Can I finally get an unlocked cellphone?
July 2, 2007 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Is an unlocked smartphone right for me? Or should I wait til my contract lapses?

I've been a happy PDA user for about 4 years now. My Tungsten T3 has seldom let me down. Up until now, I have been using a BlueTooth connection to a capable phone with a data plan for my mobile internetting needs, but I think it's time for a smartphone. I love PalmOS, and all the accessories I have are PalmOS, too. So I'm looking for a Palm, not a BlackBerry or WindowsMobile (so no Treo 700 or 750 for me).

I am currently in a contract with Cingular obtained through my former employer, with a decent discount. I have a data plan (20 MB), which I make fairly regular use of. My contract expires in Aug/Sept. But I'm sick of my piece-of-crap RAZR. The battery needs replacing (won't hold a charge), but I'll be damned if I put any more money into this phone. If I purchase an unlocked GSM smartphone (like the 680p) directly from Palm, is it as simple as swapping my SIM card into the new phone, and voilĂ ? I really do not want another contract, with a cancellation fee and the rest of the crap that comes with it. And yes, I'm planning to purchase from Palm, not a 3rd party retailer, because I want to support the (dying?) company. But I have no experience with unlocked phones, so I really need my hand held (no pun intended!) on this.

Also: Will switching my mobile device violate or void my current contract (and the related discount)? With previous carriers, once my contract expired, my rates stayed the same; the only difference is there was no charge to switch carriers or terminate service. I'd most likely be switching to their unlimited smartphone connect data plan, so I'm worried doing so will rock the boat (meaning I will have to call them to let them know I changed my phone, and they will apply some arbitrary "upgrade fees" or some junk). Like I said, I've got no experience with this, and I've never upgraded my phone without a new contract before (actually, I've switched carriers every time).

Lastly, I'm looking for feedback on PalmOS phones themselves. I'm not sure which I should go for. It looks like they don't support WiFi. I have a Palm WiFi card, but I'm not sure it will work with the Treo. Is there any way to get WiFi on a PalmOS cell-phone? And what are the differences between the (refurbished) 650, 680, aside from the price? Assume I make the fullest use of my Palm (for example: documents to go, ssh, and the occasional snippet of Python code).

I have checked, so only mention them if you're linking to a specific thread.
posted by Eideteker to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My experience with going to a new phone (on Fido for what it's worth) is that there's no need to tell the provider you've changed phones. Just pop the old SIM in the new phone and go. Changing your dataplan: again, the service rep won't likely care what phone you have. If they do, hang up and call again.

Check eBay for unlocked phones, often the prices are better than at a store (even for new in box). Prices on 600s and 650s are pretty reasonable since most folks are wanting the 700 or better.
posted by drmarcj at 4:48 PM on July 2, 2007

We recently got new phones, the hard way (Cingular store, contract extension, etc.) and my grandmother's voicemail failed to transfer from her old phone to her new phone. When I went back and complained they seemed to think that it was because I had transfered the SIM myself, which is odd because I didn't actually do it myself, I had the guy in the store do it. But it's something to watch out for anyway...
posted by anaelith at 4:57 PM on July 2, 2007

If you can get the unlocked smartphone at a good price, go for it. I just upgraded with Cingular (also the hard way) and they sent me new everything including a new SIM card. I didn't want to manually transfer everything over so I just swapped out the SIM from my old phone, popped it in the new one and viola, it all works.

This worked even though the new SIM card said At&t and the old one says Cingular. Happy shopping.
posted by jourman2 at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2007

To piggyback on this question, what if you buy an unlocked phone on eBay but need a sim? (Long version - we are switching from Verizon to AT&T so some family members can get iPhones but my daughter wants a simple phone that is puppy proof (the currently one has been chewed on twice and survived). The "free" phones on ATT don't look durable so I'm thinking about getting an older model on eBay but then I would need a sim....)
posted by metahawk at 5:31 PM on July 2, 2007

metahawk: never had that problem but who knows? Hate to say it (I'm looking at you OP) but HowardForums has the answers to lots of these types of problems.
posted by drmarcj at 6:51 PM on July 2, 2007

Tungsten T3 guy here, myself. LOVED it. Best Palm device ever.

