First fine phone
August 23, 2010 8:19 PM   Subscribe

What kind of phone should we get our son for his 17th birthday? We'd like to get him something reasonably cool, while keeping it reasonably cheap.

He doesn't have a phone. (We have two pay-as-you-go cheapo phones, which he and my wife occasionally use.) I have an iPhone 3GS on AT&T. He probably won't make a lot of calls, but would do texting and some web surfing. A good camera would be a plus. Either a 2-year plan or pay-as-you-go is OK, but I really don't want to pay $80/month. I tried looking around the Consumer Reports, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon websites, but quickly got flummoxed. Thanks!
posted by lukemeister to Technology (21 answers total)
Would you consider giving him a price range and allowing him to choose his own phone? There's a pretty good chance that he's already researched this.
posted by amro at 8:26 PM on August 23, 2010

Yeah, to build on amro's answer: you don't give him a phone, you give him a price range and the (paper) issue of Consumer Reports on phones (look around a Barnes and Noble-type-store and you'll find one). Keeping the amount of information confined to one unbiased source will help him make an informed decision without getting overwhelmed, it allows him to make the choice himself, and it teaches him responsible habits for researching new tech.
posted by phunniemee at 8:31 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: amro,

I like your idea, but he hasn't actually looked into it. (That's surprising, since he's on the computer all the time.) He did mention that he liked a Droid X he saw at karate the other day, but I told him that would probably be a stretch.
posted by lukemeister at 8:34 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: I should mention that our son has Asperger syndrome. He's smart, but I can see him getting overwhelmed by all the choices he has to make. Nonetheless, I like the idea of having him choose.
posted by lukemeister at 8:42 PM on August 23, 2010

Hi Luke. Isn't it easier (and maybe cheaper) to add a line to your existing account?

What is your price range for the phone? I'm partial to Sprint. I think their service trends a little cheaper and I've never had problems with getting a signal. I have a HTC Hero and love it. It is $150 on Sprint's website. I think a lot of the other new Android phones are probably great - it depends on if he wants a hard keyboard or if he can get used to typing on the screen...there are options for both at $100 (Samsung Instinct and Samsung Moment for examples). Sprint's Everything Data - with Any Mobile, Anytime is $70/month....though you might want to add on the insurance which I think is $7/mo plus taxes and you are over $80/month which I really think is inevitable.

I'd look into what adding him to your current account would cost. The cost of the service, over the pretty much required two year contract, is really what adds up -- so, I'd try to nail this part down first then see what phones are offered on the carrier you decide to go with.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:20 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Hi fieldtrip! ... Well, I thought this it would be a lot cheaper sticking with AT&T, but it didn't seem that way when I tried pricing it on their website. I was figuring the price of the phone isn't a major consideration, since it will be swamped by the cost of the plan if we sign up for two years. Sprint did seem like they were cheaper for equivalent features. Glad to hear you're happy with them.
posted by lukemeister at 9:27 PM on August 23, 2010

You know, I think T mobile trends even cheaper for service. Check out the

500 Minutes
Talk + Unlimited Text + Unlimited Web

per month

BUT, you don't get a discount on the phone price and full retail is huge. Maybe you could pick up a phone on ebay or Craigslist. There has to be a lot of CU students who are always upgrading.

I never considered T-Mobile because I know their coverage sucks in some rural areas...but, that might not be a concern for your son. It says there isn't a contract for that price, too, which is nice.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:45 PM on August 23, 2010

I love, love, love my small, pocket-friendly HTC Aria. I'm still on my parents' family plan, and with a 2GB data plan and 600 minutes, it only costs $35/month over what they pay. For what it's worth, I've never even been close to reaching my data limit, and I use my phone pretty much continuously throughout the day.
posted by halogen at 12:50 AM on August 24, 2010

A phone is a very personal thing, it's something he will carry around with him on an almost daily basis for anything between one and two years. As such, it's essential to get something that he likes.

