[Editorial] Why don’t we accept cheap phones in the U.S.?

lumia520-2

Alright, fellow Americans: time to do some math. Foreigners, you’ve already passed this class, you can go out for recess.

Place the previous review of the Lumia 521 in your thoughts, the pricing in particular. $130 outright, and $30 a month for unlimited data and texts. After two years, that’s a total cost of $850. Do you think that actually seems like a lot? Think about this: The Verizon HTC 8X is $150 with a contract, to start. Then, throw in $70 per month for 4GB data and unlimited talk/text, though this can be shared between members on the same plan. Then, add a $40 “monthly line access” for your phone (let’s just say the contract is for yourself for now, but new lines would add $40 each theoretically). In two years, the Verizon 8X will cost you $2,790.

If there is one thing I envy from other civilized nations of the world (aside from roundabouts), it would be their smartphone markets. In the UK, in Africa, in India, in China; I can buy a fully-loaded flagship phone outright, sans contract, with ease; I would happily trade the subsidization of a $700+ phone in return for the freedom to save that much and more with a reasonable monthly service charge. Think: Would you pay $100 or more per month for a good data plan with your AT&T-locked Lumia 920 if you had the option of paying half of that or less per month if you go with any unlocked phone model?

Lumia 620

“But the 521 is no 8X!” you might exclaim. No, it isn’t; it doesn’t have wireless charging, a top-notch camera, LTE speed, twice as much memory and space, Beats amplifiers… But when the difference in price is just shy of two grand–a two with three zeroes behind it!–that problem is no longer what truly matters. Can’t you buy an excellent point-and-shoot camera for, what, $500? I know I’ve spent about two thousand dollars on my gaming rig. You get the idea.

Windows Phone runs well on the 521; just read my review. Apps run fine, games load nearly as fast, battery life is great. My sister is absolutely in love with it. None of this is a surprise. Windows Phone is designed entirely to run on low-end hardware, and it’s a fantastic and fluid operating system to boot. You get apps you recognize, features you’ll use, and a phone that doesn’t look like you found it for $20 in the checkout aisle. This is a great phone, and it’s a fraction of what a contract-locked flagship can and will cost you.

So what’s keeping people from going with contract-free phones? Well, for starters, the 521 doesn’t really have a predecessor or competitor. Every smartphone sold in stores in that contract-free part of the electronics section is a steaming pile of Android 2.X with a 3″ screen, made out of everything you don’t want your phone to be made out of. It can go without saying that the experience is far behind that which the latest Android, or any current mobile OS, can provide. There’s no advertising for phones that don’t make carriers money (or for carriers that just don’t have money) the same way the contracted, locked big boys do. There’s even the social stigma of knowing your coworkers and family members have one of the latest generations of smartphones, and you’re stuck with the LG 3 or whatever this hideous thing is.

lg cheap phone

Save for the issue of advertising (If I were T-Mobile, I sure wouldn’t be too excited about giving away unlimited data for so cheap), the 521 has none of these problems; it’s a brand-spanking-new phone with the latest OS, it runs that OS with no trouble, it has a respectable screen and camera, there’s all sorts of added Nokia functionality, and your friends will even actually stop and look at your neat-o Windows Phone. It is a smartphone, a mini-PC in your pocket, and right now, for the price, nothing can top its price-to-performance ratio.

Of course, do the savings really matter here in America? We like to pay for convenience; that is, if we can hold on to more of our cash now, we’re more likely to spend some to get what we want. That’s how contract-based sales have done so well. Tell us: Do you obsess over how much your contract costs you, or have you already made the economical move and are on a cheaper, no-contract plan? Was this suggestion a wake-up call or a reiteration of something you’ve known for a while? And, most importantly, could contract-based plans come to an end within the next several years?


  • timmyjoe42

    I’m just waiting for Walmart to get this thing back in stock. For some reason T-Mobile is selling it for $150 and I’d rather wait to save the $20.

    Edit: oh, they have it online again. I’ll have to check out my local store again.

  • See if ship-to-store isn’t an option. The website says it can do it in 5-10 days from my end.

  • Pookiewood

    I’d gladly grab a 620 on the cheap.

  • I think most people would rather get stuck into a 2 year contract with the phone/service and get the newest, best thing on the market than have to swap every year as their current phone stops getting updates and stutters on new apps. This may not be as true for WP carriers, but I know thats the general feeling among Android and iOS users.

  • Most year old phones still get updates, and I would argue a lot of users would pay more up front if it meant that after 2 years they would have actually saved money. With Verizon I pay $50-200 a phone subsidized, but don’t get a single penny off my bill monthly if I were to buy the phone flat out for $700 or so. I think only T-Mobile does this anymore here in the States, and really, we need to fight to get the other carriers doing it like this.