In Short: Software unlocks haven’t worked in more than 8 years and hardware unlocks will destroy your phone and void your warranty. Therefore, the only reliable way to unlock your iPhone is with an IMEI or factory unlock.
I’ve tested five unlock websites and the results have clearly demonstrated that the best unlock company is IMEI Doctor. You won’t find cheaper prices, their customer support is responsive and helpful, and best of all, they’re the only company that has consistently unlocked every iPhone I’ve sent them.
My Pick: IMEI Doctor
Key Features: Fast, cheap, and will actually unlock your iPhone
IMEI Doctor is my #1 pick for iPhone unlocks because unlike EVERY other provider I’ve tested, these guys actually deliver on what they promise. If you purchase an unlock, you don’t just get a bunch of empty promises and continual delays, you actually get an unlock. On top of that, their prices are on par or better than the competition, they do it quickly (sometimes less than 48 hours), and their customer support is helpful and polite.
If you need your iPhone unlocked today, head to IMEI Doctor now.
Runner-Up: Direct Unlocks
Key Features: Great customer support
Direct Unlocks is my second choice. Their prices are reasonable (not great) and when they unlock your phone, they do it reasonably quickly. The problem is that they don’t have a 100% strike rate. They’re batting at about 85-90% right now (which is still above average). In their favor though, they have GREAT customer support – helpful, polite, courteous, and always willing to help out – who can keep you up to date when things aren’t going as planned.
- Why you should trust me
- Why carriers lock phones
- How carrier/factory/IMEI phone locks work
- Three unlock methods
- Who should do this
- How I picked
- How I tested
- My Pick
- The Competition
Why You Should Trust Me
I’m a mobile industry veteran, having opened my service store back in 2006. We serviced the very first iPhones and I worked on every model up until I sold the store in 2014. This included unlocking iPhones as soon as that became a ‘thing’. Since then, I’ve been writing about smartphones and smartphone technology and have published more than a 150 articles and conducted more than 1,000 hours of research.
To help ensure this review is fair, unbiased, and accurate, I’ve enlisted the help of three smartphone service store owners who frequently unlock their customer’s phones and have tried every unlock company on the market.
Why Carriers Lock Phones
Carriers lock phones for one simple reason: they don’t want you to leave. It’s not complicated, it’s not intricate. It’s simple. They don’t want you to stop using their services.
The majority of the cost of providing your phone and internet service is in acquiring you as a customer. Your twenty-five phone calls a month and 4gb of streaming data make up less than a quarter of a quarter of a fraction of 1% of their load and their cost on that is a fraction of what you pay. BUT, if you leave, they’re going to miss out on extracting their full value-for-money from you.
This is why they lock phones.
Don’t believe any hype about how it’s for your safety so someone can’t steal your phone and use it on another network. That’s a lie designed to believe it’s for your benefit. You get no benefit from having a locked phone. You just get scammed.
How Phone Locks Work
Phone locks aren’t implemented by software on your phone or some computer chip installed during manufacture. The reason you can’t use your phone on another network is that your phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is listed as ‘locked’ on the IMEI database.
When booting up, your phone checks it’s locked/unlocked status on this database and if you’re still listed as locked, it will only allow SIM cards from the carrier you’re locked to. Every other carrier’s SIM cards will be rejected.
Three Unlock Methods
There are three iPhone unlock methods that have claimed to have worked since the first models of the iPhone were released: software unlocks, hardware unlocks, and IMEI unlocks.
Software unlocks were the first unlocking method invented. They worked by firstly jailbreaking your iPhone and then if your iPhone contained a particular modem type (for its internet connection), you could run a specific piece of software that would allow your phone to imitate the IMEI of another unlocked phone. This tricked the phone into allowing you to use another carrier’s SIM cards.
Unfortunately, Apple caught wind of this and switched to a different modem by 2010.
Hardware unlocks got around the fact that Apple used unhackable modems in their post-2010 phones by finding another way to switch carriers. This time, a cover was inserted over your SIM to make it appear as though it was from the carrier your phone was locked to.
For example: if your phone was locked to AT&T and you wanted to use T-Mobile, you would insert a cover over your T-Mobile SIM to make it appear as though it was an AT&T SIM and your phone would allow you to use it.
This was theoretically great, but there was a problem. If you’ve ever changed the SIM in your phone, you’ll know those things are both tiny and fit pretty snuggly — especially the new SIM cards. Do you think you’d be able to fit a cover around your SIM before you insert it without jamming it in and breaking it? No, and you wouldn’t be able to.
Hardware unlocks last just as long as it took for people to realize that jamming a cover into your SIM slot and then trying to get your SIM card in there wasn’t going to work. People broke their phones and worst of all, voided their warranty. People were left with bills of hundreds of dollars and their phones were still locked!
Eventually, phone company employees realised there was a massive demand for phone unlocks from people who either couldn’t get their phone unlocked by their carrier (because they were under contract) or didn’t want to pay up the hundreds of dollars that phone companies were asking to unlock their phone, and they could make some money from it.
