Why It’s Time To Ditch Your Service Provider-Subsidized Phone

By the end of the year, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile will all be offering you plans to keep you switching out your phone every year. Mostly, it’s because customers tend to want to upgrade every year, as new phones come out with better gear. But the truth is, paying a subsidy for a cell phone is a bad deal, and always has been. Here’s why it’s time to walk away.

It Puts You At An Advantage With Your Carrier

When you buy a $600 phone on the installment plan, it’s hard to walk away until the whole thing is paid off. And carriers are well aware of this: There’s a reason that they don’t discuss being able to buy the phone up front as an option, and only begrudgingly unlock phones.

Why do you want to be committed to a company for two years? It’s not a marriage, it’s a service contract, and it’s starting to become a service you don’t really need to be locked in for. And the carriers are vividly aware of this. Being able to walk away, or haggle down a contract, gives you valuable leverage.

If You Don’t Need A Cutting Edge Phone, It Makes Financial Sense

A lot of us don’t need the best possible smartphone, because realistically, we use the things to look up bus times, read email, and look at stuff on Facebook. Those aren’t CPU-grinding chores. True, faster is better, but you can upgrade whenever you want instead of paying off a two year contract, or giving your carrier an extra $120 a year for the “privilege” of getting a new phone.

Unlocked Phones Are Getting Cheaper… And Better

The Nexus 4, offered by Google, wasn’t perfect, but for $300, it was hard to argue with the price. And as processors become cheaper, increasingly there are mid-range phones like the Blu Life Play.

It is true that you get what you pay for: It’s hard to find an unlocked phone with 4G below $600. But, again, as the technology gets cheaper, you’ll keep seeing it turn up in unlocked phones.

Google Will Be Pushing Hard To Get As Many Of These On The Market As Possible

One of the biggest proponents of unlocked hardware is, of all people, Google. In fact, Google has been working pretty hard to get unlocked phones that people actually want on the market, and is happy to eat some losses to do it. They’ve put out “Google Editions” of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, and by all accounts, the upcoming Moto X will be available in similar fashion.

Remember, Google makes its money selling ads; the more ads you see, the richer Google gets. That’s a powerful incentive to put an Internet enabled device in your hands at a low cost. And also, in a total coincidence, a good way to stick it to Apple.

Expect a lot of these cheaper, faster, unlocked phones from Motorola in the future, and expect phone makers to keep pace, both by discounting the price on older models as new ones come out, and by putting out their own competition. Apparently even Apple is getting into the game, as one of the rumors is that instead of having old iPhone models serve as “budget” iPhones, they’re launching an entire new line.

In other words, if you start owning your phone, you’ll be ahead of the curve. And, hey, at least you’ll save money on upgrades.