Can I do what I want with a new cellphone or would unlocking be necessary/possible?
August 8, 2007 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Cellphone Filter: Will unlocking a cellphone give you access to features that the service provider disables?

Specifically, I am thinking of getting either an LG enV VX-9900 or a Samsung SCH-A990 and am wondering if I will be able to synch contacts and calendars with my PC. If I will have to fiddle with software to do this, I would rather not do so, but I also wanted to know if that is a possibility.

I am relatively tech savy, but I buy a phone every 2-3 years, so I don't know all that much about the specific tech.
posted by slavlin to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unlocking a phone takes a non-insignificant amount of technical skills (i.e. hacking), which probably will include learning how to manually program the phone for your service provider.

The enV is not an impossible phone to hack, but if you're just starting out in the cellular hacking game, I would tend to stay away from that one. I can't speak about the Samsung though.

Either way, I'd think you should be able to synch those phones with your PC out of the box. Maybe you'll have to install their software, but I don't think it should be a big deal.

FWIW, I'm currently running a PPC6700 (Verizon version) hacked to work on Cricket, with the iPhone skin.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 11:02 AM on August 8, 2007

I believe unlocking generally refers to SIM-unlocking, which only pertains to GSM carriers. (which Verizon is not)
posted by dcjd at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2007

You can just call your provider and tell them to unlock it, they might not let you do it until you have had the phone for 90 days but legally they have to let you.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:30 AM on August 8, 2007

Both of his listed phones are CDMA, and yes, they can be locked to a specific carrier. Practically all of Sprint's are locked, and notably more difficult to hack to use on a different carrier.

Sim-unlocking is a separate issue altogether.

As a general precedence, providers don't unlock phone. Yes, they should, and they can, but unless you happen to find someone who's 1. Technically-minded and 2. not an uptight jackass, you're going to have a tough time actually getting it done on a CDMA phone.

The best bet is to buy an already unlocked phone on eBay, unless this is something where you are serious about learning the art.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2007

Unlocking a phone takes a non-insignificant amount of technical skills (i.e. hacking), which probably will include learning how to manually program the phone for your service provider.

I just wanted to chime in and say that this is false. If you have a GSM phone, it's usually as simple as entering something "similar to" a phone number. eBay has plenty of people selling unlocking services for cheap, and I've used them numerous times. For Verizon phones you have to make a blood sacrifice, and do other unspeakable deeds, so I wouldn't recommend it.

As for enabling additional services, I've never heard of this happening, although if you have a data cable for your phone you can usually do things that they don't want you to know about (transfering Mp3's, adding ring tones, sync'ing with Outlook, etc). For example, with this software you could probably do everything you wanted.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2007


You're missing a significant factor. The phones the OP want to use are CDMA. The internal software has to be essentially "reset" back to the factory-new state to re-enable the ability to program his new service provider's settings into it.

GSM and CDMA are completely different camps when it comes to hacking phones.

Verizon and Sprint are both known to disable standard phone features in lieu of using thier own customized apps, not so much with smaller carriers.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 11:50 AM on August 8, 2007

Also, I don't think it's just about unlocking the phone but flashing the phones firmware, which can make your phone a very expensive paperweight if things go wrong.
posted by moxyberry at 12:08 PM on August 8, 2007

I had a locked Motorola E815 that I hacked to enable the ability to use a different internet provider, and be able to transfer things to and from the MicroSD card. I also enabled bluetooth file transfer to mate the phone with a computer and put ringers and photos on the phone through bluetooth.

Verizon, by default disables these things so you have to pay to get your pictures off the phone and pay for internet, blah blah blah... basically, they make you pay.

I purchased Motorola's mobile phone tools which allowed me to sync contacts and calendar info with outlook. I no longer use it because I don't use outlook at home any more since I've moved to GMail and just set my GCal to txt my phone with upcoming events.

Blackberries include a desktop manager that syncs with all the major e-mail/productivity programs and you can probably get one for a decent price of ~200.

If you want to do some recon as to what is cripped in your possible verizon purchase, check as it is a wealth of information for both phones and cell providers. There are also details on hacking the phones there, as well. But be advised that it DOES void your warranty and there is always the possibility of bricking your phone, so make sure you want what you're doing and know how to do it. Also, I think hacking the phone makes it so you aren't allowed to do firmware upgrades over the network.
posted by ijoyner at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2007

...and be able to transfer things to and from the MicroSD card. I also enabled bluetooth file transfer to mate the phone with a computer and put ringers and photos on the phone through bluetooth. Verizon, by default disables these things...

Is this still true? I have a Verizon LG VX8600, and I've had no trouble moving data with either the microSD or the bluetooth connected to my Mac.
posted by jalexei at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2007

When we wrote the software for CDMA phones, we did our best to make it so that you, Typical User, could not unlock them. That's because our customers, Verizon and Sprint, wanted it that way.

The thing you're talking about is known as a "subsidy lock" and there is no magic code you can enter from the keyboard which can do it. Removing the subsidy lock can only be done with a special program which is not sold to the public, and using that program you have to enter a special code which even the phone manufacturers don't know. It's selected by the service providers and they keep it secret.

It's a common misunderstanding among phone users that they are the customers of the phone manufacturers. That's not the case. The service providers are the customers, and the phone manufacturers will do whatever their customers want. That means that they will incorporate features which you (the end user) don't like if the customer (the service provider) wants it. And that's what was done regarding the subsidy lock.

The customers (the service providers) want it to be as close to impossible as it can be for you (the end user) to remove the subsidy lock. So that's what the handset manufacturers have done.

Bottom line: you aren't going to remove the subsidy lock from your Verizon phone.

Moving along to your other question: will removing the subsidy lock give you access to new features? Probably not. The other thing that we did was to customize our builds. Each service provider was given a checklist of features, and they selected the ones they wanted. They couldn't select them all because there wasn't room for them all in the FlashROM. We did custom builds for each customer which included the firmware features they wanted, and omitted the features they didn't care about.

You can't use a feature if the code to support it isn't in the phone, and for the kinds of things you're talking about, it probably isn't. If a feature is in the code, it'll be activated. If they didn't want to activate it, they'd leave it out entirely.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2007

Just as Steven C. says above, you'll need the MSL or OTKSL to unlock your device. Yes, they do protect these numbers, but it is possible to get them to give you the number-- for instance, on the Sprint dev forums I've read of people who've just basically called and found a rep that gave up the MSL. In the end though, Sprint and Verizon have businesses to run, and they would rather you pay them to get your contacts on and off the phone...

With that said, there are a few routes that you can try WITHOUT AN MSL-- but you'll need to do some research first. A quick google search for "SCH-A990 data cable" brings back some ebay results, and further googling reveals that bitpim works for the device. I have successfully used bitpim with *plenty* of CDMA devices to get/put contacts, calendars, and photos on to devices. Usually the most difficult part is finding the right drivers to use. howardforums is your friend. Believe it or not, there are a lot of CDMA customers who get really pissed when they find out that they cannot use their phones as the OEM advertises and they eventually find a way to do what they want.
posted by jivesoul at 6:05 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't remember the site, but I know there is a website where you mail them your phone, they'll unlock it for you and send it back. I think it cost around $25, IIRC. Google seems to show several of these services... check reviews first.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:32 PM on August 8, 2007

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