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Did you know it’s much cheaper to buy unlocked phones? Big cell companies sell contract phones at a tremendous markup, disguising their overpricing through subterfuge: The true price of the phone gets rolled into your monthly cellular bill.

Never buy a smartphone from a carrier — ever. Most consumers don’t know that they can purchase contract-free phones. Unlocked phones can work with MVNO plans Get Your Prepaid Mobile Phone Plan As Cheap As Possible: Four Tips To Save Hundreds! Get Your Prepaid Mobile Phone Plan As Cheap As Possible: Four Tips To Save Hundreds! In the United States, T-Mobile made history by becoming the first cellular carrier to not force customers into buying multi-year contracts. After the policy shift, T-Mo users can purchase subsidized phones independent of a monthly... Read More , with plans costing half that charged by major carriers.

The six phones presented in this article provide excellent value. The prices start at $20 and run as high as $650. However, if you are looking to sign a contract with a carrier (and I strongly suggest that you do not), check out Riley Dennis’s list of the best Android smartphones What's the Best Android Smartphone in 2016? What's the Best Android Smartphone in 2016? Buying an iPhone is simple -- if you want the best device, you buy the newest one. If you want a cheaper one, you buy one that's a year or two old. Read More — she’s absolutely correct. However, if you need reasons to dump your carrier and hook up with an MVNO, read about it here The 4 Best Android Phones Available Right Now The 4 Best Android Phones Available Right Now Buying an Android phone is more complicated than buying an iPhone. There are literally thousands of choices, most of which are terrible (but also inexpensive). Homing in on the best requires time, research, consideration and... Read More .

Two Kinds of Phones

As I’ve mentioned before The Future Is Prepaid: How To Save Hundreds On Your Mobile Phone Bill In 3 Easy Steps The Future Is Prepaid: How To Save Hundreds On Your Mobile Phone Bill In 3 Easy Steps Cutting your mobile phone bill in half takes only three simple steps - first, find a carrier that offers discounted plans, such as an MVNO. Second, get an unlocked phone. Third, and optionally, you can... Read More , there exist two kinds of unlocked phones—those that work with GSM networks and those that work with CDMA. Other cellular technologies exist, but they’re not entirely mainstream and are largely based on the ubiquitous GSM standard. Also, a rare number of phones work on both GSM and CDMA networks, such as the Google Pixel Google Pixel XL Review and Giveaway Google Pixel XL Review and Giveaway Google's first branded device delivers one of the best devices in the Android ecosystem: the $770 Pixel XL. The XL launched with similar specs as the $500 Nexus 6P, but is it worth $770? Read More .

CDMA: CDMA technology semi-locks phones into a single network, so while these phones can unlock, there are all kinds of hassles in transferring them between carriers. For GSM phones, however, phones can migrate to another network by simply changing the SIM card. Note, though, that many CDMA phones do not use SIM cards.

  • In the US: Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, MetroPCS, and US Cellular.
  • In Japan: DoCoMo.

GSM: Internationally, GSM remains the dominant cell technology. CDMA does exist in almost all markets, although it’s generally associated with third tier carriers. It’s only in the US that it possesses the lion’s share of the market. Consequently, most dual-SIM international phones are GSM based.

  • In the US: T-Mobile and AT&T.
  • In India: Airtel, Reliance Communications, and Idea Cellular
  • In the United Kingdom: O2, EE, and Vodafone

The phones presented in this article are specifically labeled with the correct network that they function on. When purchasing a phone, always make sure you’re buying the right model for your network. If you’re switching to an MVNO, the MVNO will correspond with a particular network—for example, Airvoice Wireless (which rents spectrum from AT&T) only works with GSM phones. MVNOs cost very little The Future Is Prepaid: How To Save Hundreds On Your Mobile Phone Bill In 3 Easy Steps The Future Is Prepaid: How To Save Hundreds On Your Mobile Phone Bill In 3 Easy Steps Cutting your mobile phone bill in half takes only three simple steps - first, find a carrier that offers discounted plans, such as an MVNO. Second, get an unlocked phone. Third, and optionally, you can... Read More per month. Oftentimes, you can save between $20 and $100 per month.

