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.


How To Get an iPhone Every Year for Free

Update: New Upgrade-Every-Year plans make this less likely to work. At&T is really pressing customers toward those plans, and away from the 2 year contracts.

Warning: This only works if you have two phones on your account and don’t care what kind of phone you have on the other number. It’s not truly free, because you are locked into a contract, but you can upgrade every year without spending extra money.

This is a pretty simple plan, which I have used and will use again, but some people may not realize it’s possible so I thought I would post it up. We are with AT&T, but this may work with Verizon as well. With the announcement of the iPhone 5S and 5C the other day, many people locked in a 2 year contract may be thinking of trying to upgrade early.

It’s nice to have the latest hardware from Apple. I like the iPhone and my apps. I want to take advantage of every new advance in capability. But I don’t want to pay $600 for an iPhone with no contract. What if I am only one year into my contract but I still want a new phone? I don’t even want to pay the early upgrade fee.

Here’s how I do it. My wife and I are on my AT&T account. AT&T allows people on the same account to switch phones for an $18 charge. So I could give her mine, and get hers for a whopping $36. Not something you want to do every day, but it’s a lot cheaper than $600.

She does not care what phone she has. That is a crucial part of this working out. If the person who uses the second phone on your account wants more than a basic handset, this will be more expensive.

Your goal is to get one of your numbers’s contracts ending one year, and then the next one ending the next year. So that every year you have one number up for a new contract. Once that happens the rest is easy.

To get this going you have to either pay full retail for a basic handset, or elect to keep the phone on your second number after the contract runs out. So, next time your second account is up for renewal, don’t do the contract. Either keep your phone or get a cheap one. Purchase a pay-as-you-go phone for your carrier. In the case of AT&T, that’s a Go Phone. The cheapest Go Phone costs about $15 at most stores. Nicer ones go up in price as you add features. You can easily get a phone for under $50.

For instance, this year my wife’s account is up for renewal. I will get the new iPhone on her account, and then swap it to my account. She will be in a new contract, but I won’t. I will be using the new hardware with only one year left on my contract. This will cost an additional $36.

Now, if it’s time for her to get a new phone as well I need to spend about $15 on to replace her cheap one. As long as the used market for iPhones remains high, this won’t cost me anything.

Using eBay (or something similar), you can fund this entire process where the end result is very little out of pocket. Currently a used 32GB iPhone 5 is selling for $400+ all day long.

So, after you have your account set to go, visit your local AT&T store. Purchase the new iPhone on your second number (the one up for renewal) with a contract and then have them switch the new iPhone to your primary number. This removes the old iPhone off your primary account and leaves the other basic handset on your second account. You could upgrade that phone if you wish during this process. With AT&T Go Phones, it’s as easy as swapping Sim Cards.

At this point you have paid $335 plus taxes and such if you get the 32GB 5S model. You now have the new iPhone on your phone number with about one year left on your contract and your second phone has a basic handset with two years left. Next year you can buy the new iPhone on your primary account. Add about $15 to the $335 of you replaced the base handset.

Then, wipe everything off your old iPhone. Make sure you go into the settings and use “Erase all Content and Settings” to make sure all of your personal information is gone. Then list your old iPhone on your favorite auction site. After your fees you will likely clear about $330-350. (Selling fees are ridiculous! 10% to eBay and then you pay Paypal another 3%. Then shipping and insurance.) If you decided to buy the new base phone, you probably broke even for a new iPhone. Not bad. If you didn’t replace the basic handset this time, you may end up with enough to buy a new case.

So that’s it. If you need help, the folks at the store can help you through it. The trick is to get your contract terms up for renewal on alternating years. And be OK with staying in a contract with your carrier.

A word about selling your iPhone: Be careful. I’ve used eBay to sell a lot of stuff. Nothing brings out the scammers like selling an iPhone. Follow eBay rules. Only ship to confirmed addresses, with tracking and insurance.

Why I bought an iPhone 4 After the iPad 2 Announcement

The same day that the iPad was announced, i went out and bought an iPhone 4.

I know what you are thinking, “Why would you do that? You know the iPhone 5 is just around the corner. Now you cannot upgrade. What are you thinking?”

I bought an iPhone 4 because of the market for used iPhones.

I, like many, have two phone lines. My line was up for an upgrade, and my wife’s line will be ready in just a few months. She does not care about her phone. When I upgraded I sold my iPhone 3GS for over $300. The 3Gs would drop in value when the iPhone 5 was announced, so I got top dollar by selling now. I cleared about $100 after everything was done. (Yes, I know I will spend more than that in a contract with AT&T, but I would spend that anyway.)

Once my wife’s line is ready to upgrade we can do some wheeling. I will get another basic phone for less than $100 with no contract, so she can get an upgrade, too. Then I will use her hardware discount to upgrade to the iPhone 5. Then sell my iPhone 4. Right now they are going for well over $400 without contract. I estimate they will still be hitting over $350 after the iPhone 5 comes out.

