Navigating the iPhone upgrade in a post-subsidy world
September 8, 2016 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Can you give me advice on the best course toward upgrading to an iPhone 7 Plus in this new non-subsidized phone world? The twist: I have a grandfathered AT&T unlimited plan.

With yesterday's release of the iPhone 7/7 Plus, it got me thinking about how I'm going to go about upgrading to the new iPhone 7 Plus. For the last 8 years, I have always used the carrier-subsidized model of getting new iPhones, which usually meant shelling out around $300 at the Apple Store for phone and signing up for another 2 year contract with AT&T. Now that carrier-subsidized phone purchases are a thing of the past (at least with AT&T), I'm trying to figure out what the best options are to get a new iPhone 7. It is making my head swim with options.

Some possibly pertinent info:

- I use AT&T with my current iPhone 6 Plus. I intend to get an iPhone 7 Plus.
- I'd prefer to stay with AT&T.
- I am currently in a grandfathered unlimited data plan from 2008. My contract is ending this month. I am not opposed to entering another contract.
- Cellular data is the biggest need for me. Over the past 6 months, I have used from 10.1GB (min) to 14.2GB (max) with an average usage of 11.5GB.
- I intend to sell my current iPhone 6 Plus *after* purchasing and moving over to the new iPhone.
- I usually get a new iPhone every 2 years, and that's been fine, but it would be cool too if I could get the newer model at each year of release.

I am wondering if anyone out there can give me some advice or suggest some options I might consider? If you're with AT&T and have specific experience with them, that helps too! I really appreciate it. Thank you!
posted by karizma to Shopping (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Two ATT&T customers. We recently upgraded from 5s (me) and 4s (her) to 6s. We are also grandfathered unlimited. We just paid full retail and we own the phones and it's not a contract, it's just month to month. The unlimited data continues as long as you have a phone on their netowork. You can pay 100% of what they're asking all at once or pay monthly for service and a payment towards the phone.
posted by fixedgear at 1:31 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you sign a new contract, they are going to want to move you to ATT Next or something else. That's how my well-meaning but clueless father got roped out of the unlimited data we had on our ancient family plan. You need to do what fixedgear suggests and just buy the phone outright and get it activated there. I'm pretty sure that getting the phone on the payment plan leads to signing up for ATT Next and getting rid of your unlimited data. The payment plan is part of ATT Next.

I was with my father when we made this switchover and they promised nothing would change, but that was not true. Do not trust the folks in the ATT store. They want to sell you a phone and a contract.
posted by possibilityleft at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm on Apple's iPhone upgrade program because I need a new unlocked phone every year for my job and I don't want the hassle of selling a phone.

Basically they take the retail price of whatever model you want and split it across 24 months with no additional interest. After 12 payments you can switch to a newer phone and continue payments, possibly changing your monthly rate if you get a different tier phone. After 24 months the phone is yours to do whatever you want with, and it's an unlocked phone that's easier to sell. You can also pay out the balance of your loan at any time and simply have your phone as if you paid regular retail price.

The only reason I'm on AT&T these days is because they're not [yet] union-busters like T-mobile.
posted by homesickness at 1:47 PM on September 8, 2016

I am in the exact position you are and my plan is to buy an unlocked 7 outright from Apple and then sell my old phone to Amazon. Ideally I would put the cash for the old phone towards the new one, but I want to preorder and not go into the store. I travel and like to have an unlocked phone, plus they usually resell for a higher price.

If you want an installment plan, compare Apple with AT&T and decide which is best for you. If you want the new model every year, they both seem to offer that as an option. I have been off contract with them before and I still have my unlimited plan, so don't think you have to enter a new contract to keep it.
posted by soelo at 3:06 PM on September 8, 2016

Basically they take the retail price of whatever model you want and split it across 24 months with no additional interest.
The 7 plus (32GB) is $769 total or $37.41 per month, which works out to $897.84. I think there is some interest. Similar math for the other sizes: $41.58/mo. or $869.00, $45.75/mo. or $969.00. It is not the exact same price.
posted by soelo at 3:13 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

The 7 plus (32GB) is $769 total or $37.41 per month, which works out to $897.84. I think there is some interest.
The Apple iPhone upgrade program includes AppleCare ($129), which would mean no interest. Pretty sure that AppleCare isn't included in carrier installments, although I guess you can choose not to purchase it then.
posted by ClingClang at 3:37 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm also in the exact same situation. I've been assured by three AT&T reps over the phone that I'll retain my current grandfathered plan whether I get the 7 from them or from Apple.

