Why to not Buy the International Version of the Samsung Galaxy S4?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 comes in a variety of model numbers here in the US.  There is a version for AT&T (model SGH-I337), one for T-Mobile (model SGH-M919), and more for other carriers that sell the S4.  Generally, these phones are locked to their original service providers, though one can purchase an unlocked version of the S4 (GT-I9500) that is sold on Amazon, eBay, and other online merchants.

AT&T and T-Mobile will both provide you an unlock code to unfetter the phone from their networks IF one pays full retail price for it (currently $640 or above).  If you want to be able to unlock and use the phone on both AT&T's and T-Mobile's networks, you are better-off purchasing the T-Mobile model outright and getting it unlocked.  It will (according to specs published on Samsung's website) work on BOTH networks, adding some amount of flexibility to switch carriers at will.

Another advantage of paying full-price for the phone is that you are not tied into a contract with the phone company, or into some sort of financing arrangement that T-Mobile now refers to it as.  Additional flexibility is always welcome!

So, you ask, why should you go through the trouble of buying a phone from a phone company, then going through the hassle of getting it unlocked, when an unlocked version is already available at nearly the same price (accounting for taxes, that is)?  That, readers, is the crux of this blog post.

AT&T and T-Mobile's phones are both 4G LTE phones (an unlocked T-Mobile phone is compatible with AT&T's LTE network).  The I9500 model is an international model that does NOT have LTE radios built-in.  Thus, data will NOT work at LTE speeds, only at 3G / HSPA/ HSPA+ speeds.  In addition, the i9500 is not compatible with T-Mobile's AWS network, so HSPA / HSPA+ data speeds are not guaranteed nationwide.  For those who are not familiar with data speeds, here's a listing of services from low speeds to high: 3G - HSPA - HSPA+ - LTE.

I have seen listings on eBay for the i9500, with AT&T stated in parenthesis.  BEWARE!  The I9500 will work on AT&T's HSPA / HSPA+ network but NOT on their LTE network (if that is what you want it for).  So, please do your research before you buy a phone.  If you WANT to buy an unlocked phone to work on LTE networks, the i9500 does not fit the bill.  Purchase it from one of the carriers, pay full price, and then request an unlock code.  Do ask for unlock policies from the company stores.  AT&T's policy is listed on their website.

So, it all boils down to a choice between being on an LTE network and not being on an LTE network.  Personally, I will be purchasing the AT&T version of the phone and paying full price, although I could purchase the T-Mobile phone, too.  I am currently with Straight Talk (with an AT&T SIM card) that does not provide LTE service but if I ever change carriers, I will go to AT&T, not T-Mobile.

I hope this small bit of information helps.

Edit: I forgot to mention one important fact.  International versions are more expensive than their US counterparts and do NOT usually carry a US warranty.  So, if something goes wrong on your phone, you are on your own.  One thing, though, in favor of international versions is that they do not have carrier "bloat," but I am not comfortable knowing that warranty repairs will likely be an issue.


  1. Thanks for the Article.
    After reading your article ,I bought Samsung Galaxy S4 from T-Mobile. After receiving the Galaxy S4 I request T-Mobile to send me the unlock codes. But,They refused saying I bought it under contract and I have to wait two year until my contract is over. So,I searched for other options and found unlock code for decent price in SimpleUnlocking.com . I used the code and unlocked my Samsung Galaxy S4.

    1. That's wonderful. It appears that T-Mobile only recently changed its unlocking policy, upsetting a lot of people. AT&T will still unlock their phones. I just ordered mine and will call AT&T to have it unlocked as soon as it arrives. One does not have to be an AT&T customer to request an unlock, as long as the device is not reported lost or stolen.


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