New Contract vs. Outright Purchase: Cell Phone
January 23, 2015 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I wonder: should I buy new cell phone outright, or get another subsidized phone?

My contract with Verizon has expired, though I have no plans to change carriers as they are the only company with any signal out here in sticksville (and believe it or not, their customer service has been quite good, in my experience).

Some givens:
  • I will not be changing carriers
  • I am unlikely to change my new phone any sooner than a couple of years from now unless it breaks (ie, you will not find me in a lawn chair outside of an electronics store to get whatever the new hotness is, phone-wise)
  • Nothing in my current plan, money-wise, improves by owning my own phone vs. renewing with a subsidized phone
On a top end phone, I essentially save about $400 by signing a new contract with a subsidized phone. The counter-arguments that I can think of:
  • I hate shovel-ware with a passion, and it's almost worth $400 to avoid having the endless crappy apps they install (and won't let you un-install)
  • Verizon, of course, has the "we track you no matter what" http-header-injection-thing, and while avoiding it is apparently a tedious and maybe fruitless task, perhaps that would be easier on a phone which isn't full of their software if I decide to try it?
  • There are some interesting phones out there which are not in their store--though I'm leaning towards a couple that they do subsidize, in any case
  • I think (but am unsure) that I'd theoretically be freer to update operating systems and such--though I guess some of that is also tied to the device manufacturer. I don't chase shiny hardware but do like current software
What would you do? What advantages or disadvantages have I missed?
posted by maxwelton to Technology (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any other real strong opinions on getting unlocked devices (though of course you'll be limited to those that are compatible with Verizon's network, which is definitely not true of every device). But I can say that the http-header-injection-thing is not done by the phone, it is done by their intermediate networking hardware. So remove that from your list of considerations.
posted by aubilenon at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2015

With rare exception, when you buy a phone compatible with Verizon, it will still be the "Verizon" version of the phone, complete with shovelware and locked to Verizon. If you're absolutely confident you'll be staying on Verizon for two years, you should almost definitely get a subsidized phone - otherwise you're just giving Verizon more money.

All of the exciting, cheap, powerful unlocked phones that you can purchase outright with the advantages you listed - like the Nexus 5 or the OnePlus One - are for the GSM carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile) and, occasionally, Sprint. Pairing one of those phones with a cheap pre-paid carrier like Straight Talk will save you a tremendous amount of money with service not unlike what you have today, but if staying on Verizon's specific network is a primary concern, they're off the table.

I personally left Verizon in 2005 because of their ridiculous device policies (back then they wouldn't even allow Bluetooth file transfers) and have never looked back.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you want to save money, buy an unlocked phone and a SIM card and go with a prepaid plan.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:05 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're staying with Verizon just take the deal. I bought a phone outright but it was to save money on the contract (A LOT of money, holy crap so much money).

I EAT TAPAS has it right (and yes, you should also eat tapas); Verizon is very hostile towards BYOD and you won't get much of any advantage for it. Might make more sense to root the device you get.
posted by selfnoise at 6:46 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are some interesting phones out there which are not in their store--though I'm leaning towards a couple that they do subsidize, in any case

Verizon, with essentially no exceptions, will not activate any phone which is not either sold by them, or was sold by them at some point. They're REALLY strict about this. It has to be a verizon branded phone. Some people thought LTE and switching to sims would change this, it doesn't. Unlocked phones do not work on verizon.

There is money to be saved by buying outright. They charge like, $40 a line on top of the "family share" plan or whatever if you're on a traditional contract but only $15-25 or something like that if you either use their "edge" installment plan or buy the phone outright.

I think (but am unsure) that I'd theoretically be freer to update operating systems and such--though I guess some of that is also tied to the device manufacturer.

The only two phones which will be free of verizon OKing the updates are the nexus 6 and the iphones. Everything else gets gatekeepered and shovelwared by them. All iphones get the same updates at the same time, and we've yet to see what the deal with the nexus 6 will be. AT&Ts addons caused a recall, so it might just be pretty much the same old shit.

In my experience, the least messed with phones you can get on verizon are motorolas nicer phones(moto X, droid turbo, nexus 6) and iphones. I chose an iphone when i got verizon, i also dumped verizon because i was tired of paying way too much and their confusing plan structure with regards to traditional contracts, installment plans, and buying outright.

I sympathize with what you're saying with verizon being the only carrier out in sticksville, i've had that experience too at relatives places or when traveling. But yea, i think it makes sense to either buy a phone outright or do the installment plan. Buying outright yields the lowest monthly bill, obviously.
posted by emptythought at 6:48 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can't use a Nexus 5 on Verizon, because they blocked it.

...or what emptythought said.
posted by rhizome at 7:17 PM on January 23, 2015

I just switched from Verizon after 10 years to AT&T because I did not want to have to use their phones. I had rooted my S4, and got at least 25% more productivity out of it after I rooted it, deleted the bloatware and installed modules of my own that really helped me. I just purchased the OnePlus+ phone and activated it 10 days ago. I love it. I also rooted it. It took all of 15 minutes to do.

I did not get AT&T service in my house so I asked for and got a MicroCell from AT&T (at no cost to me). Now, I get all the cell service I want coupled with my wifi. NO issues at all.

If for whatever reason you just want to stay at Verizon and you do not change phones more often than every two years, get the Verizon Edge Plan not a two year contract. I disagree with you that it is the same for a subsidized phone versus a fully paid financed phone. For a family, you pay $15 per line plus family shared data of $100 for 13Gb. Then, you pay for the phone at retail divided by 24 months with no upfront deposit/layout. If you get the two year plan, you will pay $299 for a new iPhone plus a monthly charge for the phone. I think it is around $100 to $150 more per line to get a two year contract versus the Edge Plan.

