Buying iPhone: Apple vs. AT&T

I’m not on AT&T, but Verizon instead (as I mentioned earlier.) I did buy my iPhone X from Verizon in 2018(I think?), but otherwise I always buy from Apple, and the last couple of purchases I have shipped to the store rather than to my home. The main reason is because of the anecdotal reports that many people have their devices stolen in-transit, receiving an empty box or even a stone inside the box rather than a phone (though I do imagine it’s really rare, why take a chance?). So it’s an annoying ~25 minute drive for me (though I can often combine the trip with other errands), but I’m rather sure that I am getting a phone in a box, rather than an empty box, and I can open and check the phone before I leave the store.

Again, this depends greatly on your carrier. I’ve never had a high-pressure sale from Verizon. Back when they were doing multi-year contracts, I had a simple decision - pay full price up front for no obligation, or pay a massively-discounted prices in exchange for a two year obligation. There was never any pressure - just pick an option and go for it.

Today, Verizon doesn’t do multi-year contacts. You always pay full price (with or without financing), and you can cancel at any time, owing only the unpaid balance if you financed the phone.

But other carriers behave differently. It’s important to know your carrier’s policy before you make a purchase decision. And it’s a good idea to research policies like these before switching carriers - you may end up taking on aggravation in exchange for a low monthly fee, and only you can decide if it’s worth it.

Again, this depends on your carrier. I’ve never had a problem going to a Verizon corporate store (not a third-party VZW reseller) for in-person assistance. And I can choose to have my phone delivered to their store for their staff to help with the setup, should I choose to. (Many years ago, I could just buy it and walk out with the phone on the same day, but these days, you can only get the el-cheapo Android phones that way - all the good models require ordering them.)

But your carrier may be completely different. And if you’re not using one of the big-three (and therefore most expensive), you probably won’t have a corporate store to visit, which can definitely be problematic if you have a problem that needs to be fixed immediately. (I had a SIM card failure a year or two ago, and the corporate store was able to activate a new one in a few minutes. I’d hate to have to wait for one to be delivered in the mail).

FWIW, I’ve had mine shipped from Verizon. They send it FedEx, with a mandatory signature (so someone has to be home to accept delivery), but there was no problem.

The interesting thing is that the box was sealed and shrink-wrapped, but the phone had a Verizon SIM card pre-installed. So either VZW is re-wrapping phones, or they have a deal with Apple to package up phones with VZW SIMs pre-installed.

Of course, with eSIM, the procedure will be different. I’ll find out the details the next time I upgrade my phone, whenever that ends up being.

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Weird. Apple doesn’t shrink-wrap their products anymore, for the last three plus years (since the 13 series was introduced.) So that must indeed be Verizon if your phone is that new.

You keep making the case for buying from a carrier, but have not stated why you would not buy your Apple product from Apple directly! It’s simpler, much less hassle (if any) to deal with the company who makes the device. There is just no downside to this.

Having a third party, like a carrier, show you the setup on the phone makes no sense to me as they may not be as knowledgeable as people trained directly by Apple.

Many people also don’t know that Apple carries replacement SIM cards - for all carriers. So if yours fails for any reason, you can walk into an Apple Store and get a replacement SIM card on the spot. No waiting for one to be delivered in the mail. And there is no cost for this.

The Apple Store stocks phones with SIMs pre-installed. They also stock unlocked phones with no SIM installed; the choice is yours. All boxes are pre-shrink wrapped before delivery to the stores.

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Interesting. Are you sure about this? Because my 13 Pro failed two years ago and needed to be sent for repair and Apple offered my a Xr as a loaner but my phone had an eSIM and Apple told me (this was in a store) that I needed to visit Verizon to get a physical SIM (the Xr doesn’t support eSIM.) I didn’t take the loaner because I already had a spare X, but even then, Apple didn’t offer a SIM.

Unless their policies have changed since I retired in 2019, yes, Apple Stores have SIM cards for all carriers and they are free of charge if you demonstrate a need for one. As a long time Apple employee, we had to count the inventory of these cards on a regular basis just like all other stocked items.

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One problem with the Apple Store would be location. In my case, it would take at least 30 minutes vs 5 minutes as I have an ATT store nearby. I’ve purchased phones both ways. The ATT store reps were knowledgeable and took the time to explain the phone features and the various plans at the time. Mail order is another option as long as you’re home to receive the phone but I still like to go to a physical store to look at the products anyway.

I don’t have any particular problem with buying from Apple, but I usually get better deals from Verizon. I frequently get very attractive trade-in offers, especially if the old phone is only 2-3 years old. And there are often special deals associated with changing your service plan.

