Help us upgrade our iPhones?
May 17, 2015 7:41 PM   Subscribe

It's time to upgrade our iPhones and I feel that I lack a PhD in rocket science or whatever is required to decipher AT&T's policies and get the best deal. Help?

Mr. BlahLaLa and I both have 4c iPhones, and we are well over the end of our original 2-year contract with AT&T. (We also have a third 4c on our account, for Kid BlahLaLa, but it's still got more than a year left on its 2-year contract, so that's out for now.)

My phone is starting to break (the home button is very balky), so we're thinking about upgrading now. But I feel like all of AT&T's marketing language is designed expressly so I don't understand the best way to get the best deal.

Some details:
-- We are happy to keep our current monthly family plan, the same amount of data, the same details
-- We are not early adopters. We are happy to use phones until they're basically totally wrung out before upgrading again
-- We want to stay with iPhones because Mr. BlahLaLa is a luddite technophobe, and since he's figured out how this works, I don't want him to have to switch
-- Mr. BlahLaLa needs to be able to carry his phone doing physical work each day, so he probably doesn't want the hugest new iPhone

So what do we need to know? What should we look out for? How is the service representitive going to try to steer us into paying more than we need to?
posted by BlahLaLa to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I go into my AT&T store once a year or so to have them figure out if we can improve our bill, which usually happens after they look at our data usage and adjust down when we've overcommitted to more data than we're going to use working from home most of the time. They've reswiggered our family plan several times as the plans change and our devices have changed, and the only time we've bumped up was when we were hitting a ceiling because we added a device or lifestyle changed somehow.

The iPhone update routine is extremely standardized, I'm sure you're well into upgrade territory (we've done so every 2 years/models pretty much like clockwork), and the phones just cost what they cost, Apple doesn't really allow any room for deals.

The only thing they may tell you about is the AT&T Next program, which is like a payment plan but is actually just amortization, because they don't charge interest, it's just split out over X months. The primary downside to doing that is that you are (kinda) stuck with the device for those X months, but when the iPad Air I got on the Next plan blew into the pool, I ended up getting a replacement for $99 and it was a gold Air 2 complaints.

I don't think this experience is going to be as predatory as you're anticipating. What AT&T wants most is for you to not leave, and the service reps want 5-star survey results about your experience.

And the older model phones sell well as refurbs overseas, so I would advise going in there with a "what can you do for us?" attitude, as they may upgrade your kid's 4c to a 5c for nothing but the old phone.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you log into your account at it'll actually tell you which phones are available for upgrade and how much your various phone options would be on the upgrade pricing.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:59 PM on May 17, 2015

I think you should be able to upgrade your phones and be put on a new two-year contract without any changes to your data / minutes / etc, basically grandfathering everything. However - this may not be the best deal for you as the market has changed drastically.

What all the new plans emphasize now are data instead of minutes. Data is where the money is - hence instead of shared minutes/ individual data, the new plans are unlimited minutes / shared data. If you have the opposite needs, then these plans might be cheaper for you.

Prepaid service is now a realistic and cheaper alternative to the big-name carriers, if you can afford the larger initial outlay (the unsubsidized cost of an iPhone is > $600). AT&T runs its own prepaid service (Cricket) in which the monthly cost is less than half of their normal service, and it's all the same cell towers. Over the long term you will pay considerably less than what you're paying for now.

And if you enable AssistiveTouch on your iPhone, it will enable software home and sleep buttons through an overlay, so you don't have to deal with your flaky home button.
posted by meowzilla at 8:29 PM on May 17, 2015

I switched to AR&T from Verizon in January. I did so for several reasons including that I have dealing with Verizon. Whatever.

I think the big choice you have to make now is either lock in for two years or buy the phones on the 24 month plan. If you think you will stay with AT&T for a while, then this next info might be moot, but if you think you might switch to Verizon at some point within the life of the phone, I would consider buying the phone outright from Verizon. As I understand it, Verizon phones can be used on the AT&T network, but AT&T phones not on the Verizon phone. I have 3 phone I brought over from VZ, two iPhones and a Galaxy S4 that work on the AT&T network although I don't get full LTE.

I have a family plan whereby I pay $15 per line and $80 for a shared 10GB of data. I have 3 college students on the plan so I max on the data. All my phones transfered to AT&T there are no phone purchase charges on the day I switched. One of my children did reach the end of the useful life of their phone two months ago so I purchased one that is billed to me monthly ~$33 month for 24 months. Most plans have unlimited talk and text. Data is the cost.

I second what Lyn Never suggested and I would speak to a human on the phone or at a store and ask them to show you your options.

As for phones, I am an Android user so hard for me to say, but two of my three kids are/were quite happy with their iPhone 5 (or is it 5S?). In fact, they have had them for over two years and have turned down upgrades to the 6.
posted by AugustWest at 10:06 PM on May 17, 2015

Go to the apple store and get the scoop there.
The phone company is way to much interested in locking you into something that might not be in the best of your interest...
posted by Mac-Expert at 12:05 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your options for paying for a phone, in a nutshell:
- No Contract: Pay for the phone up front, the most expensive option
- 2-year Contract: Pay a little less for the phone up front (some older iPhone models are free on 2 year contract). The traditional arrangement where you are locked to the carrier for 2 years, but you can cancel early for a fee.
- AT&T Next: Instead of paying for the phone up front, you pay monthly installments. Over the course of 2 years, these installments add up to more than the cost of the phone on 2-year contract. But you can upgrade sooner.

If you don't want to deal with people and you want to keep your existing plan, the simplest route is probably just ordering the phones on the AT&T or Apple websites. Looks like the iPhone 5s is just $99 on 2-year contract, so that is probably your husband's best option for a pocketable, semi-small phone.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:15 AM on May 18, 2015

Log in to your account and see if they have any 5c or 5 refurbs. Saves $$$
posted by Gungho at 8:15 AM on May 18, 2015

Seconding Gungho above. That's what I did a few months ago, and I got a 5 for something like 99ยข.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:22 AM on May 18, 2015

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