Many have attempted to speculate about Apple’s plans to create a cheaper iPhone. This is not Apple’s style, however. Apple’s style is to depreciate their existing products as newer models are added in. Today, we bought the first $99 iPhone, on prepaid, from Sprint. Here’s how it looks, and here’s what it took.
Our view internally amongst the team? Apple will make a cheaper iPhone spec – for China, not for here. If Buick can do it, why not Apple?
The $99 price-point for a prepaid phone is usually one we’re rarely interested in. It is a glut of Android 2.3 phones that made us sigh last year, and this year it is filled with Android 4.0 smartphones which will never be upgradable to Jelly Bean.
iPhone 4 is different, however. With few restrictions, it’s capable of just about everything that Apple delivers with iOS 6 today. And, those restrictions are a bit arbitrary, to be honest. iPhone 4 can’t do turn-by-turn directions with Apple Maps, despite just about every other 3D, network-assisted turn-by-turn GPS app embracing iPhone 4 – even Google Maps Navigation. Also, it can’t run Siri… which is also arbitrary on Apple’s part as Siri ran just fine on iPhone 4 when Siri was an independent startup.
Granted, Siri today on iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 benefits from Apple’s newer noise-isolating silicon, but let’s not get lost in the woods… we’ve already lost enough love with Apple over their irresponsible, unconscionable walled garden. That made the notion of even plonking down a Benjamin for an iPhone a tough pill to swallow. But, we promised to be nicer to Apple, despite their easy-to-object-to choices.
For starters, we had to go to a corporate-owned Sprint Store; the only place you can buy an iPhone 4 in refurbished, prepaid trim on Sprint As You Go service. This is something we well, grew old to. There used to be valid reasons to go into a Sprint Store – we really just don’t see any anymore. Limiting sales to retail was a bit arbitrary on Sprint’s part here. We didn’t like that part.
Next, we had to sign up for service. That meant, despite not needing a social security number, we still had to hand over our Driver’s License. Yes, that’s right, it may be prepaid, but we still had to hand over more ID than it takes to vote to get Sprint “as you go” prepaid. Finally, after giving away enough information to steal our identities, we were given the total; $200.
$200? Wait, we thought it was $99. No, see, you have to port in a number to get the iPhone 4 at $99. This is the most infuriating step, because on no-contract service it makes absolutely no sense to impose.
We left. Cursing internally at Sprint/Softbank/Dish/Whoever-buys-this-insanity. We went outside, to our car, and fired up a web browser on our $174 refurbished Galaxy Nexus LTE and went to a Verizon-powered Page Plus retailer. Minutes later, we had a wireless number on prepaid service, that cost us precisely $0 to set up. And, we then proceeded to walk back in the store and proceed with the “port in”.
The port-in didn’t go through, but the store proceeded to give us credit anyways. We got our number, and then were marched over to the automated payment machine to render payment for service. $74.95 more, and we finally had an active iPhone 4. Total cost? $181.38 for the iPhone and first month of service.
The iPhone is, well, a Sprint iPhone 4 sans product packaging. It uses Sprint firmware, no customization there, and we have a real Sprint account that provides really unlimited data.
And, that’s it really. There’s no throttling or back-of-the-bus QoS a la Sprint’s Prepaid Group service that you might be used to on Boost or Virgin. That’s why this plan costs $70 per month. You don’t have a soft cap of 2.5 GB, you don’t have throttling. You really get unlimited voice, messaging, and data. It’s Simply Everything for $30 less per month.
But that’s the head-scratcher. Yes, iPhone 4 is $99, and that’s a great price. But, for $100 more you can start to get into the 4G phone territory – you have Galaxy Victory and Galaxy S II for LTE and WiMAX service, respectively. Obviously, which is best for you will depend on if you are in a WiMAX area or an LTE coverage area. Those are both unlimited and unthrottled as well on the same $70 per month.
But, also to keep in mind, LTE on Sprint is a changing game. Sprint LTE phones today lack 800 MHz LTE – something that will become a major part of their network possibly once the Nextel national network is shut down in June. Today Sprint excuses that by saying it will be used mostly for enhanced 1x Advanced voice coverage – also something iPhone 4 can’t access.
There is some benefit to the iPhone 4 though on Sprint As You Go service – for customers who know they aren’t getting LTE service any time soon, and need unlimited/unthrottled data. It also may be a good option as a stop-gap device until Sprint properly bands its devices late this year to fully take advantage of Network Vision – with full 1x Advanced and 800 MHz LTE support. A lot of Galaxy S4 and HTC One owners will be disappointed if their phones can’t fully tap this coverage, and buying a $99 refurbished iPhone may be an effective option to wait and see if that takes place.