1. T-Mobile is getting the iPhone
Starting April 12, well over half a decade since the first iPhone launched, T-Mobile is finally joining AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, and will begin selling the iPhone 5 (which will be compatible with the service's new LTE network). A few "select markets" — we're not sure where — will also get the cheaper iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4, too. How much will a new iPhone 5 cost you, exactly? Well…
2. T-Mobile is scrapping two-year contracts
Big news: T-Mobile is eliminating two-year contracts and is rebranding itself is the "Uncarrier." Instead, users can either (1) Pay the expensive, unsubsidized price of a new phone upfront and pay a lower monthly rate, or (2) Pay extra monthly equipment fees as part of a 24-month installment plan in addition to the lower monthly rate (more on that in a bit). Both plans come with unlimited talk and text.
Smartphones are expensive little computers. American carriers like AT&T and Verizon will help you front the cost by offering subsidized versions, which you pay back every month with added costs to your bill.
But T-Mobile's new plan is different. An unsubsidized 16GB Samsung Galaxy S3 through T-Mobile, for example, will cost you $550 upfront. The catch is that you'll pay less for your monthly data plan, which you can leave anytime with no penalties: $50/month for 500MB of 3G/4G data (if you hit your cap speeds crawl to 2G), 2GB of high-speed data is $60/month, or you can pay $70/month for glorious, unlimited 4G data.
On AT&T or Verizon, you can expect to pay an average of $20/month extra for similar plans, and neither offer unlimited data. At the end of two years on T-Mobile, you would theoretically end up saving yourself a few hundred extra dollars, not to mention you can switch to another phone — HTC One? Galaxy S4? BlackBerry Z10? T-Mobile has or will have 'em — basically whenever you want.
3. You don't have to pay the full unsubsidized cost upfront
Say you can't afford the expensive upfront cost of a new phone. That's understandable. Rather than lose potential customers, T-Mobile is giving folks the option to pay off a device with a two-year installment plan. For example, if you select the 500MB $50/month data plan for the iPhone 5, you'll pay a $99 down payment for the phone itself PLUS an extra $20/month as part of an equipment installment plan. In other words, your monthly bill will be: ($50 for data)+($20 equipment fee)=$70/month.
At face value this looks a lot like a traditional two-year contract, but remember: At the end of two years, the phone is yours and you'll only have the monthly rate to contend with.