Cheapest way to get an iPhone
June 16, 2021 8:26 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for the cheapest way to get an iPhone and be able to use it as my phone.

I feel like it's finally time to break down and get an iPhone. For over a decade I have relied on a little pay-as-you-go Nokia "Feature phone" where I would just buy 500 minutes once or twice a year and be good.

The pay-as-you-go plan that worked with that Nokia was discontinued sometime during late 2019 or 2020 (when I was out of the USA).

So, a few months ago I bought a TracFone where I still pay-as-I-go, but instead of the minutes being good for a year, they only last for 90 days and the cost of the TracFone minutes are about $0.25 a minute, which seems outrageously expensive for a flip-phone where I have to use T9 to peck out my replies to text messages.

My friend has an iPhone and is on the "Family Plan" of a friend, so she ends up paying around $30 a month. I am wondering if there is something similar I could do. (I do not have access to a "family plan" that I could add myself to)

Basically, what I want is the cheapest way to outfit myself with a reasonably-recent iPhone (like, not an iPhone 5 that isn't supported or something),
and the cheapest kind of plan I can get.

I could swing something in the range of like $30-ish month, but if it's something more like $75 a month, I can't do it.
posted by blueberry to Technology (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Mint Mobile has a $15/month package. You pay an additional $15/month for an iPhone SE (2020). I find Mint to be a fine company. There are lots of upgrades available if you want something better (at a higher price, of course.)
posted by blob at 8:35 PM on June 16, 2021 [4 favorites] has been great for our family. Cost starts at $11/month for unlimited calls/texts and 1GB in unthrottled data, and you can cancel or upgrade anytime. You can buy a refurbished iPhone directly from them or bring your own phone. They use the Sprint network.
posted by farkleberry at 8:50 PM on June 16, 2021

I've bought and sold iPhones on Swappa. In summer of 2020, I got an 8 for a family member that was under $300. You will usually pay more for more storage even on the used market, but compare and see if you might end up paying an extra $25 for twice as much space, which is worth it. You also don't care about the color or a scratch because your case will cover it up. You can get a good case for under $20.
posted by soelo at 8:56 PM on June 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

T-Mobile's $15/mo Connect plan is another good option that you can go into the store and activate (or on their website)—unlimited talk and text, 2.5 GB of data. My wife uses it.

The best combination of cheap iPhone/long-term support is the 2020 iPhone SE, which has an outdated body but very up-to-date hardware inside. They'll support it for years. I wouldn't go cheaper if I could help it just because I don't think it would be worth it in the long run.
posted by Polycarp at 8:56 PM on June 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Get an iPhone SE 2020 from Ebay. (Wait for a listing with good photos and a seller with 100% feedback with more than 3 feedbacks.) Should cost you $250 or so.

Cricket Wireless has a plan that's $30/month for 2GB of data (they run on AT&T towers). Ting has one that's $25/month for 5GB of data (they run on T-Mobile and Verizon towers).

I just came across WhistleOut, a website which seems to aggregate different types of cell phone plans. They suggest US Mobile's $7/month plan for 1GB of data. That's the introductory rate; after 6 months it goes up to a whopping $12/month. They run on T-Mobile and Verizon towers. Assuming you have coverage in your area and 1GB of data is enough for you (i.e. you're around wifi most of the time), that sounds pretty compelling.
posted by danceswithlight at 10:14 PM on June 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cricket. $50 iPhone se for switching a line over.
posted by KayQuestions at 11:27 PM on June 16, 2021 has occasional refurb iPhones on sale, but they're still in the "several hundred" range.

Most major carriers will have a selection of used/refurb iPhones on payment plan. They may even waive the interest if you let them bill you automatically every month.

Or you can eBay / Swappa a used phone that you can afford directly from individuals.
posted by kschang at 1:15 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I get all of my Apple products (multiple desktops, phones, iPad) from Mac of All Trades. I've had good luck with Mint.
posted by 8603 at 5:24 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

For your phone, get one used via eBay or any of the other resellers mentioned.

For your plan, try Red Pocket. I pay $5/month (or more precisely $60 for 360 days) for 100 min voice, 100 text and 500 MB data. That's a plan that's sold via eBay.

