Buying a SIM Free Windows Phone 7 device in the UK?

If you are, please take a read through this -- it could save you a lot of time and frustration...

Since their release in the UK three weeks ago, actually getting hold of a SIM-free Windows Phone 7 device has been virtually impossible. All online stores were awaiting stock, and none of the shops had any idea when they would be getting any stock in. I was starting to think I would never find a phone.

This morning I happened to be walking past a branch of Carphone Warehouse, so I thought as I was there that I'd ask if they had any phones in yet. "Yes," came the reply, "we have the HTC HD7 in stock now." I asked if they had them SIM-free and to my amazement was told that they did. I bought one there and then and excitely took it home.

I was slightly alarmed when I powered it up at home to see the O2 logo appear on the screen. I'm partway through a contract with Vodafone, and Vodafone have been point blank refusing to sell any WP7 devices unless a new contract was taken out, hence my need for a SIM free device. If the HD7 I'd just bought was locked to O2, I wouldn't be able to use it. Putting in my SIM confirmed that this was indeed the case. Time for a disappointing drive back to Carphone Warehouse to return the phone. :-(

It soon became clear that all HTC SIM-free WP7 phones currently on sale in the UK are carrier locked. This may extend to other brands of phone too, I've not yet found one to test with though. There is nothing whatsoever printed on the box to indicate this; the first you'll know of it is when you switch it on and see an operator logo.

TIP: Before you buy your phone, get the shop to power it on and verify whether it is carrier locked.

Carphone Warehouse were as surprised as I was, and refunded my money.

On the way back to the car, I spotted a branch of Phones4U and thought I would give them a try. My disappointment was turned around when they told me that they had both the HTC 7 Trophy (on Vodafone) and the HTC 7 Mozart (on Orange). I handed over my credit card again and left the shop with a Trophy under my arm. Success!

When I got to the car, I put my SIM in and powered the phone up to check that it really was working OK. I was a little puzzled to note some odd graphical artefacts around the PIN entry keypad, and after getting into the phone proper realised that there were significant graphical glitches all over the display. All the buttons appeared with distorted borders, and the live tiles had huge black triangles that flickered over the top of them when the screen was animating. This corruption extended into nearly every application on the device.

I went back to Phones4U for a replacement. They checked another Trophy unit, which worked perfectly: no graphical problems in sight. It then took nearly two hours to organise the exchange, during which time I had to wait an age for them to call tech support to authorise the exchange. Once the exchange had been organised they told me that the transaction was not yet showing on their system and they wouldn't be able to complete the exchange until 24 hours had elapsed.

I asked if I could return the phone and buy the other unit instead of exchanging it, and to my surprise was told that they had a blanket "no refunds" policy, even on faulty goods -- they would only offer an exchange. I'm not entirely sure that's even legal (?) but perhaps that's a conversation for another day.

By this point I was very irritated and decided to stand my ground, telling them that I had paid for a phone, they had given me a faulty one, they had a perfectly good one on the table in front of me, and I wasn't leaving until they exchanged it. After more phone calls to head office, they eventually agreed to make the exchange. Finally I left with a working phone. And it's great, and it was worth the effort, but boy did they mess me around. So:

TIP: Before you hand over any money, check that the phone actually works.

I hadn't considered for an instant that the phone would be faulty or that it would be this much of an issue to change it.

Overall Phones4U left me feeling very disappointed, but at least I finally have my phone. If you're thinking of buying SIM free, please bear in mind these tips and make your experience easier than mine was!