Criteria

I use three factors in determining the phone’s final grade: First, the best features of the phone are weighed. Second, the worst features of the phone are weighed. Third, I divide the price of the device by the aggregated consumer feedback scores from Amazon, Newegg or other smartphone review websites (whichever was available). The final result shows how much you pay per star of rating. This measure isn’t intended as a serious metric, although it should indicate better overall value, rather than raw performance.

BLU Tank 2 T193

BLU Tank II T193 Unlocked GSM Dual-SIM Cell Phone w/ Camera and 1900 mAh Big Battery, Unlocked Cell Phones - Black Blue BLU Tank II T193 Unlocked GSM Dual-SIM Cell Phone w/ Camera and 1900 mAh Big Battery, Unlocked Cell Phones - Black Blue GSM Quad-Band 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 (SIM 1 & SIM 2) Buy Now At Amazon

Technically the BLU Tank 2 T193 is a dumbphone with limited smart capabilities. You might call it a semi-smartphone. I consider it among the best phones for the elderly as it doesn’t require interacting with a touchscreen and the features are limited to the essentials. On top of that, its battery life is ridiculously long, so it makes the perfect gift for someone with failing memory.

Networks: GSM

Pros:

  • Amazing battery life
  • Super low cost
  • Small size; easy to carry around
  • Physical buttons make it easy for the elderly to use

Cons:

  • Limited feature set; lack of apps
  • Tiny screen

Per star rating: $21 / 3.8 stars = $6 per star

Since the article was published, Blu has released a new version of their phones, the BLU Tank 3.
BLU Tank 3 - GSM Unlocked Dual Sim Cell phone with 1,900 mAh Battery -Grey BLU Tank 3 - GSM Unlocked Dual Sim Cell phone with 1,900 mAh Battery -Grey Unlocked Dual SIM user friendly phone Buy Now At Amazon $24.99

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds blue tank 3

BLU Advance 5.5 HD

BLU Advance 5.5 HD -Unlocked Dual Sim Smartphone - US GSM - Grey BLU Advance 5.5 HD -Unlocked Dual Sim Smartphone - US GSM - Grey Unlocked Dual SIM smartphone, with Android 6.0 Marshmallow Buy Now At Amazon $230.00

BLU Advance 5.5 HD is the lowest priced Android 6.0 smartphone you can buy unlocked, anywhere. BLU made a name for itself by reselling China-based Gionee smartphones in the United States. Their phones generally emphasize value over performance.

Networks: GSM

Pros:

  • Lowest priced, unlocked Android phone with Marshmallow (Android 6.0)
  • Dual SIM for international travelers
  • Good performance, particularly for the money
  • Great value and lowest total price for a brand-new smartphone
  • microSD card support

Cons:

  • Won’t ever receive a firmware update
  • Weak support from chipset vendor
  • Average battery life

Per star rating: $90/3.7 stars = $24 per star

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds blu advance 5 5 hd

NextBit Robin

Nextbit Robin Factory Unlocked GSM Smartphone - Midnight Nextbit Robin Factory Unlocked GSM Smartphone - Midnight GSM Version (for AT&T and TMobile networks in the US; best choice for all international backers including Canada) Buy Now At Amazon $129.99

Startup NextBit released the Robin to widespread cheers. It managed to squeeze modern smartphone guts into an inexpensive package totaling less than $165. It comes with all the bells and whistles that you need, including 802.11ac wireless connectivity, 32GB of storage, and the Snapdragon 808 processor. Overall, you get a lot for your money. Some shortcomings include a plastic frame prone to warping, and average battery life.

