It's nice that you don't have to choose between cheap and good-looking anymore

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: May 25, 2013

Something I’ve been noticing over the past couple of years, and something I once thought would never come to fruition, is that prepaid carriers are finally starting to pick up the pace when it comes to cheap plans and newer smartphone availability.

Prepaid carriers and plans previously carried a stigma with it that basically meant you could cut a decent enough deal on your plan each month, but your phone is about as attractive as a cinder block. You could never get an iPhone on a prepaid carrier, and for a long time Androids were out of the question as well. However, as time went on lower-end Androids started appearing across these carriers and it was the start of a beautiful, budding relationship between prepaid carriers and having a decent selection of smartphones.

Setbacks for prepaid carriers didn't stop at the fact that you were sacrificing features and a good-looking device in order to save a few bucks every month, but often times you also had to pay full-price for a device that was often depicted as being “free” or sold at a significantly lower price on postpaid carriers. And yes, sometimes it does put a damper on the entire experience knowing that you're putting $100-$300 more down on a device that you could easily get cheaper somewhere else simply because you’re willing to bind yourself to a two-year contract; you won’t really see any real savings by going to a prepaid carrier for several months, but none-the-less you will eventually be saving yourself from a lot of potential grief down the road.  

I bring this topic up because it was recently announced that both Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile will be carrying the Galaxy S III in June, and although we don’t have exact details on the pricing just yet I’m going to assume that just like every other phone that Virgin and Boost carries you'll still be getting a decent discount on the device compared to how much you would have to shell out full price from a postpaid carrier. For example, the iPhone 4S (16GB) on Virgin Mobile is on sale for $382.49, while if you wanted the exact same device brand new from Sprint you would be paying $549.99. What is up with that?

Not only can you get these phones for a significantly cheaper price from prepaid carriers, but newer smartphones seem to be catching up with prepaid carriers really quickly as of late. In 2012 the Galaxy S III was released at the end of May for several postpaid carriers. Boost Mobile began offering the previous model, the Galaxy S II, the following September; that's a four month difference between the time the new model being released and the old model being available to a prepaid carrier. Moving forward to 2013, the Galaxy S 4 was released in April and the Galaxy S III is reported to hit Virgin and Boost’s shelves by the end of June. That's a two month time frame between the releases. If this trend continues, by next year we should see the Galaxy S 5(?) release for postpaid carriers and the Galaxy S 4 released for prepaid carriers at the same time.

Even the almighty and once very exclusive iPhone is getting in on the action by allowing carriers like Straight Talk and Cricket Wireless, among other prepaid carriers, to sell their next generation iPhones just months (or even weeks) after the phone arrives on postpaid carrier shelves.

As a somewhat frugal spender who enjoys shiny things I appreciate this movement from the mobile industry. It shouldn’t have to be a choice of getting a cheap phone or a pretty phone, or even sacrificing your freedom to change carriers in the name of one or the other. Even if prepaid carriers are always left in the shadows of last year's models, it has still progressed quite a long way and it’s nice to see that phones as remarkable as the iPhone or the Galaxy S III are available to people who might not have necessarily wanted to sign a two-year contract in order to have one.

But what are your thoughts, readers? Do you think that prepaid carriers are taking a step in the right direction for the better? Have you ever or would you ever consider moving to a prepaid carrier if they started offering newer models sooner? Share your opinions with me in the comments!

Images via Apple, Virgin Mobile