Questions about getting my first smartphone

I’ve been out of the loop completely with regard to phones and I want to dive in. I have a lot of questions though.

I’ve been with AT&T forever and just got a free phone when they said I was eligible for an upgrade. I didn’t know until today that that meant I screwed myself over because I have to pay full price for a smartphone now. Is that correct?

The free phone I got is a cheap, at-most $40 flip phone. Is AT&T really dissuading me from buying into their smartphone business because they want to punish me for getting that $40 phone for free? Do they prefer that I wait another two years to upgrade?

I don’t understand the incentives here. I thought they would make it easier for customers to upgrade. I suppose they hope I would pay full price for the smartphone, which totally makes me not want to bother.

Can I just pay for that $40 phone retroactively so I can retain my eligibility for a new discounted smartphone?

Why don’t you ask AT&T?

How long since you upgraded? Did you do it remotely or did you upgrade with an ATT in-store visit? Not sure if it will help but an in-store visit (not a kiosk place but a real ATT store) and talk with the manager might work, especially if it’s been no more than two weeks (maybe up to 30 days) since you upgraded.

I’m just surprised you did not ask questions before you “upgraded.”

You can always pay the early termination fee on your current line, then be upgrade eligible again.

If it is very soon, you can just return the phone and your eligibility will be restored after a day or two.

Pay the early termination fee to dump your contract, buy the smart phone outright and go with a pay as you go provider.

You’ll save a lot of money over the life of a two year contract if you go that route, and you won’t be locked into a specific vendor if other options start to look more promising in the future. Why most people don’t do this I have no clue. Is saving a hundred dollars off your phone up front worth paying >$1000 extra over the next two years??

In Canada I pay $29 a month for unlimited everything with a pay as you go provider. All contracts are crap. You can definitely get cheaper than I have as well, and I assume the states has cheaper rates than Canada.

But go into a store and actually talk to a person face-to-face. If at all possible. Store managers have a lot of leeway to make exceptions and add discounts that people in the call center don’t have.

The finances do sometimes make sense. My wife and I just took the plunge into iPhones by moving away from prepaid plans into an AT&T plan that combines both lines. We’re saving $900 on two phones. While we’re paying about $1600 a more over the 2-yr contract ($70/month more), the new plan has things our old one didn’t (like the ability to text message and the data service). So I consider that the $700 difference ($30/month) between the phone savings and plan price increase to be a reasonable charge.

I know there are some prepaid plans with other smart phones and older iPhones that are a little cheaper, but not with the phones we really want.

You should be aware that many Android phones ship with SD cards of limited capacity. (An SD card is like the hard drive on your computer.) For instance, my original SD card was only 2G; I later bought an 8G card, and still later, upgraded to one that was 16G. It still seems like it’s not enough, sometimes, because all those “apps for that” take up space. IME SD cards run between $1 and $2 per gigabyte.

Low to medium range Android phones need a bit of hacking and tweaking to get the most out of them. I’m an Android fan myself, but if your stomach is turned by the prospect of reading and following instructions like “Plug your phone into your USB port and download the APK onto your SD card’s root folder” and “Root the device and wipe cache and data before flashing ROM”, consider buying a higher end phone that will work better out of the box. Or even an iPhone 4 if you don’t want to splash out on the latest and most expensive Apple product.

That’s interesting. Can you tell me more about your experiences with pay-as-you-go plans? What are the downsides? I assume I would need an unlocked phone for this (if I want to keep my carrier options open in the future)?

Good advice about looking for a no-contract cell phone company, but you need to make sure you get decent reception. Nothing is a bargain if you can’t make and receive calls reliably.

$29 a month for unlimited data in Canada? What provider is it?

I have at&t and they should allow you to return the phone for any reason within 30 days. They should be more than happy to let you switch from a feature phone to a smartphone because the plans for them are inherently more expensive being that they’ll include some kind of data plan (3G or, better still for them, 4G).

In terms of which smartphone to buy, you’ve got iPhone, Android, and a very distant third WindowsPhone (though they’re not appallingly bad). With an iPhone I would go for a 16 or 32GB iPhone4S if your data needs are modest (they’re only 3G), an iPhone5 if you want highspeed 4G service. The most popular Android phone is probably the Samsung Galaxy IIIS. I currently have an iPhone4 and I’m mostly happy with it, though the screen size is a little small these days (and the iPhone5 is only a little better).

Buying wise “smart phones” range from insanely expensive to fairly cheap, bear in mind even the expensive ones don’t bounce well or react to water well. I’d look at the screens and buy one that you can read easily and of a size you can live with. All androids have GPS etc and with small variations run most apps. The low end ones however have arm 6 chips and that wont run flash easily so if you can go for a arm 7 or up.

I found a friend who was upgrading his AT&T smartphone after two years. I asked him to unlock it on the AT&T website before he sold it to me.

I went to a real AT&T store in the mall (not a kiosk reseller) and bought a 250 minute/3 month SIM for a GoPhone. I did not take the phone and they did not ask. Trimmed the SIM to micro size and popped it in the phone and powered it up to activate. Then I called and had my feature phone number ported to the smartphone.

I can do with just WiFi, so I just refill minutes as needed.

Another option, with data is the $45/month plan from StraightTalk.

I’m on boost mobile. I get unlimited talk and text for $35 a month. I used their shrinkage plane where it shrunk from $50 to $35.

If you have an Android phone, then it shrinks from $55 to $40.

Though I agree it’s not a good idea to drop any smartphone from a height, from what I’ve read here and elsewhere around the internet is that iPhones are much more fragile in that regard–which isn’t too surprising considering the shape of the phone and placement of the screen. Not having that cool-looking completely flat surface means that most Android screens are slightly recessed, giving them an added measure of protection. Several times I’ve dropped my Android from at least waist height, to land either on pavement or my hardwood floor, and it hasn’t broken yet.

My device is arm-6, and when I got it somewhat over a year ago I found its inability to run Flash to be a major frustration. Since then I’ve found it to be somewhat less of a problem, partly because I’ve found non-Flash-dependent sources for the AV content I want to watch, and I think also partly because content providers are increasingly taking advantage of HTML5. I can watch podcasted shows with no trouble.