A delicate balance exists in the world of discount wireless. On one side is the perilous two-year contract. Who wants to make that kind of commitment to phone service? While most companies are now prorating their early termination fees, that doesn’t amount to a whole lot of savings if you want to dump your service in month ten. On the other side is the benefit of signing a contract: cheap and/or free phones.
They might not be of the best quality, but you can still usually find a good deal for under $20. So here’s what we’re looking for. Major carrier (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mo, Alltel), cheap phone (cheapest they’ve got; you’ll see that they can’t all be free), most possible features. Or, in one case, not the most features, just an interesting concept.
AT&T – Samsung A727
This one might look like a candybar from 2002, but it certainly packs a ton more punch. For starters, it works on AT&T’s 3G network, which of course didn’t exist six years ago. It is also Bluetooth ready, another feature that wasn’t available back in the day. So while the look says vintage, the functionality is clearly up to date. Think you’re getting a camera-less phone? Nope. VGA? Nada. It’s a 1.3 megapixel one, which is really nice, considering it’s free. It sports a music player as well, supporting MP3, WMA, AAC, and ACC file formats.
Oh, and if you don’t want to use the disk space to load files onto the phone, you can stream XM satellite radio. Or, as it is now XM-Sirius. Like to message? This has MMS capabilities. Instant messaging is supported,t oo, with AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo! Messenger ready to go. You an also browse the mobile Web and access AT&T’s MEdia Net. Essentially, this phone has all the perks of a top-of-the-line phone, in a low-end casing, for a low-end price. It’s tough to go wrong with this one.
T-Mobile – Motorola RIZR Z3
When I went shopping for a phone earlier this year, the RIZR was actually high on my list. Yeah, I’m as sick of the four capital letter Motorola phones as you are. But having a slider is infinitely preferable to a flip phone, at least to me. Problem was, it ran a little expensive at the time. Then, deciding I needed a data phone, I picked up a BlackBerry. Still, the RIZR remains an attractive option, especially since it’s now free through T-Mobile. How does it compare to the A727? Right off the bat, it looks a ton newer. Motorola, despite their redundancy in features, likes to give their phones a sleek look. This one certainly looks like it’s from 2008.
It’s got a music player, though it’s limited to just AAC and MP3 files. Having WMV would be nice, but hey, we’re again talking about a free phone here. It’s got Bluetooth, a necessity in this day in age. And, like the 727, it can send and receive MMS. The RIZR does it with a 2.0 megapixel camera, though, which can also take short video snippets. Yes, there are the same instant messaging options, plus ICQ. With both of the models so far, it’s hard to imagine that they can be free. But hey, it goes to show how much these carriers want you to ink that two-year deal. As we’re about to see with Sprint, though, some of them might not be as eager.
Sprint – Samsung m300
We really like to poke fun at Sprint here. It’s just so easy. In this case, it’s no different. Not only is Sprint offering the worst phone on this list, but it’s also the most expensive at $20. Paying more to get less. It’s the Sprint way! The m300 is kind of a leftover phone, passed off to many Sprint MVNOs, like kajeet. It does have a camera, though it’s of the VGA type — so far the worst we’ve encountered. And with Sprint Picture Mail you can send those grainy images to your friends and family. Speaking of grainy, that’s how the sound out of this thing will sound. Polyphonic. Seriously?
Without looking at the other providers, that might sound okay. But seeing as AT&T and T-Mobile offer music phones for less than this phone costs, namely free, it seems like a poor deal. Thankfully, it does have Bluetooth, so it’s not completely outdated. And you can surf the Web, if you so choose. But all in all, this phone is wholly lacking, and not free. Sprint, seriously, it’s time to wake up to your competitors offers, especially on the lower end.
Alltel – Samsung Hue
Alltel doesn’t have any free phones, per se, though they do have a huge selection for 99 cents. And if you’ve seen how the dollar is faring these days, well, maybe 99 cents is nearly as good as free. Like the 727 and the RIZR above, the Hue delivers in terms of super-cheap phones. Looking for music? Hells yes this has it. It’s just MP3, which is sort of a bummer. But considering it’s the most common file format for music, that works just fine. They also stuck a Bluetooth in here. Is it just me, or is Bluetooth becoming unworthy of a mention in phones?
Maybe we should only mention it when a phone doesn’t have Bluetooth. All the messaging goodies are available, including AIM and Yahoo!, plus MMS and email. Yes, you can browse the mobile Web with the Hue. So you can upload and send pictures to friends and family. Or you can take originals with your 1.3 megapixel camera. See, Sprint — is it so hard to offer a free phone with a decent camera?
Verizon – CDM 8950
Feast your eyes on this beauty. In the name of simplicity, Verizon still offers the CDM 8905. It’s the most basic phone you can possibly imagine. No camera. No frills. Just talk and text. It does have a color internal display, though that’s strange, since there’s little you can use it for, since there’s no camera, nor mobile Web capabilities. Okay, so maybe some of you don’t like the simplicity the 8905 offers. If you’re looking for something a bit better, you can look no further than the Motorola W385. It features a VGA camera, mobile Web, MMS, and Bluetooth. No music player, though.
If you’re interested in that, you can also nab the LG Chocolate, which also features a 1.3 megapixel camera. The Samsung Juke is also free, and has music and a VGA camera. Though I still have no idea how people can type text messages on this ultra-slim model.