Cell Phones are Ridiculously Expensive

Submitted by C B Wright on

As chronicled elsewhere on this site, my Alaskan Husky Cheyenne destroyed my beloved Palm Treo 680 smartphone to the point where it is no longer usable as a phone, period. I've been doing without since then and I have an impressive amount of rollover minutes to show for it.

But now we've decided it will be more economical for us if we drop our land-line and use cellphones exclusively, so God help me, I need to buy a cell phone. And it looks like it's going to hurt my wallet something fierce.

Cell phones aren't cheap. You can get a cell phone for free when you sign up for a service plan, but that's because cellular companies are trying to suck you in to their ridiculously overpriced world. When you already have a service plan with them, they're not interested in giving you a discount on anything. You have to pay full price.

So I went into the AT&T store wondering how much it was going to hurt. The answer: the cheapest phone they had in the store was $220.

The cheapest. The little phone with no camera that looked like it would fall to pieces after being opened three times. $220.

"But," the guy behind the counter said, "for only $130 more you can buy an iPhone."

The cost of replacing my Treo? A little under $500 when you factor in tax.

"The iPhone would cheaper," the salesman said helpfully. I think they get bonuses for every iPhone they sell.

I didn't buy anything, but I'm going to have to pretty soon. Argh, that damn dog...


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Getting a phone

You might consider the unlocked phones on e-bay. That's how I got my last phone and it certainly wasn't $220 (~ $35 + shipping I think). It's a cheap phone with a bargain basement plan but, eh, how much do I really need to spend for something to text my wife twice a day? I'm not cool enough for an iPhone and I stopped caring a very long time ago.

You might want to check

You might want to check craigs list as well. I unloaded my son's former cell phone there when he left the country for a job in Japan. I have seen other phones available there as well, so you might find what you need.

Get an 8525!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it. ;)
I would consider my life worth living if I could stop people from buying the iphone. There are so many better alternatives. I myself have an AT&T 8525 and love it! Every spec is better than the iphone, and it was free with a promotion they were having (20% off monthly bill too).

If you're looking for the CHEAPEST cell phone you can get, you want Sprint's SERO plan. Details can be found at http://forums.slickdeals.net/showthread.php?sduid=100299&t=563252&highli...

Yes, they like to get you with those contracts. However, with the SERO plan you're getting such a steep discount I can't imagine you'd get a better deal without a contract.

Check Ebay

I agree: ebay is probably the least expensive way to go. You can probably find the exact same phone for cheap - or something different - without changing your plan or signing up for a new one.

Windows Mobile?

Um, the AT&T 8525 is a windows mobile phone. Can I sync it with any of my Unix boxes? A couple of those are Macs, if that helps. If the answer is "no", then there's at least one spec where it falls short of the iPhone.

I've looked at windows mobile phones a couple of times. The hardware is ok, but MS uses the software to further tie people to Windows Nuts, most smart phones at least have real bluetooth stacks so I can copy files to/from them from pretty much anything, but neither Apple nor MS does that. That makes windows mobile inferior to pretty much *everything* as far as I'm concerned.

Must be a phone without a service plan

OK, the thing is, I *already* have a wireless plan with AT&T. Which means I can't buy a discounted phone, and I can't switch over to another service provider -- not without paying an Oh-My-God-I'm-Bleeding-Money penalty for doing so... and it wouldn't do any good for my wife to be on one plan and for me to be on another, since that defeats the entire purpose of us saving money by canceling our land line and sticking to cellular service.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Obviously, you don't realize

Obviously, you don't realize the power that Windows Mobile 6 has. ;) For example, it syncs with everything, and I file share with bluetooth with ease (though admittedly I use my wifi connection much more often).

If you're already stuck on a

If you're already stuck on a plan, I change my vote to eBay. :D

if all you need is a phone...

of course, if all you need is a phone, you could always get a tracfone (or something like it). lol. For most people that's definitely not an option. It's worked well for me because I hardly ever use my phone. I have this odd feeling like that's not what you're going for, though.

Hey, great, another Tracfone

Hey, great, another Tracfone person. I love it. For $10 a month, I have a phone. But you are right, it only works if you don't use it much. And I have to admit, it is much better at reporting that I have missed a call than it is at actually delivering a call.

OTOH, my wife's $50/month Alltel phone doesn't even bother to tell her I called. It just tells me she is not available on the network.

Cell phone service is lousy out here.

Hu? In what sort of country

Hu? In what sort of country do you live. I have got my GSM for a little more than 50 Euros! Sure, it has a monochrome screen and only serve to call and receive message. But if this is all does that $220 phone you are talking about, then it's an horrible ripping off.

For precision, my phone is a Nokia 1110: http://www.nokia.fr/link?cid=EDITORIAL_141854
Old model but still usable.

