Finding the Cheapest iPhone: Early 2016 Edition
My iPhone Backstory
About a year ago I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) on my attempts to find the best price on a new iPhone. At the time I had owned my iPhone 4S for about 2 1/2 years, and while it was still functional, it was starting to show its age a bit. Furthermore, my expectations were different than most people’s, as I had bought an off-contract phone from Virgin Mobile when no-contract smartphone plans were just beginning to appear in the United States.
Over two years I saved over $1,000 by paying full price up front and $30/month on Virgin’s plan.
One year later the subsidized, 2 year contract phone plan is all but dead, and your options relate mostly to how you want to pay for your phone: all up front, leased with a trade in at the end, leased with no trade in, or a plan that allows you to upgrade your iPhone forever, in some form. The main carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile) offer various versions and combinations of these plans, but essentially these days you’re paying full price for your phone, one way or another.
The good news about this is that you’re actually paying LESS over two years than you used to. The bad news is that it can be difficult and confusing to figure out what the best deal is for you.
Obviously this will be different for different people, and this column is an attempt to help out a certain subgroup, as defined below, while also giving some information that should be helpful to everyone.
Herewith, my assumptions.
The iPhone I’m Looking For
My needs are not necessarily typical, and in fact will probably change in the next year. But for now, I’m looking for the cheapest iPhone and plan over a two year period, with these assumptions:
- One phone, one line
- Smallest data plan that is at least 1 GB
- iPhone 6S (any color)
- 64 GB (I’m tired of juggling what stays on my phone)
- Total cost over 24 months
The table below summarizes what I found as of January, 2015 researching from Peoria, Illinois. YMMV, and of course prices and plans can change at any time. Actually, just had to take out what was the cheapest plan, Sprint’s iPhone Forever, as I can’t find anything close to the price I had on there.
So be warned, things can change, do your own research, but start here.
iPhone Price Guide Early 2016
|Company||Cost of Phone||Cost of Plan||Line Charge||Amount of Data||Activation/Fee||Two Year Total||Notes|
|AT&T||$750.00||$30.00||$25.00||2 GB||$15.00||$2,085||options for upgrade with tradein at 24 months, upgrade without tradein at 30 months|
|AT&T||$299.00||$30.00||$40.00||2 GB||$45.00||$2,024||upgrade w/no tradein required at 24 months|
|Sprint||$299.00||$20.00||$40.00||1 GB||$36.00||$1,775||2 year contract, subsidized phone|
|T-Mobile||$750.00||$50.00||$0.00||2 GB||$15.00||$1,965||sim starter kit|
|TPO*||$750.00||$30.00||$0.00||2 GB||$1,470||assumes phone bought from Apple or other full price|
|Boost||$750.00||$30.00||$0.00||2 GB||$1,470||128 GB phone; data grows to up to 5GB w/ontime payments|
The Alternative Carriers
I happen to prefer the alternative carriers (Boost, TPO, & Cricket) as you’re not tied down to a two year plan, which you still are with the major carriers (although in most cases the only penalty these days if you want to leave early is you have to finish paying for your phone). They also still tend to be cheaper; while you’re paying full price for your phone up front, you’re not paying a “line access” charge each month, which saves you hundreds in the long run.
TPO (The People’s Operator) is the newest operator in the field; they’ve been in Great Britain for awhile, but are new in the U.S. Like Boost & Virgin Mobile they use Sprint’s network, while Cricket uses AT&T, and your best bet with TPO is to buy your own phone and bring it, as their store options are limited. What I like about TPO (besides the low prices) is like Credo, they donate 10% of your monthly bill to charity.
The Main Carriers
The advantage of the big four are greater selection of phones (you might not be able to find the iPhone you want from the alternative carriers) and theoretically more reliable networks as your not using a service piggy-backing on another company’s network. Although in reality Sprint owns Boost & Virgin, and AT&T owns Cricket, so that shouldn’t actually be an issue. Nonetheless, you do have more options with the big carriers, which can be good if you like choices or bad if you don’t like the confusion of trying to figure out your best deal.
Use the chart above to get some ideas, but obviously you need to do your own research as well. All the carriers are essentially charging you full price for your phones now, if you don’t believe me do the math yourself.
If you can afford to buy your phone up front and are willing to take a little bit of a chance, the MVNOs (Cricket, Boost & TPO) give you a better deal in the long run and no long-term contracts. If you want the security of a known network, go ahead and pick your favorite big carrier, just be aware you’ll be paying for the privilege.