Google Phone

The way many of us buy our phones is like nothing else bought or sold. Carriers world-wide will subsidize about half the cost of the phone itself as long as you sign a multi-year contract to use their service. Imagine if Comcast or Time Warner sold televisions the same way -- it sounds crazy. It's a model that's been going on a while, and for the most part doesn't look like it's going away any time soon.

But what if it did? What if a company like, let's say Google, offered a phone not connected to any carrier, like the Nexus One was? Two years ago that model didn't work, and Google abandoned it completely, but a lot can change in two years. The mobile landscape has changed, and so has the way we use our devices. Has the way we would buy them changed as well?

If the next "Nexus" phone was only sold off contract and carrier-free, would you buy it? Let us know in the poll.



Reader comments

Late-night poll: Buying a smartphone off-contract


Absolutely! I started using a mobile phone in 1999 and all of my phones since have been off-contract. I like the option to swap sims specially when I am at a foreign country. Buying a tourist local sim is way cheaper than the roaming costs. Also, I hate the idea of being locked into a certain plan for 2 years.

"Swap sims in a foreign county" - something you cannot do with an English iphone!- apple strikes again

Even within the same network! English iphone on 3, went to an Italian 3 store, for a payg iPhone sim, didn't work ! Apparently English iPhones are "country locked"

If you have an unlocked iphone it should work.I live in Canada and a colleague of mine purchased a local Simcard and cut it to fit his iphone and it worked when he traveled to Africa.

I used to get all excited about having my own phone and not being tied up in a contract. Then I realized that (at least in the US), you're insane to buy a phone off contract. You're going to be paying the same amount per month whether or not you get a subsidized phone, so why pay an extra $300 or so?

This is my thinking too. Perhaps if carriers would also reduce their plan pricing for those who BYOP (Bring your own phone) it would be different. As such in Canada (like in the U.S.) plan pricing doesn't change, no matter if you purchase outright, or go on our wonderful 3 year contracts, or somewhere in between.

No, you're not paying the same. I've been on T-Mobile with a pre-paid card for years, paying less than $20/month when not using data and $50/month with data. It's well worth it.

It also depends on how much you use your phone, and for what. On a normal day, I have WiFi 99% of the time, so I've only paid for data on months that I am travelling more often. If your phone is a business tool, then you're probably better off with a subscription.

The most annoying thing about "plans" in the US is the two year binding period. Why the hell can't they offer 6, 12, or 18 months at a time? Things aren't going to change as long as Americans at large happily eat up the crap that the telcos serve them.

Pre-paid is not the same as "off-contract" in this since. He's talking about having a normal contract plan that would normally require a two year agreement. In his example he's right, with a normal contract plan, whether you renew your contract and pay $300 or stay on the play month to month and buy your phone off contract, you still end up paying the same amount per month. That's how most, if not all, US carriers work.

Pre-paid plans are a different system all together.

I know that. There is nothing to prevent US customers from using pre-paid, except inertia and ignorance. Signing a two-year contract with a US telco is stupid any way you look at it.

To some degree this is true.

However, with pre-paid services StraightTalk (45 per month, unlimited everything with data throttling after 2GB) and TMobile (30 dollars, 100 minutes [use a VOIP service and get unlimited minutes...Talkatone works perfect here], unlimited texting, "unlimited" data, throttling after 5GB) as well as others, I think it's a lot less true.

No, you can't get your standard package deal anymore, but you can save money on your bill by shopping a bit and buying unlocked.

edit: Straight Talk is a Walmart backed MVNO that uses either ATT or TMobile (you're choice). It has a sim only option (bring your own unlocked GSM phone)

I was gonna say the exact same thing. Carrier plans cost the same whether you buy on or off contract and none of the prepaid plans are as good, so it doesn't make sense to pay unsubsidized pricing for a phone.

Exactly...that is why I bought the GNex as it is unlocked and subsidized. When traveling to the states we use our at&t Sim and use the $2/day unlimited win! :-)

ONLY With these conditions:

1- Perfect announcement and release date not like the hassle we had with galaxy nexus

2- Global release including and starting with the US not UK

3- Quick updates, I do not care about xda developer or sdk ... I do not care about nothing but when the update is pushed OTA

4- Smaller screen. For God's sake, I am buying a phone NOT a tablet

I really don't want to spend around 500 frogskins for something that is out of date by the time it is delivered to my door.

