Owning a smartphone isn't cheap. The vast majority of smartphone users in the US are postpaid subscribers with one of the four major wireless providers: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint. To avoid paying full price for phones, which can range from $400 to $800, such customers sign an agreement – usually for a length of two years. In doing so, they can bag a $600 phone for $300 or much less with a two-year agreement. This is how things have worked for some time now.

But phones are rapidly becoming more advanced and more capable with every passing moment, and they're not getting any cheaper. Thus, in order to avoid going in the hole on every physical unit sold and to continue offering affordable subsidized devices to customers (and to fund the expansion of new and existing networks), carriers must raise prices on services and additional features. They also aim to ensure contracted customers stick to their agreements.

As owning a cell phone becomes increasingly expensive, though, wireless customers are beginning to look for means of saving a few pennies along the way. The only real way to do this as a postpaid customer is to cut back and limit what you use. In other words, saving money with a postpaid carrier means either dropping your data and calling plans to the bare minimum or avoiding the smartphone route altogether.

Smartphones, however, are important tools. A device which was once considered a novelty is now a staple in society and vital for day to day tasks, like emailing, staying in touch with friends and reading (or reporting) news. They're far too important and we've come to rely on them too much for most people to completely walk away from them in favor of some spare change.

As a result, prepaid carriers have been picking up the slack over the last few years. Providers like Boost Mobile, Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile have come forward with extremely competitively priced plans and phones. For example, Virgin Mobile offers a handful of Android smartphones (sans contract, of course) under $300 with unlimited data and text for $35, $45 or $55 per month. When you compare this to what you might pay with a postpaid provider, the savings are substantial.

That said, you can't currently have the best of both worlds. While you do get to save a nice chunk of change every month, you likely will not have access to the fastest speeds available, nor will you have a wide selection of devices. To be more specific, many of the prepaid smartphones are hand-me-downs from their parent providers. Or they're just cheap, low-end devices that straddle the line between feature phone and smartphone.

One of the nicest prepaid phones to date is the Motorola Triumph on Virgin. It's easily one of the most respectably priced and spec'd prepaid devices around. However, it doesn't hold a candle to most of the mid-range and high-end offerings from major postpaid carriers. I would much rather pay $500 or $600 for a high-end smartphone like the HTC Rezound on Virgin over buying a Triumph for $299.99.

Having a secondary (or backup) line on T-Mobile (postpaid) – while it could be worse – isn't exactly the cheapest option. So I've considered taking the plunge and paying for a prepaid line as my secondary. That $35 per month plan from Virgin Mobile is one seriously sweet deal. But I just cannot force myself to use any of the current prepaid devices available. I have been spoiled by high-end after high-end Android phone, and just cannot force myself to buy something like the Samsung Galaxy Prevail or Motorola Triumph.

Doesn't it make you wonder, though, if US prepaid providers will ever have smartphone offerings for us die-hards out there? Will prepaid providers ever get dibs on a high-end smartphone, like a Nexus from Google? (That is, after all, what Google's original plan was. Buy the phone then choose your carrier, like it is essentially everywhere else in the world.) Not everyone would be willing to fork out half a grand for a phone on a prepaid service. But with time, it could really catch on, especially if people start to realize just how much money they could save each month on cell phone bills. Over the length of a contract, the difference in the prices of bills would outweigh the initial cost of the device.

It's worth noting that T-Mobile does offer Monthly4G plans with relatively competitive pricing. And any capable T-Mobile phone is eligible. So this is certainly an option for anyone looking to go no-contract with a high-end smartphone. But being a postpaid and prepaid provider, they're sort of an exception to the rule. I'm more interested in other providers like Virgin, Straight Talk and Boost getting current, high-end devices in their lineup. Will it ever happen? Will it matter if it does?

Have you considered taking the prepaid plunge? Would you pay retail price for a high-end smartphone to use on a prepaid carrier? Would you pay an ETF and switch to prepaid if, say, Virgin Mobile got a phone comparable to the Galaxy Nexus or HTC Rezound?

