By Ermal Hajrizi
Person 1: Hey look! The iPhone 3GS is exactly ZERO dollars with an AT&T contract! An iPhone for less than the cost of any other phone around?! Oh boy, thats a great deal!
Person 2: Yeah! That’s way better than paying $200 for an iPhone 4S. Sure it might be a little bit better, but you can’t beat FREE!
AT&T Representative: Yup! Just sign your name here…
The above is a common (albeit shortened) conversation between two people prior to signing a wireless service contract. I’d like to start off by first saying that the iPhone 4S is not just a little bit better. It’s a lot better. By a mile or so. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll explain why a mindset like the one above qualifies you as certifiably and undeniably stupid.
You see, if you want a phone on one of the four major wireless networks in the United States – that’s AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile for those of you that don’t know – you’re more often than not going to have to sign onto a two-year contract. That’s the only way you are going to get those rock bottom prices (and yes, $200 for an iPhone 4S counts as rock bottom). It’s amazing how they can practically give phones away, right? Well, not necessarily: in a way, you still end up paying for the phone. How? Exorbitant monthly rates, that’s how.
Cell phone providers such as the ones mentioned earlier subsidize cell phones. What this means is that they knock off a significant portion of the price that they paid for the phones in order to entice you into buying. For instance, buying a contract-free iPhone direct from Apple will cost you a wallet-busting $649, at the very least. Compare that to the $200 offering you get from all of the wireless providers: sounds a lot better, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, the opposite is true: you’ll end up paying even more on a contract. That’s because providers have consistently increased their monthly costs to almost unimaginable and unfathomable prices. At $200, an iPhone 4S plus contract, over the course of two years at AT&T, will cost you in excess of $2000. Yes, thats 3 zeroes. But that’s all besides the point: let’s say that you can afford the monthly bill.
Assuming the nearly (or greater than) $100 a month cost doesn’t scare you away, why in the world would anyone buy an iPhone 3GS for free when they could get a 4S for just $200 more. “Well Ermal, it’s because of the $200!” Simple math, you might say. True, but in reality it’s not so simple. We’ve already established that the 4S is a night and day experience in comparison to the 3GS. We’ve also established that you will be paying $2000 or more over the course of two years. My point is, what difference does $200 make?
If you can afford the contract, you can afford another $200 up front. Believe me. If not, you need to go a different route, perhaps prepaid. But that’s a conversation for another time. A brand new phone is likely to be close to the $200 mark, something that has become standard for the flagship phones of various manufacturers. Apple, Samsung, HTC – they all have excellent choices for $200 a pop.
A very important thing to remember is that you will be using the phone you choose for two years. In the case of the 3GS, which is already nearly three years old, it will be almost five years old at the end of your contract period. In smartphone years, that is absolutely ancient. It will serve you well to fork over the extra cash in the beginning, ensuring that you have a viable mobile solution for the years to come.
So many people these days are allured by the notion of a free, or nearly free smartphone. It seems like a great way to break into the market. But as I’ve illustrated, it is a stupid move that you will regret. There is no way around it. In a few short months, the crappy phone you got for free will start to crash on most occasions, lag during basic tasks, and to put it in Layman’s terms, drive you insane. So do yourself a favor: don’t fall for the trap.