Shopping Cell/Smart Phones in 2015

t-mobile-logoThey are ubiquitous. (Fancy word score! Had to look it up to make sure I was using it right.) Everywhere you look, everyone has one. They have replaced home phones and land lines. Cell phones are all over the place.

Since we have recently moved we need to change up the numbers and it’s time to upgrade two of the 3 lines we have. This may also be a good time to change carriers. I’ve been with AT&T since 2007, and always had a smart phone with them. When the iPhone 3G came out, I got one and have held onto the unlimited data plan ever since. I’ve written about how I have previously used a the 2 year contract pricing to upgrade to new iPhones every year. But the landscape of smartphones has changed.

Enter the every-year-upgrade-plans.

Next, Edge, whatever your carrier calls it, you pay little or nothing initially to get your phone, and then pay a fee every month until it’s paid off. No contracts, but if you drop service, the balance of the phone comes due. No more subsidized phones.

Previously, by agreeing to stay on for another 2 years, they cut the cost of a new phone by about half (or more). We all understood that nothing is free, so paying a bit more for the service was worth it if we could save a bit on the device.

Shopping AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, the cost of the service is about the same, but now I get to pay for the entire cost of my phone(s) over 24 months. They sell the new plan like it’s a benefit. Pay less now, a bit more every month and get a new phone every year.

My complaint is that new phones without subsidies in the service contracts should have lower priced service contracts. Only T-Mobile seems to have this. They still charge for the phones over 2 years, but their service prices are a bit cheaper. Of course, T-Mobile doesn’t have service everywhere. So your mileage may vary.

I bit the bullet, and ordered a new iPhone 6 64GB on T Mobile. When it’s all said and done, we will spend less per month with T Mobile for 2 phones with unlimited talk, text, and data, plus 5 GBs of wifi hotspot every month.

Be aware, the plans change all the time, but generally you can probably do something similar. We needed 3 lines. 2 with data, and 1 as an “emergency” line for the kids. Something they can carry if they are at a friends house, or whatever. We didn’t need data for that line, or really much talk time either.

The current plan T Mobile is advertising is 2 lines with unlimited everything for $100. Plus taxes and the cost of any phones. Unfortunately, they do not allow you to add a basic phone as a 3rd line. They require every phone on the account to have the unlimited status. That means our 3rd line would cost $40 per month, instead of the $10-20 we were expecting. That’s not worth it. They sometimes have the option of adding a basic line for $10 per month, but not in this case. Doesn’t make good business sense to me, but we found a solution.

We got a Trac Fone. $10 for the phone, $20 for the minutes on the card. The service is good for 150 days or 140 minutes. We just add more when we run out of days or minutes. That’s a lot less than $10 per month, considering we will barely use this line.

Another way we saved some cash was to have my AT&T iPhone 5S unlocked. It was easy to do. Eligible phones can be unlocked by filling out a form online. Then you click a link in and email, and restore your iPhone through iTunes. Then it’s unlocked. Moving it to T Mobile was a simple sim card swap. That’s much less than buying a new phone.

If you do need a basic line, on most carriers, you can snag a cheap pay-as-you-go handset from a Walmart or Target, and just have the carrier put a new sim card in.

Of course, if you can swing the cash to just buy your phones outright, you will save money in the long run.

There may be other ways to get less expensive service from the other carriers, but T Mobile, if you have service in the areas you need, was straight forward and seems to be the cheapest.