June 1, 2012 at 6:17 PM ET
The groundbreaking news Thursday was that cellphone provider Cricket would be the first mainland U.S. company to offer iPhones on a month-to-month plan. And the rumor now is that Boost Mobile will follow.
That means a higher price for the phone than if you went with a two-year contract from the likes of Verizon or AT&T. But the far-cheaper monthly charges ultimately lead to big savings. And it is commitment-free — handy should your financial circumstances change (a layoff, for example).
Still, is it worth the price? The cheapest option is a $400, 8GB iPhone 4 — a model that debuted in June 2010. The other is a $500, 16GB iPhone 4s — the current model, but one likely to be replaced by a radically new iPhone 5 in October. Cricket has not said if it will also sell the new iPhone.
For a tech fanatic, this probably won't work. If the overwhelming crush of rumors is right, a new iPhone may run on superfast LTE networks, not only providing an excellent online experience but possibly making services like Skype dependable enough that you can downgrade to the cheapest voice plan. It will likely also have a larger screen (the latest rumor says it will be 5 inches tall). [How Much Smartphone Data Do I Need?]
Still, is all that worth spending an more than $1,000 extra over the two-year contract? That's what you could save over the same two years with a budget, no-contract provider such as Cricket or Boost. [Cricket Spills Details on No-Contract iPhone Plan]
Then there is the issue of service. For many people, Cricket isn't an option because its patchwork network doesn't cover their area. That includes major cities such as New York City and Chicago. You can see if Cricket serves your area by visiting its site and entering your ZIP code.
Boost would be a different story, however. It runs on Sprint's nationwide network, so it's available more widely.
Aside from the area of coverage, what about the quality? TechNewsDaily asked Brad Akyuz, director of analyst group NPD Connected Intelligence, about Cricket. His reply: "Cricket offers a decent service at competitive service price points." Not a rave, but somewhat reassuring.
For years, the best gauge of wireless providers has been Consumer Reports' massive annual survey of customers. The magazine always has ratings for the big-four carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon), but not for Cricket, Boost and several other no-contract providers.
It does have results for Virgin Mobile, however, which uses the same Sprint network as Boost. Virgin's overall reader score of 78 actually beats the big four, but it ranks just fair for voice, text and data service.
That's a bit behind parent company Sprint and far behind Verizon, but still better than T-Mobile and especially AT&T. If Boost is as good as sister company Virgin, and it gets the iPhone, it will be a compelling deal. And if it turns out not to be, you would have 30 days to figure that out and return the phone for a refund (possibly minus a $25 "restocking" fee).
Cricket has a 30-day policy, as well (with the addition of shipping fees). So there is little risk in trying.
If you aren't fanatic about having the latest tech, but instead want a reliable phone with long battery life and the biggest selection of apps, you should at least try Cricket — or possibly Boost, should the rumor prove true.
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