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Ask Maggie: What to do with that old AT&T iPhone

Maggie advises a reader on what to do with that old iPhone, Also: choosing between iPhone and Android; Verizon's unlimited data plan.

What should disgruntled AT&T iPhone subscribers do with their old iPhone when they move to Verizon Wireless?

Ask Maggie

I offer one reader some advice in this week's Ask Maggie column. I also ease another's apprehension about using a Google Android phone with a MacBook Pro and accessing Gmail on an iPhone. And I provide some thoughts on Verizon's limited time offer of an unlimited data plan for the iPhone and other Verizon smartphones.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

What to do with an old iPhone

Dear Maggie,
So now that I have my Verizon iPhone, what do I do with this cool AT&T iPhone? Should I use it as an iPod? Or what else can I do with it?


Dear Jan,
You certainly could keep your old AT&T iPhone and use it as an iPod Touch. Simply turn the device onto "airplane mode," and voila, you've got an iPod Touch (with an unused 3G radio inside.) Using the Wi-Fi radio you can still download apps, access Google maps and e-mail and other Web-enabled apps, and download music wirelessly from iTunes.

You could also unlock your iPhone, so that you can use it when you travel overseas. Neither Apple nor AT&T allows this, so you'd have to find instructions on the Internet. But once the phone was unlocked, you could put a SIM card in it from a carrier that uses a network technology called GSM. GSM is the network technology standard used throughout Europe and many parts of Asia.

AT&T's network is based on GSM, so AT&T's version of the iPhone supports the same network technology that carriers in Europe support. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless uses a technology called CDMA, which is incompatible with GSM networks. Some Verizon world phones come with a SIM card slot and radio technology to roam onto a GSM network. But unfortunately the Verizon iPhone does not. So it's not possible to use your Verizon iPhone over a European carrier's wireless network. (Wi-Fi will still work on the device, even if you're outside the U.S.)

If neither of these options appeals to you, you could trade in your old iPhone and get some cash or a gift card from a major retailer. The market for used cell phones is huge. Both stores and Web sites are getting into the business of buying back used cell phones for a price depending on the model, features, and condition of the device.

Mega-retailer Target offers customers store credit for used phones. Select Best Buy stores also will allow you to trade in your mobile phone in exchange for a store gift card. You could get 20 percent of the original price of a 2-year-old phone that's in good condition. Newer phones are worth up to 50 percent. A Best Buy representative at a store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan told me this week that I could get $160 for my 1-year old iPhone 3GS. I paid $200 for the phone with a 2-year service contract.

There are also Web sites that let you trade in old cell phones. NextWorth, which is partnering with Target on its trade-in program, lets you assess the value of your old phone by answering a few questions about the device on its Web site. You can then mail in the device. And the company either cuts you a check or transfers you the money via PayPal for the estimated value of the cell phone. and are other Web sites that specialize in helping people sell their mobile phones.

The online auction giant eBay offers a site where you can trade in used electronics, including cell phones, for cash. You could also post an ad on the regular eBay site or on Craigslist. Unlocked cell phones tend to do the best on these sites.

If you decide to sell your old cell phone, make sure you've wiped it of all your personal data, such as your contacts, apps, pictures, music, and videos. You can do this by going into the settings and putting it back to the manufacturer's settings.

It sounds like your contract with AT&T was already up, since you've already bought a new iPhone from Verizon. But for people who haven't yet made that move, before you do, make sure your contract with AT&T has expired before you sign up for another contract with Verizon Wireless. If your contract hasn't expired, you'll have to pay an early termination fee for quitting AT&T's network prematurely. You can check contract status on your account page on AT&T's Web site.

Compatibility issues in the world of iOS and Android

Hi Maggie,
I'm a Verizon Wireless customer, and I'm due for an upgrade. I want to get a smartphone. But I need some help deciding between a Google Android phone and an Apple iPhone. I own a MacBook Pro, and I'm sticking with that for my computer. But I also use Gmail for my e-mail. So my question is would it be better to purchase the Verizon iPhone or an Android phone?

