iPhone without a SIM card vs. iPod Touch
December 26, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm being offered an iPhone for the same price as an iPod Touch, which I've been planning to get; which one should I get? What's the difference? Also, I may be switching from AT&T to T-Mobile soon; if I do, will I be able to use the unlocked iPhone without incurring charges for the internet like AT&T does automatically?

Part 1: What kind of differences are there between an iPhone without a SIM card in it and an iPod Touch? Is there any significant difference between the two or should I just go with the iPod Touch?

Part 2: I don't want to put my SIM card in the iPhone because I have AT&T and I hear they automatically charge you for a data plan; if I switch to T-Mobile, can I use the unlocked iPhone without incurring extra charges? What features would I not be able to use?
posted by hotdiggitydog to Technology (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you unlock the iPhone, you can use a T-Mobile SIM card. You won't get Visual Voicemail, and you'll only get EDGE speeds -- no 3G. I can't speak to T-Mobile's billing practices, though.

The iPod touch, meanwhile, is a little thinner.
posted by thejoshu at 11:08 AM on December 26, 2009

The iPhone also has a camera.
posted by shaun at 11:16 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm on a family plan with T-Mobile, so YMMV, but I pay like $20-$25/mo for data on my Blackberry on top of voice (which is pretty cheap on the family plan) and unlimited text (which I think is maybe $5-$6/mo per line). My numbers aren't exact because I pay the person who actually gets the phone bills for my portion so I don't remember the exact breakdown of costs.
My friend just got an iPhone on AT&T where he has the only line on the account and pays $90/mo. My bill is under $50.
posted by ishotjr at 11:25 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

To add on the speeds: EDGE is pretty decent, probably comparable to 3G if you live in a city that is very iPhone-saturated (my friend complains about his iPhone being slow sometimes). Of course, you should also be able to access wifi, which is generally faster than either network, and is what both I and my former roomie who had an iPhone would do in our house.

But, I'm pretty sure T-Mobile has 3G now. Not sure if that applies to unlocked iPhones or not.
posted by ishotjr at 11:29 AM on December 26, 2009

The iPhone has a microphone and a camera, the iPod Touch does not. Both can get wifi access

Also, you can use the iPhone without actually having a phone service. I would go for the iPhone and decide if it will be used as a phone later.

How did you come across this deal anyway?
posted by jander03 at 11:51 AM on December 26, 2009

I have a T-Mobile G1 and I used to only get EDGE reception here. When I was visiting a friend in Huston my phone connected on 3G and it was WAY faster for doing things like Google maps and just getting on the web.

But, I just noticed the other day that 3G service just got turned on here!
posted by delmoi at 11:52 AM on December 26, 2009

To add on the speeds: EDGE is pretty decent, probably comparable to 3G if you live in a city that is very iPhone-saturated

I can't speak to a iphone saturated city, but in an unsaturated city 3G is in a completely different class than EDGE. When I'm limited to EDGE I only use it if absolutely necessary; it's almost unusable. 3G is much faster.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 12:58 PM on December 26, 2009

Let's be clear: The iPhone can ABSOLUTELY NOT use T-Mobile's 3G service in ANY CIRCUMSTANCES AT ALL. The physical radio operates at different frequencies so this is 100% undoable.

That being said, EDGE is pretty slow, but people used it lots when the iPhone first came out, so you'd be about on par with a 1st gen iPhone.

AT&T is dramatically more expensive than T-Mobile. About 100% more expensive. I have an unlimited talk, text, and web plan for $70/mo. (It would be another $10-$15 if I had a smartphone.) AT&T's closest plan is $150/mo., plus crazy fees. I *may* be able to squeak by in a lower tier, but I use my phone for business a LOT--as my primary desk phone, so that doesn't work.

The basest AT&T iPhone plan usually comes to about $70/mo. before any taxes or fees (so realistically $80-$90, depending on your state) and that includes 450 minutes and NO bundled messages.
posted by disillusioned at 1:14 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you have no contract to deal with, there's basically no reason to choose an iPod touch over an iPhone. The iPhone offers the following advantages:

• Free software updates
• Camera
• Microphone
• GPS (3G or 3GS only)
• Video recording (3GS only)
• Also a phone
posted by designbot at 1:43 PM on December 26, 2009

An iPod Touch is basically a crippled iPhone. You definitely want the iPhone.

