Comparing apples to apples: two year smartphone cost examined

Over the past few month, we’ve seen several sites run cost comparisons on the latest and greatest smartphones from each of the top four carriers in the US. Good — presenting readers with cost analysis is always a good idea. We’re finding that just about all of these comparisons do so on the high end of the spectrum however, comparing the cost of owning each of these great smartphones along with the most expensive plans available from their respective carrier. Fair enough, we suppose. The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone is interested in an expensive unlimited plan though. For these people, comparing the maximum possible cost of several smartphones definitely makes for an exciting read, but we don’t know how useful it really is.

Unlimited plans continue to gain popularity as cost is driven down but the fact of the matter is that they’re just not for everyone. As such, rather than compare the highest possible cost of four popular smartphones maybe it makes a bit more sense to compare their relative entry-level costs — the base price, where most comparisons happen. Yeah, let’s give that a shot…

T-Mobile G1

Handset: $149.99
Monthly cost [UPDATED]: $29.99 voice plan (300 minutes, unlimited weekends), $24.99 T-Mobile G1 Unlimited Web (unlimited Web/email/data)

$54.98/month — $1,319.52 over 2 years + $149.99 for the phone

Total: $1,469.51 (excludes SMS/MMS, starting at $5/month)

Sprint, Palm Pre

Handset: $199.99 (after $100 rebate)
Activation fee: $36
Monthly cost [UPDATED]: $69.99 Everything Data Plan (450 minutes, unlimited nights/weekends, unlimited mobile to mobile, unlimited Web/email/data, unlimited SMS/MMS, unlimited GPS navigation)

$69.99/month — $1,679.76 over 2 years + $235.99 for the phone plus activation (after $100 mail-in rebate)

Total: $1,915.75 (after $100 mail-in rebate)

Verizon Wireless, BlackBerry Storm

Handset: $149.99
Activation fee: $35
Monthly cost: $39.99 voice plan (450 minutes, unlimited nights/weekends, unlimited mobile to mobile), $29.99 Email and Web for BlackBerry (BIS, Web)

$69.98/month — $1,679.52 over 2 years (excluding SMS/MMS) + $184.99 for the phone plus activation

Total: $1,864.51 (excludes SMS/MMS, starting at $5/month)

AT&T, Apple iPhone 3GS 16GB

Handset : $199
Activation fee: $36
Monthly cost: $39.99 Nation 450 w/Rollover (450 minutes, 5000 night/weekend minutes, unlimited mobile to mobile), $30 Data Plan for iPhone (unlimited Web/email/data)

$69.99/month — $1,679.76 over 2 years + $235 for the phone plus activation

Total: $1,914.76 (excludes SMS/MMS, starting at $5/month)

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So what have we learned here? Look at your potential purchases from your own unique perspective. Wireless plans are complicated and should not be handled on an even playing field; each carrier has similarly priced plan options that feature both high and low points. For example, the bare-bones entry plan for the G1 reduces the two-year cost of the handset dramatically compared to the three other handseys but it only affords the user 300 minutes each month and doesn’t include free nights as other plans do. It’s all about give and take. Most importantly perhaps, don’t go to an AT&T/Sprint/T-Mobile/Verizon Wireless shop and expect to get help that is in your best interest. Don’t take media or a blogger’s word for it wither. Determine what matters most to you — whether it’s more minutes, unlimited messaging, etc — and do your own research with those things in mind. An educated consumer is a happy consumer.

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