Thoughts on off-contract Dell Streak not being unlocked


I didn't think this would have warranted a separate post but since a bunch of sites and people seem to be making an enormous deal about it, I wanted to comment on it too.

The off-contract Dell Streak that sells for $549.99 is still locked to AT&T.

What exactly is the problem there? I understand that many want the device to be unlocked, which I think is a separate issue, but why are people so outraged that an off-contract phone is locked to a carrier? I see so many comments across the net basically saying the same thing: "$550 for a phone that isn't unlocked? Fail."

But why? The HTC EVO, Droid X, Samsung Captivate, Samsung Vibrant, Apple iPhone 4, Samsung Epic, and countless others are all available without a contract for around $500, give or take about $50 or so. And all of these full price phones are still locked to their respective US carriers.

Why aren't there stories on every tech site about these off-contract phones not being unlocked? I don't think it's right that US carriers lock their phones like this, not at all, but I don't understand why the Streak is the only device being slammed for it. Any thoughts?

Update: There seems to be some confusion in the comments. The question is not "Why are people outraged that the Streak is not unlocked?" I know the answer to that. The question is "Why is the Streak being singled out for a common practice (off-contract phones priced at ~$500 but still being locked) in the US?"

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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54 thoughts on “Thoughts on off-contract Dell Streak not being unlocked

  • I think what’s so upsetting about the Streak’s full price is that Dell had previously said it would sell the Streak unlocked in the US, and that gave a lot of hope to T-Mobile users and AT&T users who have cheapo data plans.

  • I think it’s because so many people have just gotten used to being disappointed by Dell with this product. When we first heard about it, every new bit of information about it was *awesome*. Now that Dell has completely flubbed up the PR running up to this release, the culture around the product has flipped around to the other side.

    People feel strung along and upset, so they’re just looking for reasons to slam the product.

  • Avatar of The Jack of Clubs

    things like the droid x and the evo have to be locked. they are cdma devices that only run on their one carrier. personally i dont think phones should be locked but i can see why they are. att is paying dell alot to be the only carrier, and they are lowing the price of many of dells phones making them highly desirable. however, if im going to buy a phone that only works fully on one network i will either use that carrier or look into other options and devices. i wish they wherent locked but im not upset that they are.

  • Because Dell did exactly what most people knew they would. They got everyone to believe that the phone would be sold unlocked and THAT ALONE was what excited people. Locked phones are bullshit and it was exciting that Dell was going to change the trend. But nope.

    The droid x and evo? Not even the same. I’m not even going to waste time explaining why because everyone knows why.

  • Avatar of Streaker

    Not sure if anyone knows this but if you purchase an unlocked device that is branded to AT&T at the no-contract price, you can always call AT&T Customer Service to get the unlock code if its in the system. Dell should have sold it unlocked at that price but they do eat Round Rock Donuts over there and they have crack in them. If you bought it unlocked, just call 800.331.0500 to see if they have the subsidy unlock code since its branded to AT&T.

  • Avatar of Etienne

    Dell said it would be unlocked…. For Canadians that meant EVERYTHING. I planned a trip to NYC Late July to buy an unlocked device…. Nice surprised I got when I came back empty handed… I sold my iphone 1 month ago for that dell phone and now I cannot even buy it because it’s locked to ATT….

    so yeah, it’s a BIG DEAL.

    Jenn, it might now affect you, but it affects a truckload of people. Dell lied to us and now we are stuck with pretty much NOTHING….

  • Yes, the EVO and X are CDMA (as is the Epic). Their off-contract prices are still in line with GSM off-contract prices, though, and they’re their respective carriers best Android phones at the moment. I also have both so they’re what came to mind first.

    Even if you take them out of the equation, though, there’s still the Captivate, Vibrant, and iPhone. All GSM like the Streak, all available off-contract like the Streak, all locked like the Streak. Same deal with AT&T’s HTC Aria and Xperia X10, as well as whatever Android phones T-Mo has. Even WinMo phones sold through AT&T and T-Mobile were still locked off-contract.

  • I know that Dell said it was going to be unlocked. They said that at D8 in June, along with a $500 price and July release date.

