Tuesday 24 August 2010

Tight Fist Tip #43: A Cheap iPhone in 3 Easy Steps

I Just Can't Get Enough Of This 'Tastes Like Fried Chicken' App

Man, it just seems like everyone who is anyone is carrying around a shiny new iPhone these days. All of us luddite dumb-phone owners can't shake the feeling of inferiority whenever all our friends are cooing over the latest Instant Orgasm app. In moments of weakness, we may even consider joining the club. While official Tight Fist advice still maintains that you should always buy the cheapest phone possible, if you are going to purchase a shiny smart phone, at least do it the right way. Here is the Tight Fist approved strategy for owning an iPhone (or other smartphone of your choice.)

1. Buy A Used iPhone: Did you catch a glimpse of the hordes of Apple zombies who waited in line for the new iPhone 4? Anyone want to fancy a guess at the percentage of those people who were buying their first iPhone? I haven't done any primary research, but I'm pretty sure then number is somewhere near zero. All these Apple maniacs probably lined up for the first iPhone, the 2G, the 3G, etc. Any what the heck are they going to do with these old iPhones? That's right, they sell them to people like me. The iPhone 3G was pretty damn nifty when it came out, and guess what: it still is. But now it's hundreds of dollars cheaper. Just ask around on eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, etc. Easy peasy.
New Boyfriend?
There's An App For That

2. Unlock the iPhone: Having a cheap iPhone is just one piece of the puzzle, since most of the costs come from those crazy multi-year data-required contracts. Therefore, you need to untether yourself from whatever phone company Apple has decided should hold the monopoly in your area. Unlocking an iPhone is pretty straightforward, and since you just bought a used phone you don't have to worry about invalidating your warranty. There are tons of tools to do this- you can look around on Google, and with a bit of perseverance you should be able to get it done. If you're not the technical minded type you can pay someone to do it for you, but make sure not to get ripped off. I'd recommend heading to a shady cell phone store in Chinatown (or some similar place) and haggling like crazy. Remember, with their software it will take them about 7 seconds to unlock the phone, so you should pay accordingly. If you don't live in a place with immigrant neighborhoods where you can find shady cell phone stores, save this step for your next trip to the big city. Or just move.

3. Buy a Cheap Pay-As-You-Go (Prepaid) SIM: Once your shiny phone is unlocked, you can now shop around for a cheap prepaid phone plan. Since you already have a phone, you just need to buy a SIM card for any GSM carrier and pop it into the iPhone. Here in the US I grabbed one from H20 Wireless that charges 6 cents a minute for calls and 2 cents per text. (I've even heard that you can use H20 Wireless without unlocking your iPhone since it runs on the AT&T network.) But you'll have to shop around depending on your country of residence. The best part is that now if you travel you can always just pop in a cheap SIM from whatever country you're in and your iPhone will be good to go without crazy roaming charges.

The astute among you may have noticed that this scheme does not allow you to use your iPhone to surf the internet over the cell network. That is because it is just not worth a billion dollars a month just to check what's number one on Reddit or prove to your drunk buddies that the dude on Cougar Town tonight really was Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. You can definitely settle that important argument via email at a later date. However, for the internet addicted, you can still use the above strategy and then just use the cheapest data plan you can find. (Pretty good comparison of US data plans here.)

In fact, I'm convinced there must be a way to justify getting a data plan if you can figure out some non-Apple-approved way to make all your calls over VOIP. And also you could use the iPhone as an internet connection for your laptop when on the move. When I get all that figured out, you will all be the first to know.


  1. Most places (work, coffee shops, private residences, libraries, midwestern soy bean fields, etc.) have wifi. When you buy a data plan, you're really just paying for the ability to use the internet in a car, and a few other places where people don't spend too much time anyway.

    On the other hand, I hardly get in arguments at bars anymore. Everyone is slowly coming to the realization that everything can be answered by the internet. We mostly just make puns now.

  2. Having 3/4g access on a phone is still incredibly convenient, which is something to quickly discount. While maybe not a proper tight fist motto, convenience can be worth paying for. Logging onto protected Wifi networks with different logins, types of protection, etc is probably more cumbersome than using dial-up (and you don't get the random phone line noises) at least when you are wandering around the city.

    That being said...I do not have a data plan.

  3. Being the Apple Zombie that sold The Tightfist his phone, I feel the need to elaborate on the "pretty straightforward" claim of unlocking the phone. It took him three days, and several unpleasant viruses (resulting in the canceling of at least one debit card) before managing to fully free the iPhone. Just saying it takes some effort . . . though I've got nothing against China-town plan (or $30 at a mall kiosk near chicago).

    I also thoroughly appreciate my data plan for airports, trains, buses, driving (map function), and hotels that charge ludicrous sums for wifi. But then again I'm more away from home/work than most

  4. That's why I said 'pretty straightforward', as opposed to easy or trivial. But ok, it was a bit of a bitch.

  5. You never said how much you pay with all these shenanigans said and done...??

  6. LOL @ "a bit of a bitch" - that sounds terrible!

    PS I'm glad I still don't own a cell phone - that is truly the cheapest one you can buy.