Three Surprisingly Cheap Ways to Own an iPhone
It wasn’t long ago that “cheap” and “iPhone” couldn’t exist in the same sentence. Heck, the same paragraph. Merely uttering those two words within 10 minutes of each other was cause for mockery and scorn.
My, how times have changed.
Owning an iPhone is now downright affordable, at least when it comes to monthly service. Believe it or not, you can pay as little as zero for an all-inclusive plan. There are a few small catches, of course, but nothing you can’t live with — especially if you’re willing to use an older model like the iPhone 5 or 4S.
Here’s a look at three surprisingly cheap ways to own an iPhone, starting with a brand new option that was just announced.
Many users know FreedomPop as the company that offers free basic mobile-phone service — so long as you buy or bring a fairly low-end Android model. As of today, that’s no longer the case.
Now you can transfer a Sprint-compatible iPhone 4, 4S, or 5 to the company’s network (or buy a refurbished iPhone 5 for $349, not at all a bad deal). As for service, FreedomPop’s Basic plan entitles you to 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages, and 500MB of data per month–all at no charge.
If you sign up for a two-year plan (prepaid at $110, which works out to $4.58 monthly), you get unlimited voice and texting. As for data, anything beyond your allotted 500MB gets billed at 2.5 cents per megabyte. (So another, say, 500MB would run you $12.50.) This is kind of amazing, especially if you already own a compatible iPhone. If not, you can probably pick one up on Ebay or Craigslist for cheap. (I routinely see the 32GB iPhone 4S for under $200.)
Here’s the good news: UppWireless offers no-contract mobile service for just $15 monthly, a price that includes unlimited calling and texting and 1GB of high-speed data. You supply the iPhone: Any model that’s compatible with AT&T or T-Mobile. (As I noted above, you can find inexpensive used ones online.)
The bad news is that you can’t port your existing number, and you’re required to use the UppWireless app for calls and text messages rather than the apps built into the iPhone. Also, you can’t receive short-code texts, the kind used by various companies and services (think: airlines, Starbucks, etc.). But if you can deal with those limitations, this is an amazingly good deal.
I feel like Virgin Mobile is the world’s best-kept secret, because most people I talk to have no idea the company carries the iPhone, and fewer still know just what kind of deals can be had.
With Virgin, you buy the iPhone outright, then get no-contract service on the cheap. The company currently offers the iPhone 5c (32GB) for $439.99 and the iPhone 5s (32GB) for $519.99. Steep prices, yes, but 20 percent less than full retail. (Bonus: If you start your shopping at TopCashback, you’ll get a $35 rebate on any iPhone purchased from Virgin.)
Plus, you can get service plans starting at just $30 monthly, a price that includes unlimited texting and data and 300 voice minutes. That’s 4G data, by the way, at least for the first 2.5 gigabytes. And when you compare your total cost over two years, you’ll end up spending a lot less than you would under a two-year contract from a Big Four carrier. Speaking of which, Virgin operates on the Sprint network, though you don’t get the same roaming coverage as with Sprint proper–something to consider if you live, work, and/or travel in remote areas. I spend most of my time in cities and suburbs, and although I don’t always get ultra-high-speed connectivity, it definitely falls under the umbrella of “good enough.”
I currently have an iPhone 5s from Virgin, and my wife uses an iPhone 5c. We’ve been more than satisfied with both.
Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.