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Should I Get a Smartphone?

Image: apple.com

Image: apple.com

Whenever I’ve asked a question to my faithful readers, you haven’t disappointed me with your answers and reasoning. I have a dilemma coming up at the end of June, and I’m not sure which way to go. I’ve seen other bloggers ask this question, so I thought I would seek your advice on whether or not I should upgrade my dumb phone to a smart phone.

Currently, I have a basic plan that includes unlimited calls and texting, but I have a dumb Pantech phone. That sounds really mean to my poor Pantech, which has been a great phone for the last couple of years, except for the time I sent it through the washer, but we won’t talk about that.

My cost is pretty basic. The plan is $39.99/ month with $5.99 for the texting. However, when you add all the taxes and usage fees, the bill is usually around $66 a month. $20 in taxes and fees per month is ridiculous to me. This is the cheapest non-smart phone contract AT&T offers in our area. In fact, you can’t even get this plan anymore. When our local carrier was bought out by AT&T, my plan was grandfathered in. It would be even more expensive if I were a new customer. The only other major carrier in the area is Verizon, and pricing is similar.

Jim has recently tried out a couple of prepaid, no-contract plans. He upgraded to a smart phone to send some of his practicum data when he was completing his master’s degree. He went with a Virgin Mobile, no contract plan and bought an LG Optimus Elite phone for $60 on Ebay. This plan cost $35 a month for 300 minutes of calls, plus unlimited texting and data. The cost was great, but the network in our rural area was not very good. In the right zone, everything worked fine, but if you went to certain areas in our county, like near our daughter’s school, he had no service.We compared my AT&T service with his. About 75% of the time when he had no service, I did. I also felt like the phone was a pain to use, but maybe that was because of the slow service?

Since his new job will require him to work with four school districts over an 80 mile radius, this wasn’t cutting it. He decided to switch to Straight Talk. He then found a deal on Ebay for a set of two iPhone 3’s for $202. He used one with this new plan. It costs $45 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data. It seems to work  well so far, although the service is still not as good as with my AT&T phone.

It’s really a pain because when you look at the coverage map, it shows we are covered, but these plans just don’t work in many areas. We also can’t take advantage of some of the new services, like Republic Wireless. They are not available in our zip code.

With that bit of background, my options are as follows:

1) Continue with my current phone and AT &T plan without a contract. I know I will have service in most places. Remember, I work one day a week on the reservation and do commute over a mountain pass a couple of times per month. I would not be able to do online work during the workday, (not that I spend my workday doing other things, but I do get breaks and nave no shows). However, I am only working about three days a week, so my laptop works just fine at home. Cost $66/month or $792 per year if my current phone doesn’t die.

2)Upgrade to a smartphone with a contract. I would likely get an iPhone 4s for a $99 upgrade, and continue with an AT&T plan for a ball park of $110 per month? I am not technical, and I don’t want a phone that’s difficult to use. $1320 per year +$99

3)Use the iPhone 3 we already bought on Ebay, and change to Straight Talk. I would have worse service, but I would have internet access wherever the phone worked. $45/month plus the cost of the used phone is a pretty good financial deal. The phone would have no warranty, and I’d have to buy another one if it died. Although it’s outdated, I’ve never used any smart phone, so I’m sure it does loads more than my dumb phone. $540/year + $101

4)Buy an iPhone 4 or 4s and use Straight Talk. $45 per month, plus the cost of the phone, which I could buy used or new.  I see no reason that I need an iPhone 5. We could also sell the other iPhone 3 for about $100. $540/year + $300-$500

Which option should I choose, or is there a better one? We don’t have a land line, so our cell phones are our connection to the world. I would appreciate advice from anyone who has made the upgrade to a smart phone or decided not to.



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I have a dumb phone and an ipod that I occasionally use for wifi and smart things. Having the iphone 3 and a normal plan would be like merging the two, it sounds pretty good, there is wifi almost everywhere so unless you really need to be connected for some reason, the $110 plan isn’t justified. Also, that is crazy high just for making phone calls! Don’t know if that is the lack of competition in your area but there was a post on mister money mustache about how he got a $10 plan and put the SIM in a smartphone. Now that I think of it I think it was Wireless Republic so not relevant. Anyway, if you guys can connect to wifi during the day, you could text via whatsapp or skype and just get a basic minutes plan. I know I do most things online now so rarely need a phone.

  2. Your main concern should be finding a wireless carrier that has coverage in your area. Most smart phone features aren’t going to work if you don’t have a connection. Why would you switch to Straight Talk if the service is worse? I think that you’d be better off not buying a smart phone until you found a great service.

  3. We’re planning on switching to Straight Talk soon, so while I can’t advocate for it’s effectiveness for me, I’ve heard good things. If you buy a smart phone, does it have to be an iphone? There are other good phones out there for less money. Then again, the one time cost of the phone doesn’t really sound like the big issue here.

  4. Hmmm tough choice. I know that getting a smartphone was a no-brainer for me a couple years ago, but I use it nonstop. I use Twitter & email constantly but I also use quite a few other apps as well. If you can put off buying a smartphone, though, I would say you might as well put it off for now. It seems to be quite a bit more expensive and if you aren’t getting extra value out of it, I’d say stick with what you have.

