Just as Apple began taking pre-orders for the iPhone 4S on its website this morning, some eagle-eyed visitors suddenly discovered they could order an unlocked version direct from Apple (just like the iPhone 4), rather sign a contract with either AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. This is a tidbit that Apple never announced at its "Let's Talk iPhone" event earlier this week. But the convenience of not being tied to a carrier comes with some costs: the unlocked iPhone 4S won't arrive till some time November and the unsubsidized price tags are quite steep -- as much as $849 for the 64 GB version.
Although the iPhone 4S is already a world phone with both the GSM and CDMA antennae, for those who travel internationally on a regular basis, an unlocked GSM phone is the way to go as you won't have to pay your U.S. carrier roaming charges when you are abroad, especially for data. With an unlocked iPhone 4S, all you have to do is buy a local micro-SIM card from a GSM carrier and swap out your American one while you're traveling.
When you're in America, the only downside to an unlocked iPhone 4S is that you won't be able to take advantage of Sprint or Verizon's unlimited plans or better cellular coverage (in certain areas) because the phone will only be compatible with GSM networks. In other words, you will be limited to AT&T or T-Mobile as your carrier. (A micro-SIM card will be included in the unlocked phone.) For T-Mobile customers who are peeved your carrier won't be offering the iPhone 4S this year (if ever), you could grab an unlocked version and use it on T-Mobile's network. Otherwise, the unlocked and subsidized iPhone 4Ses are essentially identical devices that offer the same functionality: iOS 5 and iCloud, Siri, dual-core A5 processor and an 8-megapixel camera.
I usually prefer unlocked devices as they give me the flexibility to use the same phone anywhere I go but at $649 for the 16 GB iPhone 4S, I would really have to love the phone (even when it becomes out-dated) to sink that much money into a single device. What about you? Will you go for the more palatable, subsidized price tag or buy your freedom from the get-go with an unlocked iPhone 4S?