Best way to get an iphone 5s for a pre-paid plan?
October 17, 2013 4:57 AM   Subscribe

I want what I think should be simple: I want to buy an unlocked, no-contract iphone. I want a fast data plan with high or no limits. I don't care about voice calls or texting, since I rarely use either. What are my best options? (It would be best if I can use the verizon network, but I'll take any). Bonus points if you personally tried it and it worked.
posted by empath to Technology (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am planning to try T-Mobile's '“web only” pre-paid plan for $30 a month that favours data over voice. It includes 5 GB of 4G data, unlimited texts, and 100 minutes of voice.'

However, I am having a very tough time finding a way to buy that plan on T-Mobile's web site. I see it but can't get it into the shopping cart without also buying a phone. I'm going to call them this weekend, and I'll let you know what I find out.

If that doesn't work out, I am staying with Straight Talk, which I can attest ends up costing about $50 a month after fees and taxes. However, customer support is barely there, and apparently, you have to cut your own micro SIM card to get it to work with an iPhone 5 or newer.
posted by ignignokt at 5:07 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm on that T-mobile plan. It's hard to find, but it's there. If you order a SIM, it's definitely one of the options when you activate online. (You don't have to order that particular plan before getting your SIM.)

There are a few Verizon MNVOs (usually the cheapest prepaid providers), but the names escape me at the moment.
posted by supercres at 5:31 AM on October 17, 2013

"I'm on that T-mobile plan. It's hard to find, but it's there. If you order a SIM, it's definitely one of the options when you activate online."

This was my experience too as of a year ago--hard to find except when you're activitating a SIM.

Rumors suggest that plan may be disappearing?

So there may be some risk you buy the SIM ($10, I think), then can't find that same plan.
posted by bfields at 6:00 AM on October 17, 2013

I'm on Virgin Mobile with an iPhone. VMO uses Sprint as their backend.

Their basic monthly plan is $35 for unlimited data and 300 voice minutes a month. There are some speedcaps in place, but if you really need >2Mbit speed then you might want to look elsewhere. It's not a big deal for me. Tethering can be purchased as well right from the phone.

VMO's deal is that you have to buy the phone up front, but there are deals if you look around. I got an iPhone 4 a few years ago on Black Friday at Target for something like $250 (including the redcard discount). The phone is also CDMA so there is no removable SIM card to change providers, FYI.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:32 AM on October 17, 2013

You may be able to do this with the new Verizon "Edge" plans, which have higher data limits and handle phone upgrades different. Their website is terrible so I can't see if you can do it no-contract at the start, but they did tell me in-store you can do it with a phone you already own. Verizon does also have non-contract pay-go plans now but, of course, considerably more expensive than other carriers.

(I'm on an edge plan, technically, but in contract; I argued them down to let me get 6G of data while paying for 2G of data, plus the new phone upgrade price when I was not yet due for the upgrade price, so they got 24 months of contract out of me.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:17 AM on October 17, 2013

I recently switched to that $30 T-mobile plan (and I hope it's not going away!) -- I bought my phone online from and got a like-new phone for a couple hundred dollars cheaper than buying it new. It feels a little safer than eBay because a Swappa employee watches over every transaction. I actually bought two phones, one for me and one for my spouse, and got both phones within a couple days, in the described condition, with no hassle whatsoever.

I don't know if you can get a 5s this way or not -- they're too new and I would imagine not even developers would be done with them yet -- but they definitely have the 4s and 5 for good prices.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:26 AM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: Are tmobile phones locked if you order from them? Could I take a tmobile phone to verizon later if I wanted to?
posted by empath at 7:43 AM on October 17, 2013

posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:06 AM on October 17, 2013

You can buy an unlocked iphone directly from apple for use on t-mobile. I recently tried to buy an iphone from t-mobile, but they wouldn't sell me one for full price because I don't have a credit history in the US, so it's possible they don't sell them unlocked to anyone.
posted by carolr at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2013

You can't go from T-Mobile to Verizon, since Verizon's CDMA. You can in theory go from Verizon to T-Mobile, since the Verizon iPhone is both CDMA and GSM, but it's not easy and potentially sets you up for a big penalty. (OTOH the Verizon iPhones are SIM-unlocked for international use. It's just in the US Verizon's a stickler.)
posted by asterix at 9:02 AM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: What's the cheapest way to get verizon data on prepaid?
posted by empath at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2013

PagePlus is probably your best option, and it's not that much cheaper than just going with Verizon prepaid if you want lots of data. PP is $55/mo for 2GB and $69 for 5GB while VZW is $60/mo for 2GB and $70/mo for 4GB (though I don't know if those prices include taxes; PP prices do include taxes).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2013

(However, if you are OK with T-mobile rather than Verizon, even if T-mo gets rid of its $30 plan it looks like they're moving to a $45 unlimited everything so that would be cheaper than anything on Verizon's network.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:31 AM on October 17, 2013

My needs are similar to yours - I hardly call - and I have done this for many years now with various iPhone models.

So far I've had decent luck with AT&T's GoPhone prepaid service, and now they actually "officially" support the iPhone too. Most recently, I bought an unlocked iPhone 5S from Apple's online store (on release night, natch) with the T-Mobile SIM, took out the SIM, put in my GoPhone SIM, and sure enough, it gets high speed (4G/LTE) data service. Trimming the SIM down with scissors was the most harrowing part of the process - not recommended!

My SIL/BIL are light users and they have been happy enough on AirVoice, an AT&T MVNO (service reseller), which has great rates for light usage.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:44 PM on October 17, 2013

RedOrGreen, OP wants high or no limit data, Verizon network preferred. AT&T GoPhone is $60/mo for 2GB and then $10 for each 1GB above that. So it's the same price as Verizon for 2GB and more expensive for 4GB.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:52 PM on October 17, 2013

Buy an AT&T phone(they cost $3-20 to unlock, tmobile phones cost $100. Unofficial online prices for both). then use it with straight talk.

Go on their site and select SIMs>at&t compatible. Just order a SIM.

You actually get LTE this way.

If you wait a few weeks/month to do this the 5s' available out there will finally fall below the retail price and this will be worth it.

Why an AT&T phone? locked phones are cheaper, and as i said above they're super cheap to unlock.

Virgin mobile sucks(i actually have used their service for quite a while in the past, and they really and truly do suck), and any phone you buy from them is useless on any other carrier and has incredibly less resale value. Even worse than sprint(which is also bad on that front). at&t phones on the other hand hold the most resale value.

An unlocked AT&T phone can also function on tmobile for their $30 plan, or on the straight talk tmobile plans or other GSM MVNOs.

Ive been doing a lot of research on this lately because i'm trying to get out from under paying verizon ungodly amounts of money.

Pros and cons are pretty much that on tmobile you really do get unlimited, it just drops off LTE/HSPA+ after 5GB to HSPA/3g at the old 5-6mbps speed not HSPA+ 20mb. You can download 100gb a month if you want to.(and i have had their prepaid service in the past, back when they really had unlimited plans. I abused the FUCK out of it and they never did anything). The cons obviously are the 100min/month limit.

On straight talk there's no advertised limits, but there's stories of them fucking with people after they download a ton in a day, or go over 2gb or so a month. I haven't been able to find anything recent about that though. I also get the feeling, from anecdotal things i've heard and otherwise, that if you use their tmobile-based service you might get a lot more leeway. But you only get LTE on the AT&T service.

Tmobile has excellent, awesome customer service. straight talk, like virgin, is well known for having incredibly awful rude shitty customer service.

I'm gonna get straight talk soon, and i'm very curious to see how they handle me using it a ton.
posted by emptythought at 5:31 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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