Yes, you could circumvent the data plan requirement by simply buying an unlocked/unbranded handset and use your current ATT SIM card /service. These are new phones and not used handsets, btw, and would indeed present a higher up front cost. Most of the unlocked smartphones can be synced to either google or outlook, sometimes requiring a third party app to do so. Keep in mind the handset you bring to ATT must not be ATT branded so the don't detect the IMEI and try to force the data plan later on at some point.
If you like ATT's coverage it seems silly to port to another carrier when you can simply go unlocked/unbranded. Something like the Nokia E63-2 or E71-2 for sale on Amazon might work.
I know some of this has been covered some before, but none of the threads are current or quite answer my question. So, here goes!
My husband and I are in the market for new phones and service. Neither of us are tied to a contract. I've been on AT&T for over four years and I've been happy with the coverage. I do like the rollover minutes so I don't have to worry about going over one month when most months I'm way under. But, that's not a huge concern, so I'm not tied to AT&T. My husband will be converting from Tracfone, so he needs a new carrier anyway.
Since we're going to be charging and carting around a device anyhow, we'd like to have a phone with a few more features, like my old Palm Tungsten C (but much smaller!). Primarily, we'd like to be able to synch a calendar with Google and maybe Outlook, as well as have a notebook application. We understand that the synching might be a manual operation when we're connected to a wifi network. Neither of us are texters, though we might start using that feature a little bit. We're also geeky enough to want to play with whatever other features the phone comes with. Yup, we want toys! A camera, even video camera, is a nice feature for taking spontaneous pictures. I've been happy with my Palm and there's a Palm app I'd miss if I didn't get a Palm, but it's not very important. I can still use my old Palm for that occasional use.
But, the kicker is that we don't want to pay for a data plan which would run about $60/month! (Even if it were $10/month, that's more than the use we'd get out of it!) Both of us spend our days enveloped in WiFi coverage and constant access to nice, large computers where we'd rather surf than on a tiny phone. Yeah, it'd be cool, but I've got much cooler uses for $720/year ($1,440/contract!)! So, we want to get a smart phone with WiFi capabilities to use the WiFi access we have - and maybe occassionaly take advantage of a hotspot when we're out and about or travelling.
I understand that we will probably have to buy a second-hand or "unsubsidized" phone, so our initial phone cost might be as much as $200, even $400, each. But, that's still much cheaper than an extra $1,440 for a two-year contract!
Recently, it seems that some (all?) carriers have set up restrictions so you must have a data plan if you have a smartphone. Apparently, the phone will not allow use of the internal wifi if you don't have an active data plan - unless you've been grandfathered in. I have heard that it might be possible to buy an unlocked T-Mobile or AT&T phone or an unsubsidized phone, install my SIM card and just never "tell" AT&T that I have a smartphone. Someone also told me that you only have to carry the data plan initially for one month on Sprint, then you can drop it. Thataway, you even get a subsidized phone. I'm not real savvy with cell phones, so I really appreciate any help you all can provide!