SUMMARY: There are three iPhone unlock techniques: software unlocks, hardware unlocks, and Factory or IMEI unlocks. Software unlocks haven’t worked on any model after the iPhone 3g, hardware unlocks will break your iPhone and invalidate your warranty, leaving the only reliable way to unlock your iPhone as the Factory of IMEI unlock.
I’ve investigated 22 Factory Unlock companies and tested the top 4 and the results clearly show that IMEI Doctor is the top choice.
Top choice: IMEI Doctor (8.89/10)
IMEI Doctor is my top choice for iPhone unlocks because they’re the only company IMEI Unlock company that has consistently delivered on every iPhone unlock I’ve ordered (which is scarily, a complete rarity in the iPhone unlock world).
When you combine this with better-than-average customer service and reasonable prices, it makes them the top unlock provider in the space.
Runner-up: Direct Unlocks (7.21/10)
Direct unlocks is my second choice. While they’re not as consistent as IMEI Doctor, they’ve maintained a good track record of being able to unlock most iPhones (currently sitting at around 80%).
Their customer support sits about the middle of the pack and their prices are slightly higher than IMEI Doctor, but they’re reliable enough to give a shot if you can’t access IMEI Doctor in your country.
- Why I’m an expert
- Why your phone is locked
- Who should unlock their phone
- Three unlock methods
- How I tested the unlock providers
- My testing criteria
- The top IMEI unlock provider
- The Competition
Why I’m an expert
I’m an expert when it comes to factory unlocks because I’ve got more experience than just about anyone else in this space.
Not only did I work inside Apple for 8 years while this system was being developed, but in my time outside Apple, I’ve gained first-person experience unlocking more phones than just about anyone else I’ve met.
As I was the ‘Apple’ guy, my friends and family all came to me to get their iPhones unlocked. As more of them came to me for help, my reputation grew, which meant more and more people came to me for help.
I can’t say for sure how many iPhones I’ve unlocked, but it would be more than 70 right now.
Why your phone is locked
Your iPhone is locked for one reason and one reason only: money.
Greedy telecommunications companies want to keep you on their network so they can charge you crazy prices while providing substandard service and customer support. If you unlock your phone, you can leave if they don’t do their job and they definitely don’t want that to happen.
Who should unlock their iPhone?
Unlocking your iPhone is a great idea for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it means you don’t have to put up with excessive rates, poor coverage, or poor customer service.
If your phone carrier is more expensive than other carriers, has low levels of coverage in your area, or are a pain in the arse to deal with, you can just leave them. You don’t have to stick around and put up with their antics. You can just walk away and find someone who treats you the way you should be treated.
Secondly, you don’t have to pay global roaming fees.
Global roaming fees are a scam. Even the most reliable and customer-friendly phone carriers charge most of your firstborn child and a mention in your will to send a text message from overseas. When you unlock your iPhone, you can say goodbye to that. You can simply purchase a local sim and pay next to nothing to send messages and make calls while overseas.
Finally, you can get a MUCH better price when you sell your iPhone.
If your phone is locked to a particular network, the only people who are going to buy it are those who are also using that network. This reduces the amount of potential customers and will result in a lower price. When you unlock you iPhone, any person on any network becomes a potential customer, increasing the price you can charge.
So, if money — in terms of phone charges, global roaming fees, and sale amount — is important to you, unlock your iPhone.
Three unlock methods
There are three unlocks methods commonly available for iPhones. Here’s a breakdown of each.
The first unlock method available was a software unlock.
To do this, you first needed to jailbreak your iPhone and install a piece of software that tricked your modem into believing you were calling through a specific carrier when in reality, you were calling through whichever carrier you wanted. This worked incredibly well until the release of the iPhone 4.
When the iPhone 4 was released, Apple upgraded the modem and the software for unlocking was no longer effective.
Goodbye, software unlocks.
The next available unlock was a hardware unlock.
A hardware unlock is where you insert your sim card from a different carrier into a thin sleeve before inserting it into your iPhone. This sleeve tricks your iPhone into thinking that you’re calling from your original carrier when you’re actually calling from whichever carrier you want.
This sounds great in theory and was met with great excitement when it was first developed, but if you’ve ever put your sim card into your iPhone, you should be able to spot the flaw immediately. The slot for the sim card is INCREDIBLY thin. It’s hard enough work to get your sim to fit, let alone a sim wrapped in a sleeve.
The most common outcome for people using the hardware unlock method was either that they couldn’t get the sim card to fit into the phone, the sim card didn’t align correctly when it was put in and so the phone didn’t work, or the sim card got jammed in the phone, broke the sim housing, and they had to pay to get it repaired because this kind of damage isn’t covered under warranty. Obviously, none of these are ideal.
The final unlock method is an IMEI unlock.
To understand how an IMEI unlock works, you first need to know how the backend iPhone registration system works.
When an iPhone is created, it’s assigned an International Mobile Equipment Identity number or, IMEI. This IMEI is unique to your iPhone recorded in a global database of every phone along with a few other details, including its model, memory size, color, and most importantly, locked/unlocked status.
And IMEI unlock is where someone with access to this global database changes the status of your iPhone from locked to unlocked.
The beauty of an IMEI unlock is that it doesn’t rely on flaws in phone software or hardware tricks to unlock your iPhone. It’s reliable, safe, and permanent without damaging your phone or voiding your warranty.
How I tested the unlock providers
My testing process for finding the best iPhone unlock provider had three steps.
Step 1: Website Review
The first step in the process was to review the websites of every iPhone unlock provider I could find. This was to rule out anyone who wasn’t a good fit just based on their service offering.