In all honesty, this is the phone that I would have purchased had Google not tricked me into buying the Pixel XL.

Networks: GSM

Pros:

  • Elegant and sleek design
  • Modern smartphone guts
  • Excellent hardware (particularly for the money)
  • Best value out of all smartphones on today’s market

Cons:

  • Snapdragon 808 processor runs a little warm
  • Battery life is average
  • No microSD card support

Per star rating: $174.94 / 2.8 stars = $62 per star

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds nextbit robin amazon product link

Motorola Moto Z Play

Moto Z Play - 32GB - Black Moto Z Play - 32GB - Black Transforms with Moto Mods using interchangeable back covers Buy Now At Amazon $274.47

The Motorola Moto Z offers a high powered processor, modularity (what’s a modular smartphone? How Modular Smartphones Will Change Mobile Computing How Modular Smartphones Will Change Mobile Computing Google's "Project Ara" is going to do for hardware what Android did for software. Read More ), and overall outstanding performance. Motorola’s Moto Mods program allows consumers to add a high powered camera, projector, or speaker to their device. The extensibility also adds additional battery life.

Networks: GSM

Pros:

  • Excellent features, including gesture support and voice recognition
  • Uses one of the fastest processors on smartphones
  • Modular design enables long battery life via Moto Mods

Cons:

Per star rating: $400 / 4.5 stars = $89 per star

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds moto z amazon product

OnePlus 3T ($439 via OnePlus)

OnePlus’s 3T is a refresh of the OnePlus 3 series OnePlus 3 Review OnePlus 3 Review OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 were tricky to get hold of, despite attracting favorable reviews. This time around, things are different. Read More . It’s not that much different from the OnePlus 3, with the exception that it dispenses with a torrid (and potentially unreliable) Snapdragon 810 processor. The 3T uses a Snapdragon 821 — the same in Google’s Pixel — but for $200 less! Both CNET and the Verge regard the OnePlus 3T as one of the best Android smartphones of 2016.

On the downside, OnePlus’s operating system seems to be in limbo after CyanogenMod’s dissolution.

Networks: GSM

Pros:

  • Includes one of the fastest Android processors around
  • Modern smartphone internal components
  • AMOLED screen
  • Long battery life
  • 64GB of storage on the entry model

Cons:

Per star rating: $439 / 4.5 stars = $97 per star

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds oneplus 3t amazon image

iPhone 7 32GB

Apple iPhone 7 32 GB Unlocked, Rose Gold US Version Apple iPhone 7 32 GB Unlocked, Rose Gold US Version Keep everything you love about iPhone up to date, secure, and accessible from any device with iCloud. Buy Now At Amazon $625.00

Apple created the smartphone market. The iPhone 7 offers one of the fastest and most reliable handsets around. But beware: Apple produced two models of iPhone! One is for CDMA carriers (Verizon and Sprint) and one for GSM carriers. Fortunately, an unlocked iPhone includes both CDMA and GSM compatibility. iPhone 7s sold on contract through either T-Mobile or AT&T won’t be able to function on Sprint or Verizon networks.

Networks: GSM and CDMA (with restrictions, see above)

Pros:

  • Latest, state-of-the-art product from Apple
  • Cutting edge features
  • iOS, if you are locked into the Apple app ecosystem
  • Water resistance

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Fewer features compared to Android
  • Unlocked model is substantially better than GSM-only model

Per star rating: $650/4.3 stars = $151 per star

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds apple iphone 7 amazon link

Conclusion: What’s the Best Smartphone for the Money?

If you’re looking for an unlocked cell phone with excellent value relative to reviews, BLU Products Tank 2 T193 and the Advance 5.5HD provide the best low-cost products on the market. Unfortunately, because of the relative obscurity of their manufacturer, few reviewers have given credit to otherwise value-packed phones.

Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds image chart smartphone value per star

On the other hand, assigning a per-dollar ratio to reviews doesn’t fully capture the performance and features of higher end phones. One thing is certain, though: Consumers seem more satisfied when paying more money. However, there are big gaps in per-dollar satisfaction when going from a $90 smartphone to a $165 device. There’s an ever bigger drop-off in satisfaction-per-dollar when going from a $430 device to a $650 smartphone. The moral of the story: Spend your money wisely. Sometimes big things come in small (or cheap) packages.

Has anyone purchased a low-priced smartphone? What were your experiences? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: beeboys and Ganibal via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Kerry
    August 28, 2017 at 2:23 am

    I got a Blu Advance 4.0 3 years ago. For my budget at the time, it was sufficient. However, my phone usage now would far exceed the capabilities of such a phone. Most smartphones under $200 are repackaged feature phones, i.e. they do for people what nice feature phones did 10 years ago. If you really want robust performance from your phone (multiple app usage, web browsing, streaming video) you need to accept that $200 is the low end of the phones that are capable of delivering. The processors and available RAM on less expensive phones can't handle the multi-tasking many of us put our phones through. Less money is spent on a phone by buying it outright, but just like a car, to get what one wants, financing is almost always necessary. No one thinks it is crazy to finance a car now. Start thinking of a smartphone in this way. The transaction is very similar with similar options. You can buy with cash outright, finance, or lease. You can buy new or used. You can go to a big name dealer or a used outlet. You can buy online or shop in person. Just like a car, it is about finding the device that meets your needs, then figuring out how best to pay for it. A local lycamobile dealer in my neighborhood has former demo phones from major carriers that it sells on the cheap. My credit keeps me from being able to finance phones now, and I don't have the cash flow to buy the phone meeting my usage outright. So, I will go the gently used route and get an LG G6 hundreds less than they cost from a carrier or even from discount retailer Amazon. If you use your phone for most of your computing tasks, social media, gaming, etc, don't try to convince yourself that a budget smartphone will work. If it is brand new from a store and less than $200, it will let you down and frustrate you. Buy a used phone like I will do before sacrificing performance on a budget phone. Budget phones work for people who occasionally read articles on their phones and use apps here or there, but otherwise use them as anyone would a feature phone. You can finance that smartphone you want through your carrier and the prices charged are not much higher than standard retail because they all compete with each other. The key is to find the bargains they have in mid-range to high-end phones, if you use a smartphone as a computing device. Verizon has good deals on Motorola smartphones ($408 for Moto Z Play). Metro PCS and T-Mobile constantly have competitive deals on phones. My comment has turned into an article of its own. My final thought: Nothing wrong with financing a phone, but do it smartly with research.

    • Kannon Yamada
      September 2, 2017 at 2:49 am

      Hi Kerry, thanks for sharing!

      I agree that financing a phone isn't a problem. The problem is paying the carrier more for cellular service than the phone is worth.

      • Kerry
        September 2, 2017 at 3:32 am

        I think that there is s much competition to keep and attract customers that the 4 major carriers are becoming forced to make things more affordable than ever. They are also not willing to continue watching people say forget post-paid accounts while jumping to pre-paid MVNO alternatives.

        • Kannon Yamada
          September 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm

          That's possible. IMO, that there are only 5 carriers nationwide (and the various buyouts going on might lead to only 3), suggests the system is oligopolistic. In other words, a small number of sellers that control the market. In this system, they tend to cooperate on pricing and supply, which leads to higher profits for the companies involved.

          MVNOs do not truly compete with carriers. They resell unused spectrum to consumers at a lower price. I believe that if the big four wanted to kick the MVNOs out, they could (unless there's some law that forces them to accept MVNOs).

