With T-Mobile no longer offering subsidies for its phones, you'll pay more to buy a device. But how does T-Mobile's selection compare with full priced handsets from other retailers?
Kent GermanFormer senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
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T-Mobile's new service plans mark a huge change for wireless carriers. In addition to ditching contracts, the nation's fourth largest wireless provider also has dropped handset subsidies completely. So now, when you buy a new phone from T-Mobile, you'll pay much more for your device than you did when you signed two years of your life away. You have the option of paying the full cost at the time of purchase, or paying a deposit with monthly installments, but the phone's price is the same either way. And, of course, you won't be tied to a contract.
We've already told you that T-Mobile's new plans can be cheaper than those of its big carrier rivals, but what if you consider only the cost of a phone? How do the carrier's new unsubsidized handset prices compare with prepaid models from AT&T or unlocked devices from a manufacturer or a third-party retailer? Can you save cash by bringing your own phone, or does T-Mobile offer a better deal? As it turns out, the answer differs by handset. T-Mobile's iPhone 5 prices are a bargain, but its other prices, with one notable exception, follow the MSRP line.
Before you go on, I need to leave you with a few points. Remember that the phones T-Mobile sells will be locked to its network. It will unlock your handset when you pay it off in full or if you're a customer in good standing for 60 days. Also, the phones that T-Mobile sells will be optimized for its network, both LTE and not. Though most unlocked and quadband GSM phones are compatible with T-Mobile's 2G and 2.5G voice network, not all handsets will have the necessary bands to use the carrier's 3G and 4G. An unlocked AT&T iPhone 5 will be mostly compatible, but you should verify phones before buying. Finally, the Amazon price I used is the lowest listed price for a new device at the time of this writing. So if you look after today, you may see a different price.
iPhone 5 (16GB)
T-Mobile price: $579; $99 deposit and 24 payments of $20
Apple price (unlocked): $649
AT&T price (with one-year contract): $649
Sample Amazon price (unlocked): $640
iPhone 5 (32GB)
T-Mobile price: $679; $199 deposit and 24 payments of $20
Apple price (unlocked): $749
Sample Amazon price (unlocked): $789
iPhone 5 (64GB)
T-Mobile price: $779; $299 deposit and 24 payments of $20
Apple price (unlocked): $849
Sample Amazon price (unlocked): $799