Help prepare me for getting an iphone with tmobile!
March 20, 2009 8:59 PM   Subscribe

iPhoneFilter: My grandpa wants to buy me an iPhone and I'm on tmobile--help me figure out what I need to do to get this purchased and working correctly!

My grandfather has offered to buy me an iPhone. That said, I'm a (relatively) happy tmobile customer who currently has an old promo deal of theirs that no other cell phone provider (heck, not even tmobile themselves) can match in terms of price and features so switching to AT&T is not an option.

So, I know tmobile has 3G now and that people are apparently able to use iphones on tmobile. I've talked to my brother a bit who knows a bit about jailbreaking iphones, etc.

What do I need to know about this process? Some questions I've been wondering about are...

1. How do I go about buying this iPhone if I don't want to signup for AT&T? Can I just have my brother buy a new one "for himself"?

2. My brother said I need a 3G compatible SIM card. Right now I have a Razr v3t which I don't believe is 3g compatible (I got the SIM card before 3G was even out). Where can I purchase one and is it difficult to transfer stuff over?

3. Where can I find a good guide for getting a 3G iphone working on tmobile from start to finish?

4. What restrictions or limitations should I be aware of when using this iphone on tmobile?

5. Is there any risk in the future of getting my phone bricked by a mandatory Apple update?

6. Most importantly, what is the app store situation when using the iphone on tmobile? Do I have full access?

Sorry for all the questions...I'm just paranoid about doing this as I really want an iphone but want to make sure I'm not going to get screwed when I could get a Kindle 2 instead.
posted by Elminster24 to Technology (14 answers total)
Just get the Kindle 2. Without a contract, the iPhone costs $500. Once you jailbreak it, the warranty is void. The likelihood of getting everything to work far outweighs the benefit if you do succeed. I love my iPhone, but its not worth THAT kind of trouble.
posted by jefficator at 9:09 PM on March 20, 2009

I'm not much help, but I had to say that when I first read this, I thought it said that your grandfather wanted to get an iPhone (like for himself), and I was impressed.

So this isn't a completely useless comment, have you considered any other smartphones available from T-Mobile (like the G1--before everyone jumps on me, I know it's not the same as the iPhone). Of course, if someone is willing to buy it for you, and price isn't an issue, I'm sure you can make it work, it just won't be easy.
posted by fructose at 9:17 PM on March 20, 2009

I believe the 3G service on TMobile doesn't work (different bands) - you are stuck with the older EDGE data connection as with the first generation iPhone. I personally love the iphone and it is my best phone by far - that being said, my brother on TMobile loves his G1 and swears by it. Probably not worth the hassle and risks involved. Warranty, someone is paying for the iPhone contract on AT&T every month, and you're not even getting 3G out of the phone.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:36 PM on March 20, 2009

This is one of those questions that if you have to ask how, you shouldn't do it. It simply won't be worth the trouble. Your concerns are valid, and the simple answer is you get an iPhone and you switch to AT&T. If you want to experiment badly enough and don't care about the possibility of the phone blowing up, here is the guide for Jailbreaking:
posted by bensherman at 9:37 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you do get the Iphone, you will only be able to use it on edge speeds. Tmobile's 3G frequency is not supported on the Iphone.

but here's some quick and dirty answers:

1. try craigslist
2. any sim card will do, once you unlock the iphone
3. this is a start
4. no 3G for starters (see above), this may or may not be a deal breaker. no support from either Apple or Tmobile in case something breaks or flat out doesnt work.
5. there is always a small possibility, but you can choose not to update your iphone and wait for someone to jailbreak the newest update.
6. i remember being able to still download apps through itunes, which would be independent of tmobile.

I had a 2G iphone running on Tmobile about 6 months ago with no problems whatsoever.

on preview, what other ppl said
posted by aGee at 9:40 PM on March 20, 2009

Best answer: I have an iPhone on T-Mobile, but it's a first gen iPhone I bought used from a friend (when he got himself a new 3G one).

This site is where I've gotten a lot of info for unlocking and jailbreaking iPhones for T-Mobile use. However, I notice that on this particular page about unlocking 3G iPhones it says the following: "T-Mobile and AT&T use different 3G frequencies, so your iPhone 3G won't pick up T-Mobiles 3G network. You CAN however still use T-Mobile EDGE and GPRS just fine with the iPhone 3G - as well as all T-Mobile's voice features, and WiFi of course."

So I guess you still won't get 3G speed on T-Mobile. Sorry. (For my purposes, the EDGE network works well enough.)

You'll need to have a T-Mobile plan that supports mobile internet use, such as one of their Blackberry plans. I've heard reports that some users have called T-Mobile tech support and told them up front they're using unlocked iPhones, and the T-Mobile techs apparently don't mind a bit.

As for upgrades from Apple - they're a bit of a pain if you go this route. First, you have to wait for the hackers to figure out how to jailbreak and unlock each new firmware update, and then to publish their new methods online. Then you basically have to install the update from Apple and re-jailbreak/unlock. It's a somewhat complicated process, but that site has some pretty good step-by-step guides. But Apple won't automatically install an update - when one comes out, you'll start seeing notices in iTunes that an update is available, but you can set your preferences such that it won't do anything until you tell it to. So once you get it working, you should be fine.

App store - full access, no difference from AT&T users. Only slight catch - because I don't upgrade firmware versions every single time (due to the effort), every now and then, when it's been a while since I've upgraded, I start to run into apps that won't work without the newest firmware. Luckily, they tell you that right when you try to install them, so if I have older version of the app that still works, it stays working.