  2. tom
    May 19, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    I had an Iphone 3 since it came out. I think it was around $200.00. It's crazy to buy a phone for $1000.00. I just bought a BLU 5.0HD for $70.00 and it was delivered the next day through Amazon. Popped the case, put in the sim from the Iphone3 and put in the battery. 5 minutes it was up and running with no effort. I bought a 32G Samsung pro micro-SD from Best for $9.00. I don't save pictures and music on the phone so this was plenty. The 5.0 will hold a 64G but the 32G has faster read/write. The phone is also dual sim for those who are interested in hiding. So for $80.00 I have a phone equivalent to a Samsung and the savings will pay my AT&T bill for a year. Nice deal. Loaded all my needed apps for free.

    My wife had an old flip phone. I took her sim and put it in the IPhone 3 and she's happy as a clam. Since she really didn't want a big IPhone this 3 inch screen suits her fine.

    Next I'll be getting my Mom a BLU 5.0HD to replace her flip phone. She has a tablet so no learning process.

    The only fee change was I upped my data limit without changing my contract.
    Cheers.

    • Kerry
      August 28, 2017 at 2:32 am

      Putting a SIM card in a Blu 5.0 does not make it equivalent to a high-end Samsung. It makes it equivalent to a budget smartphone of any brand that has expandable memory. Your computing power, as to processor speed, did not suddenly increase by adding an 32GB SD card. This, and RAM, are what make the biggest difference between a budget phone and high-end phone. Well, display quality also. Play a few streaming videos in a web browser with that phone and it will crash on you, if the processor even loads the videos to play before crashing.

  3. Hollie Jones
    June 1, 2016 at 3:16 am

    Thank you for the great article, it was very informative! Since there seems to be quite a number of people who are having problems with unlocking their phones, I thought I’d share my recent discovery: *SITE REMOVED*. I tried it on my iPhone just recently. It surprisingly worked - and it didn’t even cost a penny.

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 1, 2016 at 10:59 pm

      That website is poorly rated. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend that anyone use that site.

  4. Bing
    October 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    What are options for cdma phones? i have an evo htc. It is out of contract.

    • Kannon Y
      October 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      If it's a Sprint CDMA phone, I believe you must first request that the carrier unlock the phone before moving it. Last I checked, their official policy was to unlock phones once the terms of the contract have been fulfilled. But Sprint may have additional steps required of you to unlock the device - I'm not sure if they can remotely unlock the device with the MSL code. But in short, contact Sprint and ask them to unlock the phone.

      After that you will need to contact a Sprint-network MVNO that permits BYOSD (bring your own Sprint device, sometimes referred to as BYOD). For this purpose, Ting.com is one of the best. There's a few other Sprint-MVNOs that also permit this, like PrePayd Wireless.

    • Kerry
      August 28, 2017 at 2:41 am

      Returning to the CDMA carrier from which you originally got the phone, or choosing an MVNO that runs on that carrier's network, e.g. Boost Mobile runs on Sprint. Unlocking a CDMA device is not like unlocking a GSM device. Even if you are so fortunate to have it completely unlocked (which is rare), Sprint and Verizon are the only two CDMA carriers. I would take the phone to the other carrier that you didn't previously have of the two and ask them to see if you can get service there. If you can, then you can choose either of the two carriers or any MVNOs that run on either of those networks.

  5. Kannon Y
    September 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    I only know of two phones that work on both CDMA and GSM networks - The developer version of the Moto X and the iPhone 4S (and I think the iPhone 4).

    There are a handful of others, but these are the two best known. Unfortunately, you cannot simply move such a phone from a CDMA network to a GSM network. The CDMA network requires that they "flash" the phone with their own software. You must speak with a representative with Verizon in order to transfer the phone over. They might not even allow such phones on their network, for whatever reason.

    It's actually illegal for Verizon to disallow CDMA devices on their network, yet they do it anyway.

    • Kerry
      August 28, 2017 at 2:46 am

      IPhones and Motos only work on both network types if the phone was not purchased from a store of the carrier itself. If the phone was purchased from Verizon, T-mobile, etc, then it is locked into that carrier and was built for one network type or the other. IPhones bought directly from Apple will work on any network. Motorola phones are typically manufactured for one particular carrier. Verizon is the largest retailer of Motorola phones.