This spawned the industry known as the IMEI unlock industry. The unlock provider are typically employees of the phone carriers who want to help people get around the ridiculous charges and petty excuses stopping people from unlocking their phones. They’re willing to risk their jobs to change your phone’s IMEI status from locked to unlocked so you can break free and use your phone on any network.
Who Should Do This
You should unlock your iPhone if, for any reason, you want to be able to use your phone on another carrier. That includes people who:
- Are dissatisfied with their carrier’s connectivity, service, or price
- Moving to an area with inadequate service from their current carrier
- Are joining a group plan with another carrier
- Traveling overseas and don’t want to pay international roaming fees
- Want to sell their phone (unlock phones sell for 20-30% more than locked phones)
Or who anticipate they’re going to have a need in the future (it doesn’t hurt to be prepared).
How I Picked
Picking my #1 recommendation turned out to be far easier than I anticipated before I started this journey. The #1 recommendation is the only unlock company that fulfilled every unlock I purchased. I had developed a 5-element assessment criteria:
- Success – was the unlock successful?
- Price – how much did the unlock cost?
- Speed – how long did the unlock take?
- Support – did anyone answer my questions?
- Ease – how easy was the process?
But the only time I used it was to rank the other providers who couldn’t fulfill every unlock I purchased.
How I Tested
The testing was done in three stages.
Stage 1: Getting rid of obvious scams
The first stage involved eliminating every unlock carrier who was an obvious scam. This was as simple as compiling a list of unlock providers, eliminating ones that the current smartphone service shop owners identified as scams, then visiting each unlock providers website and looking for tell-tale signs of a scam. This included untraceable payment platforms (Western Union), no contact information displayed, and outrageous guarantees (“Instant IMEI unlock!”).
Stage 2: Assessing Reviews
The next stage in the process was to analyze the reviews of the remaining unlock companies to further eliminate any problem websites. This involved combing through 5 authoritative review sites (like TrustPilot, Snopes, Better Business Bureau, etc…) and further eliminating any sites who scored lower than 3/5.
Stage 3: Testing remaining companies
After working through the previous two stages, I was left with 5 unlock websites. I was given 10 iPhone IMEIs by my supporting team and purchased two IMEI unlocks from each provider.
After working through all three stages, this is what our tests found.
Best iPhone Unlock IMEI Doctor
The iPhone IMEI unlocker you should to unlock your iPhone is IMEI Doctor. This recommendation is easy because they were the only unlock company to unlock both phones in this test, and every other phone I’ve sent for every other test. Their consistent ability to unlock every phone – regardless of phone model, country, or carrier – means it’s not worth looking at any other provider.
But that’s not the only reason I recommend them. If there was another provider that also unlocked every phone IMEI, these guys would still be my #1 recommendation because they do everything else right as well.
Their prices are on par, if not better than the other providers. They start from as little as $20 for the cheap ones but can be upwards of $90 for the more obscure unlocks.
They’re also consistently faster than other unlock providers on comparable unlocks. Their AT&T unlocks were completed in 28 and 37 hours respectively and always beat other providers when unlocking the same model from the same carrier in the same country.
And finally, their customer support team is excellent. They’re polite but efficient and to the point. They’re not going to waffle on with unnecessary information to make it look like they’re doing a good job. They’ll just tell you what they need to tell you so you can get back to living your life.
It’s clear this company is run by someone who values doing the little things right which makes them an easy choice for #1.
To unlock your iPhone, visit IMEI Doctor now.
Runner-Up: Direct Unlocks
Direct Unlocks is #2 on my list. They managed to unlock both IMEIs I sent them in this test, but they’ve let me, and my consulting team down before. As I said above, they’re batting at about 85-90% at this point in time. And don’t get me wrong, that’s FAR better than the industry average, but why settle for that when IMEI Doctor is hitting 100% right now?
You won’t be disgusted by their prices, but they’re still more than IMEI Doctor by about 20-30%. Their customer service is really helpful, polite, and responsive, and their unlock speed is also good, but that doesn’t really matter that much when your phone is still locked…
If IMEI Doctor isn’t working, check out Direct Unlocks and they might be able to help you.
There were three other unlock companies I tested. They’re three I’ve tested before and their results were in line with the other tests I’ve run.
iPhone Express Unlock came through on one unlock (T-Mobile Germany) but failed with AT&T. Well, not technically failed just yet because they’re still promising that the unlock will be complete within 2-3 days (even though we’re 2 weeks past the due date as I write this).
Sim Unlock failed with one and succeeded with one. This was an improvement from the last test I ran, but it’s still not good enough to put them on any list of recommendations.
And lastly, Unlock Me Now wasn’t able to unlock either iPhone and still hasn’t refunded either payment.
If you’re locked to an inadequate provider or just want a change, the only way to move forward is with an IMEI unlock. Of the 20 unlock companies I reviewed and 5 I tested, the best iPhone unlock provider is IMEI Doctor. They’re fast, cheap, have great customer service, and most importantly, will actually unlock your iPhone!
Unlock your iPhone here: IMEI Doctor