With the new iPhone 4, the EVO 4G, Droid X, and Samsung Galaxy S among other still-great phones like the Google Nexus One, choosing a new phone can be tough. Sure, each phone has theta own strong points, but as important as the specs of the phone can be, there's also network costs to keep in mind. Comparing the phones themselves is more of a personal choice, whether you personally like the design of the phone, feature set, or the OS (though that's usually a 1 of 3 choice of Android, BlackBerry or iOS).
Sprint's EVO 4G and AT&T's iPhone 4 are probably the most closely matched phones when it comes down to features, but when it comes to the network, which will really cost more in the long run? We took a look at the main carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. AT&T and T-Mobile are both GSM networks so the phones will work outside of the US, and you may even be able to get away with swapping out the SIM card when roaming internationally for a less exorbitant bill. Sprint and Verizon, however, will not work outside of the US, but have 3G across their entire network. Something to consider if you're waiting on the Verizon iPhone and travel internationally. Here's our roundup of what smartphones will really cost you by network – including a look at the Pay-as-You-Go networks you may not have considered.
|AT&T||Sprint||T-Mobile (Best Deal)||Verizon|
|Lowest priced data plan||$59.99/month, 200MB data||$79.99/month, "unlimited" data and 4G||$59.99/month, "unlimited" data||$89.98/month, 5GB data|
|Highest priced data plan||$134.99/month, 2GB data||$99.99/month, "unlimited" data||$99.99/month, "unlimited" data||$119.98/month, 5GB data|
|Insurance costs||$7/2-years for Apple Care||$4/month||$6/month||$8/month|
|Phones||iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, Nexus One, BlackBerries||EVO 4G, BlackBerries||Nexus One, myTouch 3G Slide, BlackBerries||Droid X, Droid 2, Droid Incredible, Palm Pre Plus, Backberries|
|2-year total for maximum data, talk time, texting and insurance, with contract||$2,050, not including taxes and fees||$2,216, not including taxes and fees||$2,114, not including taxes and fees||$2,552, not including taxes and fees|
Pay As You Go: Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile
There are also smaller pay-as-you go carriers to consider. They charge a lot less for service and don't require contracts, though service can be spotty at times. Boost charges $60 a month for a BlackBerry with unlimited everything, with a BlackBerry 8330 costing $250. That's $1,690 should you choose to keep the phone for two years.
Virgin Mobile, on the other hand offers a great deal of $35 a month for a BlackBerry with 300 minutes and unlimited SMS and data, with a BlackBerry 8530 costing $299 on the service. That comes out to the cheapest of all possible options at $1,140 for two years. These types of services really don't have any type of insurance on their phones though, so keep a close eye on your phone during that time.
Both Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile run on top of the Sprint network: so don't count on being able to roam internationally with the plans, but if you like Sprint's network otherwise either will save you quite a bit in the long run.
Best contract deal
The best plans you can find that include data start with the Even More plan. It's $79.99 if you want to get a subsidized phone with no contract. Otherwise, you pay full price for the phone and can get the Even More Plus plan with 500 minutes and unlimited data and SMS for $59.99 a month. For the Even More Plus with the Nexus One that adds up to about $1,970 for two years discounting taxes and fees. For the same phone with Even More, it'll cost $2,100 not including fees and taxes.
If you want a physical keyboard on the myTouch Slide, simply subtract $5 from that price. To protect your phone, T-Mobile has "Premium Handset Protection Bundle" which would cost $6 a month. So the plans change to $2,114 and $2,214, respectively over a 2-year period. Over time, the best contract deal is the Nexus One with Even More Plus, with the added benefit that you can cancel the plan at any time without having to pay an early termination fee.
Sprint is the third largest carrier and has arguably the best talk time deal with its Any Mobile, Any Time feature that lets you call any US cell phone without using any minutes. The fine print is that it's not always available to people who roam frequently. Now, without a doubt the best phone available on Sprint right now is the EVO 4G. The phone itself costs $200, after a $100 mail-in rebate unless you buy the phone from Best Buy who just charges $200.
To go with that, the cheapest plan is $69.99, plus and an extra $10 for having a 4G phone, making it $79.99. That means over two years the phone will end up costing $2,120, plus and extra $30 for every month you might want to use the hotspot modem built into the phone to connect other devices to the 3G or 4G network over WiFI. For insurance, Sprint charges $4 per device per month, meaning it'll add an extra $96 for two years, bringing the total to $2,216.
Next up – and an easy one for phone selection, is AT&T. Let's be honest, the only reason for going with AT&T unless held at gunpoint is for the iPhone. AT&T isn't exactly the cheapest, but it is possibly the most complicated for plans. Let's assume you can get by with 450 minutes and 5,000 night and weekend minutes, which is $39.99 a month.
Thankfully those minutes do roll-over if they seem paltry. For SMS, assuming you're over the age of 17, 1500 messages should be enough at $15 a month, though $5 more for unlimited isn't a terrible idea. For data, most users can deal with 200 MB, which adds $15 a month. So that adds up to $69.99 a month for the minimum average smartphone user. Add $10 more for less data and subtract $10 if you want 200 SMS messages a month for the same price. For the phone, the iPhone 3GS with 8GB is now $99, iPhone 4 has 16 GB and 32 GB versions for $199 and $299, respectively. For the iPhone, insurance is dealt with through Apple using Apple Care, which is free for a year, and an extra $7 for the full two years. For the minimum plan put together here, it's $1,680 for just the plan, so without fees and taxes the most it could cost would be $2,050, which actually isn't a bad price at all.
Now for the Big Red Giant. Verizon has a dilemma in that they have almost too many great Android phones to choose from. For the sake of argument let's go with the latest and greatest Motorola Droid X, which will end up costing $199. Verizon Wireless is the most expensive, though much more straight forward than AT&T. Verizon charges $59.99 for unlimited text and 450 minutes, and $29.99 for "unlimited" data (read: 5 GB of data). That's $89.98 a month before fees and taxes. With the phone over two years, that'll cost $2,360, the most expensive of the four. Assuming a smartphone is considered an "Advanced Device," Big Red charges $8 per phone per month, adding up to an extra $192. That brings the two year total to $2,552.
The decision, as always, comes down to personal choice. There are a lot of Android phones out there, including the upcoming Motorola i1 for Boost, which isn't groundbreaking, but will provide a cheap Android phone which should be nice. Reception varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, even in the same city, and that can obviously play a role as well. Sometimes just trying to figure out the actual cost of phones is tough, and it turns out you pay more with the contract model in the US, but that's almost unavoidable.