Help me buy a smart phone, please?
July 17, 2013 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My contract for my dumbphone is up and I think it is finally time for me to upgrade to a smartphone. However, I have a few questions about the type of phone and the service provider.

I'm not particularly tech oriented and have stayed away to avoid paying a larger phone bill each month, but I think it is time to take the plunge.

I've been with Verizon for nearly a decade for phone + text. I'm happy with the reception and service but would also consider changing servicers so long as they had good coverage in New York City. I've considered going with an alternate servicer such as Page Plus (specifically the $55 month plan but I don't have a smartphone to bring with me and they don't appear to offer them. So, question #1 - where can I look for a smartphone that won't cost $500+ or require me to sign a two year agreement? I'd be happy to do refurbished phone provided it has been inspected/certified.

Question #2 - does a servicer like Page Plus have good enough service to warrant paying more upfront for the phone (since I would save more over the 2 years)? Verizon will give me a new smartphone for some price between free and $200 (depending on the phone) but they are quoting $100/mo for service, which seems too high compared to Page Plus, unless Page Plus's service is terrible. Other retailers seem to have similar offers so long as I renew for 2 years, for similar monthly charges.

Question #3 - Advice on which models to consider? I'd like something close to the size of an iphone or thereabouts so that I can put it in my pocket sometimes. I'll use it primarily for email, texting, phone, GPS/maps, and a bit of web surfing, as well as taking the occasional picture and playing music/podcasts regularly (I'd really like to continue using itunes because I have a lot of music purchased from there). I don't anticipate using a ton of data (and I'm on wireless at home/work for much of the day) but I don't really know my needs yet. I have an ipad, so I'm okay with the touch screen but would also consider phones with keyboards. I also use a PC at work/home, so I'm not wedded to iOS. I'm completely comfortable with a phone that is not the newest model (obviously, since I still have a dumbphone).

Thanks so much for any advice.
posted by Bailey270 to Technology (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you want a SmartPhone, check out a Pre-paid one. They tend to be on the cheap-side. Then you can take it to Page Plus. Call them first and ask them which Pre-Paid providers they're compatible with.

For example, here are some smartphones offered through AT&T Go Phone pre-paid.

The Fusion or the Galaxy might work for you.

I love my iPhone 5, but I have it through AT&T and got it for re-upping my contract.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:04 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out T-Mobile as well. Their coverage outside large cities can be hit or miss, but I think they are pretty solid in and around NYC. They offer pretty good prices, and their new plans are essentially contract-free (unless you buy a new phone from them on a payment plan, which is technically separate from your wireless plan).

They should have a number of phones, either pre-paid or newer for a payment plan.

Also - for any GSM carrier you choose, you could also go with the Nexus 4. It's relatively new but also happens to have an amazingly low price (if bought directly from Google) for a current-gen smartphone.
posted by trivia genius at 12:13 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

What you are looking for in a smart phone is very basic - except for the iTunes compatibility and space for music/podcasts. We picked our phones by going to the provider with the best data and voice plan ($25 CND/month for unlimited as a special offer), and then looked at what they provided.

If you want a cheaper phone, you will
probably end up with an Android, as that is the operating system that has the cheapest phones that I've seen. Blackberries can be relatively cheap, but have far fewer applications than Android.

If you do want to keep using iTunes, one option is to just get an iPod. I actually use a really dumb Android phone and an iPod touch - my phone does GPS and maps, my iPod touch is for web surfing, email, twitter, and podcasts/music (because my phone doesn't have a good processor, but makes a great wireless hotspot). Both together were less than an iPhone, and I have more hard drive space than I could find on any Android device.
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on July 17, 2013

Nexus 4 does look awesome - and it's unlocked (always good). But I haven't seen any with a hard drive larger than 16GB - do they make larger? I have about 27GB of podcasts and music right now.
posted by jb at 12:17 PM on July 17, 2013

In case you're wondering: iPod touches do most things that an iPhone does (and run most iphone applications), but do not have GPS and (obviously) need a wireless network to access the Internet.
posted by jb at 12:19 PM on July 17, 2013

I've been using an iPhone 4 on PagePlus for about a month, and it works fine. PagePlus doesn't officially support the iPhone, but it works (except the iphone 5, which I believe does not work). I used a third-party PagePlus dealer to activate the phone, to avoid any hassle.

I bought my phone on Craigslist, where the going rate for an iPhone 4 is currently about $150 if it's in decent condition. I wasn't happy with the battery life, so I put in a cheap aftermarket battery which cost me all of ~$7.50 including shipping and the little toolkit needed to open the phone and perform the replacement.

I think PagePlus is most competitive for light users. I keep cellular data turned off most of the time, using it only occasionally to check email or look up a restaurant review. I never use it to stream video, or even audio. Last month I used 28MB of data, almost 4 hours of phone calls and a handful of text messages. This cost me $14.79 for the month.

PagePlus has pretty good customer service once you get them on the phone, but there are usually long hold times. Their CSRs are in America, and don't seem bound to idiotic flowcharts or scripts. That said, the service is designed to be as DIY as possible; I haven't talked to a PP CSR in a couple of years.
posted by jon1270 at 12:22 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Amazon sells unlocked phones, as does eBay. You can get an iPhone 4 (two generations old now) for less than $300 on Amazon, or a (likely) better/faster Android phone for the same price. You can also get an Android phone that's fine for a lot less than $300. However, beware of used Verizon phones, as many have a bad ESN (meaning they can't be reactivated).