    Since none of that came true, yes, Dell lied about that.

    But except for a verbal comment made at D8, Dell never said unlocked again. The blog post that was posted prematurely with the AT&T prices and then pulled, the product page, etc. – none of those said unlocked. They said without a contract.

    Dell should never have said unlocked in the first place if there was a chance that they couldn’t deliver, but as I said in the post, I think unlocking is a separate issue. It’s not what all of the sites covering the story are talking about. They are expressing outrage and/or rolling their eyes that an off-contract phone is being locked.

  • The iPhone is not locked when you purchase it directly from Apple. No company has the right to affect a product that you own and have fully paid for. There is a reason hardware locks are illegal in Canada.

  • Avatar of Jonathan

    whatever guys i agree with jenn i dont see the big deal everyone does it, its not something new i just think everyones mad cause they want TMO version

  • Here in the US it is, maybe it’s different in Canada. Of course, it’s very easy to unlock them now with ultrasn0w, even the iPhone 4.

  • Avatar of Jonathan

    I think that Dell really failed here. Had Dell gotten into bed with AT&T and AT&T was going to sell the phone for $0 on contract (and such Dell would be selling a ton of phones to AT&T) I could see them locking the higher price phone cause – well, who cares if they sell any $550 phones when they are selling truckloads to AT&T.

    I think, however, with the $300 price tag I don’t see them selling a ton of phones. I think that the $550 UNLOCKED phone would have sold very well and made it a pretty cool idea (much like Google selling the Nexus One).

    So they don’t sell super well and the post mortum has them wondering if it was because people don’t want a 5″ phone. Well… they do, we just can’t buy one.

  • Avatar of Jonathan-Streaker

    So many Jonathans… I wrote the above and I’m going to be Jonathan-Streaker (Streaker is my forum name) from now on.

  • That’s a good idea, especially if you mention an overseas trip and the need to use a different SIM from another country.

    I have heard of this approach working for many devices over the years.

  • Totally agree.. I think many of the bad reviews are just out of spite. People can be pissed at Dell, but review the phone itself…

  • In order to bring the price down to an acceptable figure for the non-techie masses, Dell probably had to make a few concessions to get AT&T to help subsidize the cost. I’m assuming that the Streaks everyone here in the US starts receiving next week will have the same core AT&T apps that the Captivate and Aria have. Once this branding happens, there is no way AT&T will let the phone will be unlocked.

    Remember, Dell, AT&T, and Google are more interested in peddling their wares to the regular people out there, that is where they can really carve out a bigger market share, not with the niche gadget buyers. For every one of you anxious to buy the Streak at any price, there are probably ten regular people out there that would not give the Streak a second thought without that $250 discount.

    If Dell had decided to just offer the Streak as an unlocked, non-carrier branded device, it would have been a huge failure. The deal with AT&T at least gives it a fair chance to win over more customers.

  • Well, Dell’s Customer Services stated today (I had a chat, and saw similar chat on xda-developers.com) the unlocked version will be available next week. Question is, if they keep their promise, and how much the unlocked version will cost.

    I don’t care if I could unlock it with AT&T, or buy an unlocked one from Dell, or wait till someone comes up with third-party unlock. But surely I need an unlocked one. Locked just won’t work for me in Canada.

    Yeah, unlock means a EVERYTHING to Canadians. There’s a lot of people here that buy gadgets with delivery to friends in States, then retrieve it somehow…

  • This is a big deal because they said it would be unlocked. Ron Garriques mentioned it at the D8 Tech Demo. Also this is a phone you are buying online with no hands on experience. If the Nexus One couldn’t make it and it was unlocked, how do you think this device will do? To make things worse they are offering the Streak unlocked in the UK, Germany, and France.

    I personally am holding out hope that within a couple weeks they will offer an unlocked version like they did in the UK. I live in Canada and can’t take the plunge until it’s unlocked, so this is disappointing to me and I’m sure many others up here.

  • Avatar of Solitude

    “Here in the US it is,”

    Dead wrong. Here in the UIS, it hasn’t wound it’s way through the courts yet, but the decision with Apple and jailbreaking tells you where it is going to go.