T-Mobile's EDGE service is pretty slow for me (a little faster than old dialup speeds) but is fine for light (or patient) browsing or Google Maps lookups. I think they're only charging me $10/month for it, too. I doubt they autobill you. At any rate, if you unlock your iPhone (which you'd have to do for T-Mobile anyways), you can use SBSettings or a similar tool to disable EDGE if you want to make sure you won't be accidentally charged.
posted by neckro23 at 2:05 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So what if I just didn't put a SIM card into the iPhone? What features would I be missing out on? Would the GPS work? Free software updates? I'm still not sure about the switch to T-Mobile, if I stay on AT&T and don't use the iPhone as an actual phone, is it still worth it?

Also, are there any VoIP apps I might be able to use with the iPhone on wifi?

jander03: How did you come across this deal anyway?

A friend's friend is selling his iPhone. I'm assuming he got it (or a new phone) for Christmas and didn't want it.
posted by hotdiggitydog at 3:12 PM on December 26, 2009

The iPhone works on GSM, which is available on AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon uses CDMA, which is a different technology. So they're the same tech although the iPhone is only sold through AT&T and has to be either unlocked or jailbroken to be used on T-Mobile.

Source: my spouse, who works for AT&T's wifi group (the ones who do the wifi at Starbucks).
posted by immlass at 7:55 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

So I take it that you will not the using the iphone on at&t because you have no intention of paying for a data plan. And you will not get a data plan on t-mobile, if you switch. In that case, ignore all the EDGE/3g talk. It's irrelevant if you don't pay for data.

I have a g1 on t-mobile without a data plan. I can't speak for iphones, but everything works save for GPS, visual voicemail, and MMS. I can get the first two if I'm on a wifi network. Obviously, I can't get internet access, email, etc. w/o wifi as well. MMS is the only thing that doesn't work, period, becuase it requires some special server. This may well only apply to the g1.

I found this, which might provide more info.

T-mobile does not require me to get a data plan, though I did need one for activation. If you buy a subsidized (possibly unsubsidized as well) smartphone from them, they slap a data plan on that you can't cancel for two years. If you don't buy it from them, they don't require a data plan. I had to argue a bit to cancel the data plan that I had tacked on for activation with every intent of turning off, but despite BS about the phone bricking, the woman eventually turned it off.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:45 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and t-mobile own't let me accidentally use internet charged per mb or whatever - if I try to access something accidentally, I just get an error message,
posted by R a c h e l at 9:47 PM on December 26, 2009

The iPhone works on GSM, which is available on AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon uses CDMA, which is a different technology.

In case this is a response to disillusioned, I'm going to (try and) clarify.
The iPhone can MAKE PHONE CALLS on T-Mobile and ATT, because they use the same technology for phone calls. It canNOT make phone calls on Verizon.
The iPhone can get FAST INTERNET (3G) on ATT only, because Tmobile uses a different radio 'channel' for their fast internet.
The iPhone can get SLOW internet (EDGE) on ATT and TMobile.

Aside from that, I have heard from several people who absolutely could not get ATT to unlock their iPhone (as in, moving out of the country and spent weeks on it and still couldn't get it done). So you may need to find a way of unlocking it without ATT cooperation.
posted by jacalata at 1:00 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As far as part 1, it depends on whether or not you are absolutely sure you don't want to use the iPhone as a phone.

I actually do have both an iPhone without a SIM and an iPod touch here, both of which I use for testing apps during development. Because the iPod Touch is slimmer and lighter, I personally prefer it to the iPhone and use it elsewhere, while the iPhone (gen 1) is strictly test-only. The iPhone's built-in camera and microphone are of no use to me, but that might not be the case for you.

Anyway, as others have made clear, if there's any chance you want to use the iPhone as a phone, at the same price price there's no good reason to get an iPod Touch unless the small size and weight differential is critical. Plus the iPhone holds a better resale value, at least as of right now.

No good reason for an iPod Touch, that is, unless you're paranoid about jailbreaking the iPhone, which is the only way to setup through iTunes after a full reset or out of box, unless you temporarily borrow an AT&T SIM to pop in the slot. But jailbreaking is currently a simple process. I do, however, know someone who flating refuses to mess with their iPhone that way, so I guess some people out there would prefer the Touch in a pure no-phone same-cost scenario.
posted by mdevore at 1:42 AM on December 27, 2009

I jailbroke my 2G iPhone and it works fine on T-Mobile. The phone doesn't do 3G (I think) but that doesn't matter because T-Mo doesn't support any iPhone's 3G band. I'm happy with EDGE, it's a superb handheld computer.

BTW, I think the iPhone needs a SIM card to work.
posted by exhilaration at 12:32 PM on December 29, 2009

Is there any way to use a first generation I Phone on wifi without a data package. I'm using my Go phone sim card in the I phone. It will not let me access safari because I don't have a data package.
posted by martynkd at 11:30 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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