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Thread: BUYER BEWARE - Costco "unlocked phones"

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    I had this problem today... I bought an *AHEM* "unlocked" phone from Costco -- The Samsung Galaxy J1 (2016 edition)

    Here's the Product-card, just so there's no confusion about it's description:

    Name:  Galaxy J1.png
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    OK, but here's the *REAL* scoop on it. It's not "really" an "unlocked" phone. Here's my story...


    I bought this phone on my lunch break from work.

    The phone takes a NANO SIM (despite specs found online) -- and my Work phone (on BELL) has a Nano-SIM so I tested it out with that first. I wanted to be sure it picked up a decent signal, that the call quality was good, etc... before I went out and bought a Nano-SIM for my personal service (Telus) to use in this new phone.

    I was content with the way it worked with my work SIM (again, using BELL)... I figured where this is an unlocked phone, I could switch carriers at-will. Apparently not. When I got home and tried to put my newly purchased Telus SIM in it... no dice.

    Once you insert a SIM card for the first time, the phone LOCKS TO THAT CARRIER.


    So now I have a phone that's NOT UNLOCKED anymore... and is otherwise useless to me now. And I have a $15 SIM I just bought from Telus that's ALSO useless to me.


    Sure it's 'technically' unlocked at the point-of-purchase... but it quickly becomes locked the first time you put a SIM in it.

    So BUYER BEWARE.

    Luckily, this is Costco, and although I havent been back to the store yet, i KNOW I wont have any problem returning it.

    But I also plan to have a good discussion with someone at the store who can be responsible to realize that the product card is severely misleading.

    Hopefully someone will come good for the $15 I also had to pay for the new Telus SIM which is now of no use.


    --- UPDATE June 8 ---

    My plea has been answered. Costco has corrected the sign. See lower post for deets...
    This thread is currently associated with: Bell, Costco, Telus
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 8th, 2016 at 10:52 AM.
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    Wow. I've never heard of an unlocked phone locking itself to the first inserted SIM card's carrier. That is indeed very misleading!!
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    @bhlombardy - thank you for posting this!

    I have an S3 on Telus that has been off contract for almost a year now. I've been looking at these phones for a while now but no one in the store seems to know anything about them.

    I have a work phone that's my primary device but I'm keeping my Telus phone as the plan I have is grandfathered. I'm looking to upgrade my S3 since the battery would cost me about the same as a new phone from costco. Would you recommend this phone or should I just tough it out?
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    Very useful rant. Thanks for sharing and we'd like to hear how it goes.
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    I saw those the other day and took a picture of the detail to look into it myself (for my son). Thanks for the info.
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    I don't understand why the Rep who sold you the phone didn't tell you that it will lock to your Carrier? Should that kind of info not be something that should be passed on??
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    It is just sold in Costco not from the wireless people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by missmaggs View Post
    @bhlombardy - thank you for posting this!

    I have an S3 on Telus that has been off contract for almost a year now. I've been looking at these phones for a while now but no one in the store seems to know anything about them.

    I have a work phone that's my primary device but I'm keeping my Telus phone as the plan I have is grandfathered. I'm looking to upgrade my S3 since the battery would cost me about the same as a new phone from costco. Would you recommend this phone or should I just tough it out?
    You know what, this is otherwise a very nice phone. I had every intention on keeping it, but I DO roam (and despite the Canadian Carriers designation, Trust me, the phone would roam with the right SIM in it ... more on that in a follow-up post below). So the fact that it locked on first-use was a deal-breaker for me, more importantly because it was described as "UNLOCKED" and it isn't.

    But otherwise, a very good little phone for the price, if you plan on sticking with your carrier... because it WILL lock to the carrier (in your case Telus) on first-insert of your SIM.

    That being said, if you currently have an S3 and are going to this phone you will need either buy a Nano-SIM from a Telus store, OR have your current SIM card "cut" or "punched" down to Nano-size so that it fits in this phone.
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 1st, 2016 at 05:36 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by maggiespice View Post
    I don't understand why the Rep who sold you the phone didn't tell you that it will lock to your Carrier? Should that kind of info not be something that should be passed on??
    Quote Originally Posted by Frugalbigmama View Post
    It is just sold in Costco not from the wireless people.
    Frugalbigmama is correct. It was bought off-the-rack (OTR) within the electronics department from a product card along with the tablets, memory cards, etc. It was not from the Mobile kiosk... they are there to deal primarily with carrier plans and contract phones to get you rolling on a service provider. They were not at all involved with this stand-alone purchase.

