Are Black Friday smartphone deals worth it?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: November 22, 2012

Some of us are more frugal than others. Some know how to separate wants from needs and can come to grips with not always having the latest gadgets. They don't rush to the carrier store and walk out with a new, shiny phone the day their upgrade eligibility rolls around.

Those are they type of people who are constantly prowling sites for various deals and specials. Those are the ones who may make a pit stop at their carrier store come this Friday, Black Friday, often the busiest shopping day for brick and mortar shops (and possibly even online retailers) of the year.

And wireless providers aren't ones to duck out of the holiday shopping season. They embrace it to its fullest by slashing the prices of anything and everything they can afford to: old phones, popular phones, new accessories, tablets and anything else a wireless retailer might stock that needs to move quickly.

Are these holiday shopping kick-starter deals worth the trouble of trekking out and fighting the masses on Black Friday?

Our own Alex Wagner created a roundup of some of the best prices mobile shoppers will find this holiday season, and at first glance, many of the deals appear to be spectacular. For example, Sam's Club will be offering the Samsung Galaxy S III for $0.96 with a two-year agreement. The Nokia Lumia 900 is only $0.99 with a two-year agreement through AT&T. Best Buy Mobile is offering the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX and DROID Incredible 4G LTE for free with a contract with Verizon.

Rest assured, though, there is always fine print when dealing with smartphones and carrier agreements. And those tiny details can sometimes become skewed, convoluted or missed entirely come holiday shopping season. (I've been there. I worked in wireless retail during a busy holiday rush, and it's hard to cover everything with every customer when you have 20 or more waiting in line to be helped.)

Take the Lumia 900, for example. It may be $0.99 with a two-year agreement. But the new model is already out, the Nokia Lumia 920, and AT&T is offering it for $49.99 in-store with the same term this on Cyber Monday. Few working at AT&T this Friday will mention that deal, I presume.

The DROID RAZR MAXX is an old model, too, even if it's free with a contract. The new model, the DROID RAZR MAXX HD, can be had for $149.99 with a two-year term through AmazonWireless. Sprint is selling the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for a whopping $0. But you'll have to slap down $50, only to get it back in a mail-in rebate. The same phone through Sprint can be had for $19.99 from AmazonWireless sans rebate. AT&T has the HTC One X marked for $0.99 on Cyber Monday, yet the HTC One X+ is just around the corner and will likely hit at or below the $100 price mark considering the timing and aging state of its predecessor.

Still holding on to an old unlimited data plan with Verizon? If you plan to use your upgrade to get a great deal, you can kiss unlimited data goodbye. A free phone might cost you your unlimited data, which could force you to spend more every month.

The brunt of the phones on sale for Black Friday are older devices which carriers are trying to move quickly. You may be okay with paying nothing for an older, mid-range or low-end device. But even a older, high-end smartphone with a severely slashed price tag may not be worth the savings if the device shows its age (read: poor performance, aging specifications or device limitations) straight out of the box, especially considering the sales will continue as the holiday shopping season goes on.

Before you sign off on any "deals", check with third-party retailers such as Best Buy Mobile, RadioShack, Wirefly, AmazonWireless or even Sam's Club. If your carrier has a deal on the smartphone you want, chances are another outlet will, too. And since those devices are twice-subsidized, you may find better deals elsewhere. It can't hurt to take five minutes and check before leaving the house.

Through some third-parties, however, tere is a catch. Through outlets like AmazonWireless or Wirefly, you will have to keep the phone you purchase activated for six months, else you will face a (steep) breach of contract fee. If you don't plan on swapping phones around, this is a non-issue – just a reason to be cautious and conscious of the secondary agreements you may unknowingly sign.

If you're not sure whether you're getting a great deal or not, there are a few key questions you should consider asking the rep if you plan on phone shopping this Black Friday (or any other day, for that matter):

  • When was this device first released?
  • Is there a newer version available? If so, how much is it?
  • Is there a newer or better phone in the same price range?

All in all, there are actually some decent deals from some carriers. Sprint, for instance, is offering the Samsung Galaxy S III for $49.99 on-contract. AT&T is selling the newly launched Lumia 920 for $49.99, too. And T-Mobile is slashing $100 of the Samsung Galaxy Note II pricing, letting it go for $199 with a two-year agreement.

Are there any Black Friday deals you can't pass up, ladies and gents? Or do you plan on waiting out this holiday shopping season to see if better deals surface?

Image via IntoMobile