We love to let you know about deals on smartphones or tablets or smartwatches that can get you a device at a cheaper price than you’d normally pay. We also love it when the word “free” is attached to a potential promo, but those often include at least one pretty big asterisk you should be aware of. Since I’ve seen a couple of mentions of 3-year deals today, I thought it was worth reminding everyone that you need to be prepared for what’s to come if your carrier says they have something you might like for “free.”
About a year ago, we noted that we had entered the era of 3-year wireless contracts. At the time, Verizon had gone all-in on 3-year device payment plans, as had AT&T. The only carrier offering 2-year deals was T-Mobile and that is still the case today, even though we shouldn’t forget that they were the first to test the 3-year contract waters.
So the 3-year contract is what is offered to customers when they try and buy a new phone from carriers like Verizon or AT&T. Each will give you the option to buy a phone at full price or through a device payment plan. That device payment plan is the contract, as it spreads the cost of the phone out over 3 years to keep you paying for wireless service for 3 years or 36 months.
This option helps lower the monthly price for a top tier phone, making it more affordable to folks who don’t want to (or can’t) spend $1,000 up front. For many, it’s an option that makes sense if they have been with a carrier for a really long time and do not see themselves changing any time soon. It also opens up the opportunity for carriers to offer discounts if you don’t mind sticking around for a while.
Free iPhones, Samsung devices, and tablets are 3-year contracts
And that’s where today’s reminder comes in – 3 years can be a long time, so understand what’s happening. I noticed a couple of threads in the Verizon subreddit where one was asking for confirmation that a text message for a free iPhone 14 Pro was legit and if there were any catches. I also noticed another thread where someone was asking how they could get out of the 3-year tablet deal they signed, because they no longer liked the tablet.
If we start with the iPhone 14 Pro deal, it looks like a pretty straight-forward upgrade offer for someone likely coming off of another contract or who has an older phone. The deal says they have a “LAST CHANCE!” to trade in a qualifying device that’ll get them an iPhone 14 Pro 128GB at up to $1,000 off with bill credits applied over 36 months. This is just a 3-year contract where Verizon is giving them a discount on the phone if they trade-in their current phone while spreading that cost out.
The only issues here are that it locks you in for 3 years and that you aren’t likely to get the full $1,000 off unless you have a premium device to trade-in. You could still take a deal like this, get a sizable discount on an iPhone 14 Pro and then see monthly bill credits over 36 months while enjoying a new high-end phone at a discount. Just know that if you ended up leaving Verizon for some reason, you’d owe them a remaining unpaid balance on the phone.
As for the tablet deal, this is where we tell you to be very careful. This person says they bought a Galaxy S23 Ultra and added a Galaxy Tab S7 FE on as a bonus freebie. Of course, since this is Verizon, it wasn’t exactly free and instead required that they pay for monthly data access on the tablet for 36 months. They no longer like the tablet and want to get rid of it, but even if they do, they’ll still have to pay for the tablet’s line for that full 3 years or they could see charges for the tablet.
The example above is for a tablet, but you may be tempted with a similar deal for a connected smartwatch like a Pixel Watch or Apple Watch – you should move carefully on that if you are offered that. Buying a high-end phone and locking into it for 3 years is one thing because phones are so good these days and companies support them well enough that they should still be good in 3 years. Doing so with a smartwatch or tablet that can age in a hurry is another situation altogether. I’m not sure I’d tell anyone to take on a smartwatch under contract.
To recap – there are “free” deals to be had from your wireless carrier of choice. These deals are almost always attached to a multi-year contract that locks you into a service plan for 2-3 years. If it’s a high-end phone, it may not be a horrible play if you plan to stick around for a while. When it comes to tablets or smartwatches, I’d be careful. Most people don’t need a data connection at all times on their watch or tablet and you’ll end up paying for service on it that you may not really need.