phone is now pushing three years old, and I’ve been out from under my contract with Cingular since December, 2005. The thing that has kept me from buying a new phone is Cingular’s lack of interesting new models in the lineup. The phones I’m most interested are the upgraded Motorola RAZR (V3i) and Motorola PEBL. Cingular still offers the old RAZR V3, and only T-Mobile offers the PEBL. I can’t get service from T-Mobile where I live.

I have thought in the past about just buying the phone I want online and putting my SIM card in it. The phones cost more without the subsidy providers furnish for signing up for an onerous contract, but you can get any phone you like and you’re not stuck with a two year contract. The only question then is the size of the subsidy and how much you trust the people who sell you these phones online.

I’m feeling a bit emboldened today because I just read about Laura Lemay’s successful purchase of an unlocked Nokia E70 from an overseas seller on eBay. A bit of research reveals that you can get a Motorola PEBL on eBay for about $180. (Here’s an example. A new unlocked PEBL for $179.99 from a seller with about 10,000 feedbacks who has been an eBay member since 2001.) I was surprised to read then that a PEBL will cost you $150 from T-Mobile, and that’s with a contract.

The final bit of research is on how much unlocked phones cost elsewhere. A seller on Amazon.com offers them for $270. An advertiser on Google sells black PEBLs for as low as $209. Is there a catch? I’m certainly tempted to go the eBay route and see what happens.

Update: I went ahead and ordered a Motorola PEBL. We’ll see how it works out.


  1. I have bought several “unlocked phones from internet vendors and had great experienbes with them.

    references upon request

  2. How much you pay for the PEBL w/ TMobile depends on your area. In SF, after rebate I paid about $70.

    Personally I love the phone, good sound quality, decent if not great interface, good fiddle-with-ability.

    But the camera is terrible, worse then you might already expect from knowing its a standard VGA, and much worse then you might expect on such a sleek little package.

    Now I’m juggling my PEBL (most days), a proto-type N72 (which probably will have a great camera retails, but is lousy in prototype), and an unlocked N90.


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