How can I upgrade to a new smartphone with an accompanying data plan?
March 9, 2012 5:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I upgrade to a new smartphone without an accompanying data plan?

I'm leaving for a long-term (about a year) trip to Korea in about a week, just in time for my upgrade with Verizon. I'm looking to purchase my first smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus.

I plan on getting the phone unlocked and hoping I might be able to use it during my stay in Korea. However, Verizon is requiring that I include the $30 data plan with my purchase. I'd like to avoid this charge since I'll be using a Korean network while in Korea.

I thought maybe this could be easily answered if I just contacted customer service, but I was worried they might get suspicious if I declined the data plan.

Also, I'm trying to make the purchase through Amazon Wireless which is $30 less than directly through Verizon.

Thanks for your help!
posted by AngryTypingGuy to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
The only way to get the reduced price (you're paying something like $200-$300 for that phone through Verizon/Amazon, right?) is to buy the data plan and sign a contract. You can buy a phone by itself with no contract, but it'll be much, much more expensive up front. It helps to view a smartphone investment as something on the order of $700-$800, then deciding on whether you'd like to pony that up front or spread it out over the length of the contract.
posted by carsonb at 5:28 PM on March 9, 2012

That low upgrade price? The carrier wants you paying the difference between it and the $649 retail price (and then some) over the lifetime of the contract. You might be able to get a price-match from Verizon if you call customer service and hint that you're looking elsewhere, but if you want a phone without a contract, then you're probably going to have to pay the no-contract price.
posted by holgate at 5:40 PM on March 9, 2012

I don't quite understand what options you're asking about. If you want to get Samsung Galaxy from Verizon, you can get it either

(1) with a 2-year contract, for $299, or

(2) with a month-to-month plan, for $649.

In neither of these cases will the phone be unlocked, because it's not a GSM version. In both cases you will have to buy a Voice plan (cheapest $39.99) AND a Data plan (cheapest $30). You will be able to suspend your service, if you're going abroad, but you'll have to check with Verizon customer service whether there are any time limitations on the suspension of service. You will have to pick up the contract on your return to the U.S.

Your other option is to buy the phone unlocked from Amazon. This will be a GSM version, which means you'll be able to buy a GSM card in another country (with a new number and a plan assigned) and put it in the phone. HOWEVER, I don't know whether Galaxy Nexus purchased here will work in South Korea, because S. Korea works on different frequencies. I can't find any conclusive information on the intrawebs about it.
posted by Ender's Friend at 5:43 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure the Verizon Galaxy Nexus won't work in Korea.

Countries Where Any Verizon Wireless Phone Will Work
posted by jozxyqk at 6:06 PM on March 9, 2012

The discount is only if you commit to a new plan but that's only half of your problem. Or maybe even a third.

The Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus works on Verizon's LTE network and falls back on CDMA in places where it can't get that signal. The other version the GSM/UMTS version is the "world phone" version of the device that works on 3G HSPA+ networks. So to use a phone here and in Korea, you'd need to buy the GSM/UMTS version because the Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus will only work on North American LTE networks and will roam on CDMA in other countries (at $20/mb for data and $2/min voice). Unlike the GSM/UMTS version of the phone where if carrier unocked, you can just slap another carrier's SIM in, the Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus is can't do it because of the difference in technology. There is a SIM slot for the LTE but the Verizon Version of the Galaxy Nexus seems to be tuned only for the N.American standard. And even if Verizon doesn't lock that LTE SIM, it is doubtful it has the bands to work in Korea even if you can find a LTE carrier to give you a SIM.

The iPhone 4S can work because it is both a CDMA and GSM/UMTS phone and Verizon keeps the SIM card unlocked so you can use it with other carriers' SIM cards outside the US. But even then, you can't get the unsubsidized version of the phone (the unsubsidized unlocked iPhone 4S is the GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ version and even though it has a CDMA radio inside, neither Verizon or Spirnt will let it on its network in the US). And the 4S doesn't run LTE. Confusing? You bet.

My friend visited his relatives in Seoul last year for a few months and discovered for a foreigner he couldn't just get a prepaid plan for his GSM phone like you can in most other countries. He'd need a Korean national to get one. You may have contacts in South Korea that can help you navigate this but it won't get you over the fact the Verizon Galaxy Nexus won't work in Korea unless it is roaming on Verizon and paying the obscene roaming fees. You may be able to find a place that will rent you a Galaxy Nexus for your time there but you'll have to give it back when you leave.

So if you want the Galaxy Nexus that will work in the US and Korea, you have to buy the unlocked GSM/UTMS version. But I think you'll still have a problem getting a SIM as a non-national. When your get back to the US, you'll have to get an account with ATT though.

If it were me, I'd check with your contacts in Korea to see about the availability of getting a smart phone as a foreigner and rent one while you're there. Then get a new smart phone back in the US when you get back next year. By all the carriers will have LTE and the new phones might be "world" LTE/GSM/CDMA phones.
posted by birdherder at 6:38 PM on March 9, 2012

Even if the Nexus worked in Korea- and it WON'T; it's a CDMA phone like everything Verizon sells- you wouldn't be able to unlock the stupid thing. CDMA is shit. You're stuck with ATT or T-Mobile.

I'd urgently, urgently suggest you get the Nokia 710 Windows Phone from T-Mo and unlock with a company like I cannot express how superior Windows Phone is to any mobile I've used, and I've tried everything from BlackBerry to Bada and yes Android and iOS. Windows Phone outclasses everything.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:09 PM on March 9, 2012

T-Mobile uses different 3G bands than most of the world. If you want a phone that will work pretty much anywhere in the world at full speed, sadly you pretty much have to get a phone meant for AT&T.

Get an unlocked Galaxy Nexus that's intended for AT&T. That's really the only one that will work as you expect in Korea.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:24 PM on March 9, 2012

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