    And you are completely correct. That info should be on the product card in one of the bullet points, at the VERY least. "PHONE LOCKS TO FIRST CARRIER" then I wouldnt have likely bought it... or at the very least would have not put a Bell SIM into it before my own.
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 1st, 2016 at 04:57 PM.
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    Now...as a follow-up post... (Regarding the my personal scenario)

    Telus (firstly) took a bit of doing regarding the $15 SIM I no longer had a use for. But when I explained the situation, I wasnt able to get a refund for the SIM per se, but an equal amount of credit was applied to my statement. I was encourage to switch to the new SIM anyway, because it was a punch-out SIM (meaning I can change the size at will) and it's an NFC SIM... in case I ever want that feature later. So I did, but still got re-imbursed. ...another reason I like Telus.

    As for Costco...

    Costco DID in fact refund my money for the phone, as I knew they would. I got no hassle from the returns counter (I never do) and although she empathized with me, didnt really seem to be actively concerned about the sign itself.


    I *DID* however get some attitude from the electronics department attendant (not all stores have one of these) when I pointed out that the product card was misleading. He had what I would refer to as a very NON-typical Costco attitude. His attitude was that I was completely wrong, and that no one would EVER interpret the sign as I did (even though the dozen or so people I showed the sign to agreed with me). Basically telling me that every unlocked phone was like that... (I guess he mistook me for moron.)

    In the end I stopped talking to him and decided to email Costco directly in the hopes of getting a response regarding both a.) the misleading product card... b.) the rep's attitude. Pending a response.
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 1st, 2016 at 05:38 PM.
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    Additonal post (regarding the phone itself... )

    For anyone interested... The Samsung Galaxy J1(2106) (which reads like J1[6] on the card), is a very nice phone for the price. $140 for a brand-new phone with some basic features is quite decent.

    It's running Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow) and it has a microSD card slot for memory expansion..

    I has a nice bright Super Amoled screen which is better than the other "unlocked"* Samsung Grand Prime that Costco also sells OTR (off-the-rack) for $40 more. *(Not sure how the Grand Prime behaves in the "unlocked" manner as the J1)


    If you are doing research online do not confuse this with older Samsung models called J1... this is the J1 (2106). And there are also variants of the 2016 model which are dual sim, and are micro-sim, not nano-sim. So again... not all are created equal.


    In any event, if I had to choose between the J1(2016) and the Grand Prime, I'd choose the J1. It's slightly smaller, but having used both, even for a limited amount of time on each, I'd go with the J1. It's by no means on par with the S7, but the S7 is also a $900 phone, not $140. Keep your expectations in check. BUt the J1 is a snappy little phone. I was quite impressed for the price.

    As long as you don't mind it locking to your carrier on first-use then no problem... or dont mind coughing up another $15 to later have it re-unlocked.


    I'm tempted to get the J1 again, lock in my Telus SIM, and pay the $15 to unlock it so I can roam -- But the bitter taste of recent experience is preventing me from doing that, if only purely out of principle... or at least until Costco responds to my email and agrees to correct the info-card.

    --

    Incidentally, anyone CAN have the J1 re-unlocked after the fact for about $15cdn online. So if you DID plan to roam in the US it would be a good phone for doing that as well.

    The reason the product card says "Canadian carriers only" is part-and-parcel to the fact that it locks right away (after a bit of research and logical reasoning). "Canadian carriers only" is to advise that it will not first-activate onto a non-Canadian carrier. But once you have done that, and then have had it re-unlocked, you're free to use it wherever GSM network service is available... which includes the USA... and some areas overseas.
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 1st, 2016 at 05:52 PM.
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    An additional Rant about "locked phones" in general.

    In this day-and-age, locked phones should be a thing of the past. The long-running argument is that the service provider technically "owns" the phone while you're on contract until you've fulfilled your agreement. Although my signature on their service agreement should really be enough that if I violate the terms it would constitute fraud. That should be enough to bind me without pinning me to the device... let alone charging me another $50 to release it once I've fulfilled my obligations. but if I have to let anything go in this debacle, I can see their reasoning (even though I disagree with it).

    The CRTC is who opened up this restriction saying that carriers must offer a release of the device once the customer has cleared ownership of the phone.