    In the US, If manufacturers are going to wish to limit the use of a device some one pays for over the long term, then they are going to have to follow legal precedent and offer these devices for LEASE. Just as with anything else that the manufacturer wants to limit use of.

    How many people are going to be willing to lease a phone? How many will even bother to read an ad for a leased phone?
    That may actually be a selling point for part of the business market where employers provide the hardware and keep their employees on a short leash – but I think the general public will want little part of it.

  • when did AT&T say it was $0 under contract… It is not an entitlement system, you know!

    Apple sold a phone that didn’t have MMS, copy/paste, etc.. Really had customers do their testing while they rolled out incremental releases to test their OS.

    Why people are out raged? My colleague just bought captivate for ~$500 out of contract from AT&T LOCKED. SE would not sell any of their phones unless they’re approved by the carrier.

    Dell may have made a causal verbal statement about the Streak being unlocked.. At least they don’t insult our intelligence like Apple does trying to convince us that it is the customers’ fault for not holding the 4g properly…
    Free society and enterprise..

    You don’t like it, you don’t buy it… I am happy with AT&T and always promote and recommend Dell products and quality.

  • How bout this… once at&t gets the contract commitment they really don’t stand to gain much more by blocking it from being unlocked. You break the contact you pay as much as $330? For them that’s win because that covers the pricing of the phone.
    Also, International markets are totally accustomed to using unlocked phones. Here in the us, not so much. All we here being advertised is free this, free that. We want it cheap yet reliable. Years ago when I worked as a sales rep for t-mo people would look at me as if I were crazy for suggesting the more expensive phone over the free one. Americans are spoiler when it comes to mobile phones. I have used unlocked phones for years. Whenever I try to explain to people the overall freedom of unlocked they show no interest. Long as its cheap and can facebook is all that matters. Why would Dell go all out to sell a truly unlocked phone in the us? There’s not much of a market here for it because unlocked phones don’t come cheap! Americans want it cheap!

  • Avatar of isstuff

    Well the other crazy thing would be to release it in Canada in the next month, locked or not. I would pay more for an unlocked phone just on principal, and for the practacality of travle with the phone.

  • Avatar of Jonathan-Streaker

    I have no problem with the subsidized cost of $300, I just think that locking the $550 one doesn’t make a lot of sense to Dell. You’d think they could work something out along the lines of “okay AT&T, we’ll lock the $550 one, but you better sell a shitload of Streaks and they better be VERY competitive on contract.” $300 doesn’t seem so competitive.

    Also, I’m hardly entitled. I hate contracts. Wouldn’t do it for $0 either. Waiting for this to come unlocked or another large format phone to come along…

  • I think Alex is right, though, that’s an expectation thing. I don’t think there is any big mystery about reactions in these forums.

    Some Dell person did say, on video, that the Streak would be sold unlocked. So, naturally a lot of people got excited about that. When they weren’t unlocked after all, this confused some people, who had it in their head, based on comments from a Dell representative at a conference, that the Streak would be sold unlocked. They thought they were just misunderstanding, or that the unlocked version might come a little later, like color options. Those who weren’t confused and soaked in that Dell wasn’t selling them unlocked, and probably has no plans to, reacted angrily. Here they have waited, maybe for months, for a phone to work on T-Mo, based on something a Dell representative said, and it was for nothing. Those are the two reactions you see, confusion and anger. And people already have ATT who don’t care, like me.

    It’s all about managing expectations. By planting false expectations, that Dell guy at that conference really created a lot of confusion and ill will towards Dell. If an Apple rep had said at a conference that the iPhone 4 would be available on T-Mo, a lot of people would have waited for that, and when it wasn’t true, a lot of people would have been very angry at Apple for it. Apple, for all their faults, gets this (but it’s also why Apple got slammed so hard on the antenna…you can’t hype your phone as “magical” and “changes everything” and not expect a backlash when it turns out to be ordinary).

