When it comes to getting an iPhone, it’s a buyer’s market. Every major cell phone carrier has them, and they all compete against each other to bring you the best deal.
While Apple has always sold iPhones in its own stores, recent initiatives such as the iPhone Upgrade Program and Trade-In have made the company a serious contender for your phone buying business.
Let’s discover whether you should purchase an iPhone from your carrier or directly from Apple or get one from your cell carrier instead.
Prices Are Basically the Same
In previous times, cell phone carriers would let you pay off your phone in monthly installments. What they didn’t tell you is that they charged you a bit more than the total price of your phone over the course of 24 months, for the privilege of being able to spread it out.
Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program offered the same 24-month installment plan, with the option of upgrading to a new phone every year for free and trading in your old phone. If you paid the whole phone off, however, it didn’t cost you any more than if you had paid upfront.
Carriers followed suit and now, for the most part, all carriers and Apple offer monthly, no-money-down installment plans through which you purchase the phone from them over the course of 24 months. The monthly cost depends on the iPhone model you want, but across the different sellers, they’re all the same.
There are a few exceptions to this. AT&T offers a plan at a lower monthly rate for a total of 30 months. Apple also offers a higher monthly rate and includes AppleCare+ or AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss.
Winner: Essentially a tie.
Carriers Have the Deals
Apple is infamous for seldom offering deals. Unlike many other large corporations, Apple has avoided sales as to not devalue the exclusivity of its product. Everyone who owns an iPhone is also displaying a status symbol.
Carriers, however, frequently feature deals to compete with each other. Examples of past iPhone promotions have included pre-paid payments, free products, and free services. Carriers also frequently offer trade-in deals that can help take hundreds off of the initial iPhone purchase price.
Locked or Unlocked?
While you can unlock a contract-locked phone, it’s a hassle, and you might have to wait for your contract to run out first. The better move is to buy your phone unlocked in the first place.
An unlocked iPhone allows you to use that phone with any carrier, even if you’re not under contract with them. This can save money in the long term as you won’t be locked into an expensive contract.
If you purchase your phone through your carrier under a two-year service contract, the iPhone you buy might be locked to that carrier until that contract is up.
Even after two years, if you want to unlock it, you’ll need to contact them to do so. Although at the time of purchase the pricing might seem good, imagine still paying that price in two years when the iPhone is out of date.
When you buy a phone from Apple under the iPhone Upgrade Program, it comes as a certified unlocked device. You can even pair it with an existing plan and retain your unlocked status.
Insurance vs. AppleCare+
Both cell carriers and Apple offer all sorts of ways to protect your phone.
AppleCare+ comes in two different tiers: AppleCare+ and AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss. The pricing is different depending on which iPhone you have, but typically the Theft and Loss version costs about $100 more than the regular version. It includes, however, two opportunities to replace your iPhone if it gets lost or stolen.
Regular AppleCare+ covers repairs caused by accidental damage, but you must still physically have the device.
Carrier cell phone insurance plans like Verizon Total Mobile Protection, AT&T Device Protection, or T-Mobile Premium Protection 360 have lots of different tiers and price plans. However, they roughly break down along the same lines that AppleCare does. On the whole, perhaps, cellular company insurance plans are slightly cheaper than AppleCare.
There are two major differences between AppleCare+ and a carrier’s insurance: the level of customer service and the quality of your replacement device.
Apple commits to providing you with a “new or equivalent to new” product when it replaces your iPhone. Its customer service is set up so that all you have to do is walk into an Apple Store and get a same-day replacement. Apple Stores are stocked with almost every model of replacement iPhone available for quick service.
Carriers, on the other hand, don’t have access to the same level of quality assurance for Apple’s products that Apple does. Often, your replacement phone will not be at the same level of “new or equivalent to new” that Apple promises. Instead, it will be a refurbished phone with non-Apple-certified parts.
Additionally, carrier insurance typically requires verification, and devices are often shipped through the mail.
You were once able to find some real savings by shopping around the various mobile carriers. These days, most carriers, including Apple, offer roughly the same price for a more-or-less equivalent service.
However, Apple is a tiny bit better in terms of convenience, customer service, and repair quality. The Apple Store will probably provide you with a better experience, but if you time it right, your carrier might offer you a better price.
The Apple Store has another advantage: these locations are licensed to sell you an iPhone under a carrier’s plan. As a result, if you buy your phone at an Apple Store, you can actually see how much each phone will cost you under each plan.
At each carrier’s stores, they will only show you how much it will cost under their own plan. By presenting all the options to you, Apple offers a level of transparency that the other stores can’t match.
Try a Refurbished Phone for Even More Discounts
Whether you buy your next phone straight from Apple or from your carrier, there are still more questions you should ask before buying a smartphone. Buying directly from Apple or your carrier is typically the most reliable way to buy an iPhone—but have you ever considered purchasing a refurbished model?
If saving money is your main priority, you can buy a refurbished or used iPhone at Best Buy, Apple, Walmart, and even online from companies like Amazon, eBay, and Orchard. Outside of an Apple Certified Refurbished product, the quality can be questionable, but that might not matter to you depending on how much you save.
It can be a little confusing to navigate all the terminology, so before you get started, make sure you understand the pros and cons of refurbished, used, and certified pre-owned electronics.
Selling Your Old iPhone
Whether you decide to purchase from Apple, your carrier, or a third-party website, be sure to pick the deal that works best for you. Consider both your long-term and short-term needs and you’ll quickly find your best option in terms of price and services.
When buying a new iPhone, there’s a good chance you’re going to need to sell or dispose of your old model. No matter whether you’re trading in or selling to a stranger online, be sure to check out how to turn off Find My iPhone before giving your phone away.
You must switch off the Find My iPhone function when you sell your device. Follow this quick guide to know why and how to do it.
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