But you are going to spend $200-300, and then add activation fee, charges for the first month -- in three to six months you've already paid more, and you still have a binding contract for another year and a half.

I bought my phone unlocked, and after average use I've paid less than $750 in one year, phone price and service included. The freedom during my travels has added savings as well.

I have been buying my phones off-contract for years now and I find no harm in it whatsoever.
I'm in Australia and we have a carrier here with unlimited text and phone calls and 4GB data. It costs about US$40 and is a no contract monthly price.
When you go off contract all the way there is nothing telling you what to do. At any moment I can just stop paying or change my phone or switch carriers. That freedom is perfect considering how fast the technology changes in 2 years.

I buy on contract. But sell the phone when I get tired and move on to something else. I like to use older phones and change them about every three to six months. Now I am going to a prepaid carrier in November so now I will have to buy them outright.

I been buying phones off contract and on contract for years. It all depends on what I want and if my carrier decideds to carry it or not. Not a new concept to me.

After seeing firsthand the "GREAT" support Google has given my Nexus S, I can't honestly say that I would definetely be willing to buy the next Nexus device off-contract unsubbed or even on-contracted subbed for that matter. It all depends on the device itself, my wants/needs at the time, will my carrier be selling it, how well Google decides to continue suporting/not-supporting the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus etc etc.

I cant blindly say a definte yes or no, but I would buy an off contract un-subsidized phone in general. I sometimes do already.

Everyone would buy their phone off carrier if it was the best phone. Problem is carries are paying for the top phones so we buy with contract. What your asking is obviously not available. I guess we can dream. It sure would be nice to buy the next HTC EVO with the new LTE for sprint off carrier. Oh yea we can't. Sigh

You can't buy phones that don't exist.

And when you are dealing with Sprint, Verizon, or any MVNO that uses their network, you're screwed as far as phones go anyways.

Basically, you have to get them to activate it and they won't unless you buy it from them.

O2 germany offers all devices unbranded, unlooked and off-contract with a two-years-no-interests-option and moderate prices. That's the way i got may Palm Pre, Nexus S and GTab.

You can freely choose between any carrier and contract but did not need to pay the full devices prices at once.

It depends on money situations at the time. usually if im working i would rather get a free phone on contract because i know i can pay it off. But if work is slow, I'd save to buy the phone outright.

Saying all that, I'm still waiting to buy my first android device (work is very slow, and phones are very expensive)

With all of the issues other people are having I am wondering if/when I will have one.

The Galaxy Nexus is a really nice phone, but the only model worth owning is the maguro/yakju model. The other models have a serious amount of problems. I have a yakju (lucky...) and I have a nasty bug when my audio out cuts off during a call so the other people can't hear me. It happens infrequently.

Worse yet is the rumor that Google has let Samsung basically handle software builds for all non yakju (1 particular GSM/HSPA+ build) and mysid (1 particular CDMA/LTE build) builds. I didn't buy a Nexus to have Samsung develop it. If I wanted that, I'd buy a Galaxy S model (which are really nice phones).

But there are some pretty bad bugs according to forums and whatnot.

If this phone were a better selling device, Google would be getting shredded for the kinds of problems lots of people are having and not having an update that fixed it going on 5 months now.

I am likely going to buy a new Nexus next time I get a phone [unless Google seriously drops the ball on these updates), but I doubt I will be recommending them to anyone else.

I travel a lot and prefer to carry multiple SIM cards rather than multiple phones. I usually buy off contract and sell within 6 months to a year and get another. I know I can unlock but I don't want to be limited to my carrier's current selection.

One advantage I've found is that I'm able to negotiate a much better and cheaper voice/data plan when renewing my contract if I forego a subsidized phone.

Yes, with the caveat that it would have to be a pentaband device that would not be limited on any carrier. Obviously, Verizon and Sprint, who still use archaic CDMA technology, will never be viable options for contract free devices.