  5. I’ve had an iPhone 4 for about a year and a half. It is great to have since my college age daughters also have one and we can communicate through FaceTime, etc. I have also used the smart part of it to access my bank to transfer funds one weekend when I forgot to before going out. I don’t typically forget.

    It hasn’t really increased our expenses for me to have one since we already had a family plan with the girls’ data plans, etc. The phone was only $75 with the upgrade special. Would I run out now and buy one? Nope. I would have to buy a GPS, though. I do use the Google maps app.

    We are stuck with Verizon because of where we live. There is a pocket surrounding our house where Verizon is the only provider with enough juice to provide service.

  6. That is a tough choice and I am not the most unbiased seeing as I am staring at my beautiful new S4 that I got yesterday. 😉 That said, we had similar issues with several services that we tried and bit the bullet with Verizon. I hate the cost, but we use it for our business all the time. Verizon has offered the best in terms of coverage and I think at the end of the day comes down to that.

  7. I think if I had a kid and occasionally worked far away on the reservation, my main concern would be in coverage. Given that your husband doesn’t always have coverage, it would seem like a really high priority that one of you did at all times in case something happened and the school needed to get a hold of you.
    That said, I love my smart phone. We have Verizon iPhones, though we’re considering taking them to a pay as you go network when our contracts expire later this year. I don’t have wifi at work or anything like that, so it’s nice to be able to take care of personal and bloggy things on my phone in down time at work without using work’s network or machines.

  8. I think coverage is the most important thing. You probably don’t want a phone that may or may not wok when you need it to. Like Pauline said, combining a dumb phone with a wifi device, I’d suggest a Kindle Fire, might be a good option.
    That being said, I get sooo much pleasure and utility out of my smartphone that I’d probably just bite the bullet and go with option 2.

  9. I am seriously considering a smartphone too (this Fall). I am sticking with Verizon because I need the coverage. I gave up my landline years ago and coverage is real important. I get a discount because I am with the school district.

  10. We’re going through a similar question. We all have smartphones, but my wife just cracked hers, and would like to get a new one. She’s done with her contract, but the problem is that two other people on our plan still have two months left, and we’re thinking of switching carriers. Moving piecemeal is expensive, so we’re looking at options.

  11. My wife just had this same question. She ended up buying the new Google Nexus phone (for $300) and then got Wal-Mart’s family mobile plan for only $30 a month. She used to be with Sprint, but the cheapest plan there is $70. I know she paid a bit more for the phone, but she’s saving $40 a month by going with family mobile. She’s liking it so far.

  12. I definitely think you should consider the coverage aspect the most. As others have said, if an emergency were to happen and you didn’t have service, what would you do? Plus, who wants a phone that only works some of the time? You should have confidence you will have service when you need it. My boyfriend gets by with a dumb phone + iPod touch, but his phone service is decent and he doesn’t need the internet all the time. Ever since I’ve had a smartphone I’ve been hooked, though I hate the costs as well. Iphones aren’t all that difficult to use (I love my 4s), and they tend to be more streamlined than Android, so you have less customization options, and it might be less overwhelming if you don’t want a million options. I also always like to play around with the phone in the store just to make sure that it’s what I want.

  13. To me, it seems like coverage is more important since you have a young child and your husband won’t always be in town. I would probably stay with AT&T because you have good coverage. Then it’s a toss-up on the smart phone. It definitely costs more with the data plan, but I feel like I get my money’s worth – it’s my GPS, camera, video camera, mp3 player, internet, twitter, Facebook and oh yeah, I can even make phone calls too. 🙂

  14. We have found them invaluable, especially without a landline. If you’re willing to put in the time to get full use out of it (mobile banking, GPS, etc), it seems to be worth it.

  15. I’m probably the worst person to ask as I don’t own a phone of my own as I think they are too pricey. I don’t think I will ever bother unless for some strange reason I am forced to need one. We have one at work that I use but that’s for work. At home my wife has a non-smart phone which I still think is pricey at $31 a month. I can’t justify the expense. I hope you figure out what works best for you Kim!!

  16. My wife and I have been using an iPhone for the last 4 years or so and I guess that makes me a little bias towards smartphones. We have two special needs kids and they just love the educational apps and other games. I assume there are probably better options out there though.

  17. Kim, If you don’t need the data because of your job I would absolutely go with the cheapest option. I need data access because of my job and the fact that I travel a lot so I end up spending a bit more than I want (my employer kicks in a good chunk). But if you don’t really need it, why pay it? The only thing I would watch for is to make sure you have good voice coverage with Straight Talk since you don’t have a land line,

  18. When it comes to smart phones these days I think you can really call them phones anymore since they can do so much from taking pictures, scheduling, heck I even use mine as my alarm in the morning. The point I’m getting

  19. Sorry the two comments my daughter hit the buttons on the keyboard.

    Anyways, the point I was getting at was that smart phones can do so much more that they are more like your own personal computer rather than a phone. Before I switch I thought that it wasn’t worth having but now that I can see all the different things I do with it I wouldn’t go back to the plain old cell phone in a million years. Just my thoughts.

  20. It is all about the coverage. If you are not currently a data user, then there is no need to be one. Those plans are very expensive and you have to have the coverage. I would stay with a dumb phone. There are many times I wish I still had a dumb phone.

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