Until the 680. God I love this thing. You won't regret it. Cingular/AT&T do NOT need to know what device you have. Simply add the Smartphone Connect plan ($19.99) that you mentioned now, to your RAZR. Once you get the Treo, just swap your SIM. Done. No drama. If you get the Treo first, and then call them to add the plan and you let it slip that you have a Treo, yes they'll try to push you into a more expensive "PDA" data plan. Don't let them, especially if you're not under contract anymore.

650 vs. 680: If money's an issue, you'll be fine with a 650 as a first Treo. The 680 is essentially an upgraded 650, plus 2 major improvements: 680 has more internal RAM, and supports SDHC cards. I have an 8gb card in my 680 (you can get them for ~$60 these days). 7 gigs of mp3's, and nearly a gig of documents, pics, etc. 16gb SDHC cards are supposed to be out soon, with 32gb cards rumored within the next year. Palm didn't even advertise SDHC support on the 680. It was a bonus I discovered after purchase. And some enterprising folks have discovered how to extract the SD drivers from later Palms and install them on the 650, but I still recommend the 680 for its larger RAM.

Wi-Fi: No go on your Palm card. It simply won't work in a Treo. There is no wi-fi option for Treos currently, period.

If you go with the unlocked 680, you might want to install a custom ROM image. The ones in this Treocentral thread are proven solid. These ROMs are based on the official AT&T ROM upgrade released for the AT&T/Cingular branded 680 a few weeks ago. Benefits of custom ROM: More dbcache memory for apps to use (more stability) and faster reset times since so much crap is removed from ROM (extra language files, help files, etc.).

I truly love my 680. I owned eight Palm devices before it (all the way back to the original 3Com Palm Personal and Pro models). I have had a couple of issues with the headset jack (a known flaky hardware issue in both the 650 and 680) but my device was replaced under warranty each time without drama.

Other than the headset jack, the only other major disappointment I had w/ the 680 (coming from the T3) is that Voice Memos do NOT sync to the PC. The conduit is no longer provided. So you'll need to spend $20 or so on a 3rd-party Voice recorder (the hardware is there...Palm just scrimped on the software). I recommend CallRec. Besides providing the conduit to hotsync Voice Memos to your PC, it also provides one-touch Call recording. You can even set it to record every single call, in or outgoing. A handy use: My 2 y/o left a cutesy voicemail for me the other day, so after I heard it, I simply clicked my side button (starting CallRec) and replayed it, then stopped the recording, hotsync'd, and now I have a wav file of the sweet message that I'll keep forever. CallRec is da bomb.

I also recommend you purchase the TreoTastic software bundle from Hobbyist Software. The latest version of the Initiate launcher is awesome, and the Butler and Phone Tech apps are essential. Gives you control over remapping buttons, simple one-key shortcuts, more speaker output from the phone, etc. Very worth it. Plus the developer Rob updates his software constantly. Main avenue of support and feature requests is in this forum. His ID is ConfusedVorlon. You don't have to read very many threads to see how responsive he is.

Have fun with your new toy. Email me if you have any other questions.
posted by Bradley at 9:37 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can get a Treo 755p for ~$100 and 500 minutes plus unlimited data for $30/month by checking this or this. CDMA, not GSM.
posted by meehawl at 6:07 AM on July 3, 2007

Thanks, meehawl, but I'm not that into Sprint. I'd like to keep my current plan/phone number/etc.

Bradley, I thought the Treo 680 only took miniSD cards. I'm not familiar with the technology; can you provide more info?

I've done some research since posting and:
1. I've been out of contract since last August. I was only in a 1-year contract the whole time!
2. I can get a pretty deep discount on a Treo 680 through my current employer, without changing much about my plan (maybe $5 more/mo.). I've got to get a 1-yr. contract to get it for less than $200, which is not as bad as a 2-year. So it's back to see what deals I can get on an unlocked phone (weighted against a $175, non-prorated cancellation fee).

Thanks for your help so far, everyone! Happy Fourth!
posted by Eideteker at 3:23 PM on July 3, 2007

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