    Why the Tech blogs are jumping on Dell for this is more of a mystery, since presumably they aren’t confused, like many, and most probably aren’t T-Mo Streak fans waiting for something that’s never going to happen. I suspect the tech blogs are just being lazy, and whipping out stories based more or less on thoughts they glean from forums.

  • Avatar of Etienne

    As long as I can buy it in Canada I don’t really care if it’s locked…. but the odds of seing that phone with Fido is 0.5%

    but there is one thing I don’t get. what’s the point of buying off contract if it’s locked ???

  • There are third party companies that can unlock your phone with the IME number that you provide from your phone. Its not like the Streak is incapable of being unlocked (hence European versions being sold unlocked and Australian versions), it’s just that people don’t want to pay the extra cost to unlock it. Which is understandable considering the phone bought out with no contract is $550.

    I also live in Canada, and I don’t expect to see the Streak in Canada at all. Evo will never be here due to no CDMA (aside from virgin and solo I think…but who the fuck cares about them), same goes for the Droid X. I bought the locked version, by the time I have it shipped to Seattle, and from Seattle shipped to me in Vancouver, I won’t actually have the phone till at best anywhere from the 23rd to the 28th. I’m praying by the some third party company will be able to do the unlock for you or I will just buy the Rebel Sim or Turbo Sim until a third party company can unlock it.

  • I think the main reason people are have a shit fit about the Streak not being unlocked is simply 2 reasons.

    1) The douchebag at D8 who came out and said end of July release, with a price point of around $500 (he actually says around), and that it would be unlocked. Well out of all the points/facts/promises he made only one was half true.

    2) Its not like the Streak is incapable of being unlocked (hence European versions being sold unlocked and Australian versions), it’s just that people don’t want to pay the extra cost to unlock it. And I understand.

  • Oh and BTW Jenn

    Instead of the bolt lock for the picture, do you think you or someone can make/photoshop a picture of the Streak with a chastity belt on? I think it would bring some humor and class to the article.

  • Good question? I got it at $299 for that reason. I can always root it and i’m looking with at&t service so oh well. I agree with Jenn. Why are so many people bitching when other carriers and manufacturers do the same thing? For example, last I checked, verizon won’t allow apps like slingbox on their network. Apple puts you back in jail as soon as you plug your jailbroken iphone up to a computer for an update. Maybe I’m wrong but at&t and Dell aren’t doing anything new here.

  • I think you may have misunderstood…

    That comment of mine you quoted was an answer to Rob’s first sentence about the iPhone not being locked when purchased directly from Apple, because it is as of today here in the US. It has nothing to do with the legality of hardware locks that are illegal in Canada.

  • Why on earth are they releasing this only online and not in the AT&T store also. I want to be able to go in my local store and play with one before I lay down $300+! I’ve lost interest in this phone already and looking foward to something for AT&T android wise in the coming months… 4.3 inch screen, 1080 video, 8 mp cam, 64gb mem, any takers … It’s time to leave my 3GS behind move onto bigger and better phones and it won’t be the streak with their garbage launch,lack of information and numerous unexplained delays.

  • I happen to be an Australian living in Canada so it may be workable for me to get an unlocked Australian streak. Frequency’s need to match, my Australian “3 mobile” 3g phone isn’t compatible with north American 3g… so it may not be worth getting one sent over from a friend.

    But What has anyone heard about an unlocked Streak? other than Australian’s like unlocked phones!

  • as for the Topic… Hopes were set High by what was said at D8 and a the Tech community in north America is sick of locked phones (the general public may not care as long as its cheep) and they got all excited by the freedom of having a sweet device that they could get no matter what carrier they are with (even T-mobile).

    We held out hope that Dell was going to make things better.. but in staid they just fumbled the launch as they were busy getting in bed with AT&T, dashing the hope for change that was given at D8.

  • Avatar of Wolfpack

    OK. I didn’t read all the previous comments. But i am from Australia and was expecting that streak will be unlocked so i can use it in Australia. But now it is locked. even U.K has the unlocked its bit expensive compared to U.S streak. So I must wait till dell decides to sell it unlocked from its website.

  • Avatar of Wolfpack

    If not i will wait till i get a better handset with front cam and android running 2.2 (Not 1.6).