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74 Reactions to this post

"Should prepaid users get the same phones postpaid users do?"

Please limit your reaction to 140 characters or use comments for a longer reply :)
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everlasting001 I think they should because they use the same phones.
Jesse Ling whether you pay over time with a contract or all up front at once with a prepaid you still pay full price
Shin Wolf no argue to this question! ITS A YES!
Jason King Yes !!! Its all the same serivce ....
Jason Allen Lucas @ didius, no its not
Jordan Mosley Whenever the phones come down in price!!! A phone costs 100-200 to make and they sell them for 500-800 dollars.
Chris Montana Yes as long as they get to wait for at least 2 years to upgrade
Gregory Gladney Yes i think so to they should have the same phones on prepaid i have a motorola triumph it works fine but prepaid carriers should get the same phones like postpaid carriers the only ones are going to complain are the ones that dont wont to pay full price of a high tech phone
Dominic Dejesus They should be able to get the same phones but they should have them made with lower equipment so they don't look or feel the same like what they did with the Sanyo indignities for Sprint and boost one is black thick glossy plastic the other is silver thin cheap plastic
JM Mora Yes.
Henry Lavender Ahem...UK :)
William Priest YES but they need to keep the level of service and usability on there network equal especially if I shell out full price for a device
Sylbert Joseph If a prepaid user wants a high end phone, they should have to pay full price for the device. Period. Truthfully, if you have 600+ to drop on a new phone, why are you going prepaid?
Alexander Dewitt YES!!! Virgin Mobile is closest, but nobody is there in its entirety.
Tom Edwards It's either you pay up front for the phone and pay cheaper on the service or pay cheaper on phone but coast over they two year plans for the phone
Sol Foster *Live in the city..
Sol Foster ghetto users!! REALLY! I'm on T-Mo, and I'm far from ghetto!! I love in the city and have no need to be FUK'D by Verizons' High Prices Azz! As for being ghetto, u must be cause u don't know the difference between frugal and stupidity! lol..
Zach Cline @ Roger - Yeah you are. Prepaid users are the minority. It depends on the carrier , But if you take verizon for example - Most customers either do two year contracts or pay full retail for what they want. I don't know anyone that goes prepaid with verizon. The cheap people you are referring to go to ghetto carriers like boost and virgin mobile and t- mobile.
Didius Gerard Tampusari @ Tonny Be. That probably one of the most ignorant shit I ever heard
Kris Sabo Would be nice but,ummmmmNO
Henry Montoya @Jason Metro PCS has awesome 3G now (well in my area anyways)
Didius Gerard Tampusari @Cory Wilson, flashing phones in illegal just so you know
Cody Suiters @Tonny Be : Prepaid users = technologically inept? Please, plenty of iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7 users have no idea what a cpu is or how to upgrade ram in a pc,or even how to use their phones features. Prepaid or not doesn't determine what you know. Some users just don't need a $50-$100 plan and can survive be just fine.
Tonio Johnson They probably will, but they can't get the phone subsidized like you can with a contract plan. Virgin mobile released a pretty good mid level android phone not to long ago so it could happen eventually.
Orlando Roger Grijalva You can use any phone on T-Mobile's line up on their pre-paid plans.
Jason Ramos @Zach - Why Lmao @ Boost Mobile? They use Sprint's 3G network and you'll get a hell of lot more coverage over something like Ghetto *cough* MetroPCS which is still on 1x in most areas and has extremely limited 4G
Tonny Be No. Plain & Simple. Prepaid should be basic, low end consumer models to keep the technologically inept off our networks & off of my sales floor.
Zach Cline Lmao @ Boost mobile.
J Litz Van How would I know?
Cory Wilson Just buy the Samsung galaxy s2 from sprint an flash it to boost mobile it works great
Andrew J. Hwang i haven't had a contract for 5 years and i'm through t-mobile. still always rockin the smart phones. samsung galaxy 4g :D
Brandon Smith i have a mytouch4g prepaid, i got the phone off craigslist for 100$
Marc Speziale Sure, but not at the same prices... And simple mobile is not a branch of tmobile. They are a company that resells tmobile bandwidth. They if anything have a business relationship, not a branch.
