Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Hands OnSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

If I were buying a Galaxy Z Flip 3 today, I would totally want a Bespoke "panda" Edition with the black hinge and black/white inserts. I dunno why, but that look called out to me while I watched Samsung's weird Unpacked 2 event. But I know it's not the Z Flip that I would actually buy.

Instead, I'd choose the basic color I liked from a phone carrier on an installment plan. Normally, I hate the idea of a phone carrier also being an equipment seller. The carrier should only exist to take your money every month and offer you quality access to the internet and cellular service in return. But in the real world, sometimes you have to take advantage of the system when you can.

This is one of those cases. I could buy a Bespoke Edition Flip from Samsung. I wouldn't have to pay the full $1,000 because of a trade-in, but the cheapest I could get it would be $500, and that's because I have another very expensive phone (the Galaxy S21) to trade for it. Or I could waltz into the AT&T store and get the Z Flip for free, using a much cheaper phone for better trade-in value.

Z Flip 3 AT&T OfferAT&T will swap me a new Z Flip 3 for a used Pixel 4a.Source: Jerry Hildenbrand

All the carriers have deals where you can get a Z Flip at a super-low price, so this isn't just an AT&T thing. Unless you have plans to switch carriers in the near future — another thing people should consider more often but hardly ever do — it just doesn't make a lot of sense to spend $500 more dollars to get a different color and a new wallpaper that I can download from XDA the minute the phones actually launch.

You might think it's worth spending more to get exactly what you want, and that's great. I'm cheap, though.

This is just me and my opinion, of course. You might want a specific color so badly that you're willing to spend an extra $500 or more to get it, and if so, good on ya! You be you and don't let me or anyone else sway you away. But somehow I think that most people would rather save the extra $500 bucks and get a free Flip 3 than have a black-and-white panda flip phone.

A bigger question is, why are carriers doing this? The Z Flip 3 is one of the hottest phones out there and it's pretty unique. Usually, that combo means you end up paying more, not less. Samsung is also marketing the heck out of the Flip, making sure everyone on the planet knows you can buy a really good smartphone that flips open like phones all did years and years ago.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Camera Flex RainSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

I wish the answer were super complex and was some sort of "gotcha" around carrier practices, but it's not. Carriers value one thing above all else — getting you to stay with them. Me buying a Flip from AT&T means I will keep using AT&T for the next 18 months while I use the device credit to pay my bill. I get what's essentially a free phone to stay with the company for another year and a half.

Using an installment plan is the newest way to lock you into a contract.

This is a lot like how carriers used to just hand you a free phone (or one at a very reduced price) if you were willing to sign a 24-month contract. That's fallen out of fashion, so instead, you sign an installment plan that says you have to pay off the device in full if you change carriers. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, and all that.

Is this a good thing? Heck no. It's another way to keep you locked in, and being locked into anything is never the best. Consumerism works best when there is a choice attached. A real choice, not a pretense of choice with hundreds of dollars of strings attached. But it also gets one of the coolest phones you can buy today into your hands for nothing, even with a cheap phone on hand like a Google Pixel 4a.

Would you trade a Pixel 4a for one of the best foldable phones if the only real string attached is that you had to keep using the phone company you already use? I sure would.