Anthony looks for a new prepaid smartphone

MacBook, coffee mug, and cactus

Last updated on March 19th, 2023

As the subject line states, I’m looking to once again upgrade to a better smartphone. But first, a look back over my history with smartphones:

  • Fall 2009: I bought my first-ever smartphone, a first-generation Palm Pre running WebOS. While things initially went well enough (despite wondering if going with WebOS over then-version-1.x-era Android was worth it), the phone eventually became a headache. Several months before the Sprint contract was up, I decided to just pay the $50 early termination fee and go with…
  • Summer 2011: …an LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile. Advantages over the previous Pre were: Android being by that point a much more polished (and popular) operating system, and thus I didn’t have to root it to make it fully useful; the build quality was much better than the cheap plasticy Pre; and going prepaid with Virgin Mobile was much cheaper than being on a Sprint contract (even with Sprint offering a small discount because of my place of employment). The downsides were that the LG Optimus V was too low-end specs-wise, plus was stuck on Froyo.
  • Summer 2012: I decided to upgrade to the HTC One V, another Virgin Mobile phone. The One V, introduced as the low-end model in the HTC “One” line of phones, was better than the LG Optimus V—a bigger screen, better camera, and it came with Ice Cream Sandwich. The main downside is that it’s still very much a low-end phone—it feels sluggish/slow at doing various functions (blame the single-core processor).

And so, here I am, having decided to look for a newer smartphone. Only this time, I’m seeking something that’s fairly high quality off the bat, since I’ve decided being cheap on buying a phone isn’t such a great idea. However, I still want something prepaid, as I’ve determined it’d still be much cheaper than anything on contract, even with the higher cost of buying an unlocked or prepaid phone. I’m also looking to switch to T-Mobile, as they offer a prepaid plan for about what I pay now ($30/month), but with “unlimited” 4G (throttled after 5GB). While this prepaid plan has only 100 minutes of talk time a month (plus 10 cents/minute for anything over), I get very few phone calls, so it shouldn’t matter. The speed boost with T-Mobile’s 4G network over currently being on Virgin Mobile’s 3G service (via their parent company Sprint’s network) would also be nice. And if you’re wondering, I’ve checked: T-Mobile’s 4G service is available here in Milwaukee, but not Virgin Mobile’s 4G offerings.

As for phones, the main choices I’ve looked at so far are either the Nexus 4, Samsung Galaxy S II, or the Samsung Galaxy S III. While the Nexus 4 is the newest of the three, was nice to look at in person, and is fairly inexpensive, two things bother me about it: how long shipping times from Google are running, and the phone’s glass back. While I use a case for my phones, reading reports online about broken Nexus 4 backs has made me a bit wary.

The Galaxy S II (released in 2011) and III (released in 2012) are both quite popular models of smartphones. While the S III is the newer and higher-end model, of course, it’s also more expensive than the S II. Buying the prepaid S II would run about what the Nexus 4 runs, while the prepaid S III from T-Mobile is, well, quite expensive. Despite its age, however, the S II still seems to be sufficiently modern/popular. One big factor: Samsung plans to announce the Galaxy S IV at the end of next week (March 15). While the on-contract S II and III prices have dropped accordingly beforehand, there’s no indication if or when their prepaid counterparts will do the same (or when the S IV will even be available prepaid). Thus, I’m not sure if buying anything now is a good idea, or if I should wait to see what happens. A brief web search, however, suggests it took many months for the S III to turn up prepaid since it was first released.

Of course, I’ll report here on whatever I decide…

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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