Cricket's contract-free $400 iPhone
The iPhone is finally available without a contract -- and for $55 a month. Of course, there is a not-so-small one-time fee.
Last week, Leap Wireless made waves when it announced that its Cricket prepaid service would become the first U.S. cellular provider to offer Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S on a month-to-month plan. Beginning June 22, customers can opt for a no-contract option with "unlimited" calls, texts, and data for just $55 a month — about half the monthly rate of AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ).
The catch? A much higher fee upfront. The cheapest Cricket option begins at $400 for an 8GB iPhone 4, while a 16GB iPhone 4S will run you $500. AT&T and Verizon typically charge at least $100 (and sometimes much more) for those phones -- and require a two-year contract. Of course, despite Cricket's higher fee, over the course of two years, it offers huge savings, and consumers can stop paying their phone bill at any time, no questions asked.
Is Cricket's plan the way to go?
Yes. The savings are huge: Cricket's iPhone plan "beats anything offered by the three largest U.S. mobile operators," says Geoff Duncan at Digital Trends. Cricket estimates that the average consumer pays $2,775 over the course of a two-year contract from AT&T or Verizon. Your average prepaid customer sticks around for 20 months — good for a savings of as much as $1,600 in the long run. This is a major win-win for Cricket and consumers.
But Cricket is not perfect: No doubt, the long-term savings are great, says Sean Captain at MSNBC. But if the "overwhelming crush of rumors is right," Apple's next iPhone will run on the super-fast 4G LTE network, which will make the 3G limitations of Cricket's network feel old and sluggish. Another major hurdle: The prepaid network's coverage area doesn't include major destinations like New York City and Chicago. "For a tech fanatic, this probably won't work."
Cricket isn't the only way to get a prepaid iPhone: There's an easy workaround for prepaid fans who can't get Cricket's coverage in their area, but can get a secondhand iPhone, says Chris Foresman at Ars Technica. "You can buy a prepaid AT&T-compatible microSIM from StraightTalk, [a service provider] run by TracFone and Walmart, for just $15." StraightTalk's plan runs just $45 a month for unlimited calls, texts, and data — beating out even Cricket's low prices. "And since StraightTalk runs over AT&T's network, you don't even need an unlocked iPhone — just pop in the SIM," and you're pretty much all set.
Best Opinion: Digital Trends, MSNBC, Ars Technica
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