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What’s the best way to buy a new smartphone?

By Adam Doud August 2, 2015, 10:00 am

When it’s time to buy a new smartphone, you have a few options at your disposal – at least here in the United States. We have a few relatively unique options in our smartphone/carrier pricing options, so I thought it might be an interesting thought-experiment to take a look at those options and see what works for you folks. For the purposes of this article, imagine you have all of these options available to you wherever you are. Which would work best for you?


Subsidized, contract pricing

One of the older ways to purchase a cell phone was with the ol’ two-year contract. Basically you would go to your carrier store, pick up a shiny new smartphone, and look at the price tag. “Whoa,” you say. “This phone is only $99. It’s like $700 on Ebay! Sign me up!” But hold on there, pardner. The $99 is more like a down payment. Don’t forget that contract you’re paying.


Part of that contract price is because of that very contract. You’re signing two years of your mobile life away and part of that monthly price you’re paying is going toward paying off that phone. If that phone breaks, you’re still stuck in that two-year contract and now you have to pay full price (or what I like to call the, “got you now” price) for a replacement phone. So are you better off? I don’t see how. So let’s move on.

Jump off the edge

Most carriers are now offering what they call “fast upgrade” programs –AT&T Next, Verizon Edge, etc – where for more money per month you can get a new phone every 6, 12, 18, however many months. These prices will vary depending on the term and the cost of the phone. An S6 Edge will be, say, $27/month while an iPhone will be $23/month, etc. These prices are made up by the way.

These programs were put into place to make it seem like you were getting a great deal, or at least make you happy, because, “Yay! New phones!” But the reality is, you can just as easily use a credit card to buy a new phone and make $25 payments per month. Which brings us to option number three.


Shiny and new

You can buy a phone outright in most cases – either from the carrier directly or from the OEM, or another retail outlet. This is in some cases the most painful solution because it’s a lot of money up front. If you drop, break, or otherwise lose your phone, you’re right back in category one of this article, but you’ve already spent a bunch of money on the phone you no longer have. So it hurts a little bit more.

Some folks take this option and resort to midrange phones to get by. The more palatable $200 – $400 range (which includes the OnePlus 2 and Moto X by the way) can help soften this blow if choosing this route. Indeed, OEMs have started to target this range aggressively, probably for this very reason. Midrange phones are getting pretty darn attractive these days, which makes this category of phone buying even more attractive. But what if you could get a flagship phone, in this range, which brings us to our final category.


Used but not abused

The second-hand phone market is also alive and well with services such as the aforementioned Ebay and Swappa. This can be a pretty attractive option as it gives you a best of both worlds scenario – get the (almost) latest and greatest for a lower price because the box has been opened.

Well who cares if the box has been opened? You’re going to open it, aren’t you? So, this route starts to make a lot of sense, and by the way is how I personally have bought my last two phones, and a device or two in the later part of last year.

All of these options have good and bad points – time, money, or both are at stake when buying a new or new-ish smartphone. I’m not so sure there is one solid choice that stands heads and shoulders above the rest. So what do you think? Assume for a moment all of these options are available to you – contract, fast-upgrade, new, used – which one would you go with? What are your pros and cons for your choice? Sound off below, and let’s see if we can figure this out.


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