Buying a cell phone can be an extremely expensive venture, especially if you are looking for a more modern phone. How can you determine that you are getting the best deal for your money?
First, keep in mind that when buying a cell in North America, most are wildly overpriced. Unfortunately, because of the restrictions on foreign phones and the problem of “locked” cells, not many options are available to you. Begin by contacting your provider or potential provider, or shop between several to determine their prices for a phone upfront, then with a two- or three-year commitment.
(Presumably, you are going to need service for the phone regardless.) Often the three-year commitment will give you an excellent deal if you are actually willing to stay with them for three years. Breaking the commitment can incur fees of over a hundred dollars, depending on how far into the contract you are when you cancel. Most companies will not even allow you to suspend your service temporarily when you are on a contract, so if you are planning to take a trip without your cell phone, expect to continue paying full price for your plan even while you are gone.
Still, the committee will generally be unaffected by changing price plans, and you can get hundreds of dollars off the phone, sometimes even get it for free. Be certain, however, that the phone meets your needs BEFORE you sign into it! (Some providers will offer a “buyer’s remorse” program if you do not like the phone/plan, providing you stay under a certain number of minutes during your first month. Contact your provider for details.)
If you already own a cell phone, consider looking into what is known as a hardware upgrade program. Provided you have had your current phone for a certain number of years (usually two), you may be able to get an upgrade at a much-reduced price or even for free.
Unfortunately, these programs sometimes limit you to just a few models of phones to choose from and may charge an administration fee as well, but you will almost certainly get a good deal regardless. Alternately, they may be able to offer you a refurbished phone if you are still in a commitment with them and your current phone is broken or does not suit your needs. Keep in mind that this may require lengthening the contract as well and possible problems with the phone.
If you are absolutely uninterested in a contract, you will need to purchase your phone elsewhere. Look in the classifieds for ads, or inquire among friends or associates if they might have an old phone they’re not using. Unfortunately, you have to worry here about lockouts, as well as the type of phone. Some phones, even ones made by the same manufacturer, are only compatible with certain companies.
There are two types of phones which are particularly popular in North America: GSM (containing a SIM card and maybe usable worldwide, depending on the phone) and TDMA (which are not found outside of North America and thus will not function elsewhere). Most providers work with both types, but the SIM card can be locked to a specific provider, so if you purchase a phone secondhand, be sure it is compatible with your provider! The best plan is probably to have a look at the phones they are promoting and choose a brand and model you like.
Use this as an opportunity to find out what features the cell offers and ensure it suits your needs, then look for an unlocked or otherwise-usable phone of the same model to buy. Online auctions are a good place to find them new and unlocked; even the latest models can be found there for less than the price you’d pay with a three-year contract from your provider.
Be vigilant, however; ensure the phone works and comes with its charger. Also, if it is not new, find out what company previously provided service to it, and determine whether it is GSM or TDMA. It is always best to double-check everything and contact your provider to ask if that specific model will work for you.