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App rescues Galaxy Note 3 from its region lock, but Samsung’s motives remain unclear

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Remember Samsung’s little region-locking fiasco? A couple of weeks ago, it came out that the manufacturer was locking phones such as the Galaxy Note 3 to specific parts of the world – if you tried using a SIM from a different region, stickers on the retail boxes said it wouldn’t work.

Then Samsung turned around and said customers only needed to use a SIM card from their region the first time they activate the device. Unfortunately, some users have since discovered that a full region lock is in place, in line with what Samsung’s actual retail boxes (as opposed to the firm’s public relations spokespeople) have claimed.

Fixed that for you

But fear not! An “XDA Elite Recognized Developer” called Chainfire has come up with an app to region-unlock the European Galaxy Note 3, and here’s a video showing it in action:

The “RegionLock Away” app requires a rooted device, although some have also reported that a standard network unlock will remove the region lock too.

What’s particularly interesting about Chainfire’s app is that it proves what it is that Samsung’s doing, namely instituting a blacklist on its devices – a blacklist that names specific networks and even whole regions where the handset should be blocked from working. RegionLock Away essentially clears the list, according to XDA Developers.

There’s only one other phone-maker I know that ventures into this territory, and that’s Apple(s aapl). Apple maintains a whitelist of carriers whose LTE networks it has tested, and its LTE-capable iPhones won’t do 4G on those networks unless they’re on the list. There’s a lot to criticize about that strategy, but at least it has a clear purpose and doesn’t totally cut off devices from unapproved networks.

Still few answers

Which brings us back to the biggest question in the region-locking debacle: “Why?” We still don’t know what Samsung is trying to achieve with its blacklist.

The most charitable explanation is that the manufacturer is trying to combat gray-market imports, by making it a less attractive option for a European or American to buy a phone cheaply over eBay, rather than buying it through a local retailer or carrier. Only it turns out that phones in Asia — the most likely source for gray-market handsets – aren’t getting region-locked, which makes this explanation less than logical.

Could it be that mobile operators are working with Samsung to dissuade people from swapping out their SIM cards for a cheaper non-roaming option while travelling abroad? That was my first instinct when the story broke, but I still hope it’s not the case, because that would be an ill omen for international telecommunications.

Whatever the ultimate explanation, developers such as Chainfire are helping us figure it all out, piece by piece. And affected users who are not afraid to root their phones now have a tool to help them out.

19 Responses to “App rescues Galaxy Note 3 from its region lock, but Samsung’s motives remain unclear”

  1. Dont fall for this scam by Samsung.I purchased a Note 3 in Jeddah,Saudi,activated by a local SIM and then used a India SIM and the phone got locked anyway. Samsung service in Jeddah said it will cost 200 riyals(about 50 dollars) to unlock,and that i need to leave the phone with them for about a week.WHAT A LOAD OF BULL SHIT.

  2. I have a Galaxy S4 Active AT&T which was region locked and SIM locked. I rooted the phone using Geohot’s root and ran RegionLock Away. At the same time, I purchased an unlock code. RegionLock Away removed the region lock AND the SIM lock so I theoretically wasted my money on the SIM unlock code as it wasn’t needed. That said, it’s possible that the phone will re-SIM lock on a software update where I would then need that code.

  3. Totally wrong I agree. I have a new Note 3, put my UK SIM in and then tried my USA SIM. Said “Region Lock” enter your unlock code. Took 7 phone calls to those idiots at Samsung UK who finally got so peed off we me calling them every day they gave me an unlock code and now any SIM works. I know which phone I will be buying next time and it won’t be a SamWRONG.

  4. Chillibonbon

    Live in France but use a UK SIM card in my french mobile. Was about to order Samsung Galaxy phablette but looking at Apple again now – thanks for all your info.

  5. Guys

    I have bought one in the US, activated it in the US, then tried a EU SIM, and it didn’t work.

    I tried all the possible hacks and tricks, and eventually, returned the note3, bought iPhone 5s, unlocked, no problems not locks.

    Samsung really did it this time for themselves, moved another customer to Apple.

    Good luck to you all.


  6. YourFriend

    It appears that the region-lock is designed in a way that should have been called “one-time region activation” If you buy it in your region and install a SIM from the same region, then it unlocks and can be used anywhere in the world. This is a one-time activation. This prevents phones sold to one region from being horded and resold in another region, which would cause all the phones to lock. Unfortunately, it is more a PR nightmare than an actual problem. Furthermore, an OTA update seems to have fixed bugs in the implementation as of a day ago.

    • @YourFriend
      This is from the Samsung UK Q&A page today (14 Oct 2013) in response to a question about what “activation” means:
      “Activated normally is by entering a sim card into the phone from the country it was manufactured for. Once this sim card has activated this phone you can insert a sim from any other country within the constituency region EG: EU and the phone will work.”

  7. I really don’t know why Samsung builds a self destroyer into its mobiles; Samsung has some success at the moment, but it still doesn’t dominate the mobile market. I planned to buy a S4, but now Samsung is not an option anymore for me because I travel a lot and want to be sure that my new mobile is working in other countries.

  8. David, you have put your finger on the two ways in which this region-lock strategy penalises customers; it decreases price competition both for roaming tariffs, and for the handset itself. It sadens me how many commentators just can’t see beyond the “I’m not affected because I don’t roam” illusion, and don’t realise they have already been screwed once when they bought the phone at a price unrestrained by “grey” market competition.

    Please, keep plugging away at this. Today the Note 3, tomorrow all recent Galaxies, and where the market leader leads, who knows who might follow too willingly?

  9. i am not so sure asia is the biggest source of the gray market.

    at least in africa i know USA and Europe are a massive source of phones.

    i think easy fraud and big subsidies from carriers is a bigger factor than low retail price on unlocked handsets. also more gray market handsets are from the used market than the new one. my experience USA has the world lowest price on barely used/like new but used handsets.

  10. There is an upgrade from Samsung. I got firmware upgrade automatically from Samsung on my note 3 just today and now my roaming SIM is working. My note 3 was previously region locked in middle east. Now everything is fine after the upgrade.

    • so the unlocked note 3 will work anywhere now? Because that is the only one that is hindering me to buy the phone. If you can confirm that the latest firmware is for the region lock that will be awesome john.

    • Waleed Elshamy

      Please confirm from where did u purchase your note 3 and where is your country of residence rightnow? Did u activate it where u purchased it or u tried to activate it in another country? Are u now using a local SIM or still stuck with your activating SIM via roaming? Thanks in advance.