Straight up yes. My wife and daughter are both on Nexus S with no contract obligations and as soon as my contract dies for my captivate it will go to and I will get a contract free phone. I am tired of being owned by the carriers. No more.

We have been doing this in the UK for a long time. That's the great thing about GSM, it'll work on all UK carriers.

I think the best way is to buy the phone sim-free, and get a sim-only contract from Three. £15 for unlimited data, 300 texts and enough minutes. You can also terminate the contract after 30 days.

Even if you do go the contract route, here the phones are not locked to carriers, so once over, you can sell on the phone to almost anyone, without the worry that it won't work on their carrier.

I didn't vote cause i'm in Russia and the situation here is quite different.
Here subsidized phones have no chance. Our mobile market had a healthy competition from the beginning. We have a very low prices and they're still going down.
For example right now i'm using corporate SIM:
-Unlimited calls between corporate plan users and unlimited local SMS for $1.6 per month
-All local calls are $0.025 per minute
-$0.03 for any non-local sms

I can buy a $7.5 package and have 300 minutes of local calls, 700 non-local SMS, unlimited MMS and 1 gigabyte of data.

Why would i save money on a phone to lose tenfold on "subsidized" plan?

If the next "nexus" was unquestionably the best phone available and would be for the foreseeable future then I would consider buying of contract. That's not the case though. And since Sprint whom I've been with for 10 years and get a discount through my job will (or maybe already does) have a device that will rival whatever is next to get the nexus tag then it doesn't make sense to me to buy off contract.

Smart Phones are tough, they are expensive and are still changing fast. IMHO they are usually not worth the price tag they come with off contract. They are still typically locked to a carrier by default either through a carrier lock, or lack of support for carrier bands.

The Galaxy Nexus though was worth it more or less because it is a pentaband phone. As long as the Nexus supports ALL GSM bands including LTE on all carriers, then it will be worth buying off contract and using a BYOP month to month or pre-paid contract.

The Rate Android phones are changing, after 2 years is up you can be as much as 3 or 4 releases of your favorite device line behind...

December 15th 2011 I purchased the best phone I've ever owned, off contract. No regrets!

Can't beat unlimited data so that's the way I went with the GneX.

I would, every time i want a new phone, the carrier that offers it (i'm in canada)offer only sh"tty plans and always get ripped off... so i always buy off contract, unlock and then, i have plenty of choices...

It would be great if there were vendors who competed for device sales. Right now the carriers have meaningless sales that are only available with a new 2 year contract, which you can't do if you're in the middle of an existing contract.

Not only would I; I did. Twice. I bought the Nexus One off-contract then moved to T-Mobile. At the time that resulted in my paying ~$20 less per month. In December I bought the GSM Galaxy Nexus on my own dime and still don't have a contract.

I buy off contract, but I buy my phones used. That's how I bought my Razr Maxx and it only cost $75 more to get it used than it would have to get it new on-contract. I've had it for weeks and it's still working fine, and now I have my upgrade sitting if I ever break it (because I firmly believe that $5-$10 a month for insurance plus a $200 deductible is a scam).


With off-contract phones running in the $300 and up range, it's definitely out of my budget to get an off-contract phone. I'd be better off renewing my contract and getting a new phone that way.

Well, I purchased both the Nexus One and Galaxy Nexus off-contract, so there's a good chance I'll purchase whatever comes up two generations down the line.

It's too expensive to buy new off contract phones with high end phones ranging between $500 and $700, it would only be worth it if carriers provider cheaper pricing for plans if you brought your own device, in the US they don't, t-mobile did that awhile ago but stopped. To buy a brand new phone off contract in the US I think you need to have money you're willing to just throw away, because you'll pay the same monthly price for service and with US carriers it's not like you can use the same phone on different carriers (The only exception would be the current nexus as that can run on t-mobile or at&t but honestly you couldn't give me enough money to use either of them as carriers)

What I have done in the past is buy a contract phone, get tired or frustrated with it and buy a 6-12 month old on eBay and then sell the contract phone, it's the best way I've found to upgrade mid cycle when you get stuck with a clunker or just want something new. Often if the phone is still in high demand I can get away with almost breaking even on my new purchase.

