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Boost brings advanced phone to prepaid market

Boost Mobile, the prepaid arm of Sprint Nextel, will soon sell Motorola's new multimedia, clamshell device.

Prepaid wireless customers usually have to settle for the most basic cell phones. But soon, Boost Mobile consumers won't have to sacrifice style and function for value.

Boost Mobile

Boost announced Monday that it will offer its prepaid customers the Motorola Stature i9. This thin flip phone is one of the most advanced devices available for prepaid consumers.

Prepaid phone services, which don't require a contract or a credit check, are geared toward value customers or those with questionable credit. So wireless operators typically only offer basic, inexpensive phones to these users, because operators don't subsidize the cost of the phones.

The conventional wisdom has been that consumers wouldn't be willing to spend a lot on advanced devices for a service that they could terminate at any time. But now, as consumers tighten spending and look for ways to reduce their monthly bills, they are gravitating toward prepaid and no-contract services.

Boost, which is owned by Sprint Nextel, recently launched an unlimited talk, text, Web, and walkie-talkie service for $50 a month. This is a huge value over other all-you-can-eat plans. Sprint offers its All-In plan for $99 a month. AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless also offer similar plans for about $100 a month.

The new plan offers wireless users an attractive alternative to the more expensive contract services. But until the i9, Boost has lacked a set of advanced, cool phones. Now, the wireless operator hopes it can pick up new customers who might be willing to pay a bit more for a phone, if they can reduce their monthly service and not have to deal with a contract. The i9 will cost about $300 when it goes on sale at the end of February, but it doesn't require a contract. Consumers have several options for payment that include either paying by the week, month or day for service.

Now, the i9 is no iPhone. In fact, it's not a smartphone at all. But it offers some pretty cool features for a phone with this kind of service.

Design-wise, it's slick. The i9 is the thinnest flip phone on the market that uses Nextel's walkie-talkie service. It's about 15 millimeters thick and comes with a slew of features, including an integrated multimedia player for listening to music and watching video, a flash 3.1-megapixel camera, GPS, and up to 8GB of removable memory. It also has a touch-sensitive exterior screen that uses a Motorola technology called ModeShift that changes the exterior keys based on what application is being used.

It will be interesting to see how the new device sells for Boost. T-Mobile reported when it announced earnings last week that its prepaid service is growing stronger. And it looks like its contract service is experiencing weakness. So we'll be watching to see if other wireless operators follow Boost's lead to offer more slick phones for their prepaid services.

Sprint Nextel, Boost's parent company, will also be offering the i9 later this year. It will sell the device for $199 after a $50 mail-in-rebate and a two-year contract.