I'm leaning toward getting it from Apple this time. I've gone with AT&T Next the last two times but had to pay for AppleCare+ upfront both times. AC+ is included with the Apple Upgrade program (for a higher monthly cost, of course) but I can spread out the payments over time instead of paying it all upfront. Feel free to check my math on that.

soleo, I don't want to haul myself to an Apple Store if I don't have to but it looks like I can only preorder online if I buy the phone outright like you are. Is that your take on it too?

On preview: what ClingClang said.
posted by _Mona_ at 3:42 PM on September 8, 2016

A sneaky thing to watch out for new to the iphone 7, is that the AT&T and T-Mobile versions do not support CDMA. That means that in the future you won't be able to swap carriers (except between the two).

So, buy your phone from Verizon/Sprint or from the Apple Store. These will work with all carriers. Otherwise you might get stuck with a phone that doesn't do what you want (and may be worth less in the future).

Link to article here
posted by tillsbury at 4:25 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for clarifying that AppleCare+ is included in the Apple Upgrade program. Just wanted to add that Apple just reduced the cost of screen repairs under AC+ from $99 to $29 for the first two claims.
posted by homesickness at 6:41 PM on September 8, 2016

AT&T's "next" plans do not have interest. It is a zero interest loan with an early trade in option. I've spent probably more time than is healthy analyzing this stuff recently. Comparing their trade in with reselling the phone yourself every year, you should come out somewhat ahead by reselling it yourself (assuming past resale values are predictive of future values), because the resale price will be higher than the amount of the loan AT&T forgives if you trade the phone in. However, you do have the hassle of selling the phone. And on the installment plan, you still have the option of just paying it off and selling the phone (or keeping it) if that's what you want to do. I've decided that I'm willing to give up a small amount of money for the convenience of not having to deal with selling my phone to some random Craigslist person. YMMV. But there is no interest.

One side note - I haven't looked at it recently, and it will depend on the number of devices you have, etc., but a few years ago I ran the numbers and moving off of legacy unlimited and onto a mobile share value plan saved me a chunk of money while also giving me tethering capabilities and eliminating the angst over how to keep that plan. Not sure if that would be the case for you under today's pricing, but it's probably worth at least doing the math....
posted by primethyme at 9:44 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another recent change is that there are no more overage charges for plans that have a data cap. Now you just get slowed down once you hit your cap. This means that the unlimited plan is similar to having 22 gigs of data, since you get slowed down on the unlimited plan if you ever hit that number in a given month. It used to be 3 and then 5 gigs, so it has been adjusted over time. We have two lines on our unlimited plan, so we are essentially paying for 44 gigs of data per month. I doubt we ever reach that.
posted by soelo at 7:16 AM on September 9, 2016

soleo, I don't want to haul myself to an Apple Store if I don't have to but it looks like I can only preorder online if I buy the phone outright like you are. Is that your take on it too?

When I ordered mine this morning, there seemed to be two other financing options available, but the iPhone Upgrade program (one of the options) requires two forms of ID, so I don't think it can be set up online.
posted by soelo at 7:39 AM on September 9, 2016

>That's how my well-meaning but clueless father got roped out of the unlimited data we had on our ancient family plan

This was not my experience when I switched over to the AT&T Next plan. I moved to Next and maintained my grandfathered unlimited data plan without issue. If you do decide to make the jump to Next, just make sure the paperwork you're signing lines up with your expectations.
posted by ZureaL at 8:17 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was able to pre-order a new iPhone 7 128 GB (paying outright) and they were clear about how it does not change my contract at all (I also have unlimited data through AT&T). Bummer about carrier subsidies being gone because it effectively just increases the price $300 for me, but otherwise business as usual.
posted by jourman2 at 8:20 AM on September 9, 2016

Thanks all for your help, I greatly appreciate it. I think I will go the Apple iPhone Upgrade route, since it's competitive with the AT&T Next plans but also comes with AppleCare and I can get a new model each year. From checking on Apple's website (I did a quick run through of the purchase process without buying), it seems like, as indicated by jourman2 above, that they are clear you keep your existing cell plan and phone number. Also, if you're with AT&T, it looks like you can enroll in Apple's iPhone Update program online through the Apple site. Thanks again!
posted by karizma at 4:00 PM on September 9, 2016

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