You've pretty much hit it right on the money. I have been cycling through an on contract phone purchase to an off and back again. The only real benefit is that I can ditch a piece of crap or a phone that simply doesn't meet my needs anymore. In the U.S. and especially with SPRINT (CDMA) we're in a catch 22.

They stop supporting our phones with updates/fixes or through the carrier tech support staff within maybe 6 months because they want to focus on the next phone coming out with marginally better specs..but you're stuck & have to get a better rom or hard reset as the only thing that can fix issues in your phone. I usually rom it out and then by off ebay or craigslist. But my contract is the same price& I have to sell my older phone pretty soon thereafter to recoup the costs (but only to Sprint, Boost, or Cricket people because it won't work on others networks).

If At&t didn't rape you on your bill or data usage and T-mobile had better service in the midwest I'd try a GSM carrier for more freedom. We need more cellular competition in the U.S. for the market to change..

I wouldn't buy the next Nexus phone for starters. The hardware is usually lacking vs the top phones (Camera in Nexus S, Camera in G-Nex, not a very good GPU in G-Nex, no FM radio in Nexus S, no sd card slots, etc...). And, the concept of the Nexus experience is kind of not real. At least not in the US. Updates aren't any faster and support from google is non-existent. They have zero communication to their customers regarding updates and things like that. Stock Android is really the only good thing and even that is lacking in some areas vs some of the things we are seeing in skins like Sense this year.

As for the poll, I usually buy on contract and sell when I get sick of it and buy outright after that. I ALWAYS use my contract since the price of those subsidies is built into the monthly bill it would be stupid not to use it when you can if you are on a traditional carrier (T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T) with a traditional plan.

Can new customers even do the cheaper T-Mobile plan with a prepaid phone anymore? I see that as the biggest reason for sticking with buying off contract but if that's not even available anymore....

Given the piss-poor support my Nexus S has received in regards to the ICS update, no I would not.

I am now buying off contract of the simple reason that I can´t stand the horrible deals the US carriers offer.

My bills with Verizon where about $90-100 and now I am using Straight Talk with half the cost for a better plan (unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of data for $45).

The carrier branded devices are crippled compared to the EU models, filled with bloatware and they are either locked or using incompatible networks.

Now I am back in business with the Galaxy Note N7000 and it works great with Straight Talk.

Buying a new US subsidized device? No way. From now on, unlocked - international is the way to go and I got a better device for less since I decided to go prepaid.

Sprint and Verizon is now out of the question because of their networks, the AT&T or partly the T-Mobile network is a more interesting choice since it is standard technology, compatible with international devices.

Only if they lowered the price of the plan. It doesn't make any sense to buy the phone out right and still have to pay what everyone else is paying for their subsidized phone. It will be like paying for two phones but only having one. Then again I could always use it on Simply mobile.

You might want to try this poll again, one for US only users and a separate one for international users. The carrier marketplaces are vastly different and the explanations would make more sense if we could distinguish were each person was from.

As a US Sprint user, I voted yes and have been strongly thinking about it for a while now. I was very happy when the Nexus S finally arrived, but it's clear now that what I thought I was buying into (at least the experience described by Nexus One users) is not what I am getting from being a Nexus S owner.

Watching the international folks get that experience has become frustrating. I'm sure the carriers are to blame to some extent, but I also think some part of this is Google Wallet.

Anyhow, I'm watching my data usage very closely now. If Sprint gets rid of unlimited data, I will definitely switch to GSM (and probably off contract, though LTE may change that), but right now I can't give up unlimited data.

contracts don't matter. if you buy a device on contract for 200 bucks and the etf to break the contract is is 200-350(usually prorated over time as well) usually it cost less to take the subsidy and break the contract than it would be to pay the regular price from the start.

bought my nexus s for $100 bucks. tmobile would charge me 200 to break the contract, my total cost is $300 compared to the 550 i would have paid otherwise. the math doesn't work.

and i hear what you're saying about plan price difference, and yes tmobile does this, but there is nothing stopping you from breaking the contract a month in and deciding to go back at some point later for the "no contract" plan.

I wonder how off this survey is from reality? That is, how many people actually, to date, have bought the GN off contract? Does anyone have those numbers?