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Articles / Preparing for College / Unlocking Phone Value

Aug. 18, 2016

Unlocking Phone Value

The cell phone has taken over the world. In fact, its conquest happened some time ago. Everywhere you go, you see people wandering like zombies, with their eyes glued to their phones, neck bent, oblivious to their surroundings, searching for Pokemon.

I've written about this here before, but that's not the mission of my post today (“Thankfully!" most of you say). Today I'm going to relate a personal experience of mine that will brief you on how to make a significant improvement in your phone “status," assuming that you have an older phone that you have been thinking about updating.

This is highly practical information for college students and their parents who want to be sure to have solid, fast, reliable communication ability. The onslaught of technology can pass us by in a flash, leaving us in the dust, stuck with older (in my case, ancient) equipment that teeters on the verge of pitiful obsolescence.

Granted, there will be those among you who will scoff and mutter (or yell) “DUH!" when you get into my personal anecdote here. That's okay. It's good to be hip and cool simultaneously. Stay current. Keep your finger on the pulse of tech, dudes.

However, there may be one or two of you out there, like yours truly here, who have/had no idea of how inexpensively you can move from an old phone to a much more modern unit so easily. If just one or two of you can benefit from my recent upgrade, then I will have accomplished my goal in writing this.

So, here's my story …

Last week I received a text on my vintage 2008 BlackBerry Curve 8310 informing me that my cell carrier, AT&T, was ditching their 2G network, in light of their nationwide upgrade to 3G/4G LTE (and other kinds of hard-to-understand) services. The text informed me that this would happen before the end of this year (2016).

As an act of kindness, I suppose, they informed me that if I went to my local AT&T store before August 20 (two days from now) I could get a free replacement phone that would work on the 3G network protocol. I thought that was cool, so I made a beeline to AT&T.

I had already experienced this free-replacement-phone scheme with my wife's phone. Since she hardly ever uses her cell phone, we have gone for years with a pay-as-you-go plan from TracFone. That has worked well, very cost efficient.

Just as I did, though, she got a message informing her that 2G was going bye-bye and that she had to upgrade. TracFone made her the same offer as AT&T did for me — go to their Web site and arrange for a free replacement phone. She did and it arrived quickly. Granted, it was no new iPhone but it served her needs. So, she's now safe from the 2G purge.

My situation was different from hers. Because I had been using a BlackBerry for eight years, I had grown use to their wonderful QWERTY keyboard, that enabled even my fat fingers to type with speed and accuracy. Actually, properly trimmed fingernails are the key to success!

So, knowing that an AT&T replacement phone would be a cheapo of some kind, I decided that I was willing to splurge a bit and get a better phone, but it had to be a BlackBerry. At the store, I was prepared for the sales pitch the AT&T guy presented to me.

First, when I explained that I wanted to upgrade my 2G BlackBerry to a (at least) 3G BlackBerry, he scoffed. “You do know," he pontificated, “that RIM [Research in Motion, BlackBerry's parent company] is going under, don't you?" I replied that I had read about RIM's struggles but countered that they were still designing new models, etc.

“Did you know that they just sold off all their patents?" Hmm. I didn't know that, which seemed ominous. “Well," I mumbled, seeking to stem the bad news onslaught, “that's too bad. [pregnant pause] So, you got any BlackBerrys?"

I explained my preference for their keyboard. The sales dude then escorted me to their (what I call) Wall of Expense, a lineup of their top-selling phones, all safety wired to the wall with no prices shown.

“We have one BlackBerry … here," he said with just enough derision in his voice to almost make me do a 180 and bolt (sorta like Usain in Rio). Anyway, this BlackBerry wasn't at all the one I had in mind. Not even close. Its almost $600 price tag was yet another clue that I didn't care for it. This led to a futile bargaining gambit.

“Is AT&T offering any deals on other phones for us poor 2G refugees?" His answer came so fast that I almost missed it: “No."

That was that then.

I politely thanked the gentleman and played my “interested potential customer" ploy. “May I have your business card so I'll know whom to contact when I make my final decision as to what I'm going to buy?" He instantly produced a fancy AT&T card and scribbled some iPhone model numbers on it, all of which were priced well north of $500, I later discovered.

To paraphrase Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, “Adios, muchachos. No phone for you!"

Which, finally and thankfully, brings me to my point: unlocked cell phones. To save me keystrokes, here's a detailed explanation of unlocked cell phones. Briefly:

… An unlocked cell phone is a mobile phone that can be readily used on any GSM network of the owner's choosing. This means that the owner can slide in a SIM card from any wireless carrier in his or her region to start making calls, surfing the Internet, and benefiting from any of the services available on that carrier's network for its customers.

In contrast to locked phones, an unlocked phone is not tied to a specific carrier. This gives the owner the freedom of switching SIM cards from different wireless telecom networks at will. Cell phones locked to specific carriers typically come with 12 to 24-month contracts meaning you will have to wait until the period expires before you can purchase another phone.

Unlocked cell phones, on the other hand, come with absolutely no form of binding contract, giving you the freedom to purchase another device anytime you want …

Back home, I headed out into the Google search universe, armed with my rudimentary knowledge of unlocked phones. I searched for “unlocked 3G BlackBerry." This brought me to Cellular Country. [Full disclosure: I have absolutely no connection whatever with Cellular Country other than being a highly satisfied, money-saving customer.]

Cellular Country's listing comes up as “Used Cell Phones." Don't let that turn you off. After a couple hour's research on their site, I found exactly what I was looking for: a 3G/4G/LTE BlackBerry, the Torch 9810:

That cool keyboard slides out when needed and then goes back in, making the 9810 the same size as my old Curve 8310. Great! No need for a new carrying case.

Here's the best part: It cost $44.99 (!). Granted, Cellular Country judged the one I purchased as being in “Fair" condition, so I didn't expect much. However, when it arrived, the only blemish I could find was a bit of wear on one upper corner of the outside bezel. I would have rated this phone as at least “Good." It came with a brand new wall charger, so I plugged it in and gave it an hour or so to charge up, as I did some other chores.

Once I saw that the battery (it came with a battery) was fully charged, I slipped the SIM card from my old BlackBerry into the “new" unit and pressed the start key. BOOM! Everything worked! It took me only minutes to configure my email, the time and date, and some other fundamentals. I couldn't believe how fast it surfed the Web.

I made my maiden phone call to our landline and then called it from our landline. Success! It needed a so-called “SD" memory card, so I ran out and bought one and installed it. The video and picture cameras worked fine. Now all that was left was to read through the 335-page (!) user manual on the Web. Right.

That's my story, students, parents, and maybe even grandparents. If you're willing to upgrade to a phone that isn't the latest and greatest (how can one ever keep up, anyway?), this is the way to go. Why buy new when used will do?

Unlock your savings! Swap that SIM card! Save money on phones and spend it on text books! Be a crafty consumer! Great value awaits you!


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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