I want a phone with good battery life, which has all the bells and whistles. But I also need something that can function as an extension of my office phone. I frequently have my office calls forwarded to my cell phone, and I'd want the ability to use the phone like someone would use a business BlackBerry--I'd like to check work e-mail and manage my schedules. If possible, I'd want the phone to work seamlessly with my Mac and Gmail account.


Dear Joe,
As long as you're running iTunes, the iPhone will work on a Mac or a PC. And as far as an Android phone working on a MacBook Pro, I don't see why there would be an issue. You shouldn't have a problem with an Android smartphone simply because you use a Mac as your computer.

When it comes to using Gmail and your Google calendar, the iPhone is able to sync with each of those applications. Kent German, CNET senior Reviews editor, said Android might offer the advantage of a cleaner and easier syncing process over the iPhone when used with Google apps. But the iPhone does support these applications.

As I've said before when answering questions about whether to get an Android phone or an iPhone, it really comes down to personal taste. You'll be able to get your personal e-mail and work e-mail on each platform. Most of the smartphones on the market that support Apple iOS and Google Android have similar battery life. They all typically require that you charge them at least once a day.

So my suggestion to you is to go to a Verizon store and check out the iPhone as well as one of the many Google Android phones available. See which one feels more comfortable to you, and then buy the one you like best. You should be fine in terms of using your Mac and your Gmail no matter which platform you choose.

How long will Verizon's unlimited data plans last?

Dear Maggie,
I read an earlier article you wrote about how Verizon Wireless is only offering its unlimited data plan for iPhone subscribers for a limited time. So my question is, how long do you think Verizon Wireless will offer the unlimited data plan? And will they give us a warning when it's about to expire?


Dear Randy,
Verizon representatives haven't said how long the unlimited data plan will be available. The company appears to be using the plan to entice customers who may have considered AT&T's iPhone, but were turned off by AT&T's $25 2GB cap on its data service.

The Verizon iPhone went on sale to the general public Thursday. Though Verizon and Apple sold out of phones during the online presale, in-store sales in many major markets seemed soft. Verizon hasn't released sales figures yet, so it could turn out that sales were much better than they appeared, since people could order phones online. But in terms of crowds gathering at retail locations, the Verizon iPhone launch was a far cry from the craziness of past AT&T iPhone launches.

So what does this have to do with Verizon's unlimited data plans? Well, the carrier could choose to keep the unlimited plan in place to continue to differentiate itself from AT&T in an effort to win new subscribers for the next few months. Or it may bag the whole idea and announce some kind of tiered pricing plan for all smartphones when it finally releases pricing information for its "4G" LTE smartphones. These handsets are expected to start hitting the market early this spring.

One thing is clear, Verizon wants to move to a different pricing structure than the all-you-can-eat plan it currently has. The company recently irked some subscribers when it posted a notice on its Web site stating that it plans to slow data speeds of the top 5 percent of its users to help preserve decent service for the rest of its wireless customers. Verizon explained that its wireless network is a shared resource, and that it needs to protect its network from the "inordinate data consumption of just a few users."

To be honest, I have no idea if Verizon will "warn" customers when it changes its unlimited data offer. My guess is that it will not. But if you buy a Verizon iPhone now, or any Verizon smartphone, and you enter a two-year contract with the company, the unlimited data service will remain the same throughout the life of your contract. After your contract expires and if you buy a new device, you will then have to sign up for a new service contract with whatever terms are offered when you renew.

"For example, a customer purchases an iPhone 4 or a Droid X along with the $29.99 data plan," a Verizon Wireless representative explained. "This person's contract expires February 10, 2013, but they love their device so much they never come in and purchase another device. They continue to pay us monthly and we continue to bill them for the exact same services. We don't change their plan. Now let's say in 2014, they want a new phone and they come in and purchase a new phone--then they subscribe to whatever service is offered at that time and pay that price."