Selecting a new cell phone

In this article I will propose that you buy your next cell phone from a different place than before, and maybe you will save several hundred dollars.  Oh and toward the end of the article I will say a word or two for iPhone users.

For as many years as I have been a cell phone customer, I have been on a sort of treadmill where I get my telephone from the carrier that I am using.  I had been using AT&T for some twenty years and each time I got a new phone, I got it at an AT&T store.  But there’s nothing special about AT&T.  Had I been using Verizon for the past twenty years I guess I would have gotten each of my phones at a Verizon store.

There are so many drawbacks to proceeding on that treadmill.  One thing is that such a phone is carrier-locked.  This means it cannot be used with any other carrier.  Sometimes when I go to another country I want to buy a local SIM card and use it during my visit.  To make this possible, I have to browbeat the carrier to cough up an unlocking code so that my phone can be carrier unlocked.  Even after the unlocking, however, the phone is filled with carrier-branded crapware that cannot be deleted or uninstalled.

There have also been many times when, to get the new phone at the phone store, I had to sign a two-year contract.  I always hated having to do that, but somehow I did it anyway.  Every couple of years, sign a new contract, buy a new phone, over and over again.

Still another thing to think about is the money.  A new top-of-the-line smart phone, such as a Samsung Galaxy or iPhone, can cost $800 or $900.  That’s if you simply pay the purchase price all at once.  Or you can sign some contract with a phone company and the up-front cost will be less.  But common sense tells you that somehow over the term of the contract you will still be paying that $800 or $900, just not all at once.  And by signing the contract you will have locked yourself into a couple of years during which you can’t switch phone companies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to get a phone that does everything that a top-of-the-line smart phone does, but costs less than half as much money?  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a phone that lacked the crapware that a carrier-branded phone is loaded with?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the phone were carrier unlocked, so that you could use a local SIM card when going overseas if you want to?  And if the phone were carrier unlocked, you could likewise switch whenever you wish from one US carrier to a different US carrier.

Suppose you could get all of the features on a phone that you want.   Nice front- and rear-facing cameras.  Wifi calling.  Wifi hot spot.  Oh and wouldn’t it be nice if the phone were IP67 rated (which means you could drop it into a puddle and pull it back out and no water would have gotten into it).  And Gorilla Glass for the screen.  NFC, so you can do tap-to-pay when you go to a store to pay by credit card.  Oh and lest we forget, it is supposed to be a phone, right, so I guess we would want very high quality phone audio.

And still spend less than half as money as you would expect to pay for a top-of-the-line smart phone?

The main point of this blog article is to invite you to consider that you might be able to save really a lot of money and still get everything that you want in a smart phone.  I will discuss a particular phone, an HTC U11 life, but please don’t think that I mean that you have to get that particular phone.  There are lots and lots of very reasonably priced smart phones nowadays.  It’s just that the HTC U11 life is the one with which I have recent experience.

Oh and please understand I am not making any sales commission from this.  I won’t get any money or anything if you buy one of those phones.  I am just trying to be helpful.

So how to pick a cell phone these days?

LTE.  When getting a new phone these days it would be a big mistake not to make it an LTE phone.  LTE is the current standard.  All the carriers around the world use LTE nowadays.

Lots of bands.  You want your new phone to have lots and lots of bands.  (By “bands” we mean blocks of radio frequencies that the phone can communicate with.)  This way if you switch from one carrier to another within the US, it will still work.  If you hop onto an airplane and go to some other country and purchase a local SIM card, it will work.

Wifi calling.  You need wifi calling.  This will let you make phone calls even in places where the cell towers don’t provide good coverage.  You connect your phone to wifi and you can still make a good phone call, and send and receive text messages.

Wifi hot spot.  It’s great to be able to make your phone into a hot spot.  Then you can provide an internet connection for your notebook computer or other device.

Two bands of wifi.  It’s nice if the phone can do not only 2.4-GHz wifi but also 5-GHz wifi.

Good-sized battery.  These days some of the phones have bigger batteries.  So it takes longer for the battery to run down.

IP67 rating.  So if you drop the phone into a sinkfull of water you can pull it back out and nothing bad happened.

USB C.  You know how you had to try each of the two ways of plugging in the USB charger cable?  With USB C, you can plug it in either way and it will charge the phone.

Lots of memory.  These days it is good to have 32 GB of memory in the phone.

Newest version of Android.   The current version is Oreo.  Nougat is just fine, but Oreo is newer and more spiffy.

Where to get the phone.  I suggest you get your phone by mail order rather than by going to a name-brand bricks and mortar store.  You can save an incredible amount of money by doing this.

The main thing is you would then have to learn a new skill, which is how to stick a SIM card into your phone.  When you go to a bricks-and-mortar store, the clerk in the store puts the SIM card into the phone.  You will have to learn how to do this if you had not already learned how to do it.

Picking a phone.  As I say, the phone I am using now is the HTC U11 life.  I bought it directly from the manufacturer for $350.  This compares favorably with the $600 or $700 or $800 that I would have to pay to get the newest top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy phone.  Or $1100 for an iPhone X.  As far as I can see, this HTC phone has every feature that I could possibly want that I could have gotten with the newest Galaxy or iPhone.  It is carrier unlocked and it can be used with any of several carriers in the US.  It can also be used pretty much anywhere in the world.

Switching your carrier.  Once you get out of the world of carrier-locked cell phones, a world opens up.  You can use whatever carrier you wish, including MVNOs.  Probably you can knock your monthly cell phone bill down from $80 or $100 to maybe $20 or $30.  And, because your phone is not carrier locked, you could change your mind later if you decide that some particular carrier is not right for you.  In this blog article I discuss switching to an MVNO and saving lots of money on my monthly cell phone bill.

iPhones.  Well let’s talk about it.  If you have been an iPhone user for many years now, you probably feel that it is out of the question ever to switch to another phone that is not an iPhone.  But there are actually people who have switched from an iPhone to a phone that is not an iPhone, and who are glad they did.  There are whole web sites devoted to this.  Web sites with tips on how to transfer your stuff from your old iPhone to your new phone that is not an iPhone.  Tips on how to extract your paid-for music from iTunes into someplace where you can do with the music files what you want.  Tips on how to get your photographs out of the iPhone cloud into a place that you control.  There are lots of people who have migrated away from the iPhone world.

By doing so, you could skip having to pay $1100 for the newest iPhone and instead pay maybe $350 for a phone that does all the same things.  A phone that does many of those things better than an iPhone would do.  (Tap-to-pay, for example, or wifi calling.)

Most of the people whom I know who have iPhones are never going to switch.  I get it.  There is a very strong comfort factor in sticking with iPhones if you are accustomed to iPhones.  But there is so much money to be saved if you switch.

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