It turns out, that if you buy an iphone from Verizon, it will work on AT&T (my three kids did not need to change their phones) but not vice versa.
posted by 724A at 12:48 AM on January 24, 2015

It turns out, that if you buy an iphone from Verizon, it will work on AT&T (my three kids did not need to change their phones) but not vice versa.

The iPhone 4S was a universal model that worked on all carriers. More recent models have had separate SKUs for CDMA vs GSM providers. Though the CDMA phones function on all of the GSM bands, the converse is not true. My theory is that the hardware's the same but they disable the CDMA capabilities on the GSM phones so they can save a few bucks in patent licensing fees on the GSM phones, which constitute the bulk of their sales worldwide.

(Verizon and Sprint both are CDMA, everyone else in the US and Europe is GSM)
posted by aubilenon at 1:05 AM on January 24, 2015

Ting is on the sprint network, but also roams (for free) on Verizon...i find it's like having both networks. I get muuuch better coverage than I did with either boost or virgin, but it might be worth confirming for a (no contract) month with a cheapo flip phone or something. And my galaxy note 2 has none sprint shovelware on it...I think they have finally realized that the animosity towards them isn't worth the income.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:11 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are MVNOs that use Verizon's network. I believe at least one of Tracfone's brands is one (PagePlus, I believe). You could get a non subsidized phone and switch to one of those, saving a good chunk in the process.

It's easier on at&t because they have more MVNOs using their network than Verizon (although not as many as Sprint or T-Mobile), but as I said, Verizon MVNOs do exist. Also, Verizon will now allow you to use any compatible LTE phone, although getting a SIM can sometimes be difficult. At this point Sprint is the only major carrier that allows only white listed phones.
posted by wierdo at 9:34 PM on January 24, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers.

Being essentially knowledge-free about SIMs, I take it the one in my current phone (Droid Maxx) isn't something which can just be taken out and put into new shiny?

I'll probably be delaying this decision for another month or two, I'm not jumping up and down to get a new phone but definitely would like to.

When I say we only get verizon signal here, I'm not kidding. We had Sprint and nothing, my AT&T friends also get no signal anywhere down here. So changing carriers isn't in the cards.
posted by maxwelton at 2:07 AM on January 26, 2015

You can definitely put your current SIM in a Nexus 6 without any activation, if scores of people on xda-developers are to be believed. The Nexus 5 is also still available and is cheaper. The Moto X is in between. I call these out specifically because they all have Lollipop now. Your Droid Maxx will be getting the upgrade whenever Verizon gets around to it, though. If you do get a new phone, keep in mind that if it has a micro SIM slot rather than a nano SIM slot, you'll have to get a new SIM from Verizon.

If the monthly price is the same regardless, take one of their phones if there is one that strikes your fancy, otherwise get an iPhone on contract and sell it to pay for part or all of whatever you really want.

Or better yet switch to Page Plus and pay $55 a month for 3GB of data on the Verizon network. You can buy the SIM on Amazon for $2.95 and then activate online. Now that they offer LTE, no weird hacks are required to get a Droid Maxx on PP, just buy SIM, port number, swap SIMs, enjoy savings.
posted by wierdo at 8:04 AM on January 27, 2015

Of course you can *put* a Verizon SIM card into an unlocked device, but that doesn't mean you'll magically have a device that will fully (or even partially) work on the Verizon network.

The existing SIM will technically get you access to Verizon's LTE services on LTE band 4 with devices that aren't Verizon-approved. However, that SIM will *not* provide access to Verizon's extensive CDMA/EVDO (ie, 2G/3G) network, which requires the registration of the device's ESN with Verizon, and which Verizon just won't accept for non-Verizon devices.

Long story short: maxwelton, does your phone usually get CDMA 1x/EVDO reception? If so, I wouldn't go the SIM-swap route, and the PagePlus route would require firmware hackery that's probably not worth it.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 4:03 PM on January 29, 2015

Response by poster: We have a roof-mounted directional cell antenna (because we live in a hole, essentially), and a repeater in the house, and I get 3G here, though of course I'm on wireless anyway at home. Walking around the neighborhood, I always get whatever "non-data" cell is, and normally get between 1-3 bars of 3G, though never 4G until I'm on the mainland.

I don't particularly care for iPhones and have no mac ecosystem here to make it worthwhile to have one. Then again, if that metric is used, a windows phone would be the choice and it isn't.

In theory the rich people have stopped fighting the cell tower which is supposed to go in nearish-by, and that might open us to carriers other than verizon at some point.
posted by maxwelton at 11:27 PM on January 29, 2015

Then there's no question: you'll need to get a Verizon-branded phone.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 2:59 PM on February 5, 2015

In case you haven't yet made a decision, Verizon is no longer Sprint. You can in fact activate non-branded LTE phones and use them on 1x/EVDO. What matters is that it is an LTE phone that supports 1x/EVDO. Many people have had good success activating Nexus 6s with Verizon, despite their not (yet) selling the phone. And yes, they work even outside of LTE coverage. Page Plus no longer requires special firmware, at least for LTE phones, so that is also an option. The only complication, other than misinformed employees, anyway might be if they refuse to activate an LTE phone because they believe your home address is outside of the LTE coverage area. I don't believe they actually check, though.

If you have the correct sized SIM, you can activate your new shiny online if the SIM swap doesn't make the system update your MEID.

Sprint, on the other hand, continues to refuse to activate anything not on their whitelist. Sadly, that means their MVNOs are also crippled.
posted by wierdo at 10:35 AM on February 20, 2015

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