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Unlocked Galaxy S8 preorders start May 9. Here's why it's smart to wait

Commentary: An unlocked Samsung phone might be the better choice.


Today, you can preorder the gorgeous new Samsung Galaxy S8.

Or you could wait until May 9, when Best Buy will begin offering unlocked versions of Samsung's new Galaxy phones you can use with any major US carrier.

It's funny. My colleague Dan Graziano and I are basically trading phones this year -- he's angrily ditching his Google Nexus 6P for a Samsung Galaxy S8, and I'm angrily tossing away my Galaxy S7 for (probably) a Google Pixel 2.

But there's one thing on which the two of us agree: If you're going to buy Samsung's new phone, you should wait a tick.

Here's why May is the smart move for savvy phone buyers.

1) Carrier lock-in sucks

Say you want to move to another cellular carrier, perhaps because of how fiercely they're competing for your money these days (you must have seen the ads by now). Good luck doing that with your existing phone -- unless it's unlocked and supports the radio technologies for your desired cellular carrier.

Yes, technically you can legally unlock any new phone in the US, assuming you've paid it off and owned it for longer than a brief waiting period. But it won't do you much good if your phone mysteriously doesn't support the right LTE bands your carrier needs to deliver high-speed data.

For instance, my Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7 wouldn't let me cleanly switch from Verizon to T-Mobile and vice versa due to missing LTE bands -- even though I paid full retail price for the phones. But if I'd waited for the fully unlocked and broadly compatible Galaxy S7 that arrived a few months later, I wouldn't have had the same trouble.

(We don't yet know if the new Galaxy S8 will continue the trend of different band support per US carrier, but better safe than sorry?)

Plus, if something goes wrong with your device, the manufacturer and carrier can't (as easily) shift blame and leave you in the lurch, which is what happened to Dan when an update broke his Nexus 6P.

2) You can ditch some bloat

We've been complaining about it for years, but cellular carriers still install all kinds of unnecessary software on your phone. It's software you typically can't remove, even if you can delete some icons from your home screen or even freeze a few apps to keep it from eating your CPU power.

Buy a factory unlocked phone, though, and you'll typically only see software the manufacturer intended. That may still include some programs you'd rather not have, but all in all your phone's likely to have fewer unwanted services and run that much faster.

Do note that you might not necessarily get Android software updates as quickly. The unlocked Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are still waiting for their Android 7.0 Nougat update, even though carrier versions have them. Perhaps by May, they will.

3) You're paying roughly the same price either way

You'll pay between $720 and 750 for a Samsung Galaxy S8 if you buy it from a carrier. Doesn't matter whether you pay full price or in monthly installments; it adds up to the same thing.

The price for an unlocked Galaxy S8, according to Best Buy? $725.

(The Galaxy S8 Plus costs between $840 to $850 from carriers, or $825 unlocked from Best Buy.)

4) The freebies might come late

I get it: Last year, when I heard the Samsung Galaxy S7 would come with a free $100 Gear VR headset with every preorder, it totally factored into my decision to buy right away.

This year, the virtual reality freebie is even harder to pass up, as the new Gear VR comes with a sweet-looking motion controller. The package is valued at $130.

But when I ordered my Galaxy S7 last February, I didn't get the Gear VR headset in March when the phone first shipped -- it arrived four months later in July, which meant I got it long after people who just walked into a store.

And when I tried reaching out to Samsung's fulfillment line in May to ask when it might show up, they didn't even reply.

That's a personal anecdote, your experience may have been different, and it's possible Samsung will do better by everyone this time.

(The Gear VR offer expires on April 20, according to Samsung's website, so you can't wait till May to get it -- you'll have to make a decision.)

LG's G6 comes out two weeks before the Galaxy S8.

Sarah Tew/CNET

5) You'll make a better informed choice

The Samsung Galaxy S7 turned out to be a pretty good phone -- except for a few things I personally came to hate. But we don't yet know if the Galaxy S8 will be great.

If you buy now, you won't have the opportunity to read our review, to find out if the battery life is as good, if the integrated home button and rear-mounted fingerprint reader work out or if Samsung's new Bixby virtual assistant and smart home software are all they're cracked up to be.

You also won't yet know if you prefer a different new phone instead, like the rival LG G6 which arrives on April 7 -- two weeks earlier than the Galaxy.

But if you wait until May, you'll be surrounded by trusted opinions and reviews, and have a much better idea whether the Galaxy S8 is the phone for you.

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