$0 buys you a whole lot more phone than it used to
Smartphones are here to stay, and it's no surprise why. They connect us to Facebook, help us find directions to the office, take pictures, and can even let us connect our laptops to the internet from the side of the road. But they're just so darned expensive... or so you think.
You don't need to spend $300 or more just to get a great phone. We've put together a list of six great free smartphone options — they won't cost you anything but your signature (and, of course, a new contract). These phones aren't one-day-only deals, and they aren't refurbished models that someone's already had their fingerprints all over. They're absolutely free, absolutely new phones.
You don't need to know somebody who knows somebody to get these phones for free, but you do need to buy these online. Most carriers have special, online-only pricing. And if you're upgrading an old phone, be careful. Some carriers will charge you an upgrade fee if you're still under an old contract. What fun is a free phone if you have to pay a fee to get it?
Buy it: Apple
Think an Apple iPhone costs a lot of money? Wrong — the iPhone 3GS can be yours from AT&T, absolutely free. Sure, you don't get all the features of the new $199 iPhone 4S or even the $99 iPhone 4, but you still get the iPhone essentials: access to the app store, wifi, a decent 3-megapixel camera that can record video, GPS, and 8GB worth of storage. You can even upgrade the phone to iOS 5, Apple's latest operating system.
The iPhone 3GS isn't the new kid on the Apple block anymore. But you still get a great phone for your money — which, in this case, is zero dollars and zero cents.
Buy it: AT&T
At times, it seems like there are two different kinds of people in the world: those who love Apple products, and those who revile them. If you're in the latter category, then you're definitely going to be in the market for an Android-powered smartphone. And while we're not sure why you'd want to get an Android phone on the restrictive AT&T network (you might be trapped by your contract, or maybe your dad is president of the company), if you're dead set on it, check out the LG Phoenix.
This smartphone isn't perfect — it does lack the ability to access the high-speed 4G LTE network. But you get plenty of phone otherwise. Its OS is upgradable to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), you get access to the ever-growing Android market, the phone's 3.2-megapixel camera shoots video, it's wifi-capable, and it's bluetooth-ready. You can even add on the option to tether the phone to your laptop or other devices for anywhere internet access. Not bad.
Buy it: Verizon
Most keyboards are virtual these days, and that's a shame, because there's something very satisfying about having to press real buttons. Verizon's Droid Pro features a prominent keypad on the front — a throwback to the era of phones when BlackBerry was king.
But the keyboard isn't all you get. Behind it hides a powerful — dated, but powerful — Android device that can be updated to run the Gingerbread OS. You get 3G mobile hotspot support, wifi, 2GB of internal memory plus 2GB of (expandable) preinstalled microSD memory, and all those great games and utilities in the Android Market. You even get a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, which is better hardware than you get with most free phones these days.
Buy it: Verizon
So you've sold yourself on the idea of a phone with a physical keyboard. But what if you don't want those bulky keys getting in the way, getting mashed in your purse and taking up valuable phone real estate? Split the difference with the LG Enlighten, a sexy smartphone with a hidden, slide-out keyboard.
The LG Enlighten gives you most of what you get with the Droid Pro: a 3G mobile hotspot, spoken turn-by-turn GPS navigation from Google, and Android Gingerbread OS right out of the box. Plus, you get a full 3.2" capacitive touchscreen — one area where bigger most certainly is better.
The main downside to this phone is the lack of internal memory. The Enlighten doesn't offer a huge amount of built-in storage (only 150MB), and that may be a deal breaker. But you can easily expand the storage by adding your own microSD card.
LG Rumor Touch
Buy it: Sprint
LG Rumor Touch
Are you or someone you love a text-aholic? If so, you're the exact kind of customer LG had in mind when it created the Rumor Touch, a 3" touchscreen smartphone.
Like the Enlighten, the LG Rumor Touch features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard with big enough buttons to type with quick precision. The Rumor Touch even runs its own messaging-friendly operating system. And, of course, any phone built around messaging has to have Facebook and Twitter built in. The camera is weak at only 2 megapixels, but the Rumor assumes you'll probably be too busy texting to take any pictures.
Oh, and best of all? The Rumor Touch also doubles as a phone. Can you believe such a thing?
Nokia Lumia 710
Buy it: Microsoft
Nokia Lumia 710
If there's one thing that the previously mentioned phones have in common, it's that they're all good, solid 3G phones. But let's be honest — 3G is yesterday's technology. Blazing-fast 4G wireless is where it's at. And T-Mobile's Nokia Lumia 710 gives you access to luscious 4G speed without having to pay a single penny up front.
The Lumia uses the less popular Windows Phone 7 operating system, but don't let the numbers fool you. Windows Phone 7 is a solid, seamless OS, especially for beginners to the smartphone game.
The phone's hardware is great. You get a sharp, 3.7", 800 x 480 LCD screen, a 5-megapixel camera, a powerful 1.4GHz processor, and all that wifi and GPS goodness you'd expect. And you probably tuned all of that out because you were too busy thinking about how cool it is that this free phone has 4G. Completely understandable.
Note: Before you order one of these free phones, be sure to double check the pricing and make sure it's free. Carrier pricing can change with the wind, and for no good reason.
More from Tecca:
- Your guide to mobile data plans
- Android vs. iPhone: What you need to know
- iPhone vs. Android vs. BlackBerry vs. Windows Phone 7