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Remember when owning a smartphone -- any smartphone -- meant spending hundreds of dollars up front and then a minimum of $60-70 per month for a full two years? Let us never speak again of this dark period in our history.
Today, and while supplies last, Best Buy has the Microsoft Lumia 640 5-inch smartphone for $26.99 plus tax, with free in-store pickup or free shipping if you pad your cart to at least $35. Update: If you have a Target store near you, the Lumia 640 is currently on sale for $19.99 (plus tax). Thanks to the readers who pointed this out!
Here's what you need to know about the phone: It runs Windows 8.1 but can be upgraded to Windows 10. It hit the market back in April, 2015, at which time CNET's Andrew Hoyle referred to it as "a brilliant budget phone." He rated it 7.2 out of 10 and praised its screen and camera: "...among the best you'll find at this price."
Here's (some of) what you need to know about the service: The Lumia is offered here via AT&T subsidiary Cricket Wireless, which is currently my carrier of choice. For as little as $35 per month, you can get an unlimited no-contract plan including 2.5GB of 4G data.
What I don't know: Is there an activation fee? Also: Can you use the phone without activating it at all? Because that's partially where my interest lies.
See, much as I'm not a fan of Windows on mobile devices, the Lumia 640 could be ideal for a number of non-phone tasks: e-reader, music controller (think Pandora, Spotify, etc.), spare camera/camcorder and so on. You don't need cell service for things like that, so as long as the phone doesn't constantly nag you with activation reminders, consider it a small Wi-Fi-powered tablet for around the house. (You can, of course, still make calls via apps like Skype.)
Alternately, give to a kid to use as their first phone. (The limited number of games in the Windows Store could actually be a plus; they won't get sucked into, say, Pokemon Go at the expense of homework.) If they drop or lose it, you're out only $27 and change.
Heck, you could even toss it into your travel bag to use as a backup phone, perhaps with a pay-as-you-go SIM or the like. (Note, however, that the Lumia isn't unlocked, and at least one Best Buy customer indicated that Cricket won't unlock it unless you pay for service for at least six months. I have no idea if that's true; I do know there are some third-party unlocking tools available online.)
If you could use a dirt-cheap smartphone with a great camera, generous screen and solid performance, this is definitely worth a look. Just make sure you check with Cricket if you don't plan to activate it and/or think you might want to take it to a different carrier.
Bonus deal: Are there any sweeter words than "Free after rebate"? (Well, maybe "pizza and cake will be served." But that's it!) If you're lucky enough to have a Fry's store near you, swing in and grab the Antec Smartbean Bluetooth Receiver for $15 -- then submit your rebate to get your $15 back. It adds Bluetooth capabilities to your favorite wired headphones, home or car stereo, etc. I'm sad because there's no Fry's near me.
Bonus deal No. 2: Building a "smart" home doesn't have to mean deploying a bunch of expensive, internet-connected hardware. Indeed, what's wrong with good old remote-controlled electrical outlets for things like lamps and "vampire" electronics? For a limited time, you can get the Aukey Wireless Remote Control Outlet 5-pack for $24.99 when you apply promo code AUKEYWRM at checkout. You get five RF-controlled outlets and two remotes.