This story has been updated.
A topic of note has been trending the last two days, and we've been seeing it brought up at multiple locales, including several tips from our readers. It has got to do with a new policy that Samsung has been employing, apparently since the end of July 2013, which basically dictates that all Samsung-branded devices from that date on will come locked to a respective region.
So how did it all start? Well, for starters, the lucky few owners of the new Galaxy Note 3 noticed a rather interesting sticker on the packaging that their phablet came in. Those point towards the respective region in which you can expect your Samsung device to work, and you can probably guess that this spells trouble for the South Korean giant and its customer service division. In fact, the whole ordeal is kind of ironic, seeing as it's the Note 3 that brought this to all up – the phablet that Samsung has been trying real hard to market to businesspeople – the very group of people most likely to travel abroad, who will now have to pay hefty roaming bills.
Samsung's Germany arm has already commented on the new policy, confirming that this is indeed the case and that, at this point, the new rules cover all new Galaxy SII, Galaxy SIII, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Mini and Note 3 devices produced after the end of July. Moreover, while the geographic regions themselves are pretty big (e.g. the American model includes the North, South and Central Americas, along with the Caribbean), Samsung won't provide any sensible workaround for those of us who have/like to travel. The only “option”, right now, is to never activate the phone with a SIM from the region the device was intended for and go to an authorized Samsung service partner that will be able to unlock it for use in a different region. As you can probably guess, the number of scenarios where this will be of any use is negligible at best, not to mention that you'll have to cough up an additional service fee.
Probably worst of all, as of this writing, even the Android gurus over at the XDA boards are currently unsure whether this will be crackable, since the way Samsung has gone about it makes the overriding of the traditional carrier lock a child's play in comparison.
UPDATE 2: When we first published this piece we came under fire once Samsung issued a statement that, at the time, was thought to bring the matter to a close for 99% of the use-case scenarios we, or anybody else for that matter, could come up with. Immediately after updating this post with Samsung's statement, however, we started receiving e-mails from different users, claiming that despite the efforts of Sammy's PR division to sweep this under the rug, the statement was, and we're being lenient here, somewhat untrue. Specifically, while some Note 3 owners were able to lift the region restrictions after activating it with a local SIM, it didn't necessarily work with any other SIM, as the statement lead us to believe. We've been since following the story rather closely and waited it out to make sure that the refutation of Samsung's refutation is, indeed, true.
Unfortunately, we've come across troves of unhappy Note 3 owners who found out that the region lock on their devices is, similarly, not removed by first activating it with a local SIM. A hack, therefore, has been spawned by the XDA boards' very own Chainfire, called RegionLock Away, which has been reported to be mostly functional as of this writing. The app requires root and you can down it off Google's Play Store for $2.79, if you wish to support the developer. Alternatively, you can download the app for free, though you'll have to sideload it on your own. READ the instructions provided in the source link below before modding your device.
We'll continue trailing this as it continues to unfold, and we're looking to hear more feedback on the matter from those of you lucky enough to already have the otherwise great Galaxy Note 3, and Samsung of course. We sincerely hope we're missing out on something, or that at least in the future, Samsung's statement will be valid in full.
UPDATE: Samsung has come out with a statement on what was shaping up to be a pretty controversial topic, and a kind of a PR mess for the South Korea-based electronics giant. According to the new information, the entire ordeal is not as severe as we first thought. Essentially, new Samsung devices with a regional lock will work just like before, so long as the first SIM card that is used to activate the device is from the region that the device is locked into. That means that if you get an American Galaxy Note 3, you'll have to activate it with an American SIM card first. Past that, you can use any SIM card you wish and roam freely. By the way, it would appear that at this point, only European/American models will come with a regional lock -- Asian Galaxy Note 3 units seem to be exempt from the new policy. Samsung's full statement can be viewed right below:
Once a device is activated normally, the regional SIM lock is automatically released. Users can enjoy the roaming service as usual and can use other region’s SIM card when travelling. The regional SIM lock has been applied to the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S4 devices through a software update in selective markets. The regional SIM lock does NOT affect the device’s features and performance. Users can continue to enjoy all the advanced features of our products.”