If you've been eyeballing a smartphone but couldn't stomach the idea of paying $60 to $70 per month (minimum) for service, have I got a deal for you. Like, a Best-of-the-Year kind of deal.
For a limited time, Best Buy has the Android-powered Virgin Mobile Samsung Intercept smartphone for $189.99 shipped (plus sales tax in most states).
That may not sound terribly cheap, but hear me out. The Intercept normally sells for $249.99, and that's what I paid for one (for Mrs. Cheapskate) just over a month ago. D'oh!
Furthermore, it's not about the price of the phone--it's about the price of the service. Incredibly, Virgin Mobile's plans start at $25 per month (flat, all fees included), which gives you 300 anytime minutes and unlimited texting and data. Not "unlimited-but-with-a-5GB-cap" like with other carriers, but actually unlimited.
If 300 minutes won't cut it for you, the $40/month plan buys you 1,200. And at $60/month, you get unlimited talk time. Oh, and activation is free.
Even more amazing, these options are available without a contract. You want to pay for service one month and skip the next? Go right ahead. Not happy with Virgin Mobile for some reason? You're not stuck with them for two years.
The Intercept itself is definitely an entry-level Android phone. It's on the pokey side, and battery life could best be described as "yech." (Mrs. Cheapskate has to recharge it almost daily, and she's a light user.) The 3.2-megapixel camera isn't great, and for now the phone is stuck running Android 2.1. (A 2.2 update may be forthcoming, but that's unconfirmed.)
In case you're wondering, Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint and uses the latter's network. So coverage is about on par with what you'd get from any Sprint-branded phone.
Oh, and one other thing: there's at least one app that lets you tether the Intercept to your laptop, effectively using it as a mobile broadband modem.
Bottom line: for anyone seeking a full-featured smartphone on the cheap, one that won't drive you into the poorhouse with two years' worth of outrageous monthly bills, the Virgin Mobile Samsung Intercept can't be beat.
Note: By popular demand, the Cheapskate newsletter should be arriving much earlier today--around 1 p.m. ET.