  6. Peter Koncz
    September 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Hi, I have a question. I am from Hungary.
    My daughter is in Bruce, WI, for 11 months. The only good network there is Verizon. She needs a smartphone that works both CDMA and GSM. Is that possible at all in one physical phone (like Samsun Galaxy S3) or not? Does BLU has such phone?

    • Kerry
      August 28, 2017 at 2:50 am

      It is possible, but such phones are not cheap. Google Pixel is the main one that comes to mind ($500+). Much better to just get a cheap feature phone with pay-as-you-go minutes from Tracfone. ($20 phone and 90 minutes for $20 that is good for 90 days.)

  7. Honeyeleven H
    September 18, 2013 at 8:20 am

    the post is great ,and i agree with it ,if you would like more phones or cards ,you could go to MoonarStore have a look ,great

  8. Wejustunlock
    May 5, 2013 at 12:47 am

    You can buy a locked phone and get it unlocked , it will be more cheaper

    • Daniel Dorilas
      May 5, 2013 at 12:50 am

      recommended website http://wejustunlock.com

      • wyguy
        July 31, 2013 at 8:23 pm

        while going with straight talk or others might save some people money it doesn't always work that way. for instance I can currently get Samsung galaxy s3 from Verizon for free if you order online and talk to the right people. cost for 3 phones under my current contract $180 brings the cost to 4320 for 24 months. Straight talk is $135 for 3 phones/ last time I looked anyway, $3240 saving $1080 over the 25 month period but it cost $428 each for the phones if you buy a new one unlocked, at $1284, costing me and extra $204 to use straight talk and have the hassle of getting dropped all the time as the cell towers get busy. Been there done that.

        • Kannon Yamada
          August 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm

          Call quality is an issue with any company reliant on the T-Mobile networks (and Sprint/AT&T to some extent). They generally have poorer call quality and their broadcast spectrum compares poorly to Verizon in terms of wall penetration. Wall penetration tends to be the greatest cause of call quality issues (with network traffic coming up pretty high, too).

          There are actually Verizon and Sprint based MVNOs, though, such as Ting.com and PagePlus Wireless.

          In your particular case, I would suggest trying out one of these alternative carriers, such as PagePlus Wireless (Verizon). They offer low prices and high quality. Unfortunately, because their cellular technology is CDMA, you can't migrate phones across networks with much success.

          I'm curious - this is for a family plan, right? MVNOs offer more than just unlimited plans - you can get limited and pay-go plans that customize to fit your needs. I rarely use my phone and consequently pay about $5 a month for the few things I do use it for. If you go by average usage, most people are in the same boat: They should be paying about $20 a month for their phone. The unlimited plans are easy to suggest to someone coming from a big carrier because they're universally cheaper, even to heavy users.

    • Kerry
      August 28, 2017 at 2:56 am

      No, it isn't. You pay a higher price by buying it from a carrier. Then, you can only buy if you purchase a plan from the carrier. Then, unlocking the phone requires having the phone for a certain period of time. On top of that, some carriers charge a fee to unlock.

  9. David
    May 1, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Personally I have a Jiayu G2S and found it very good. Apart the GPS which can't really pick up signal. but it's fast and reliable.

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Wow, that's a really nice phone! Jiayu does not manufacture phones in the United States, unfortunately, but something about carrying around a steel frame, high rigidity phone is really appealing.

      There's a fix for your GPS problem. It requires rooting and installing a custom ROM, but it makes the GPS useful. On the downside, an improperly done root will break your phone. :-(

      And if the ROM isn't exactly right, it will brick your phone. Lots of pitfalls here.

      There's some discussion about rooting here.

      And here.

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. Brian
    May 1, 2013 at 5:32 am

    I don't see how unlocked phone would save my family money.

