How to get a new iPhone, 2016 edition
August 18, 2016 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Mr. BlahLaLa, Kid BlahLaLa and I are ready for new iPhones. We currently each have a 4s, and a family plan with AT&T. Figuring this out is mindboggling. Help.

(I asked about this a while ago but we ended up not changing anything, and seems like "the way to get a new phone" has changed in the interim.)

Mr. BlahLaLa is pretty bad with tech (I'm so-so, Kid is great, obviously), and his learning curve is very steep, so I really, really want to stay with iPhones. We're also an all-Mac family. So, iPhones. We are all out of contract now.

We need: umlimited calls and text; reasonable amount of shared data (8+GB)(Kid uses a lot, and Mr. BlahLaLa's work keeps him away from Wi-Fi for most of the day, so he uses a lot, too); lowest possible cost; a carrier that works in L.A.

What we don't need: international coverage; the ability to get a new phone often (we've had these phones for 4 years)

These phone plans are so damn complicated, I feel like I need a PhD to even approach them. I'm not at all excited about the "rent this phone, get a new phone a year from now, and you'll still be paying off the old phone" scheme -- seems like you are always on the hook for extra $$.

Advice? Thanks.
posted by BlahLaLa to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about available plans where you are, but I'd never buy one with the phone. I just buy iPhones bare from the Apple Store online and then work out the service separately for whatever needs I have at the time.

I trust you are aware that the next lump of iPhones will be announced second week of September (and even if you're not up for the latest and greatest, that means the previous models will drop in price). So don't buy anything until then.
posted by tillsbury at 12:48 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Groupon has a great deal on iPhone 5 series right now ($120)! I'm in the same boat as you except we have 5S phones. I'm hoping to snag a weird deal somewhere before the 7 is released.
posted by LKWorking at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2016

Agreed about waiting until September. Also agreed that buying them outright (as opposed to buying them from your carrier) is the way to go if you have the cash on hand to do that. It will save you money over the two years. So, yeah, just go to Apple's site some time after mid-September and buy whichever phones optimize your cost/size/storage/color needs.

As far as cost savings, you should look at one of the "MVNO" options. Basically these are independent companies that use the networks of one of the "big four" carriers. I've been using Cricket for the last little while and have been happy. Coverage is exactly the same as AT&T (because they use AT&T's network) and they are a bunch cheaper (they take another $5 off the costs listed there for each additional phone on your plan).
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2016

A little clarification on the buying aspect. It used to be that AT&T would sell you a subsidized phone, on a post-pay contract. This approximately worked to discount several hundred dollars off the cost of the phone in exchange for your commitment to stay with AT&T for two more years, and if you knew that you would be fine doing that, it was *the* way to buy phones. They stopped offering subsidies around a year ago.

This used to mean that a lot of us would go out and buy upgrades every two years, possibly selling them on eBay, because whether or not you bought the upgraded phone, the service was still ~$30/month for voice plus $30/month for data. Buying a subsidized phone that normally sells for $800 for $400 and selling it for $700 on eBay was a great way to wring $300 in value out of the contract every two years, or to get a cheap upgrade if that made more sense.

You can no longer do this and of course they are still charging the full price for your cell service, so it's in some ways a hidden price increase. It also means that there is little-to-no value in buying the phone from your cell phone carrier.

Off-contract, you are definitely best off looking at MVNO's to see if a better deal is available through one of them. AT&T hasn't really offered attractive pricing in years, pretty much ever since they figured out that number portability wasn't going to be the business-killer they thought it was going to be.
posted by jgreco at 1:36 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is true across the country, but when I was ready to buy an iPhone, Target had the best prices. They have sales on the iPhone, and offer some target gift cards into the mix. It ended up being a great price. You can sign up for your current carrier or switch if you want, and start a new contract. I'm pretty sure you do have to lock into a contact...

You'll need to determine which model and amount of memory you want, and make sure the store sells that one. (I had to call a few places before I found what I wanted.) Don't get the lowest memory option - it will fill up quickly.

So just check Target's Sunday ad circular, and wait until they have a deal on iPhone.

