WATCH: Hundreds of Canadians have complained they can only buy the popular Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone if they lock into a wireless contract at the same time. Many potential customers don’t think that’s fair. Jennifer Tryon explains.
TORONTO – Nineteen year old Sarah Chechalk wanted nothing more than to get her hands on the latest Android smartphone.
After managing to save $800 for a Samsung Galaxy S5, Chechalk wanted to buy the phone unlocked so she could keep her existing month-to-month plan – but after shopping at various retailers and service providers she discovered it was very difficult to buy the phone without a contract.
“Every other place said they couldn’t sell it to me outright – they said they wanted to put it on a plan,” Chechalk told Global News. “They don’t care about those of us out there that are already on a plan and just want a phone.”
Chechalk said she tried seven or eight stores without any success. According to the teen, some stores told her that because the Galaxy S5 – released in April – is the newest smartphone on the market, they don’t have the stock to sell the devices “outright” – without a contract.
The Consumer Association of Canada said they have received over 500 calls from frustrated customers who are experiencing the same issue when trying to purchase a Galaxy S5 without a contract.
So we decided to look into just how difficult it is to get a Galaxy S5 outright.
Samsung – unlike its competitor Apple – does not offer customers the option to buy a phone outright through its website. Its smartphones are sold through Canadian carriers, retail partners like Future Shop and Best Buy, and at Samsung retail stores.
In a statement provided to Global News, a Samsung spokesperson said, “Samsung does not offer unlocked devices to our carriers or retailers.”
Apple, for example, allows customers to buy iPhones outright both in store and online.
The phones are “factory unlocked” – which means they are not tied to a specific carrier and can be used with any provider all over the world.
Samsung’s phones, on the other hand, are usually sold through service providers or retailers who also work alongside the carriers to help customers get set up with a plan.
“Typically we don’t allow outright purchases of devices during the launch period as inventory is often constrained and we want to ensure stock is available for our customers seeking to upgrade their device on their favourite network or switch to a network that better suits their needs,” a Best Buy spokesperson said.
“Once the inventory in the market has stabilized, we do allow those customers wishing to purchase the phones outright the opportunity to do so.”
However, following Global News’ inquires into the sale of the Galaxy S5, Best Buy said it had updated its stance on selling the device outright.
“As inventory of the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the Canadian market has recently reached stable levels, outright purchases of this phone will be allowed at all Best Buy and Future Shop stores effective tomorrow [Wednesday].”
Canadian wireless carriers said they will also sell the device unlocked – however, even when you purchase an unlocked phone from a carrier, it is still technically locked to that network.
Customers then have to pay a fee to unlock the device.
Global News contacted Bell, Telus and Rogers to inquire about their practices for unlocking devices when purchased outright.
According to a Bell spokesperson, when a customer pays the full unsubsidized price for any phone – a 30 day activation on the Bell network is required; however, that activation can be cancelled without penalty providing there is nothing owing on the account.
Bell will unlock the device upon request for $50.
A Telus spokesperson said, “Customers who purchase a device (including the new Samsung GALAXY S5) outright with a month-to-month plan can unlock it right away for a $35 fee.”
A Rogers spokesperson said customers can buy devices outright from them providing they have a Rogers phone number and are able to swap their SIM card into the device. Those without a Rogers’ phone number would have to set one up.
“Customers can purchase devices without having to commit to a new contract or minimum term. When a device is purchased outright the phone can be unlocked right away for a $50 + tax fee at any of our Rogers retail/dealer stores,” said the spokesperson.
According to a statement from the CRTC, the wireless code requires carriers to “unlock the [unsubsidized] device, or give the customer the means to unlock the device, at the rate specified by the service provider, upon request.”
A CRTC spokesperson added that the wireless code only applies to customers entering into a service agreement with a provider.
“The CRTC does not regulate the selling of devices,” the spokesperson said.
Third party websites and kiosks do offer services to unlock phones, however this will void the phone’s warranty.
Alternatively, those looking for the Galaxy S5 can turn to classified websites like Kijiji to find an unlocked phone. Most sellers appear to be asking between $600 and $700 for the phone.
As for Chechalk, she will continue trying to purchase the device she has saved up for, but said other consumers may not have the same patience.
“There has got to be more unhappy customers out there […] and they will turn to other phones,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Samsung did not have standalone retail stores in Canada. This article has been updated to reflect that Samsung has three Canadian retail locations.
© Shaw Media, 2014