David McClellan Of course, just as long as they pay full price for the device.
Colin Kinnaird The prepay phones suck so ill take my Verizon month service for a kick ass droid
Hima Bichali Yes...They're still paying for service.
Nigel Chua Yes!!!!!
Aaron Couts They do it overseas, I've seen a lot of companies not even doing contracts.
Chris Patenaude Yes, I think that the prepaid customers should be able to get the same phones as postpaid, but they should have to pay the full price for the phone. I don't think that they should get deals on the same phones we would have to pay $399 or $499 for just to upgrade before the upgrade time frame...If they want the same phones then they should have to pay the $399 or $499 like everyone else...otherwise, why have a contract at all...There would be no advantage...Everyone would just go prepaid...
Darren Brown Canada Virgin mobile users can buy iPhones and Samsung galaxy S2 for their prepaid plan.
Ricky Amaro No! I pay way more on a contract!, so in a sense, I should have better for what I'm paying for!
Stephanie Rose Senrud Yes, they should. I use to have a prepaid plan and never had the chance to get as nice of a phone as I do with at&t(htc inspire)
Roger Schubert DeOliveira zach i work in the business, so no I'm not
Drew Smith Well, as a Verizon Wireless employee, you run into all kinds of people, with all unique situations.. I believe they should have the same phones, but perhaps different rate plans.. So everybody can get the "iPhone" droid razor. Ect.
Matthew Hessler you want the expensive phone? It costs a lot to make these high tech devices. Pay the off contract price. can't afford it? Too bad, that's life
Jack Hueppelsheuser Yes when people get tired of getting overcharged for post paid service, stop paying their bills, and get there phones shut off they will then go to prepaid and realize they could have the same for a lot cheaper.
Vic Espinoza I think if there were faster upgrades, people would go postpaid, some Ahole companies are changing upgrades to 20 months. F*ck that!
Christopher Manic Johnson Depends on how many ppl are willing to pay $500+ for their phone. Pricing is the main issue. I remember working at MetroPCS, and how we'd always get customers talking about the iPhone only being $200, but then quickly shutting up after I explained how much they really paid for the phone after their two year contract was up. $400 is the sweet spot, when they can get cutting edge devices down to that price point, we'll start seeing them for prepaid services.
Mark Fisher Jr. I dont think so. Everybody wants the high tech stuff.
Jersey Joe Da-Know YES!! OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!! They should just charge $100.00 more for every phone, & give us UNLIMITED EVERYTHING for $50-$70. (?$50.00= unlimited •CALLING & •TEXTING / ?$70.00= unlimited •CALLING •TEXTING & •DATA.) That would be FAIR "&" the companies would make MORE on the phones, while attracting MORE CUSTOMERS!!!
Aaron Jones Of course
Cesario Brito Jr. Sure why not. It will never happen though.
Aaron Couts Why not they are paying more for them, so why they should they not have the same phones.
Mathew Vasquez To commit doesn't mean they should get the perks
Agim Alion i'll say the majority of people who go prepaid, do it because they have to, for financial reasons usually. highend smartphones are expensive, do you see the problem?
Johnny Tooter Shackelford If I'm paying for it, then why would it matter if I get the same phone as a contract one?
Rayno Hernandez Hell no!! As is it is those cheap bastards can upgrade to new phones when ever they feel like it and we have to wait for our upgrade periods!!!
Zach Cline No. And roger you're dead wrong.
James Newman Why not?
Jacob Washburn Simplemobile is a branch of tmobile and uses their towers too, their plans are cheaper and everything, only catch is you need an unlocked phone which you have to buy and it costs a bit more but in the long run you're saving tons
James Hatfield they better
Mathew Vasquez Fuck no just cause they don't want ti
Elmer Antonio Yes they should. With the same options & features
Roger Schubert DeOliveira 90% of customers that walk in the door want no contract, cheap plan, and a free phone...but technically, carriers like t-mobile already offer the same phones for prepaid customers, but none wants to pay for it.

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