AT&T Wireless Options
November 24, 2009 10:34 AM   Subscribe

My 2-year cell phone contract with AT&T Wireless is complete, and I'm looking for advice on how to handle the next part.

In general, the question is: Should I re-up or just continue without a contract?


1. Does anyone have experience with unlocked phones from Amazon? They appear to be older models, but will I have any trouble getting a quad-band GSM phone up and running to replace my wife's crappy Nokia?

2. I've got a pretty sweet deal with an older 1G iPhone on the EDGE network, and I don't need faster service. But I'm worried: is this thing going to last two more years? If I upgrade, is there a secondary market for 1G iPhones?

3. Kind of random, but I'm thinking of switching to a Kindle for my internet-anywhere needs. Has anyone tried this? (I hear there's a note in the T&Cs that Amazon can start charging for internet if it gets too expensive to support my browsing.) Is it possible to suspend the data part of the plan without getting rid of the iPhone itself?

I've called AT&T and they're supremely unhelpful, but I'm not really read to switch, as any other plan would be much more expensive given our usage rates, the switch to 3G, and general price inflation.
posted by anotherpanacea to Technology (8 answers total)
Ok, a couple things here...

I would avoid the Kindle for your "internet-anywhere" needs. It is extremely limited in what it can do browser-wise. You are much better off with a smart phone in that regard.

I personally would never consider using a phone on EDGE since it is the equivalent of a dial-up modem compared to 3G. But if your usage is that minimal and you don't care, the thing to consider is whether its worth getting one and risk the provider dropping EDGE support in the next couple of years (which I honestly wouldn't be shocked about if they did this).

There is indeed a market for 1G iPhones. Specifically, people who either don't mind using an old one on AT&T, or folks who will essentially use it as an iPod Touch (ie. without the phone service) which is what I do. My iPhone is used on my home wifi network for browsing in other rooms and for playing games.

I wouldn't rule out switching providers though as you'd be surprised at some of the plans out there. I personally have an older deal with T-Mobile which no other provider can come close to matching but they may have some competitive ones as well. Basically just take your plan and shop it around. Say "here is what I am getting--the only thing that will get me to switch is finding a new plan with a better rate. I am not interested in discounts on phones, coverage or anything else, just the rate of the plan." If nobody can beat it then you may be stuck but it certainly is worth spending the hour it takes to investigate over the phone as you could save yourself hundreds of dollars over several years.

I'll reiterate though, be prepared for them to try to pitch you on other features/benefits/promotions if they can't beat the price. I mistakenly went into a Verizon store once when I was shopping my plan around and the guy practically blocked my exit so he could tell me about their network coverage since all they could offer me was a plan that cost more money for less minutes/txts than I was currently getting. At least with a phone you can just hang up.

P.S. I ended up telling him that if all Verizon's employees were like him I'd never switch and shoved him out of my way as I walked out. What a jerk.
posted by Elminster24 at 10:43 AM on November 24, 2009

Best answer: Nooooooooooooooo to using the Kindle for internet.

The browser is awful. It's terrible. Truly horrific. I would rather browse the web on a regular mobile phone (not a smart phone) than use a Kindle for anything other than downloading an ebook from Amazon.

It's really, really bad.

I've been with AT&T for years and years, and I'd just stay with them out of contract if you don't want to upgrade your phone or service. I have not personally done the unlocked phone from Amazon thing, but a friend did with no problems. I doubt there's much of a market for 1G iPhones.

Whatever you do, do not think of the Kindle as an internet browsing device. It's not.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:55 AM on November 24, 2009

When you call AT&T, press the phone prompt that says "cancel my service." This puts you in touch with the Retention Department, AND THEY ARE MAGIC.

(AT&T is satan, btw. But I just did what you did, and I ended up sticking with them because I couldn't find a better deal in the end.)

When you talk to the Retention Dept, tell them you want to quit AT&T. You might have to haggle with them a bit, but they will bend over backwards trying to keep you. You will end up with a better plan - they can tailor specifics to your usage. Again, they're Magic. You'll probably re-sign the contract. Oh well. Still, a better rate!!

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:57 AM on November 24, 2009

As someone who others consider to be an expert in haggling with customer service/retention teams to get crazy deals, I'll agree with Jbenben's suggestion about contacting their retention team.

HOWEVER! And this is a big however...make sure you are fully prepared to switch if they cannot get you something better. That means shopping around like I discussed above prior to doing this.

The reason for this is that retention teams are being increasingly trained to not give you anything better if they have the slightest whiff that you are just calling them to negotiate and not serious about canceling. It adds a HUGE amount of leverage to your side if you can say "look, I shopped my plan around and have the option of switching to (insert competitor's name here) because they're offering me this rate. I'd really like to stay with AT&T but you'll need to do better than they are."

More consumer-focused sites (like are recommending their readers go straight to retention so companies are getting wise to it and instead offering to downgrade your plan to lower your cost, etc. Another thing to be on the watch for is them offering you a standard promotional deal while trying to dress it up to make it look like a special favor they are doing for you. I had one rep pull that on me and I then told him that I was offended that he would offer me something that was right on their homepage.

You will likely need to sign another two year agreement but that is a bargaining chip as well. You can say you are potentially willing to enter into another 2 year agreement (the holy grail for the rep) if you feel the value is there.

Let me know if you have any other questions...I love this kind of thing and have saved myself thousands of dollars over the years negotiating this kind of crap.
posted by Elminster24 at 11:12 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and just an additional warning. It is also a possibility (although very unlikely) that if you come at the rep asking for the sun the moon and the stars and wave a competitors plan in your face, they may actually just drop you. Again, it is incredibly rare, but has been known to happen. Hence why it is good to be fully prepared to switch if need be.
posted by Elminster24 at 11:13 AM on November 24, 2009

Speaking to the 1G iPhone, I wouldn't have too high of hopes of it lasting much longer. I just moved from AT&T to Verizon partly because my 1G was getting frustratingly laggy and buggy from the 3G update; I think it just doesn't have the processing power to deal with all of the new shiny apps and settings. YMMV.

Also, I'm planning on handing mine over to my brother who is getting into iPhone app programming; you might be able to work out a similar deal.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 12:00 PM on November 24, 2009

Can't speak to AT&T specifically, but I have enjoyed my off-contract time. I recommend it if you're not feeling any particularly compelling reason to re-up or to switch providers. At the very least, if a compelling reason to do one or the other does come up, you'll be in a very good position to act.
OTOH, there's a case to be made that you might as well take a subsidized phone deal, because you pay for it either way. Per Consumer Reports, January 2008:
But be aware that your monthly cellular service charges include an amount to recoup the cost of any “free” or low-cost phone that you got when you signed up. So if a cell carrier paid a manufacturer $120 for a handset that it gave you for free with a two-year contract, $5 of your monthly plan fee would effectively go to repay the carrier over 24 months. However , your monthly fee won’t drop by $5 in the 25th month, after the contract ends and the phone is paid off. If you plan to stay with your carrier , you might as well sign a
new contract and get a discounted phone.
posted by willpie at 12:02 PM on November 24, 2009

The only reason I can conceive to be 'off contract' is if you are actually considering switching carriers between contracts due to a move, or something like that. Otherwise, you're missing out on the carrier subsidized phones that you are basically paying for through higher rates. It can be as much as $200 over 24 months. Even if you want to go the unlocked route, if you're happy with your service, you should still try to negotiate for a new phone, then just pop it on ebay or craigslist and put the money towards the unlocked phone you really want.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 1:10 PM on November 24, 2009

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