What to Know Before Upgrading to a Smartphone


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For current smartphone users, the decision to purchase the highly anticipated iPhone 5 may be simple enough, but for those still sporting a basic (ahem, dumb) phone, the process can be a bit more complicated.

To help them out, MainStreet breaks down everything a consumer needs to know before heading to your local wireless provider for an upgrade.

Your monthly bill will go up.

Smartphones, which allow users to access the Internet, cost more than basic phones as the four major providers – Verizon Wireless (Stock Quote: VZ), AT&T (Stock Quote: T), T-Mobile and Sprint (Stock Quote: S) – require that you pay for a monthly data plan once you upgrade. These data plans vary in price, depending on the provider and how much data you think you’ll need. But according to Molly McLaughlin, senior editor of consumer electronics for ConsumerSearch.com, most add between $30 and $40 to your monthly bill.

Keep in mind, this is only for the data plan -- it doesn’t include texting. So adding unlimited texting, if you don’t have it already, will up your monthly bill by another $5 to $20, again depending on the plan and provider.

Not all data plans are created equal.

While the uptick in cost is to be expected, consumers will want to make sure that the salesperson doesn’t talk them into a plan they’ll never use.

“Go to the carriers’ websites beforehand so that you know what each of their plans offer,” McLaughlin advises. She points out that AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all have data calculators on their websites that can help first-time smartphone owners figure out how much data they should buy based on how often they use the Internet.  PCWorld also put together a handy chart on how much data it takes to download emails, songs and YouTube videos, amongst other things, if you are looking for a third-party perspective.

Family plans will still save you money.

While the idea of adding $20 to $30 to a monthly bill that you share with someone may make you think about finally flying solo, McLaughlin admits that staying on a family plan can save you money on data as well.

This is because, similarly to unlimited text messaging, most providers allow multiple smartphone users to share data, which drives down the overall costs of their monthly bill. 

Typically, “The first time you upgrade to a smartphone in family plan, it will be around $30, but if someone else upgrades, there’s no separate charge and you’ll be able share,” McLaughlin says. Of course, the more people with smartphone, the more data you might want to buy. So, again, you should research how much data you and your cohorts are likely to use and compare that to existing family plans the providers offer to prevent from overspending.

Consider all the alternatives.

You might not want to hear this, but McLaughlin also suggests that first-time smartphone users who are on their own consider prepaid plans as an upgrade option. These plans, offered by providers like Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, are generally cheaper, don’t lock the user into a yearly contract and feature unlimited data, texting and voice services in lieu of limited data plans.

“It’s a great choice for first-time smartphone users because it’s an upgrade from the phone you already have and it lets you get an idea of how much data you’ll be using,” McLaughlin says.

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