    My parents both use feature phone, both would require unlimited talk (dad used 2361 minutes last month), and neither uses texting. My brother and I use smartphones; I used around 300 minutes while my brother used around 100. Neither of us texts, and we barely use data.

    Currently, the bill is around $115 to 116 a month (if we stick with ATT after our contract is up, this will be bumped up $10 a month due to data plan changes). My brother's phone was around $60, my dad's was around $30, and mine and my mom's were a penny each (all of this after taxes). In this scenario, this rounds out to around $30 a month over the course of two years for each person in my family.

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      Hey Brian, thanks for the comment - this is an important point to address.

      MVNO's also offer family plans, which are sometimes still cheaper than the family plans offered by big name carriers, depending on the network you're on. H2O, Cricket and Net10 all offer such plans, but I don't know if they're any better than what your family currently uses. I suspect that such plans are designed to get you on overage charges, though, since they oftentimes use a pool of minutes, data and SMS.

      I do know that individual plans including limited (or unlimited) SMS and data and unlimited talk time exist and for less than $30.

      http://www.prepaidphonenews.com/2011/02/best-prepaid-voice-plans.html

      So you could still save money, but unfortunately, the cheapest plans for unlimited talk are on the Sprint network. Sprint phones use CDMA technology, which makes transferring your phones across networks difficult. So depending on whether your phone is CDMA or GSM would determine whether you could take your phone with you.

      I think the best way of going about this would be to sit down with your family and discuss your options - which plans and MVNOs (or carriers) might save the most amount, while providing a service compatible with your needs. The bottom line, however, is that signing a contract is not worth it. You will ALWAYS save money by not signing a contract.

      • Brian
        May 2, 2013 at 12:35 am

        I will have to check out those companies then; I've heard of them all before.

        If I want to get a new unlocked phone with those plans every two years or so, it will most definitely be above $30 a month unless I wait a while and/or I get lucky on ebay/Craigslist.

        Sprint is the only major network I have not really considered. I would like a high-end WP8 phone as my next phone, and they do not have one at the moment. From what I have heard, the two that they will be getting will be mid-ranged ones. I think my wants severely limit my choices.

        I really do want to be free of contracts, but at this point, it does seem like one of the cheapest and lowest-hassle options available to me and my family.

  11. Martin Turner
    May 1, 2013 at 3:01 am

    G'day guys,
    I'm in Australia, and we call cells, 'mobiles'.
    Anyway, I have a plan with Virgin Mobile which is an MVNO, and I pay $39/month which includes a Sony Xperia acro S and you get, $450 calls & text, 1GB monthly data allowance, Unlimited mobile calls & text Virgin to Virgin, Rollover your unused plan credit, Free Voicemail in Oz, International calls & text included.
    And if you have your own phone it's $10 off, i.e. $29/month. Good one Kannon.
    Cheers boys.

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 2, 2013 at 2:48 am

      Thanks for sharing Martin! That's a pretty good plan.

      Rollover is something that few limited plans in the US offer. I think Ting in the US and Canada offers something similar to rollover, where discounts get applied for not fully using allocated minutes/SMS/data. Getting a discount for bringing an unlocked phone is super unusual. What's really unusual is that V-Mo in the US has purely locked phones - you cannot take a phone off their network or put an unlocked one on. But V-Mo's plans over here are among the best.

  12. Keith S
    May 1, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Kannon, you have done all of us who use cellphones a GREAT service! I admit that when it comes to anything but using a cellphone, I am DUMB! Thank you so very much! This is an invaluable guide.

  13. Onaje Asheber
    April 30, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Nice!

    • Donna
      March 14, 2015 at 5:00 am

      Hi I also agree. I have an unlimited talk and text with 1gb and I pay $34.00 a month and I got my phone from EBay. The the place where I get my service runs off of one of the largest cell company that is out there. ???? When I get a new phone I just call and they transfer my service and port my # and it does not cost anything.