This included companies that only unlocked a few iPhone models or carriers, ones that didn’t used trusted payment providers (hint: never buy anything from someone who will only use Western Union), or whose website didn’t work.
Step 2: Review Review
Once I’d eliminated all unlock companies whose offering was too limited, the next stage in the process was to go through the reviews available for each company. This was a MUCH longer process, mostly due to me having to work out which reviews were genuine and which reviews were fake.
To do this, I mostly stuck to reputable review sites like Trust Pilot, Trusted Reviews, and Reviews.io, and read through most (there were a LOT of them) of the reviews in the last 12 months. Doing this allowed me to eliminate any unlock company from my list who was an obvious scam.
Step 3: Test
The final stage of my selection criteria was to test the remaining unlock providers.
To do this, I purchased 4 iPhone unlocks with each company and then tested them based on 5 criteria (listed below).
My testing criteria
I tested each iPhone unlock provider on 5 criteria.
Criteria 1: Success
This is first and foremost in an industry that is renowned for providers not delivering: were they successful? Were they able to complete the unlocks I purchased?
If they couldn’t, then they dropped down the list. If they could (and unfortunately, only one could), then they moved up the list.
Criteria 2: Speed
The second criteria I rated each of them on was speed. Sometimes, even with reliable unlock providers, some unlocks can take weeks and even months. This is to be expected given the nature of what you’re trying to do, but it can also be incredibly frustrating if you’re planning an overseas trip or trying to get away from a poor quality carrier.
Because of the variance in the time it takes to unlock each iPhone, we judged each carrier on how close they were to the estimated unlock given shown on their website.
Criteria 3: Price
The third criteria I used was price. With MASSIVE price variations between providers (the same unlock on the same model iPhone from the same carrier can range between $4 and $198) being commonplace, it’s important to compare how much each provider was charging for each unlock.
Obviously, the cheaper providers were ranked higher, with the one caveat: they had to be able to successfully unlock the iPhone at that price. If they weren’t successful then it really doesn’t matter how much they charge.
Criteria 4: Support
Given the cloak-and-dagger nature of unlocking, getting regular updates from polite and friendly support staff is a massive bonus. Some sites will patiently guide you through the process while others will treat you as if you’re asking them to donate a kidney.
The companies better support teams are ranked higher with the worse support ranked lower, once again with the same caveat: if you can’t deliver on your promises, you’re ranked at the bottom regardless of how nice your staff are.
Criteria 5: Ease
The final criteria I used to rank the sites was how easy the process of unlocking the iPhone was. Was the website easy to use? Was the payment process simple and intuitive? Was the email communication thorough and clear?
The easier to use companies were ranked higher, as long as they could unlock the phones.
After completing the testing process and ranking the tested sites based on those 5 criteria, there was one clear winner, based almost solely on the fact that they were the only company able to unlock every iPhone.
Best iPhone Unlock Provider: IMEI Doctor (8.89/10)
The best company to use to unlock your iPhone is IMEI Doctor. While they scored decently in every metric we rated them on, the thing that really set them apart from the rest of the pack was that they were the only company to unlock all 4 iPhones.
PROs: In an industry full of con-artists and scams, IMEI Doctor landed our #1 rating by being the ONLY company to unlock all 4 iPhones. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re paying for and so that’s why they’re #1.
They have decent customer support who will respond in a timely manner (less than 11 hours each for our three support requests) with patience and understanding and their prices are in the very reasonable in comparison to the rest of the field.
CONs: Their prices aren’t the cheapest (but everyone cheaper couldn’t unlock any iPhones) and their support isn’t the speediest (but everyone who was faster failed to deliver on what they promised), but at the end of the day, does that really matter?
OVERALL: A decent experience with a reliable provider and my four friends now have unlocked iPhones they’re able to use with whoever they want, whenever they want.
If you need to unlock your iPhone, head to IMEI Doctor now.
Runner-Up: Direct Unlocks (7.21/10)
If IMEI Doctor isn’t available in your country, Direct Unlocks is a good second option.
PROs: Direct Unlocks are a good second choice, mostly because they’re the only unlock company who have been able to successfully unlock any iPhones. Their success rate on this test was 75% (they unlocked 3 of the 4 iPhones) but they were in constant communication about the unlock process and provided a refund as soon as it was clear it wasn’t going to get unlocked.
Their customer support is decent enough, their time estimates were spot on, and the whole checkout process was seamless.
CONs: The only real downside (outside of them only being able to unlock 3 of the 4 iPhones) was their prices. They’re slightly higher than IMEI Doctor and given their lower success rate, this was a noted negative.
OVERALL: Overall, if IMEI Doctor isn’t working in your country, try Direct Unlocks. They’re the only other unlock provider who have consistently delivered and are well worth a shot.
Check out Direct Unlocks here.
The rest of the companies I tested really aren’t worth going into depth here because they failed. No other company outside of IMEI Doctor and Direct Unlocks unlocked any iPhones.
Yes, some had better support and others were quick to refund my purchases, but at the end of the day, they didn’t do the one thing they promised to do and so there’s no point in discussing them.
There are three commonly discussed iPhone unlock methods but there’s only one that will provide a stable, safe, and permanent unlock: IMEI or Factory unlocks.
I’ve reviewed more than 30 unlocks companies and tested the top 6 and the only unlock provider who has been able to consistenly unlock every iPhone is IMEI Doctor. When you combine that with their reasonable pricing and kind and patient support, they’re a clear #1 choice.
If you need to unlock your iPhone, head to IMEI Doctor now.