Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Smartphone for All: Working with a budget

I’m still working on a Smartphone for all chapter about how to manage smartphone costs within the typical $92/month SSI disability managed residence personal spending budgets and the rules around external support, but I do have first drafts for introduction and carrier selection…

In the United States the least expensive useable and reliable smartphone mobile plans cost about $30 a month. A reliable low cost smartphone, with typical tax and shipping, costs between $120 for Android and $285 for an iPhone. That means a cost of about $840 over the typical two year lifespan of a low end Android device, or $1,000 for a refurbished iPhone (but the iPhone will last longer).

This cost is high for an Explorer on a typical low fixed income, but without careful shopping the price can be much higher. With a deluxe iPhone and a premium mobile plan total costs could exceed $2,770 over two years! Mobile carriers are good at getting consumers to pay these very high prices, but this would be disastrous for most Explorers. Even a yearly average cost of $840 to $1000 is going to require careful budgeting and control of data use, it helps that a smartphone replaces a $250 landline.


It used to be quite hard to know what it really cost to buy a smartphone and buy carrier services. It’s easier than it used to be, but sorting out costs can still be confusing.

The best approach for a Guide to start by choosing a mobile service provider or “carrier” that works for your Explorer. All US carriers support both iPhone and Android, and once you choose a carrier you will have more options for choosing a device. More importantly the cost of mobile service over a two year interval will usually exceed the cost of an appropriate smartphone.

Unless an Explorer can be added to a “family plan” at an affordable rate, carriers like AT&T and Verizon are too expensive. Instead begin with a look at T-Mobile or small carriers that resell big carrier services. The latter includes Republic Wireless, Consumer Cellular and Ting Wireless. 

Ting Wireless is a good reference point. Their web site is a marvel of clarity. With Ting customers purchase base capacity and overage fees are relatively affordable. Ting allows alerts and usage caps to help users stay within their budget — those are big features for low income users.

A typical Explorer may use less than 60 minutes of “talk time” a month, less than 100 SMS messages (ex: Facebook Messenger is free), and 500 MB of data no video. At Ting Wireless those services will cost $24 a month plus “regulatory fees/taxes” (likely @ $30).

Ting, like many of these low cost no contract carriers, sells low cost devices including refurbished used smartphones. This is a cost-effective and relatively trouble-free way to purchase a smartphone. As of Feb 2016 a refurbished iPhone 5c sells for $237 and a new Samsung Galaxy sells for $110.

In some cases an Explorer will have a used device, possibly from a family member. Ting will confirm if the device works with their service.

Whichever option you choose watch for hidden fees. Some carriers have hidden “activation” fees and all carriers exclude “regulatory fees and taxes” from their list prices. T-Mobile often hides its best deals, Google will help find them. Even if you don’t end up using Ting Wireless, their prices make a good comparison.

In terms of supported smartphone use I wonder how often families “loan” a device…

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