Did you know that top-shelf phones don't really cost $200, but are in reality north of $600 at launch? Well, until last year, most US carrier subscribers didn't really care, as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint were heavily subsidizing those handsets for you, and then recouped their subsidy over the lifetime of the plan you subscribed to. Who would've thought just one cell phone contract ago that there will come a time in the bastion of two-year plans and $199 subsidized flagships, when you will have to pay for your own phone full retail? Well, after AT&T jumped the gun in early January, that time is now, and we already made a thorough comparison of the carriers' new data plans that don't ask you for a two-year contract any more.
Instead, you can pay your phone in even installments of various lengths, usually 24 months, and even drop down payments, or throw extra money to pay it off faster, depending on the carrier and your credit history. Granted, the no-contract data plans, access fees and phone payment charges are calculated in such a way that there isn't that much of a difference in the monthly outlay to a carrier from before. A few notable exceptions make today's more competitive carrier landscape a better deal, though - you don't have to pay the usual $199 down payment for a high-end handset, but are essentially paying them off as a zero-interest loan. Alternatively, you can buy it outright, and only pay for the data bucket tier, which start at about $40-$50 a month, depending on the carrier.
Moreover, you can now move between plans each billing cycle, if something better comes on the horizon, and, if you buy the handset or bring your own, you don't have to hassle with early upgrade restrictions. T-Mobile's installment plans for some premium phones now even include upgrades up to three times a year, so it's a better world we are living in indeed. That is why we wanted to ask you whether you would prefer to pay your phone in full upfront, or gradually on installments, given today's carrier realities. Tell us in the poll below, and argue the position in the comments.