Sometimes I have to buy more data but WiFi is widespread enough that it's not often.

If you need a more expansive plan, find someone who also has a plan that runs more than $25 a month and they can give you a referral code for an added discount.
posted by Borborygmus at 6:11 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I recently bought an iPhone 11 used from Gazelle; they let you choose the condition of your phone (fair/good/excellent). I chose "fair," but the phone was like-new. I might have just gotten lucky. The most obvious difference between that and buying new is that Gazelle bundles it with a much crappier cable and power brick (plus, no Apple warranty).
posted by adamrice at 7:33 AM on June 17, 2021

iPhone SE 2020.

I use Visible (runs on Verizon). Unlimited talk, text and data for $40 a month. You can get into a Party Pay group and it's $25 a month.

I've been with Visible a couple years now. The one time I had to contact customer service, it was fine. I found them through a post to AskMe, as well as the Party Pay thing.
posted by kathrynm at 8:34 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was cruising Swappa when a relative decided to upgrade their phone so you might ask around friends/family. It’s a 6s which is still getting updates. I don’t actually use my phone that much so I bought a prepaid plan from Red Pocket. You have a choice of carriers; I needed Verizon. Mine is about $8 per month, I think for 1000 minutes. I buy the annual plan on eBay which does take a day or so to go into effect so don’t wait until the last minute to renew. The customer service (outsourced) is…adequate.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:35 AM on June 17, 2021

I recently switched to Visible, they had some okay deals on iphones, but I'd already bought one. Visible runs on Verizon's network, and my call quality has been better. You join a 'party', a usually anonymous group, and get the reduced rate. I'm happy to give an invitation, or look on Reddit. My experience with support was only adequate, but I seldom need it. Visible has unlimited data, have not used much, but nice to not worry about it.
posted by theora55 at 9:26 AM on June 17, 2021

Another service option that can save a lot of money if you aren't a heavy user is Ting.
posted by stormyteal at 11:09 AM on June 17, 2021

a friend pays AT&T prepaid $300/year (which nets out to $25/mo, of course, and skirts all the dumb fees on a post-paid account) for unltd talk/text, and 8GB of data/month which rolls over if you don't use it all. Had to bring a phone along for that one.

upon reflection, kathrynm and theora55's point about anonymous party pay on Visible has actually got me thinking that might be better. And it's painful to say this in 2021, but it might be worth poking around to see what ATT/Mint/Verizon/Visible/etc coverage in your high-traffic areas looks like; my employer uses ATT exclusively, but when we head to the western side of our state, everybody borrows Verizon hotspots to maintain reliable coverage.

(that anecdote is 2 years old now, because now we all stay home, but hopefully the point stands)

[completely unrelated: in Jamaica, Ting isn't cell service, it's grapefruit soda. And the Jamaican place near my old apartment would upsell every meal with "would you like some Ting to drink?" It took me an embarrassingly long time to recognize the difference between "somet'ing" and "some Ting" in the spoken word.]
posted by adekllny at 11:25 AM on June 17, 2021

Consumer Cellular
posted by oldnumberseven at 3:23 PM on June 17, 2021

If you're motivated by wanting a touch screen phone in general rather than necessarily an Apple phone in particular, I've been completely satisfied with my Umidigi A7S, which is pretty much the cheapest 4G-capable Android phone I could find on eBay; I paid AU$100 for mine on special including shipping.

Not locked to any network, can take two SIM cards and a micro SD for extra storage. Fairly vanilla installation of Android 10 Go. Reasonable camera. Good battery life.

I've been particularly impressed to see several system updates arrive since I bought it, unusual for a commodity Chinese phone.

It's in no way a flagship, but given that it costs little enough that I chose to buy two of them just for the sake of having a spare on hand, it's more than good enough for me.
posted by flabdablet at 8:36 PM on June 17, 2021

I barely use my iPhone for phone things at all (for me, it's a camera/ebook reader/notepad/mp3 player), but I really like being able to get and receive calls when I need to. I use Ting and am very happy with them. My bill for 3 lines (I have a couple forwarded) is always under $35 a month and usually closer to $25.
posted by kristi at 11:57 AM on June 18, 2021

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