Samsung Goes Hollywood with the Galaxy Note 3


Remember DVD-Video, those region-locked discs that people used to buy in the dark ages before iTunes, Netflix and The Pirate Bay? They were a great way for Hollywood to control the flow of its wares — making it possible, for example, to release a movie on DVD in North America while that same movie was still playing in European cinemas. Because a DVD made for the Americas could only play in a North American player, the risk of that disc finding its way to Europe and cannibalizing movie ticket sales was little to none.

That was the theory, anyway. What Hollywood failed to realize was that (1) DVDs could be ripped, and (2) some good-guy manufacturers could — and did — release DVD players with a secret code on the remote that would disable any region-coding, forever.

So here we are, at the start of the worldwide roll-out of the hotly-anticipated Galaxy Note 3. And Samsung, it seems, has gone Hollywood on us.

You’d be forgiven for mistaking yesterday’s news as being about SIM-locks. It’s not. I’ll let this video explain:

So, Note 3s sold in Europe can only be used with European SIMs. Any European SIM can be used, so the device is technically SIM-free — but you must roam with that same SIM if you take it with you to any other region.

Again, this is not the same as a SIM-lock. From the Android Police:

According to many users on XDA, this isn’t a typical SIM lock, and uses an MCC-based (Mobile Country Code) lock that will not be disabled using a standard network-based SIM unlock code. The bit doing the locking lives inside the CSC (Consumer Software Customization) package in an MCC whitelist, specifying which country codes the device can be used in based on what regional software variant it is. Modifying the CSC without doing warranty-voiding kind of stuff is also apparently very, very tricky.

It’s entirely possible a community workaround will emerge, but for now, this basically means that even with a SIM unlock code, phones with this new locking procedure won’t function with a SIM that has an MCC outside of the device’s home region. This is substantially more burdensome for consumers and is definitely going to be a pain to deal with.

Bizarre? Backwards? Stupid? Yes to all three — particularly when you consider that executive-types are a target market for the Note 3 — as proven in Samsung’s demo video for the device.

Oh, and it’s not just the Note 3… any Galaxy S4, S4 Mini, S3, S2 and original Note manufactured after the end of July are subject to these same region-locks.

Why on Earth would they do this?

The prevailing opinion seems to be that it’s to stem the tide of grey market phones. So some potentially good news from German fan site All About Samsung isn’t really good news at all:

(English translation) If purchased in the European Union and not yet been put into use to be activated for the first time abroad, users can unlock their device for the region free from local Samsung service partners.

In other words, if I buy a Note 3 in Hong Kong and stop over in the Burnaby Samsung Store on the way back to get it cleared for use in Canada, they have the option of saying no.

I still can’t quite believe that Samsung is doing this — they’re effectively taking us back more than a decade to when phones only worked in certain parts of the world. Back then the reasons were technical. This? This is just bullshit.