I should clear at least $50, when it’s all done, and both my wife and I will have new phones. If you can brave the world of eBay to sell your iPhones, you can fund your upgrades to the latest hardware.

New iPad Speculation

It’s a rainy MLK day, and I’m home. What better time to speculate on what the next iPad version will be? Last year about this time a lot of people were wondering about the new tablet device Apple was about to unveil. Many thought it would be a real tablet computer running OSX, but a few thought it would be something else. There were plenty of different reactions after the announcement, but it didn’t take long to see that the iPad was going to be a huge success.

Now, a year later, the rest of the computing world is trying to develop the iPad “killer, and more rumors swirl about the next iteration of the iPad. How will it change?

The Outside:
For a while now people have been speculating on the new enclosure. There have been cases and mock ups that show a larger hole for a speaker. That would address one complaint about the current iPad, the speaker is just OK. It’s not bad, just OK. Many say flatter thinner case. Some have said that the bezel may be thinner, but I’m not sold on that. It all depends on the size f the new display and how the rest of the stuff inside has to fit together. Either way, it’s probable that your old iPad case won’t fit the new one.

The Inside:
There will be a higher resolution display for the new iPad. It probably won’t be as dense as the retina display on the iPhone, but several sources are reporting that it should double the current resolution: 2048×1536, 260 DPI. This would likely require a new graphics package that would have a bonus effect; 1080p HD output capability. There will probaby also be a ne version of the A4 chip, which would then filter out to all iOS devices.

I think it’s a safe bet that the new iPad will at least have a front facing camera. The more devices that Apple can add Facetime to, the better for them. I still don’t think a rear camera (like the iPhone or even the lesser one on the iPod Touch) would be used very much. It’s just not the right size device for a rear camera.

iOS 4.3 is rumored to have some very nice touches. The ability to turn your 3G iOS device into a mobile hotspot (depending on carrier implementation, of course) as well as a more open AirPlay function. Third party developers should now be able to take advantage of streaming video via AirPlay. Just in time for the boxee app!

I said last year, and I will continue to say, the key to the iPad’s success is the apps that are developed for it. One year in, the hardware upgrades will be nice, but they still need apps developed to take full advantage of the potential.

Don’t Buy a Verizon iPhone… Yet

I know some of you have been chomping at the bit to get your hands on a Verizon iPhone. The much lamented AT&T network has many hoping to change, and the much liked iPhone has many Verizon subscribers ready to buy a new phone.

But don’t do it. Not yet, anyway.

Assuming the announcement from Verizon tomorrow is the new iPhone, there will be a lot of people who will purchase and pre order. Even if you want one, unless you are willing to stand in line or pre order and wait, it will be a while before you can walk into a store and buy one.

And that may work to your advantage. The world should know by the end of the month if Apple is going to roll out a new iPhone version along with the rumored iPad 2. It will be a shame when all of the new Verizon customers realize just a few short weeks into owning an iPhone 4 that there is already a new version available for pre order. It won’t likely be available until early Summer, but when you lock into a 2 year contract, isn’t it nicer to have the newest phone for a little while?

It is not definite that Apple will update the iPhone 4. There are mild rumors, but nothing like the major leaks last year. From the rumors, it looks like the new iPhone would just be a slight bump, and not a major re vamp of the device. Still, if it can take advantage of a faster than 3G network, or even just has the antenna issue addressed, the new version is worth the wait.

Exercise patience, eager Verizon customers. Wait just a few weeks to see if the new iPhone does indeed come out this year.

Is a New iPhone on the Way?

If this year is like every other year, yes. Every year since its introduction, Apple has released an upgrade to their popular handset. Last year that release was leaked and reported all over. This year, there are hints but the major reports are that AT&T’s exclusive deal will end, and Verizon will also sell the iPhone. That along with speculation on a new iPad (almost a certainty, i would think) has been most of what is circulating about the new year at Apple.

This week a video of “replacement’ parts for the iPhone was posted and then taken down. It showed a slightly different design of the hardware. Was it a fake? And is the claim that it was removed over a copyright claim with Apple a fake?

Today AT&T offers the 3GS for $50 with contract, a 50% price cut. That seems to hint that an announcement is coming, and they are clearing stock.

This is all speculation, and will be until Apple says one thing or the other. I am intimately involved, in that I am due for an upgrade, and want to switch to the latest version of the iPhone from my 3GS. if that remains the iPhone 4, great. but if there is a new iPhone 5 coming, I will wait.

Apple’s Philosophy

Yesterday Steve Jobs and company had a press conference addressing the iPhone 4 antenna issues. Overall it was a pretty good response from them, free cases or full refunds for those with issues. You can see the main video on Apple’s site, but the Q&A had some interesting content. I was watching the live blog from MacWorld, and got this from them. In the course of an answer, Jobs talked about how they approached entering the smartphone market.