  14. erik
    April 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I understand how the price of the phone is subsidized by the phone plan. But how does buying an unlocked phone save you any money? You still need a carrier plan with minutes and data correct? And the carriers dont reduce the cost of your phone plan if you use your own phone. Do they? If they did, I could see how you could save money but I dont believe this is the case. Am I wrong? The way I see it is if you buy a subsidized phone thru the carrier, you save upfront cost and you pay the same carrier rates regardless. What am i missing?

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      That's an excellent question - you can buy cell service from companies that lease spectrum from the big carriers. These companies are called MVNOs. They resell to the consumer at a much cheaper rate. There's plans where you get unlimited text, minutes and data for $45 (or less) a month.

      I wrote about how to switch over to an MVNO. It's simple, get a GSM phone and then you buy a prepaid SIM card, which goes in the phone.

      T-Mobile actually just started offering competitive prepaid plans, although it's a little hard to find those prepaid SIMs.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      Oops, I should have elaborated a bit more.

      So here's what you pay under a 24 month contract:

      $200 up front for the phone.

      $80 a month each month + taxes.

      $200 + $80 * 24 = $2120 for the first two years.

      The best prepaid MVNO plan, in terms of call quality, price and simplicity, is Straight Talk's $45 (or as low as $41.50 for one-year prepay) plan. Here's what two years + a Nexus 4 would cost you:

      $300 + $45 * 24 = $1430 for two years but you can leave at any time.

      That's a difference of $690.

      However, you can get even CHEAPER plans. For example, if you have a $19 a month, limited minute plan from Ultra.me and just swap your SIM into a phone you already have, that's $456 dollars, a difference of $1664. If you bought a Nexus 4, you'd save $1,3064.

      And the ultimate in cheap plans - pay-go from Ptel.com - cost around $5 a month. This particular plan is for folks who rarely use their phones. But a two-year prepaid plan would cost you around $120, which provides savings of $2,000 relative to a plan from a carrier. Or, if you bought a Nexus 4, $1,700.

      I think that worst thing about carriers is that they continue to charge the subsidized price, even after your contact with them expires. So if you remain on the same plan for four years, you're paying thousands more than had you gone with an MVNO.

    • Danny
      April 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      I agree with Erik 100%. There is no way you can save any money by using an unlocked phone.

      • Kannon Yamada
        April 30, 2013 at 7:00 pm

        It's all in the math, Danny. If you have time, Read my article on MVNOs, which are companies that lease broadcast spectrum from major cellular networks. If you don't have time, here's why - you can get the same service for half the price from an MVNO. You only have to buy the phone and the plan.

        You can even buy the phone and the plan directly from the MVNO, although they will mark the phone up slightly.

        I realize why most people would be skeptical. That's because the carriers spent a lot on convincing us that a smartphone contract costs a minimum of $80 a month and comes with a legally binding contract.

        Does that make sense? I can see why a loan might be legally binding, but buying a cell phone shouldn't require anything more special than buying a candy bar or wristwatch.

  15. macwitty
    April 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I think it depends on the country you live in. Still often cheaper from carrier in you live Sweden and most of the time you can get it unlocked very soon

  16. Tim Brookes
    April 30, 2013 at 1:24 am

    So wait, I'm confused - where did the star ratings come from? Are they aggregated?

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 30, 2013 at 3:09 am

      I stole ratings from other websites basically. Mostly from Amazon, but on some other phones (that didn't make it into this review), I took ratings from Newegg and BestBuy. "Aggregated" was a poor choice of words - I was referring to a compilation of stars from an individual site for a particular model of phone.

      I plan on recompiling these numbers in a future review to aggregate all reviews from most major retailers. There's some major unlocked handset manufacturers coming out with new phones in the near future, such as cheap quad cores from BLU and an entirely new manufacturer is entering the market.