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How to Get a New Cell Phone While Still Under Contract

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On one hand, I can’t believe it’s been almost two years since the 2010 Summer Free Agency where I was contemplating several phones in an event that paralleled that of a certain famous basketball player. On the other hand, I can’t believe that I’m still under contract for my beloved Droid X. I haven’t even reached the early bird upgrade discount set for March 2012. In the meantime, I see many of my friends and families toting around new devices and more importantly blazing along at faster 4G LTE speeds. I couldn’t take it any longer, yet I didn’t want to break contract or (gasp!) pay full retail price on a new phone. Read on to find out how I upgraded my phone and how you can do the same, all without breaking your contract or your piggy bank.

So, the first thing I needed was a phone. I didn’t care whether it was new or used, but I didn’t want to pay a huge amount for the phone. Therefore, this excluded the certified pre-owned phones that Verizon offered; these devices were running near full retail price (over $400) when purchased without a contract. Having a fair amount of eBay experience, I turned to the online marketplace and found a huge inventory to choose from. I knew that I wanted an upgrade from my existing Droid X, and I wanted to try out the 4G LTE network that Verizon has been heavily advertising. I was also realistic in that I would have to settle for a phone that has been out for a while, and not expect to pay half price for a brand new model like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The Online Marketplace

Although not for the completely inexperienced, purchasing a used phone on eBay has become a lot more common and safe. I narrowed down my search to an HTC Thunderbolt, which as the first Verizon 4G flagship phone, received a great deal of hype and sold quite a few number of phones as a result. The device also came with some battery issues, though this proved to be the perfect combination of supply and demand that enabled me to pick one up for relatively cheap on the secondary market.

Before You Purchase
Some things to consider when purchasing a used phone include the condition, the ESN, and a SIM card. As mentioned above, I didn’t care that whether the phone would be in mint condition or not. In fact, you can often tell that a phone is going to be in pretty good shape when it is sold by a single user (as opposed to mass phone resellers) and the description mentions things like “screen protector” or “carrying case”. We gadget lovers tend to protect our devices with care. That’s not to say that the big sellers are to be avoided. I’ve found a good deal on a phone for my wife as a result of a mass seller having so many listings that they end up getting fewer bids.

Having a clean equipment serial number or “ESN” is another thing to consider and you’ll often see a seller’s description include something about having one. There are websites that offer free ESN checks, so if you’re a seller, it may help boost confidence among your buyers if you include this in your description. Lastly, when I tried to activate my new phone, I was told that I needed a new 4G SIM card. Although inconvenient, I was pleased to find that Verizon company stores (official ones, not just any mall stand or retail shop) offer a new SIM card for free, while the other stores may charge you a fee.

No Buyer’s Remorse Here
I could not be more pleased with the decision to upgrade my phone. The device provided me with an opportunity to experience the 4G LTE network without paying through the roof for a new phone. I get the experience of having a “new” phone with different and in most cases improved features, and I’m still on track for an upgrade in the spring and a new contract later in the year. If you’re tired or dissatisfied with your current device, or you’ve been intrigued by a more recent release, know that you do have options, and that a new and improved phone is never out of the realm of possibility.

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About David Chan

  • Patty

    I have a contract with T-Mobile up in Aug. But i am looking to buy a older 4G phone. Can I buy a phone from Walmart and take it to a T-Mobile store to download all my contacts? I have a really old Samsung t339 phone.

  • LOL – funny you mentioned, I did switch to a Galaxy Nexus shortly after and when I got bored, went ahead and explored the world of root. More on that to come!

  • Not important

    You should have kept the X… The thunderbolt is crap

  • john


  • I think eBay is solid, and I’m sure people activate new phones all the time. Just make sure the phone was intended for Verizon and/or is unlocked, and maybe go with a more established seller (look at the feedback) on eBay. 3G only phones should be very easy to come by and for a pretty good price. Speaking from experience, I’ve activated/switched phones on Verizon a few times now (HTC Thunderbolt, Galaxy Nexus) without a hitch and still have unlimited data. Good luck!

  • John

    I have a family of 5 phones with Verizon. We do not need 4 g anything. I’d like to keep the unlimited data and text plan I have. So to reply to your question. Go with nicer older 3 g phones and the older unlimited plan. How and where would you procure phones? what type of phones? and will Verizon have a “red haired baby” over activating a phone now that I’m no longer under contract but still have an account? Sorry just want the best deal and always know the provider will try and take advantage of every situation.

  • Hi John,
    Excellent question and one that deserves its own article.
    If you are eyeing a new phone that hasn’t been released yet, then I would say wait and/or go with a used phone. If you are interested in something that’s out right now, then go ahead and take advantage of the subsidized pricing. However, you bring up a third variable and that is the grandfathering of unlimited data. Depending on the company and sometimes the phone, purchasing a new phone on contract will remove the unlimited data from your plan. Many people are opting to go with non-subsidized phones as a result, but they are paying some pretty high prices ($500+) for their phones. In the end, it comes down to how much you can spend, how much data you truly use, and what type of phone you want right now.

  • john

    David, would you buy a used phone and not review your contract or by a new phone and extend your contract. The reason I’m asking is I still have a good monthly fee for unlimited everything and I know those plans have changed.

  • @Alex: Most of the times, this can be done simply over the phone or even online. Some things to consider would be whether the phone has been activated before on Verizon or if it’s “unlocked” and whether it has a good ESN number. Another thing to remember is to check to make sure you have a working SIM card as well. Good luck!

  • Alex

    I have a question. So if I purchase a used phone on ebay and take it into verizon (obviously it would need to be a verizon phone)and tell them to activate it, I can?

  • @Darcy: Mostly, it has to do with subsidizing and since the carrier has you locked in for two years, there’s no incentive to let you out early in order for you to get a new phone until you’re done with your contract.

  • Darcy

    Enjoyed this article and will take your advice on checking out Ebay. I am one year into my two year contract but my Droid 2 Global is driving me crazy. I was wondering if you knew WHY phones have to be so expensive if you are not “due for your upgrade”? I would be willing to add 2 years to my contract right now, if I could get a new phone for a reasonable price. In this day and age of everyone using cell phones, usually as their only phone, and with technology changing and new phones coming out all the time, I just don’t understand why new phones are so out of reach unless your contract is expiring. Verizon is always advertising new phones at special prices, but you can only afford it if at that exact time you happen to be up for your upgrade. Anyhow, this is very frustrating to me, thanks for listening to my vent, I would appreciate any insight you have!

  • @Hailey: Essentially, yes. However, I made sure that the phone was one that could be activated on Verizon. You can choose to purchase an unlocked phone, but this would be considerably pricier. Best of luck!

  • Hailey

    soall you did was buy a phone outside of verizon then asked for them to program it?