I've also heard great things about Ting cellular. It's a pay for what you use service, so it may not be right for your husband, but it may work... I believe you can buy refurbished phones from them. I believe their website has an option where you plug in your usage numbers, and they'll calculate your bill.
posted by hydra77 at 2:29 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Clarification on MVNO's like Cricket: The coverage is exactly the same as AT&T's own network, which is not the same thing as the functional user experience you'd have as a AT&T postpaid customer. Because AT&T itself contracts out to get additional roaming coverage, and it all shows up the same way on your phone regardless of whose network you're actually on.

But for urban/suburban LA you should be fine with Cricket and the like, as long as you're OK with worse coverage when hiking out in the boonies, say.
posted by serelliya at 7:22 PM on August 18, 2016

First, AT&T just announced some new family plans. At the high usage end, they are a savings versus their current posted rates. I switched to AT&T from Verizon about 1.5 years ago. I brought my own devices. My kids had iPhones and I just purchased (at the time) a OnePlus One. AT&T (as well as Verizon will sell you a phone at the same price as Apple using their "Next" program. You can actually spread the cost at no finance cost over 18, 20, 24 months. (There may be other options too in terms of length.) For example, to keep my math simple, if you pay $800 for an iPhone on a 20 month plan, in addition to your service plan you would pay $40 per month for the phone. The benefit is that you don't have to outlay all the cash. There is no contractual obligation either, but in the event you leave, the remainder of the phone balance is due immediately.

Your service cost is broken down into two general categories. Access and data. For example, the plan I have charges me $40 per phone for access LESS $25 (Net $15 per line) for having my own phone or using the AT&T purchase option. In addition, I have a data bundle. I negotiated a package when I first switched to AT&T of 20GB for $100. We have 4 lines so that is $25 per line. Together the access fee and the data come out to average $40 per line.

Both AT&T and Verizon offer similar two part plans. T-Mobile and Sprint offer some fixed rate plans as well as free data for streaming from certain sites so it can be hard to compare and you need to figure out how much of your current data is being used by the free services to compare.

It is my experience that if you call AT&T on the phone, you can negotiate a rate better than their posted rates. One benefit of having iPhones already is that you have credibility when you say you will go to Verizon or another carrier as iPhones are compatible with both the GSM and CDMA networks. Do not be afraid or reluctant to call customer service, tell them you are in the market for 3 new iPhones and are price shopping services and what can they offer you to stay. Or, if you see a plan on another carrier that appeals to you, ask them to match. They very likely will.

A drawback to the iPhone eco system is that while you get a good quality phone out of the box, price competition or discounts are rare and not without tradeoffs such as a contract. If you were willing to go Android, you less expensive options are numerous with the same (arguably) features as an iPhone. Either way, the ability to not be tied in with a contract even if you stay with the same carrier year after year is enormous in that it gives you leverage in negotiating rates. Growth in the cell phone market is now slow to a crawl. Not only are the carriers fighting to get new customers (T-Mobile doubled AT&T during the just released last period --looking for cite link), but they will also fight to keep existing customers.

One last point. 8GB is slightly above average in terms of data, but it is far from a lot. When the two children on my plan got new iPhones, their data usage went up exponentially. I have checked all their settings and have tried to figure out where all their usage came from, but the two of them average, combined, close to 18GB per month. AT&T's new plans will not charge you more when you hit your purchased number, they will simply throttle you down to 2G levels unless you wish to buy more at the 4G speeds. This is a plus from my standpoint.

The advice to also compare the MVNO services is good advice. They are simply buying time in bulk from the big carriers and reselling it.

Oh, here is an AT&T data calculator that estimates data usage and demonstrates where your data is going.
posted by AugustWest at 7:24 PM on August 18, 2016

I explained AT&T's plans back in 2014 and I don't think they've changed the structure of their plans since then, even if the price points have shifted. Even shorter than that answer: "AT&T Next" is the upgrade treadmill, with a new phone every year, but a never-ending payment for the privilege. They will push you onto the treadmill unless you say that's not what you want. Otherwise, the best deal is to buy your phones outright, as the subsidy on a contract agreement costs more over time than a phone does if you buy it from Apple.
posted by fedward at 7:38 PM on August 18, 2016

I asked this question a few months ago. As a result, I bought my iPhone from Swappa and signed up for Cricket's $35/month plan. It seemed to be the most cost effective option, and it's worked out great for me. (Also, as I mentioned there, hit me up for a referral if you like - we'd each get $25 off.)
posted by daisyace at 11:25 AM on August 19, 2016

« Older the olympics!   |   Would you like to play a (PC) game? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.