Smartphone Early Upgrading Programs: Explained, Defined and Compared

February 16, 2014 - Written By Patrick Northcraft

Ever since 2013, carriers have been instituting a new method of holding customers besides the traditional annual or bi-annual contracts.  The top four carriers have all instituted some kind of early upgrade program, designed for the tech-savvy consumer who wants to upgrade their phone frequently.  These plans, T-Mobile Jump, AT&T Next, Verizon Edge, and Sprint Easy Pay.  While we have done a comparison like this before, things have changed.  What I am going to do here is explain what these plans mean, what you are getting from them, and how your money is being spent.

Generally, all these plans have the same basic structure.  What you get from the carrier is a form of interest-free financing that divides the cost of the phone up among a given period, which traditionally is anywhere from 20-24 months.  The Sprint and T-Mobile plans make you pay a down payment on the phones in order to help reduce your monthly fee.  T-Mobile charges you $10/month to get on the Jump train and to cover you through their device insurance (which typically costs $8/month if you aren’t on Jump).  Should you want to back out of the deal, you will pay the remaining balance on your phone, and then it is yours.  If you want to upgrade your device, it works the same on all four carriers:  you trade in your phone (which neutralizes the balance you had left over) and then you pick a new one, starting the cycle all over again.  What I am going to do with some help from The Verge, is look at a real life situation here.  For the sake of the example, lets say I want to get a new 16GB iPhone 5S (boo!  hiss!) when my contract is up.  The reason I say to use the iPhone is because it is very pricey, so the numbers when divided won’t be very small, allowing for a more obvious difference.  Let’s first look at what each plan does when you want to upgrade once a year:


Now what just happened was a similar plan was calculated for each carrier.  T-Mobile was done with a Simple Choice Plan with 2.5GB of data.  On Verizon, you see the More Everything 2GB plan , and on their rival AT&T there is the 2GB Mobile Share Value plan.  For Sprint, the only plan that you can do an early upgrade on is the Framily Plan, which comes with unlimited data.  While this is nice, it is very important to remember that Sprint’s 4G high-speed network is nowhere near as common as the others, and their 3G speeds are terribly slow (speaking from experience).  Now with this plan, you are waiting a year to upgrade your device.  This means that you will be spending your hard-earned cash on a larger portion of the phone.  now T-Mobile and Verizon offer an alternative that can save you money… upgrading every six months.


Disclaimer:  The total cost for T-Mobile should read $2,814 rather than the printed $2,328.  The original printed number is the cost on the original version of Jump, which has since changed.

These plans look pretty good, right?  Well, you would be correct.  The biggest downfall of these plans is that you do not get to keep your phone, which you could theoretically resell and get some cash out of it.  On average, a year old smartphone could ring up to around $300, which really only affects you if you like to sell your devices.  If, for some reason, you prefer to keep your old handsets, or just recycle them, than these plans are not a bad choice.  With all the recent changes that have been happening to data planning and pricing, it would not surprise me one bit if these chart were obsolete by the end of next month.  Also, if you go for a larger data plan on AT&T or Verizon, your costs could be very different from what we have here, since they have been giving bonuses for those who opt for 10GB or larger data plans.  Sprint also has an interesting possibility, since if you get more than 7 people on one Framily Plan it only costs $25 a line rather than $55 a line for the individual plan, excluding the $20 unlimited data charge and annual Easy Pay upgrades.

T-Mobile’s plan is unsurprisingly the best deal available.  If you are looking to upgrade once a year, the savings will be minimal, but the plan does include insurance.    T-Mobile just announced a change (which explains the error in the chart) that makes their twice-a-year deal a little bit less of a bargain, but the point is that it still includes insurance.  Basically, what we see here is that if you are planning to upgrade your phone once a year, you really will not gain that much from these plans, especially when you consider the resale value of your phone.  If you don’t want to sell your old phone, then one of these plans might just be what you were looking for.  The twice-a-year plans offered by T-Mobile and Verizon is quite a deal as opposed to going about it the old fashioned route.  So if you want to try out a new phone every six months, and you want to do it in the most economically friendly fashion, this method may just be the one for you!