Ina Fried

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You Can Now Buy an Unlocked iPhone 4 (Though You Might Want to Think Twice)

As it had been rumored it might, Apple has started selling an unlocked version of its iPhone 4 in the United States on Tuesday.

Such an unlocked phone means there is no contract and you are free to use it on any supported carrier. For that privilege, it means paying full price for the phone–starting at $649 for the 16GB version.

The reason the price tag is so high is that what keeps the iPhone cost generally low is the fact that the carrier (either AT&T or Verizon) is footing a huge chunk of the cost in return for nailing down a customer for at least two years. With an unlocked phone, the user is picking up the full tab.

The unlocked model is still a GSM phone, so in the U.S., that basically means it runs on T-Mobile and AT&T. And, while it can make calls on T-Mobile, it can only send data over T-Mobile’s old EDGE network, not its 3G network, and certainly not its faster HSPA+ network. It won’t work at all on Sprint, which uses a CDMA network.

That said, if one really wants to buy an iPhone 4 for use on T-Mobile, there is now an officially supported means for doing so.

It also might have some appeal for someone who is still under contract and just got a new phone, or perhaps someone who has lost or damaged their device.

The biggest use for an unlocked iPhone is likely for frequent international travelers. Buying an unlocked model means that those going overseas can just pop in a micro-SIM (the iPhone uses a smaller version of the standard SIM card) for whichever country they happen to be in, avoiding AT&T’s exorbitant international fees.

For true jet-setters, one can actually save money over the long haul, as international calling and data roaming can easily lead to three-figure monthly bills — as many have found out the hard way.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work