… I am about to purchase a new phone and I am thinking out loud more than anything in this post. A caveat before reading, a cursory look at the current offerings for pre-paid shows a dire need for them to update their phones…
Samsung Galaxy S 2 : You can find this phone on most no contract carriers. For instance the Virgin Mobile version is going for $330 base price, while Straight Talk seems to be offering it around $300, though the prices from various online stores is all over the place. One thing to note is the VM phone has Android 4.0 while the Straight Talk device is Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which , for me at least, makes the VM phone more of a deal.
MetroPCS goes one step further and offers the Samsung Galaxy S3 for $450, which would be the phone I would recommend for anyone who would want more recent technology than most No Contract Carriers are ready to offer. That said, $450 is quite a lot of money, and perhaps this is why it is difficult to find this sort of phone with their competitors, however expect this phone offered more and more now that the S4 is out. I was somewhat interested in purchasing this phone myself, however MetroPCS is very aptly named: Their service only works in a few large population centers, so check coverage before buying. T-Mobile has purchased MetroPCS and closed the deal three days ago, so perhaps an OTA update will link their offerings to the wider T-Mobile network. Time will tell.
Before I go on, I want to give my readers a few pointers in determining whether a smartphone is worth purchasing. One is the processor… Dual core is the minimum you need to run high end games or to do anything serious on your phone. Secondly, the screen size, diagonally 4.3 should be an absolute minimum, unless you have small hands… There is no point doing a lot of texting on a screen keyboard 4.1 inches or less, it can be done but it becomes exhausting as your typing always has to be corrected. The S2 has a 4.5 inch screen, which I believe is perhaps a more reasonable minimum than the 4.3 inches I mentioned earlier. Not to say you cannot type on smaller screens, but I don’t recommend it.
In my opinion the coverage of a carrier is the most important consideration, followed by the specs of the phones themselves. There are only 2 resold networks to my knowledge: Verizon and Sprint. Virgin Mobile for instance uses the Sprint Network, verses Straight Talk, which uses the Verizon Network. I will do some more research after this post but I am operating under the assumption this is still valid today. After choosing a provider dependent on coverage, things get murky, ergo this post.
Pre-paid, no contract carriers on the Verizon network all seem to offer older or cheaper phones than those on the Sprint network, while Sprint resellers seem to focus on the 4G WiMax service. I want to qualify this by coming right out and stating the obvious: I am a VM customer. This is a calculated situation, due to their network covering my whole town and a decent but admittedly limited offering of higher end cellphones. Higher, not highest, which they compensate for by putting newer versions of Android on the phones they offer. However these offerings are becoming dated, so I am assuming there will be a refresh before summer.
Looking at everything I have seen, I would say wait for the next slew of phones to come out on VM if I purchase there again. I love my Evo 3D, but I had to put an extended battery in it in order to avoid charging 2 times a day. The S2 is a decent phone but at $300 is too dated at that price. Other prepaid offers I’m considering have Android 2.3 phones.
The one bright point is T-Mobile is positioning itself as a prepaid carrier, and I have a suspicion my next phone will be a T-Mobile phone since I can get a very nice phone on prepaid though at a high cost initial investment. Again, time will tell… Not a good time to buy in general in this space.