  • You are right Jenn, there’s no rational reason for people to be upset, however, as others have said, this is all about managing expectations. I’m a software engineer and i learned long ago: be careful not only of what you promise but what people THINK you have promised.

    I know this for a fact though, dell has absolutely no clue how to market this phone which makes you wonder if they actually understand this market segment.

    Like i said a month or two ago, dell treated this really cool little niche device like they were releasing yet another blade server. Where is the joint launch event. Where are the dancing girls and dancing geeks all mesmerized by the fantabulousness of the Streak? Motorola and VZW have the market cornered on cutting edge marketing of their phones, i applaud them. I can only guess that ATT is just so horrible to work and deal with. But this still falls on dell.

  • The same thing happened in the UK it was released locked to the 02 network , then a few weeks later Dell sold them direct unlocked which seams to be the case with the US release as well.

  • Avatar of cporter

    For me it’s a problem because I live outside of the USA and my phone company only supports the 850 Mhz 3G, by the any of you got the pre-sale email ? no? well again… PR Fail for DELL.

  • What really got me was that it was Dell selling it, not AT&T. Dell sells laptops that aren’t locked down, why would they sell their own phone locked. I still ordered one and will have to hopefully deal with minimal AT&T bloatware, but have no problems getting it removed like my E71X. I was upset that it was locked but will deal with it because all the cell phones have been locked.

  • Avatar of danny k

    I thought this was a tablet first, phone second? Therefore, why fall in line with the EVO, DroidX, etc.?

    I live in Canada and had everything set to get my unlocked device… until 48hrs ago when I learned it was going to be locked.

    That’s why I feel jaded.

  • Actually I just got a Vibrant from T Mobile (after strongly considering a Streak) and they unlocked it for me for free, as they will do for any customer with them longer than 30 days.

    So yeah, the Streak being sim locked is a big ol deal breaker…

  • Makes me feel very lucky to be living in Finland.

    You can’t get locked phones here, if you take a phone w/contract you are still paying for the phone every month, its kinda like getting the phone on credit.

    Even with the iPhone, you can only get it from one carrier, but you can swap out the sim as soon as it arrives.

    Yea, I do feel lucky living here sometimes :)

  • Avatar of cartman7110

    you are correct, that most manufacturers now is in the practice of having their phones locked (even at “off-contract” or assumed full price) to a carrier. Just take the iPhone.

    but @James was quick to point out, Dell said this and did not fulfill their promise. On top of that, they said 500 unlocked, now its 550 locked! Figure that out?

    And let me make a note: that 550 is the price of a couple of Archos or a good notebook! Yes they are not cellular phones but still at that price?

    lastly, what’s the logic if the Brits can get it unlocked, why can we? Its now getting obvious that its all about money. I’m assuming Dell told AT&T, you don’t want T-Mobile to have this unit? Pay xxx $ and we’ll lock it.

    I love Dell (been to their campus, worked with them on a couple of projects), their notebooks, their support/warranty. I also love AT&T but granted Verizon has better coverage. So technically, i can buy the Streak but it limits me to one important thing — i can’t use it when i travel!!!

    I posed this question to Lionel (Dell) thread — if the 549 version is expected for AT&T customers who don’t want DATA and would be using Wifi, why then don’t i simply buy a UK version (which will have 2.1 next month!)? I guess its only because of warranty. Honestly, this is the road i’m seriouly considering.

    Seriously, locking phones is only about being committed to a carrier. Buying it without a commitment to a carrier means you are paying full price and would like be not bound to a carrier.

    In the era where Apple is rumored to be going unexclusive with AT&T on its iPhone for market share, Dell did the reverse, it simply limited buyers to AT&T.

    Are the days when you can get your phone unlock after fulfilling your contract with the carrier really gone? I think someone should challenge this unrealistic business practice.

  • Avatar of cartman7110

    but did they release a version that is off-contract but still locked to O2?

  • Avatar of cartman7110

    i have done this myself before but that seems to have changed and was highlighted when the iPhone came along.