$220? Heh--either you were

$220? Heh--either you were looking at the total prices with calling plan, or that store is really, *really* gouging badly on the prices of the physical phone. Those things shouldn't be more than $50-$60 for a basic model, and that's with a color display *and* a webcam.

I love Tracfone myself, but am the first to point out that if you spend more than an hour or two on the phone in a given month, you're probably better off with a regular cell due to the cost of adding time to it (basic color phone for $15-$20, 60 units of time for $20, with it being a bit cheaper per unit as you go up in size of 'cards'--plus the $100 'double-minutes' card and other similar items..)

Any chance at all you can buy a phone yourself from a decent third party (I don't count ebay and such here--I'm talking about a reliable retailer) and use it with your existing plan?

Virgin Mobile's cheaper :>

Virgin Mobile's cheaper :> $15/90 days if you setup for auto-topup, $20/90 days otherwise.

I was with VM for 7 years, until I got my Treo 700p. I'm surprised the OP didn't get a phone replacement plan. I'm paying Sprint $7/mo, so that I only have to pay $50 to replace my phone, no matter what. Given my phone's around $500 to replace, it's a dang good deal :>


I'm surprised the OP didn't get a phone replacement plan.

AT&T does not offer one for the Treo...

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

But you can find a less

But you can find a less expensive GSM phone (either AT&T or unlocked) on EBay and NOT sign up for a new plan. Just pop in your current SIM card (as long as that wasn't covered in dog slobber) and you're ready to go. In fact, if you have any friends or relatives with AT&T (or Cingular) or unlocked phones, you can try to get one from them.

And just take the money out of the dog's allowance...


My dad just bought himself a new phone to replace his scratched up old Sony Ericsson. He needs it for his work, and it's a vital point of contact for him.

But over AU$1000 for a phone?

Admittedly, it was a Nokia N95, top of the range, but still...

And I joked to him, "Get two."

You accidentally posted it

in today's comic.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Move to Australia

I recently needed to buy a new mobile phone after my old one decided that it was prudent to just randomly switch itself off during calls so I just went down to the local electronics store, picked out a new phone from the display case (Nokia 1112 for $69AUD), switched over the SIM card and I was back in business. I'm not on any contracts with any company as it is just a pre-paid thing.

Can this not be done with mobile phones in the USA because this certainly sounds much easier than what you seem to be going through.

Just renew your plan (early).

Yes, you'll be locked in to another 2 years, but they should give you a big discount on another phone or even one for free. I've been w/AT&T for 8 years now and that's what I've done to get phones cheap when they died.

I was going to say that as well

My phone provider (Telus, here in Canada) will jump through hoops for a customer in order to keep them happy. I often renew as much as a year early, with no penalty. They call this a hardware credit, it's one of the benefits of staying with the same provider for an extended period of time.

Use your negotiation skills!

If you have a plan with AT&T, and you're not using it, you can at least get on the phone and *threaten* to cancel it. Most of the reps have been trained to get you to stay ... see if you can get yourself connected with a "retention specialist" ... you may be surprised what they're willing to offer in order to keep you.


Ridiculous, but...

...Considering that, in the US at least, the "new" AT&T is the old Cingular (formerly BellSouth), I would say to you why are you still there? But acknowledging that you do have a plan, and a contract, let me enunciate each option I've seen as well as what has in the past worked for me.
1) eBay - Yeah, it can work. Just make sure the model of phone you're buying has the right network capabilities. (GSM, Gen IV, whatever the heck alphabet soup the want.) If you have a contract, the only real thing tying you to your phone is a SIM card. Move your SIM card, you get a new phone. (FYI, I currently am a T-Mobile subscriber. But I have three phones. My original AT&T Wireless "GoPhone", a Nokia 3595 with a convenient extra "tMobile" faceplate in place of it's original AT&T "mMode" plate. My second, an "upgrade" phone which is a slightly more advanced Siemens flip-phone. And my current phone, a lovely Samsung SGH-T409. My tMobile branded SIM card works in all three. On my old GoPhone, the software isn't perfect (for example, it still wants to go to "mMode" rather than "tZones" but it's a backup phone.
2) How I got from my (unlocked) AT&T holdover to my stylish (yet annoying) Siemens... Since I borrowed a faceplate from a T-Mobile Nokia 3595 (this alone should tell you something about the US cell phone business), had a current contract for more than 6 months and (apparently) already had a phone, I was able to "Upgrade" my phone. I thought AT&T did this, and know that Cingular (when I had a contract with them) had a similar program. The catch is that you have to go to an honest to goodness corporate run cell phone store. (Most cell stores, even branded ones, are third party entities, it seems.) The corporate stores are a little less maddening. An "upgrade" phone won't be as cheap as signing a new contract, but it's a break on selected phones. (My SGH-T409, second upgrade, was ~ $100.)
3) Cut loose and go with another carrier... I don't think this is your option.
4) Succumb to AT&T (Cingular with an evil twist, evidently) and Apple's demand that you MUST buy an iPhone (after all, don't you want to be subject to the new licensing agreement, user agreement, and the first rule of iPhone is you don't diss or unlock the iPhone or lawyers beat you with giant bats made out of Cease & Desist letters... in addition to being tied to iTunes in perpetuity, having to send your phone in to change the battery... etc) Sounds almost crazy enough to be a comic strip. (I claim no copyright.)
5) Have friends in Europe? Asia? The cell phone industries in those countries never got the memo that the best way to guarantee profit, rather than rely on something silly like service and customer satisfaction, is to tie your income base to the company with legal contracts and early termination fees. Not only are the phones available in most cases more advanced, with better features (like the original Verizon superphones that were software blocked by the branded firmware), their prices are somewhat more realistic. This also means the service providers (like Singtel, for example) do not subsidize the phone costs, so cheap phones are cheap, but your Treo will still be somewhat expensive. Then of course, shipping costs... but you should be able to pop your SIM card in and have it function.

