updated 6/14/2011 8:47:11 PM ET 2011-06-15T00:47:11

With little fanfare and not a single press event in sight, Apple announced it will start selling an unlocked version of the iPhone 4 in the United States. Unlocked iPhones have been available overseas for some time, but this marks the first time Apple has sold such a device in the U.S.

So the first question on many consumers' minds will be, "Why should I buy an unlocked iPhone 4?"

Here are a few things to consider, starting with reasons why an unlocked iPhone 4 would be good for you.

Many iPhone users "jailbreak" their phones, and one of the reasons to do that is to unlock the phone for use with other carriers. If you would have used software to unlock your iPhone (without Apple's approval, by the way) then you might as well go for the officially unlocked version.

Is AT&T not everything you think a carrier should be? An unlocked iPhone 4 can be used for phone plans on other networks. Keep in mind, though, that this is only a GSM version, so it won't work on Verizon or Sprint.

American iPhones don't travel well, but an unlocked iPhone 4 can easily interface with other GSM networks all over the world. If you travel frequently and want to keep your iPhone, this is a good option.

Some carriers won't require users to sign a 2-year contract if those users are bringing their own phone to the deal. An unlocked iPhone can give flexibility not only in network choice but the length and pricing of phone plans.

For certain consumers, those are very compelling reasons to opt for the unlocked iPhone 4. But for many other consumers, there are still too many reasons to stick with the standard version. Here are several reasons why you might want to pass on the unlocked iPhone 4.

The unlocked iPhone 4 will cost $649 for the 16GB model and $749 for the 32GB model. That's not chump change. In fact, you can get a nice laptop or even a high-end iPad 2 for those prices. One drawback of an unlocked phone is that carriers won't subsidize it, meaning the only way to get a $200 (sometimes less depending on the promotion) iPhone is to sign a 2-year contract. While you pay more in the long run with a contract, many people don't have $750 lying around at any given moment and prefer to amortize the cost over the length of a contract.

Apple is only a few months away from launching the next version of the iPhone (likely in September). The iPhone 5 will undoubtedly have better performance than the iPhone 4, plus new features. If you want to keep up with the latest in smartphone technology, buying an iPhone 4 right now isn't a smart move.

Don't be fooled into thinking this device is inherently better than the iPhone 4 you already bought. Unless you really need the flexibility to switch networks at a moment's notice or travel abroad all the time, there is no advantage to this device over the locked version. It has the same hardware and features, so stick with what you have.

Even though the unlocked iPhone 4 can bounce around to just about any GSM network on a whim, it's not always completely compatible. For instance, T-Mobile is a GSM network, and technically the iPhone 4 will work on it. But the unlocked iPhone 4 isn't compatible with T-Mobile's 3G network, so users will be stuck using EDGE (the 2G version). Similar hiccups and annoyances will occur on other GSM networks worldwide.

Most carriers charge an early termination fee (ETF) for those who leave their contract before it expires. Unless you're already on a GSM carrier who will accept your unlocked iPhone, you'll be paying an ETF to get out of the contract you're in, and that often amounts to hundreds of dollars.

Carriers want you to sign service contracts, so they often provide perks and extra features for those who sign. If you're happy with what you have, then you probably shouldn't rock the boat.

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