    When people who are done with their 2-year contract with AT&T for the iPhone, AT&T and Apple said, their is no way to unlock their phone even with the contract is done.

  • I think the issue is that all the other phones that you mentioned The HTC EVO, Droid X, Samsung Captivate, Samsung Vibrant, Apple iPhone 4, Samsung Epic Etc are being subsidized by the service provider at a decent rates and dell is not relative priced and Remember when google sold Nexus One Direct as a OEM they given you the phone Unlocked to be used with any service provider ( I am not talking about the 3G here ) but dell as a OEM is not doing that and that is why alot of people including myself is really pissed. If it was a tablet like iPad then i would have ok with it. but since it can be used as a phone then i should be able to use any sim to make phone calls when i am paying that much of money and buying direct from a OEM

  • I like your point about the Nexus one and totally agree. Its not like Dell can put out a laptop or a desktop and say “Oh by the way, you can only use this with the ISP that paid us the most money.”

  • One analogy I could make is, in a community of slaves, most of them wouldn’t even have complained about the inequality ‘coz the impossibility of becoming free has rooted deep in them that it’s not even a thought in their mind to question their condition. It is only a few who were able to see the possibility of becoming free and thus imagine it’s benefits that took action to question the slavery.

    If you don’t get it forget it, ‘coz you won’t.

  • Well the part that really burns me is that I paid 549.00 for an “unlocked” phone that is still tied to ATT when I could have just bought the 299.00 version. It is like they baited me to get the bigger better thing and then said Nope, you have the 299.00 version but just paid 549.00 for it. I called Dell 1/2 hour later after I purchased it and tried to cancel it but they said they couldn’t do that either. I am sending it back, I’m not sure they could even give me one as I would be sure there’s a catch.

  • $549 is for the device without a contract, not for one that is unlocked.

  • Well, here’s how I look at it.
    I travel often to many different countries for about a month at a time.

    When I bought my HTC-branded Kaiser from Expansys, it was not locked to any carrier. I paid much more than, say, an AT&T Tilt, but it worked will all SIMs.
    When I bought my Palm-branded Treo Pro from Palm, it was not locked to any carrier. I paid much more than, say, any carrier-branded version, but, but it worked with all SIMs.

    Why would I buy a Dell-branded Streak from Dell for $300 more than a contract price if it is locked to AT&T. It’s almost a reverse-loyalty scheme from AT&T. I need a phone that I can use with inexpensive, local SIMs. I am not going to make AT&T rich for roaming internationally.

  • It does seem a bit pointless, (as Someone living in the UK,) to sell Offline Phones, that are still locked to a Network.
    Here, We have three types of Phone:

    Contract: What You call Subsidised, No doubt. “Free Phones”, tied in for a length of Contract.

    Pay as You Go: Locked to a Network, for People who don’t want a Contract.

    Offline: Unlocked, Unrestricted Network, Compatible with Every SIM.

    I feel that if You pay enough for a Phone, why should it be locked to a Network?
    Everyone’s going to call Them, Everyone’s entitled to an Unlocked Phone, and all it’s going to do, is waste Resources, while You assist People, with Unlocking a Phone.

    Then, to make things go from the Sublime to the Ridiculous, and then back: THEY DID IT ON AN ANDROID PHONE.

    No, because EVERYONE, can’t easily get the SDK. For Android, and re-code it, or download a ROM. or Back-Up, from the Internet, to instantly remedy it… Can They?

    Not to be rude, but as a Technical Man, Business Man, and an Englishman… I don’t get it…
    Unless AT&T. Have exclusive rights to the release of the Dell Streak.
    In which case, it all suddenly makes a lot of sense.

  • Avatar of wolfmeister

    I just got an unlocked Streak in Australia. We wouldn’t buy a phone tied to one network, because we travel internationally, and don’t want to pay roaming fees. I believe even the subsidized phones (“on contract”)will be unlocked by the ISP on request of the subscriber after a subscriber has been with an ISP for more than 45 days (for a nominal price). Didn’t I see in another forum on this excellent site that someone had got one of the US Streaks unlocked by whining and nagging AT&T?


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