Over the past couple of months, I have helped friends and family navigate the waters of upgrading their smartphones and selecting new cellular service plans. I was reminded how carriers sometimes put the burden on the consumer for getting the most out of your dollars spent. So as a public service announcement, here are the 5 questions you need to ask when upgrading your smartphone. (And this September/October, Apple will be coming out with their newest smartphone, so save this for future reference!)
Before you go into the store to talk about new phones and new plans, do some research on your carrier’s website. Educate yourself on the current plans being offered. And then, log into your account and see what your current cellular plan provides. Compare the features/benefits with the new plans being advertised. You might find a good opportunity to save money or get more features/bandwidth.
Too many people are caught up in a forever lease. You pay a monthly amount towards the lease of your phone, but then YOU have to call your carrier to buy out the phone at the end of 24 months. If you don’t, they can keep on billing you the monthly lease fee. Imagine doing that for four years and when you go in to get a new phone you still owe $160 to pay off the lease on your old phone. Sneaky.
So be sure to understand any kind of lease or installment plan for your new phone and set up calendar reminders if you need to do anything at the end of that plan period for your new phone.
My simple recommendation is to connect your old phone to your computer and download all of the pictures. That way, you know you have a backup of your photos. Cloud sync can get complicated, so why not have a local copy in case? And your email and contacts should sync when you reconnect your O365 or Google email account. There is a good chance your text message conversations will go away, so if there is anything important there, make a copy.
Often, unlimited has caveats. So make sure you understand if there are any limits. For example, one carrier currently offers an “unlimited” plan as long as you stay under 5 Gigs of data. They may start throttling your bandwith if you go over or are in a congested cellular area like downtown in a larger city. My recommendation is to log in and see what your current average monthly use of data is so you know what you typically use. Try the lowest plan possible and see if you run into buffering or speed issues. If not, you are saving money. If you have issues, upgrade to the next tier plan to get a higher cap on data.
If you know you drop your phone at times, then insurance is a good idea. But it costs $10-$20/month. So if you can take good care of your phone over 2 years (typical length of time before upgrading to a new phone) you might be saving $250. The monthly fees add up quickly.
That said, smartphones often cost $1,000 or more, so if you are worried about an accident with your phone, the peace of mind with the insurance plan might help. If you end up having a claim, there is usually some kind of co-pay and there is a limit to the number of claims you can have. So read the fine print!
Next time you get a new phone or upgrade your cellular plan, take the extra time to educate yourself and ask lots of questions. The time in the store can take an hour, and some of the language might sound alien to you. But keep asking questions so that you can get the right phone and the right plan for a reasonable price.