Factory Unlocked Vs User Unlocked: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

Whether you just purchased the newest iPhone 6 with cash up front, or have an old iPhone 5 you've been stuck in a contract with, having your iPhone locked to specific carrier is never fun. Nothing is more aggravating than seeing advertisements for better deals from other networks while you're stuck paying for a rate plan you regret committing to.

Factory Unlocked Vs User Unlocked
Factory Unlocked Vs User Unlocked: What's the Difference and Which Is Better?

Upon finding out their iPhone has been locked, most people ask themselves one or more of the following questions:

  • "Why didn't I know about this before?"
  • "How can I unlock the phone now that it is locked?"

And of course,

  • "Is it possible to buy an unlocked phone without having to unlock the phone myself?"

In the following paragraphs we'll answer all of those questions and more by examining the differences between, and pros and cons of factory unlocked vs user unlocked iPhones:

Factory Unlocked iPhones Overview + Pros & Cons

If you haven't yet purchased an iPhone, or are planning on buying one in the near future, going for a factory unlocked phone might be the most convenient and official option. These are iPhones that come directly from Apple with no sort of service programming code or other restrictions pre-installed.


  • No risk of voiding the warranty
  • Easy to upgrade to the latest version of iOS.
  • Simplicity and convenience of buying a phone directly from Apple and having it unlocked and carrier-independent straight out of the box.


  • The biggest disadvantage associated with factory unlocked iPhones is their higher cost. This is especially a factor to consider if you're planning to buy the phone in cash outright rather than with a down payment/contract plan through a carrier.

User Unlocked iPhones Overview + Pros & Cons

User-unlocked iPhones are unlocked by the user and typically originate as carrier-locked phones. If you have a phone that was locked by the carrier, it is possible to unlock it yourself using a variety of proprietary methods, some of which are free. There are also more reliable and higher-quality services that will unlock your phone, like those found at unlockingsmart.co.uk. Here are some of the pros and cons of unlocking your iPhone yourself.


  • Typically the cheapest route overall. A user can unlock a carrier-locked phone, which can be obtained with a service contract for a nominal down payment, and then pay a small amount for an online unlocking service/app. This process results in the most economic outcome, especially when compared to paying full cost for a factory unlocked phone upfront.
  • Also the fastest route to unlocking carrier locked iPhones. Anyone can download the software needed to unlock any version of any iPhone within a span of a few minutes. While most carriers will offer to unlock your iPhone for a fee, there's typically a wait time of up to 20 days involved, and you may be stuck with the carrier for a predetermined amount of time.


If you don't mind spending the extra money and you haven't bought an iPhone yet or are thinking of buying a new one soon, the factory unlocked option is always there. However, if you want to unlock an iPhone you already have, the user unlock option is one of the only practical routes left, unless you're willing to spend the extra time and money for your carrier to unlock it.

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