T-Mobile has been doing some very “un-carrier” things for quite some time now. That’s not by accident – instead it’s a very strategic plan to woo customers away from the more “traditional” Stateside cellular providers and give them a taste of how things are across Europe and in other parts of the world. From all-but eliminating contracts to offering some of the only “unlimited” plans that still exist, T-Mobile has been boldly changing the way people look at and use cell phones, and with the recent unveiling of JUMP On Demand, it doesn’t look like Magenta will be changing that anytime soon.
You know what they say about things that sound too good to be true, right?
In this case, if you sign up for the program, T-Mobile promises to let you trade in your phone for a new one. That plan has been out for quite a while – for a price and with some relatively tight restrictions. JUMP On Demand, however, has no additional monthly fee associated with it (the last one was $10/month). Yeah, that’s where the “too good to be true” part comes into play – or so it would seem.
If you are one of those which T-Mobile deems to have “approved credit”, you can walk into a T-Mobile shop, pick out a flagship phone (from a fairly short list), and fork over a very reasonable monthly payment for the handset. You’ll be making payments for 18 months, and at the end you’ll have a lump-sum payment due of around $200 – unless you opt into the program again. That final payoff will vary depending on which handset you pick, but it’s reasonable, and if you opt back in, you don’t even have to worry about that.
Here’s where things get interesting: if you want to swap phones any time during the arrangement, you can! As you might expect, there are some limitations here. You’re capped at up to three times per year, but unlike the previous (non-“On Demand”) plan, there’s no mandatory 60-day waiting period between swaps. You can try out a phone for a day (or an hour) and go back in for a swap – though this would count against your cap.
No, this isn’t a cure-all for you accident-prone people. Broken phones can’t be swapped. Before accepting the phone back it’s got to pass a rigorous three-point inspection: it must turn on, it can’t be water damaged, and it can’t have a cracked screen. Maybe that isn’t so rigorous after all.
If you cancel the wireless service, your remaining payments become due and you must return your working device – which seems a bit backwards to me, but that’s what the plan says.
This concept is pretty much like leasing a car. You sign up for a certain length of time, pay a certain monthly fee, and at the end (if the car is in good condition), you give it back to the dealer, then turn around and lease another car. Car dealers love it because it guarantees them a constant income stream. Customers love it because they always have a “new” car. Dave Ramsey hates it because it’s expensive in the long-run and you never really “own” anything.
Customers on the Verizon Edge plan have to pay in full before they can upgrade to a new device, AT&T simply divides the retail cost of the phone over 12 months (or more). Sprint’s “iPhone for Life Plan” costs $30 to $45 per month for the current model (in addition to your wireless plan, of course) and only let’s you upgrade to the new iPhone once a year, not the three times per year that T-Mobile is offering.
At press time, T-Mobile has some pretty big names on the “qualifying phones” list:
- iPhone 6,
- iPhone 6 Plus,
- Galaxy S6,
- Galaxy S6 Edge,
- Galaxy Note 4, and
- the LG G4 – with more on the way.
Missing, for reasons unknown, is Google’s Nexus 6.
As time passes, new models will undoubtedly be added, and current models will likely fall off the list. What those new phones will be, and how long the current flagships will be on the eligible list are anyone’s guess, though we don’t suspect T-Mobile would suck everyone in with high-end phones, then switch to no-name, low-end devices later on.
Some sites are reporting that this new plan isn’t “compatible” with handset insurance (an extra $8/month to protect your handset from loss, theft, accidental damage, and mechanical or electrical breakdown). According to T-Mobile, that’s not the case (in fact, you’re even required to purchase device insurance if you’re a customer in Connecticut). For the same $8/month, you get the same coverage, which will come into play if you try to swap out a phone for a new one and it doesn’t pass that three-point inspection.
With this latest “Un-Carrier” move, T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere, isn’t mincing words:
“While AT&T and Verizon have tried to respond, they deliver half-assed knock-offs that they don’t even stick with. Hell, Verizon is going backwards and has broken every promise they’ve ever made with their bullshit upgrade program, making it worse, not better. It’s now just like a two-year contract – again! They just don’t get it!”
I’ve long advocated buying unlocked phones (or “non-locked” if you prefer that term), and just buying the SIM and service from the carrier of your choice. No long-term contracts, no obligations. If one carrier disappoints you, simply pop the SIM and switch to another carrier. I can do that with my Nexus 6 on any of the major networks (or even Google’s Project Fi – if I had an invite. Google!)
This requires a fairly significant up-front buy-in, limits how often you can switch to how deep your pockets are, and limits your phone options, but is well worth it, in my opinion.
With JUMP On Demand, however, my arguments for buying the phone up-front are becoming notably fewer. If you need a new phone and aren’t locked into a contract, and T-Mobile is a reasonable option for you, I don’t see why you wouldn’t jump on this plan (pun very much intended).