6) Lastly, if for some reason you've actually read all the way down to this point, you could possible contact a wonderful veterinary surgeon and team of reproduction engineers. After retrieving any stuck parts of your old Treo from Cheyenne (unstuck parts may be retrieved with digit-al search technology on refuse materials), have the team of engineers reconstruct you Treo. But they could probably make it better... faster... stronger... I believe we have that technology. Fortunately, your reader base may have the necessary engineers with free time and a burning desire to prove that man and machine are no match for Husky jaws.

Try a PrePaid Phone

You can pick up a prepaid phone for cheap, just pay like 1 month, then swap out your SIM card. Not sure if that will work for you, but after my wife ruined her 3rd phone in 1 year, the phone co wouldn't replace it, so that's what we did.

My God, that is one nice run-on sentence. My English teacher would be proud.

iPhone for $350?

sounds like a good deal, actually.

I've noticed that you have a interesting love/hate relationship with Apple's slick, polished empire. I think you admire a lot of things about it, even as you dislike its power-grabbing side.

At the same time, I'm typing this on my iPhone, and a slicker and better designed product would be hard to find indeed. There is even a surprising array of third party software if you're the adventurous type and refrain from upgrading ypur phone.

Really, if you want a fantastic gadget instead of kowtowing to Ubersoft, you can't go wrong with iPhone. The high price, by the way, is more than offset by their much cheaper data plan. The fancy Windows Mobile devces have much more expensive data plans, and if my memory serves, 3G is unlikely to be a factor in your area for some time yet.

Check Apple's site - they might still have a few 4gb iPhones for cheap.

IPhone is easily the best consumer electronics purchase I have ever made. If you give it a try, I don't think you'll regret it.


David H Dennis

What, do you work for them or something? if not, you should. People who write ads that good should get paid for them.

Plenty of reasons not to buy an iPhone

I have a few very valid reasons not to buy an iPhone:

1. It requires access to a machine running iTunes in order to ACTIVATE THE PHONE.I run Linux. iTunes doesn't run on Linux, and I'm not going to install Windows (or buy a mac) just to activate a damn phone. My old Treo, on the other hand, interfaced with my Linux laptop just fine.

2. Its battery is SOLDERED TO THE PHONE. You have to mail it in to apple to get the damn battery replaced, and that costs $70. That is just plain stupid.

3. $40/month for unlimited internet access from a phone is a waste of my time. I use a cellphone for making calls and sending text messages. I have internet access at home and use my laptop to keep current on email, etc. Since a lot of my access involves maintaining this site and uploading new comics, a cellphone is pretty useless for most of my internet needs. Spending another $480/year for internet access for a phone is a waste of my money.

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

There have got to be cheap phones avaiable somewhere

As other people have commented, there are much cheaper phones out there.

I just bought (in Sri Lanka) a perfectly usable unlocked Nokia for the equivalent of about $52, and it was not even the cheapest they had (I think the cheapest was about $45). There are even cheap phones available for not much more in the UK (usually a very expensive place to by electronics, computers etc.)

Surely someone in the US must sell cheap phones. I can find nothing sold online in the US for less than about $100:very odd.

Used Phones

Every company I've looked at also has refurbs available, cheaply.

But you can buy even a "locked" phone (for your network), and switch to it.

I had a cell phone get submerged in water, and I also had my older one (They used the same batteries, and I used the old one as a charger). Called (Sprint, in this case), they got the number from the phone, and voila, I was swapped onto the old phone, no hassles.

So all you need to do is find a workable phone for now, (A treo might be a bit hard, but not impossible), and buy it, then tell AT&T that you're changing from the Treo to it.