    However, in the above scenario at the start of this thread... when I buy the phone from Costco, I OWN the phone BEFORE I even commit to the carrier. It is MY PHONE once I leave Costco. I didn't get it from Bell, nor Rogers, nor Telus. it is MY PHONE. It's essentially a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at this point. I'm not under and hardware obligation to the provider for this hardware. Thus, the carrier has no business locking MY PERSONAL DEVICE to their service once I've inserted their SIM. More accurately, Samsung has no business allowing this to happen, as it is they who have orchestrated this to take place by the simple design of their hardware.

    While I appreciate a scenario where this hardware design is preferred... Take Best Buy, for example, who deals with carrier activations using all of the major carriers in Canada which also entails locking of phones, for the aforementioned reasons. Retailers at one time, would have multiple inventories for each carrier. But now are better served by having one pile of inventory to choose from, and then activate it on whichever carrier the customer chooses, and then the phone then becomes locked to the carrier, under contract. That's logical from a retailer standpoint. (Apart from my disgust with locked phones in the first place, but I digress)

    But again when I've paid for the device and I own it, it has no business being locked by the carrier who only aims to charge me to unlock it afterward.
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 1st, 2016 at 05:54 PM.

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    -
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Wed, Jun 1st, 2016 at 10:07 PM.

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    Thanks so much for the info, @bhlombardy

    You'll have to excuse me, as I'm not all up on the cell phone stuff (I just got OFF the 'Pay-as-You-Go' plan I've been on for about 15 years!) I'm now on a Bring Your Own Device Plan with Rogers. Just to clarify (for my own technically challenged self) you're saying that I can go to Costco and purchase a phone that is "unlocked" and use it with my Rogers plan, however, once I put my card in the phone than it is locked to Rogers?

    My SIM card, which I just got, is a bigger one to fit my old phone but it looks like it also has the option to punch out a smaller sized card. Do all cell phones usually have the same size SIM card? Which seems to now be the smaller sized one.

    Does Costco always have unlocked phones for sale? DO they have much option or is it like 1 or 2 phones?

    Thanks so much!
    Last edited by Rena13; Thu, Jun 2nd, 2016 at 11:42 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rena13 View Post
    Thanks so much for the info, @bhlombardy

    You'll have to excuse me, as I'm not all up on the cell phone stuff (I just got OFF the 'Pay-as-You-Go' plan I've been on for about 15 years!) I'm now on a Bring Your Own Device Plan with Rogers. Just to clarify (for my own technically challenged self) you're saying that I can go to Costco and purchase a phone that is "unlocked" and use it with my Rogers plan, however, once I put my card in the phone than it is locked to Rogers?
    The is exactly correct... at least insofar as the Samsung Galaxy J1 is concerned. I can't speak for other models that Costco sells off-the-rack... they are unlocked, but not sure if they lock to your carrier or not.


    Quote Originally Posted by Rena13 View Post
    My SIM card, which I just got, is a bigger one to fit my old phone but it looks like it also has the option to punch out a smaller sized card. Do all cell phones usually have the same size SIM card? Which seems to now be the smaller sized one.
    There are three size of sim cards... the metal contact points on the underside are all the same...
    - Standard sim (sometimes called mini-sim)
    - Micro Sim, which is about half the size of the standard
    - Nano Sim, which is the smallest yet, is pretty much just as big as the contact pad.

    Name:  sims.jpg
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    Most of the newer phones now take the Nano size... some still take Micro, and I dont know of any current models that still take the standard SIM.

    Also, the more recent SIM cards you will get from your carrier have an option to punch-out to the proper size, and if you keep the remnants and are careful when you pop them out, you can re-assemble them if you go back to an older model phone that requires the larger size.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rena13 View Post
    Does Costco always have unlocked phones for sale? DO they have much option or is it like 1 or 2 phones?

    Thanks so much!

    Depending on the location, they currently have the earlier mentioned Samsung Galaxy J1 for $139. I have also seen a Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime for around $179, and one or two Acer models around $99... ALL of which are advertised as unlocked. -- Whether they all exhibit the same "lock on first use" behaviour or not, I can't say.

    And remember, this is not from the mobile kiosk, these are off-the-rack devices. You can find typically locate them in the same area as the tablets, memory cards, etc.
    Last edited by bhlombardy; Thu, Jun 2nd, 2016 at 08:51 PM.
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