Therefore the best present is an IOU which states "we owe you one phone up to $xx". He can then decide whether or not to top up the money with some of his own to get a better phone.

I have no real experience with Aspergers syndrome but if that means that my suggestion isn't workable, then I'd recommend looking at some of the newer HTC devices (touchscreen running Android, not Windows Mobile) as they're good value, work well and won't break the bank.

Something like the HTC Wildfire would be my recommendation. Here in the UK an 18 month contract for that phone would give you a TCO of £360 whereas the cheapest iPhone 4 will cost you £749.

I would expect that this 50% price difference would also be reflected if you bought it in the US.
posted by mr_silver at 5:30 AM on August 24, 2010

As you are looking for prices, take into consideration your employer and any organizations that you belong to. Many of them offer discounts on cell phone plans.
posted by CathyG at 6:46 AM on August 24, 2010

If you think he might need some guidance in picking out the kind of phone he wants, here's an approach that might help:

Maybe go into Best Buy with not so much an eye to pick out a specific phone, but to get a better sense about the style of phone he's looking for--would he like a touch screen, would he like a touch screen+sliding keyboard, is size and shape a may also see some features that you hadn't considered important but realize would be nice to have (I've got two teens with phones, and I'm really glad they have GPS on their phones).

Next, figure out which network makes the most sense, cost- and coverage-wise. See what phones they have that fall in the basic style/feature box you've marked out, check out reviews, and then finally, having narrowed it down to a couple of different options on a single network, go back to Best Buy and see which one he feels most comfortable with in terms of navigation and easy of use.

One of my kids is on T-Mobile, and one is on AT&T. They both have the smallest voice plan (400 or 500 minutes) + a limited text package + unlimited data, and it runs about $65 on both carriers (plus taxes and fees, natch).
posted by drlith at 6:58 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recently got an HTC Hero with Sprint, too. It is a pretty great phone even if it isn't as flashy or fast as the newer Android phones. Sprint is pretty cheap.
posted by azarbayejani at 7:14 AM on August 24, 2010

I've been using an LG Rumor Touch with Virgin Mobile's non-contract $25 monthly deal since April. While the Rumor Touch first came out at $150, it should be down $20-30 by now. The plan includes unlimited data, text, and web-surfing, with 300 anytime minutes. The camera and touch screen are so-so, not nearly as good as iPhones, but I'm happy with it.
posted by Giggilituffin at 8:30 AM on August 24, 2010

For what it is worth, you should be able to switch to an ATT family plan and add service for an iPhone for your son for much less than $80. The voice service for another line is like $10. I think there is now a $15/dollar data plan, though that might not be enough for a teen. The last piece is the texts, not sure what those run.
posted by Good Brain at 8:52 AM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks. everyone! We'll take him to Best Buy and go from there.
posted by lukemeister at 7:29 PM on August 24, 2010

Let us know what phone you decide on!
posted by amro at 7:34 PM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: amro,

Will do!
posted by lukemeister at 8:12 PM on August 24, 2010

I would suggest that you encourage him to look at the Android based devices. If he goes for a phone with a propitiatory operating system then it's highly likely there won't be a thriving developer community and application store and hence a tonne of different applications for all the things that people like to use these days (eg. facebook, twitter, maps, games).

In other words, if you go with an LG or Samsung that runs their own Operating System you're stuck with their half-baked implementation whether you like it or not - and having been in the mobile industry for the last 10+ years, I can tell you, it'll be half baked.
posted by mr_silver at 1:48 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: mr_silver,

I would prefer for our son to get an Android-based phone, but we'll see what he thinks!
posted by lukemeister at 8:17 PM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: We got him a Samsung Gravity 3 from T-Mobile on a pay-as-you-go plan. $15/month for unlimited texting, plus 10 cents a call. Thanks, everyone!
posted by lukemeister at 9:52 AM on September 9, 2010

posted by amro at 10:12 AM on September 9, 2010

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