Page Plus is effectively the same as Verizon's 3G service, so it's absolutely worth buying the phone up front and paying less per month if you're trying to save money.
posted by cnc at 12:23 PM on July 17, 2013

One thing to consider if you listen to music/podcasts a lot (like, several hours a day) is that constant use might wear down the battery faster than you might like. I kept using my ipod after getting a smartphone, and the inconvenience of having to sync podcasts is made up for by the fact that I don't have trouble keeping my phone charged.

Just mentioning it because it might sway your android vs iphone decision, since it looks like itunes compatibility is the only reason to get an iphone, given your parameters. I got a well-reviewed, older model android phone, use it for everything other than audio listening, and am very satisfied despite otherwise being an apple user.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:52 PM on July 17, 2013

I live in New York City and am really happy with my Nokia Lumia 521. It's T-Mobile but no contract and is very inexpensive for a smartphone. I wasn't sure I'd care for the whole Windows 8 Phone thing - I don't have/want Windows 8 on any of my computers - but I find this phone to be rather great and I enjoy using it. T-Mobile has good value plans for talking/texting/data.

I don't listen to music on my phone, but this page talks about how to copy your iTunes library to the phone: Copy my iTunes music to my phone
posted by wondermouse at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2013

I bought a $200 iPod Touch and and an AT&T GoPhone a few years ago. I use Skype on the iPod Touch for most of my calls ($30-$60/year for a phone number, $3/month for unlimited calling) when I'm near wifi, which is most of the time. When I'm not near wifi I use the dumbphone ($2/call; I think you can also get $.10/minute). I have two phone numbers and sometimes have to carry both devices, but I've saved enough to pay for the iPod Touch several times over.
posted by seemoreglass at 1:41 PM on July 17, 2013

Stick with Verizon. If you've been with them that long, you're grandfathered into unlimited data plans that no longer exist for new customers.

As far as phones go, I love the slide-out keyboard on my Droid 4.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:20 PM on July 17, 2013

Thus far I'm reasonably happy with the service and price I'm getting from Ting*. I bought a refurbished Samsung from 2011 or so for $40 and I've paid minimal voice/text/data charges for my minimal usage (and best of all, they adjust your plan monthly based on usage) literally about $15/month for me (ymmv!), the bulk of that data, and the bulk of that is actually downloading apps vs. actual app usage. If you have basic, tentative/beginner needs, a desire for low entry costs, and aren't fussy (but do desire responsive customer service), as your post indicates, I think it may work for you.

If you already have a tablet for more robust websurfing, that's also a factor allowing you to go with a smaller form factor and so forth, as you only need to rely on it when on the go or otherwise unable to use the tablet.

Obviously, however, you'll have to accept certain iTunes-related limitations with any Android phone.

* MeMail me for a referral code if you wish.
posted by dhartung at 3:32 PM on July 17, 2013

Buy an unlocked iPhone. That way you won't waste your money on anything else but the unlocked iPhone that you will eventually buy.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:40 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a devoted fan of Android, however it sounds like you might prefer the iPhone. A couple reasons:

-iPhone is intuitive to use, especially if you are already used to the iOS interface. Android phone interfaces can vary subtly from manufacturer to manufacturer, and take a bit more setting up. Which is great, if that's the kind of thing you like to spend your time on.
-iTunes integration for your Podcasts, and integration with your Apple devices (iPad) in general.
-Size. This is my big Android phone peeve. Everything is going to 5" screens, which is ginormous compared with the (IMO adequate) iPhone screen.
-I've heard great stuff about the iPhone 5 battery life, but failing that, you can get a 3 or 4 and supplement with a Mophie case that doubles as a reserve battery to keep your podcasts going all day.

All that said, I just purchased a like-new HTC One on eBay from the Gazelle store for $100 off retail... They have a 30-day free return policy and free shipping on lots of their stuff. You can probably get a better deal but not better piece of mind IMO.

Re: providers, don't count on Verizon grandfathering you in to unlimited data. They completely revoked it when I re-signed my contract (believe me, I tried!) I do think 2GB base is adequate for the type of use you're describing.

One thing to keep in mind with a lot of the smaller carriers is that they are actually sharing towers with the big boys... At least where I am, I know this is the case. Do some asking around. I am switching to T-Mobile and cutting monthly payments in half with BYO-phone and no contract. YMMV, feel free to MeMail me as I'm going through that switch right now.
posted by ista at 5:12 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nexus 4 phones from google are pretty much the cheapest off-contract near top of the line smartphones you can get. 299$/8GB 349$/16GB. Android, but the pure google experience, and you are first in line for software updates. GSM only, which may restrict which carriers you can use (not verizon, sprint, virgin mobile, or some others).
posted by TheAdamist at 5:30 PM on July 17, 2013

The rules of phone buying:

1. Always buy the phone separately from the contract if you can afford it.
2. For Android phones, always buy a Nexus to ensure you get updates.

You can buy a brand new LG Nexus 4 for under 400 bucks. I'd recommend that. The bumper is a good investment too.
posted by devnull at 5:08 AM on July 18, 2013

I just bought a used Nexus 4 16GB on ebay for $285 inc ship and tax last weekend. Other than a hairline crack it looks like new, so if you're willing to tolerate minor defects you can get a great deal that route.
posted by ilikemefi at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2013

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