We Help You Decide: You Want A Fancy Phone

One of the most damning aspects of prepaid is that many companies — most notably the larger telecoms — treat you like third-rate customers. That's just not right. They'd rather focus their energies on their contract subscribers, because that's guaranteed money in the bank. Conversely, you, the prepaid user, aren't guaranteed beyond this minute (or beyond this month, if you use flat-rate prepaid).
The worst part of it all, though, is that you don't get as sweet a deal on a phone as contract customers. Yeah yeah, we understand that the contract allows the company to subsidize the phone. We think it's a bunch of baloney they use to justify the ridiculous contract system, but we'll leave that as speculation for now, since we don't have the facts to back it up.
What it means for the prepaid faithful is that we're either stuck overpaying for good phones or taking a crappy phone — and likely overpaying for it, too. Even worse, some prepaid providers don't offer much of a selection of phones, and those they do have are pretty crappy. Kinda sucks for those of us who like nice things.
We'll rattle through the usual suspects to find which have the best phones available. Bonus points for good selection — unless it's a selection of crap — and even more bonus points for good pricing.
(read the review) We'll hand it to Alltel for having a very wide selection of phones with their prepaid service. The only problem is the price. The top of the line phones are going to cost you over $100. That's not a ton, but it's not exactly a deal. Their cheaper phones, which range from $25 to $50, are horribly outdated. If you've got money to drop, you can get phones like the LG Wave or the LG AX8600. But if price is what you're after, Alltel just isn't going to cut it.
(read the review) You know selection isn't all that great when you can count the number of phones offered. Unfortunately, AT&T offers just 11 phones through GoPhone. The good news is that you can get any AT&T phone you want; the bad news is that you won't get any subsidy whatsoever for it. With the phones offered through GoPhone, though, you do get an online discount of up to $120. Like the Motorola RAZR V3 — normally $250, but $130 with the service. The good phones are still on the expensive end, and since there aren't many to choose from, this doesn't really get a recommendation.
(read the review) Three whole phones to choose from — and there's but one selection if you're going with Boost Unlimited. The best one, the Motorola i855, is a decent offering. It's got all the bells and whistles you need: multimedia player, instant messaging, built-in browser, GPS, etc. However, it's still going to cost you $120. Here's the thing, though: the two cheaper Motorola phones, the i415 and the i455, offer the same features. Of course, they're slightly outdated, but functionality is functionality. This specifically applies to the i455, which is just the older model of the i855. We consider these two phones deals and would recommend them should you want to try Boost Mobile. However, if you need something new, it might not be for you if you're going for something on the cheap end.
(read the review) Hey! Cricket just got a whole ton of new phones in. Seriously, they had like three or four selections up until recently, so now that they have 10, it seems like a hundred. A lot of those 10 are high-end offerings, like the RAZR, the KRZR, the SLVR, and the Kyocera K323. The subsidy isn't great: just $20 for the higher end phones. SO you're still paying $160 to $350 (for the KRZR). They do have the Kyocera K132 and the UT Starcom 7025 for $70 each, but they aren't exactly fancy phones — and we haven't heard the name UT Starcom in years. So, plus for nice phones, neutral on the selection, and negative for the prices. Pretty much on par with the rest of the field.
(read the review) Yes, they have a bunch of phones, and some of them are actually quality. Like the Samsung u520 or the ever-popular SLVR. However, a rebate only exists for certain Samsung models. Otherwise, you're paying full price. So you can get a good phone, you'll just be paying between $150 and $200 for it. Once again, not too much different than the rest of 'em.
(read the review) Awwww yeah. Not only does T-Mobile carry a decent selection of prepaid phones, but they offer a subsidy on them, too — up to $150. That's on the Samsung t509, a phone which we really like. And it's just $50! Seriously, it might be the best deal on a prepaid phone we've yet seen. The only phone that doesn't offer a subsidy is the Sidekick, which clocks in at $400. But hey, this column is for people who like nice phones, and the Sidekick 3 is right up there with the best of 'em.
(read the review) US Cellular has a very wide selection of high end phones — their cheapest starts at $160 retail. They have BlackBerry, a bunch of newer Motorola models (KRZR K1M), and even the Motorola m800. And they do offer a $50 rebate if you agree to a plan of $40 or more per month. However, you get a larger subsidy if you agree to a two-year contract. That's always the story, isn't it? Still, though, if you're looking for a top of the line phone, US Cellular is one of your best bets.
(read the review) We were very close to putting Verizon in the lower section — they only make six (old, cheap) phones available through prepay. And guess what? No subsidy. However, in reality you can buy any Verizon phone and use it with their prepaid plans. But, as usual, you'll pay full retail, which is usually pretty hefty. This is not the route to go if you're counting penniesback it up.
Not fit for fancy phone lovers
Jump Mobile: They only have two phones, but one is the Motorola SLVR L7c for $150. Not a bad deal on that. But still…two phones.
kajeet: Only four phones to choose from, and they're all pretty old — seriously, the LG 225? But, the service is for kids, so it's fine. They do have the Sanyo Katana, which we like, but it's the older version, and it's still going for $100.
Liberty Wireless: Decent selection for a prepaid service, but their phones are older than Wilford Brimley. Once again, their best phone is the Katana, and it is also going for $100. So no go on these phones.
Locus: Okay, so they have a few new, neat phones listed on their website, like the LG Env. However, it doesn't appear you can purchase them through the website.
Mojo Mobile: They have seven whole phones! But they're all garbage. No joke.
Net10: They don't have much of a selection now, with a bunch of outdated phones. They have a few new models on the way, though, like the Motorola W370. Then again, that phone doesn't have a camera or Bluetooth, so we're wondering if they're not just importing the latest of the scrap heap phones.
Omni: It's a craptastic selection of old, refurbished phones. We didn't think most of these could still access a cellular network.
Page Plus: One phone. It's $40, but it's only one old phone.
Simple Freedom: Small selection of outdated phones. They're not terrible like many of the others we've listed in this section, but they're not impressive either. We tried to call customer service to see if you could use an Alltel phone through Simple Freedom, but yeah, we didn't feel like sitting on hold for another 30 minutes.
STi: As you can see from the length of this list, we're very picky when it comes to quality handsets. STi has only five available, and none of them are really modern. They are functional though: all are able to access the Internet and all but two can play MP3 ringtones. But that's just not going to cut it in today's modern phone market.
Tracfone: A decent selection, but they're all old cheapies. The best we could find in our area (yes, it appears that different phones are available in different areas) was the LG 225 — and that runs $80. That just won't do. No siree.
Venture: They work off a number of different services, and each service can only use one kind of phone. So while they have seven advertised, three work with the PCS network and four work with the CDMA network. But in any case, they're old cheapies.
Virgin Mobile: They have a relatively wide selection — of crappy phones! Oh, we love a good zing. But yeah, if you're looking for something Fancy, it's not something Virgin provides.
Xtreme Mobile: Four phones that are old and crappy. That's something we've said a lot in this column. Old and crappy.
The Verdict
If it's a good selection of high-end phones you seek, T-Mobile, Alltel, and US Cellular are your best bets. However, Verizon and AT&T sneak in there because you can realistically use any phone on their network through prepaid — though you'll be paying a hefty price.
Overall, we're going with T-Mobile. They offer a decent subsidy and a wide selection of quality phones.