Steve Jobs:

“To understand Apple, one of our biggest insights came about 8 years ago. We didn’t want to get into any business where we didn’t own or control the primary technology. Because if someone else owns it, they’re going to beat you in the end. And in the computer business, we thought software was the most important tech. And we made our own OS. Our big insight 8 years ago was that for most areas of consumer electronics, it was going to shift from big displays or optical pickup heads for DVDs being important, or radios in cell phones, to software being the most important component. And we realized, we were pretty good at software. And so the iPod really proved that to ourselves, that we could do that, and we brought that to the phone business.

We really made the whole process of being able to update your software an order of magnitude easier than it was before. So we’ve been able to frictionlessly distribute major updates for the software for the iPhone, continuously, and have been able to fix bugs, improve performance, add new features… all for free. And everyone’s copying Apple now, but we were the first ones to really do that in a practical way.”

Apple didn’t enter the market until they knew they could do it well. And now they dominate that market.

How may times do we just do something because we can, rather than have a strategy and plan?

My Monthly 3G Usage on AT&T

Last month I embarked upon an adventure. After AT&T changed their data plans to a tiered offering, I checked my data use, sure that I was hitting well over their 2GB limit. I was not; not even close. Quickly I realized that most of my data use was on a wifi network. So I had no real knowledge of how much data I actually used. Last month I decided to turn off wifi on my phone and see just how much data I really consumed.

Let me say, there’s a reason why smartphones come with wifi capability. As fast as 3G is, it’s slow. I freely admit, a few times I went back to settings and turned wifi back on. But then I went back to 3G. There were times when my 3G network at home was reduced to Edge, something I would never notice if I was using my wifi network. Suburban 3G coverage has it’s flaws.

Now it’s over, and wifi is back on. So what was my usage this past month?

Not 2GB, but definitely more than the 200MB tier. About 2/3 of my data use is on a wifi network. Since iOS4 released I find myself streaming audio over 3G more. If that continues, or increases, I might see a bump in usage, but I doubt it will ever be over the 2GB limit. Still, letting go of the “unlimited”plan for a savings of only $5 is not very tempting for me.

I will stay with my unlimited plan for now, and continue to monitor my data usage.

The 3G Existence

Recently, AT&T changed their smartphone data plans to a tiered, capped structure. There’s a plan for under 200MB usage in a month, and for up to 2GB usage, with additional steps for each extra 1GB of usage. I went to check my data usage, sure i was up close to the 2GB limit, and discovered that I was not even breaking the 200MB limit.

Here is the graph for the past few months:

I use wifi all the time. I am almost always in a wifi hotspot when I do any sort of lengthy data use on my iPhone. Since all current iPhone users are “grandfathered” into their current plans, I don’t have to switch. But if I never hit 200MB, I could be saving that extra money every month. But how much data do I actually use? If my wifi went down one month, how much would I use?

So, I decided to test it out, I turned off wifi on my phone.

I have discovered that I really miss the speed of wifi. I know that 3G is faster than edge (believe me, I know), but man 3G is not fast. not really, not compared to a good wifi connection. No wonder I developed a habit of using data on wifi. Who wouldn’t if it’s available.

Plus, iTunes won’t let you download larger applications over wifi, so some updates have to be done with the computer. Since I have been using an iPad, I don’t normally take my laptop home anymore. So I have to wait to get the apps or updates.

Speaking of the iPad. If it is available, and the 3G connection is slow, or even worse, I’m on Edge, I will confess to grabbing the wifi ipad to do a task rather than wait for 3G. So my experiment is tainted. it is also tainted because on occasion, I have needed data in a hurry, and switched to wifi on the phone. Only for a minute, only for a few MBs.

To be honest, I’m thinking about forgoing the experiment altogether. Now that iOS4 is here, with multitasking, I may end up skewing the whole thing by streaming music with Pandora on the road. I don’t know what will happen. or how my usage will change, which is why I am planning to keep my unlimited plan, for a while anyway.

There is a reason these phones are designed with wifi capability. It’s a better connection than 3G.

Maybe I’ll just do it for half a month? How much longer is that? Another week or so?

600,000 iPhone 4 Preorders in One Day

Macworld posted an article reporting that 600,000 preorders were taken for the iPhone 4 yesterday.

After suspending preorders, Apple issued a statement including an apology:

Yesterday Apple and its carrier partners took pre-orders for more than 600,000 of Apple’s new iPhone 4. It was the largest number of pre-orders Apple has ever taken in a single day and was far higher than we anticipated, resulting in many order and approval system malfunctions. Many customers were turned away or abandoned the process in frustration. We apologize to everyone who encountered difficulties, and hope that they will try again or visit an Apple or carrier store once the iPhone 4 is in stock.

Expect to see iPhone 4 models selling on eBay for triple retail very soon. Some are claiming the demand is 10 times higher than for the 3Gs. This demand is surely what caused the host of issues that precipitated the apology from Apple.