Cell Phone Math

October 07, 2011

This week's announcement of the iPhone 4S has me in a lather to get an iPhone. For some time now I've been less enthusiastic about my Android-based HTC Incredible. It's a great phone that has served me well for the last 16 months; the camera is outstanding, the form factor is pleasing, and it supports all of the daily activities I wanted it for.

While Google is continuing to update Android, I am at the mercy of Verizon and HTC for updates to my handset. In the Apple ecosystem, if your device is new enough, you get the updates the day they are available. The Gingerbread update to my phone was rumored for months before finally happening. I grew impatient with the waiting and rooted my phone and installed a Gingerbread based ROM.

Also, I was never happy with the crapware that is forced on the phone by the carrier, and the recurring malware issues are cause for concern too.

The carriers recognize the popularity of smartphones and charge accordingly for them. The early termination fee to get out of my contract is a hefty $350. Unless I pay that I am tied to Verizon until next June. My update eligibility date isn't until February 9th, which is longer than I would like to wait for a new phone.

If I were to order a new iPhone 4S today, the cost to me would be $649 -- a $450 up-charge over the base price with a two-year contract. This is the same price as getting the unlocked, no-contract required phone. If I understand the math correctly, I could save $100 by terminating my contract with Verizon ($350 cost) and buying the iPhone from AT&T for $199.

All of this dithering is well into first-world-problem territory. I've got a perfectly functional, some would say exceptionally well functioning, smartphone. It takes pictures, sends and receives emails, browses the Internet, gives turn-by-turn directions, and fits in my pocket.

Waiting until February 9th (125 days)(Not that I counted or anything) to switch to the iPhone 4S is the smart thing to do. It saves me $450. And, based on the 20-month upgrade eligibility cycle that I appear to be on, getting a new phone in February 2012 would make me eligible for the iPhone 5S about October 2013. (Again, not that I counted, or anything.)

Waiting until June 2012 and the expiration of my current contract, would allow me to switch carriers, if I wanted, but then I'd want to wait until the fall announcement of the next generation iPhone. Which basically means waiting another year for a new phone. I don't think I'm that patient.

So I either spend a small fortune ($650) on a vanity purchase today, or wait 125 days to spend a slightly smaller fortune ($200) in February. The third possibility is to call Verizon and gently point out that I could save $100 on an iPhone purchase today by abandoning Verizon for AT&T, and hope they take pity on my and move up my upgrade date, thereby waiving the $450 surcharge.

Maybe I'll turn off the Internet and go sit in the sunshine instead.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.