As for how to actually buy a new 3G iPhone and avoid signing up for AT&T - that, I do not know. Maybe look for a used one if you can find a trustworthy source somewhere?

Basically, I love having my iPhone +T-Mobile. My plan costs a lot less than the AT&T plans, and I get most of the best iPhone features. Since I don't have the 3G, I still have slower network, and no GPS. But I'm not really a heavy mobile data user, so it's ok with me.

Other things you might consider: the iPod touch does about everything an iPhone does except the mobile internet (it requires WiFi network, but if you're on T-Mobile you could pay for one of their HotSpot access plans, which would get you free WiFi at any Starbucks, lots of other places too). Or the T-Mobile Google/Android phone.
posted by dnash at 9:50 PM on March 20, 2009

Unless you really want one bad, its generally not worth the effort.

1. Its going to be expensive - You'll probably need to buy a new one then pay the ETF.
2. You won't get 3G speeds on T-mobile.
3. You can't update, generally it will break the unlock and you will have to wait around for updates to get 'hacked'.
4. You phone won't be as stable as you might have to run different phone and baseband firmwares.
5. When 3.0 comes out you will be stuck on 2.x.x for a while.
6. You don't have visual voicemail.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:28 PM on March 20, 2009

You might want to take a good look at the HTC G1 - this is the Google Android phone available natively on T-Mobile platform. Here is the endgadget review if you want more details. I have an iPhone, and if I had to do it over again I would get a G1 without question. It is a solid phone that costs less (initial and monthly contract), and has all the features of an iPhone plus a real keyboard. Banshee integrates your music, podcasts, contacts, etc just like iTunes, and there are plenty more decent apps coming out of the store. You can also add more storeage on the cheap (8GB MicroSD cards are ~$25).

You will save yourself a big headache and a bunch of money, and end up with a phone that is comparable, if not better, than the iPhone.
posted by sophist at 12:02 AM on March 21, 2009

maybe you can ask him for the HTC G1 that runs Google's Android. That works natively on TMobile and is a great phone. If you are interested in surfing the web, listening to music, playing games and watching the occasional video the g1 is gonna work for you just fine.

The best feature, IMHO, is the QWERTY keyboard which makes IM'ing & Email so much easier. The biggest problem with it is the lack of support for Exchange. This may not be a problem for you.

I have both, and I think they are both great. The iPhone is defs a bit sexier, and I think their app selection is a bit better. But the g1 is terriffic, and I think it can be unlocked fairly easily should you ever decide to change providers.

What about the iPhone in particular are you looking forward too? I bet its mostly covered by the g1 (except Exchange integration).

posted by askmehow at 12:02 AM on March 21, 2009

+1 on the recommendation to look beyond the iPhone if you're not willing to leave T-Mo. I was in a very similar boat this past summer after the iPhone 3G came out - had a sweet T-Mo plan, great price, etc. - but no iPhone! I looked into purchasing a 1st generation iPhone but the price was pretty steep (even for beat up ones) and it was going to be a lot of hassle and compromised functionality that I knew I was not going to be satisfied with. I ended up biting the bullet and getting the iPhone and apart from my monthly bill doubling with the move to AT&T, I have very few regrets.

If you're want an iPhone, do it the right way. There's a very high likelihood of disappointment otherwise. Good luck.
posted by karizma at 12:54 AM on March 21, 2009

I own both the G1 and the iPhone.

I would recommend the iPhone without a shadow of a doubt. The G1 interface is clunky, does not have flow at all. The app store is TERRIBLE, half the apps i download simply crash or the UI's are so terrible it makes the applications difficult to use. The web browser it also horrid compared to the iPhone. I can even type quicker on the iPhone!

On the plus side I have found the little apps that allow you to add features to the G1 like pop ups for the G1 are great. They allow you to add little features to the phone and truly customize it. Some of the games are also pretty fun light cycle on the G1 is a lot better than the iPhone equiv.

Overall though the G1 does not come close to the iPhone in my opinion.
posted by moochoo at 2:22 AM on March 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers guys. To clarify a few things:

- I've definitely considered a G1 when they were first coming out but they look like large clunky pieces of junk and form factor is important as I don't want a brick making a huge bulge in my pocket. Plus, while Android in general is a Good Thing(tm), it just doesn't have the same quality development going for it that the iPhone does. I'm considering holding off for the "G2" whenever that comes out.

-I was unaware of the fact that I would not get 3G speeds on the tmobile network with an iphone. That is a deal-breaker for me as I would be a heavy data user. So I guess that answers that...

-I'm still not sure that I want a Kindle2 as the obscure sci-fi books I read (think Warhammer 40k stuff) are for the most part not available on the Kindle2. Is it possible to load PDFs onto the Kindle2? Ethics aside, I pirate a large amount of PDFs for the various gaming books and such that I read and would love to read those on something like the Kindle2. I know some of them have color and full pictures so I'm not sure if there would be issues with that.
posted by Elminster24 at 10:00 AM on March 21, 2009

Just a warning. I have an older iPhone on tmobile. The data speeds are poky -- much pokier than my unlocked Sony-Ericcson on the same plan with the same sim, etc.

Just get an unlocked phone that's designed for 3G, as T-mobile is the friendliest to unlocked phones for all the carriers.

Perhaps if I had paid for my iPhone rather than inheriting it, I'd be more positive on it, but personally, I find it to be unintuitive and a pain to use for anything but web browsing. I'm switching to a BlackBerry after a month of "giving the iPhone a shot".
posted by Gucky at 3:29 PM on March 21, 2009

Have you thought about just having him get you an ipod touch and keeping your normal phone on Tmobile?
posted by JackarypQQ at 5:59 PM on March 21, 2009

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