Upgrading mobile phones prey to traps, myriad rules

Deciding when to upgrade your mobile phone is not automatic when you become discount eligible. Far from it. If you commit to the wrong phone, you’re stuck with it for 12 months unless you replace it at pay full price.

As Verizon customer support just told me, you have to “ride out the phone.”

That’s the case with Veriz0n, my provider. The phone I am eying is the HTC Droid Incredible which is $199.99 discounted for re-upping with Verizon for another two years. With no discount, it’s $529.99 which I doubt many are going to pay. Customers are conditioned to paying the discounted price.

But I don’t like getting locked into further two year commitments, which has prompted to me look at  no-contract providers like metroPCS with its “all-in pricing, additional taxes and regulatory fees included, no contracts, and no hidden surprises.”

Sounds great, but is it purely value I want? I returned a Palm Pre Plus to Verizon a month ago because while it was a great value at $50 with free mobile broadband, it wasn’t the phone I wanted (I became eligible for my 12-month upgrade in March). MetroPCS has very basic phones compared to Verizon. It has only two SmartPhones. Verizon has 26.

Some day, I’ll do the math about whether switching carriers is worth it. Verizon maximally charges between $175 to $350 per line, but pro-rates it depending on when you bail. For the four lines, my early termination fees today would be $460.

Another subtle gotcha is that my family members have all upgraded on different dates, which individually resets the contract for each line. That means, I am not free and clear of early termination fees when my line’s contract runs out next March 12th. I have to wait for all four to expire.

At least, Verizon has not abandoned its unlimited data program like AT&T, but that’s story for another day.

As much as I like the Droid Incredible, I may delay gratification 18 months until November when Verizon gives me $50 off a discounted phone for re-upping. And I can see what alternatives come along (4G?) to the Incredible and most likely, it’s discounted price could go down.

Bottom line? Mobile phone decisions should not be this difficult, convoluted, trap-ridden and remorseful. Verizon Wireless bombards us with new phones and then says we can’t them at a reasonable price unless we indenture ourselves. Contracts are full of gotchas and companies like Verizon have excessively inserted themselves into their customers’ lives.

In the end, companies with an approach like metroPCS’s could win this war.

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7 comments On Upgrading mobile phones prey to traps, myriad rules

  • Four years ago got a killer family plan from Sprint. (3 lines, unlimited data, texting, 900 minutes for $90). 5 cents a minute for overage. It’s no longer offered. So whenever the contract is coming to an end, I get a free phone, and get it extended another 2 years. It’s kind of backwards, but keeps the cost low. The key is all the phones have a gmail client. So gmail aggregates all my mail accounts (and VoiP phone messages from office) and shoots them to the phone. When I need apps I use the iPad (no contract) or my netbook with a $20 / month pay as you go data card. With my eyesight, the smart phones screens were just too small for me.

  • just a though you should check out boost mobile they have sprint phones on the boost side and the price per month is resonable and no contracts

  • I have Verizon wireless and I am days away from the “eligible” for update day, I saw on the internet ‘wirefly’ had a 24 hour sale on verizon phones for $0.00, free activation, free shipping…to good to be true I thought, I went to a verizon store to ask questions an get any info to help me avoid the cost of an upgrade on two phones with a family plan, they were not very hlpful at all and said th phones might be refurbished phones or the contract may have clauses in it blah blah blah…so I call wirefly as if I were going to buy a phone and asked all the questions I nedded an answer for, they were very helpful and not mad when I ended the call with a “sorry I gotta go” just before closing the deal…I probably lost out on a good deal, my wife was not comfortable with it…keep your eyes open for wirefly they may have another sale, now it will cost me full price for the second phone to upgrade an the price of the Droid as well.

  • Totally off topic, but, satellite and cable companies do the same thing to you. Why isn’t there some sort of regulatory agency with cajones to end these ripoffs???

  • Oh, you lucky Americans! Even our “new” “discount” providers offer only 2 choices – a contract, usually 3 years + a “small fee” for a phone or pay full price. All phones are locked in – soon to be illegal to unlock under our proposed version of your DCMA.

    37 million would love your problems.

  • Peter,

    And what country of 37 million would that be? Yes, we Americans whine a lot….JD

  • @jpChris
    Beware of regulatory agencies – they make everything cost more, and eat away at your freedoms. Let’s all regulate them ourselves – by not buying from them. I’m my own worst enemy – I’m familiar with the “riding out the phone” concept with AT&T.

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