Most recently (when I got my 13, several years ago), I got a $500 discount (pro-rated over 24 months) for switching from a metered data plan to an unlimited plan. That deal was not available from Apple.

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It’s the opposite for me and my husband. We drive 45 minutes, an hour or so to get to an Apple Store in the “Miracle Mile” from the Billy Joel song. There are closer Stores, but they have HORRIBLE PARKING , LONGER WAITS to get in, and ANNOYING STAFFS.

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I have done both.

When I had an iPhone 6 I bought from Apple, I decided to flirt with T-Mobile for a time. It was relatively easy, even though AT&T had slapped a carrier lock on my phone. It was also relatively easy to switch back to AT&T when my experience with T-Mobile revealed large gaps in their coverage outside certain largely urban areas.

My iPhone 7 came through AT&T. The contract was easy-ish to enter, but I always felt obligated to them.

My current iPhone 11 came through Apple. I used the 12-month no interest installment plan they offer through Apple Card. Really, I can’t say enough good things about the experience. Everything about Apple Card is structured to assist you with your best intentions about money. The installments get posted at the beginning of the month, and it is simple to set things up so that they automatically get paid at the end of the month.

I’ve gone that route several times since, including with two iPads, an Apple Watch SE, a MacBook Air, and the Watch Series 9 that just arrived yesterday.

Rather than getting tangled in AT&T’s thicket of legacy contract requirements, to me, this is the way to go. It simplified our wireless bill, and I have no upselling from them to confuse things during a contract.

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I bought my first iPhone from AT&T but have only bought direct from Apple after that. Of course I can use Apple’s military discount so that is an incentive.

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I am waiting for Consumer Reports to do an objective analysis on cell service explaining the difference between items like G5 and all the other delivery technology available and a price comarison.
David

Unfortuntely, the tech is utterly confused by aggressive marketing departments.

5G is a grab-bag of 5th-generation standards managed by the 3GPP organization. This includes a ton of features, all technical, and most of which are only meaningful to companies manufacturing wireless equipment (handsets, base stations, cell towers and the massive cloud infrastructure needed to drive it all).

For consumers, the only meaningful 5G standard is the “5G New Radio” (NR) standard. This is an update to the 4G-LTE standard, defining a bunch of new and advanced capabilities.

While most people (thanks to marketing departments) think 5G is always going to be faster (more bandwidth, less latency, etc.) than 4G-LTE, it’s not always the case. As with all wireless standards, the amount of data you can push through a radio signal depends on the bandwidth of the radio channel, the number of channels you can use simultaneously, how many other users are sharing the channel, the bandwidth of the wired backhaul network, and of course all the usual Internet bandwidth/congestion issues that affect non-mobile devices as well.

Many service providers promote the use of so-called millimeter-wave bands (5G’s FR2 bands, commonly marketed as “UltraWideband”, “Ultra Capacity” or other similar terms), because these bands have very high-bandwidth channels. The downside is that these frequencies don’t pass through structures very easily, so you can generally only use them if you’re outdoors or near a window. But when they work, they’re great.

Because of the limitations of the FR2 bands, 5G-NR is also deployed in the more traditional frequency bands (FR1), which are the same bands used by all prior wireless telephony standards. The amount of data you can pass through these is very much dependent on the specific band and the channel sizes provisioned by the carrier. Although 5G-NR does provide a bit more bandwidth than 4G-LTE on the same band/channel, it’s not an Earth-shattering difference.

And this is where you get a lot of consumer disappointment. There are only so many radio bands to go around, and governments typically auction them to wireless service providers, so a band used by one company can’t be used by others. And there isn’t much (if any) unused bands in populated parts of the world. Which is one (among several) reasons why service providers disable old technologies - if a company turns off its 1G, 2G and 3G service, it can reuse those bands for 5G. Which the companies are doing.

Well, one interesting side effect of this is T-Mobile. They lost the auctions for many of the most lucrative 5G bands. Rather than greatly limiting their use of 5G technologies, they decided to repurpose their massive 600 MHz network, which they acquired from Sprint (and was originally used to power Nextel’s push-to-talk service), for 5G. This is what they market today as “5G Extended Range”. It gives you coverage over very long distances, due to the physics of the 600 MHz band, but it doesn’t provide a whole lot of data bandwidth, because the channels in that band tend to be fairly narrow - originally provisioned for 2G technologies.

Which can produce the amusing effect of a phone that is faster when connected to a “4G” tower than to a “5G” tower, if that 4G tower is using bands with wide channels and the 5G tower is using bands with narrow channels. Completely confusing customers who have been told by marketing departments that 5G is always faster than 4G.

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If you ever decided to change carriers it could cause so issues. I use to have ATT and got really tired of paying ridiculous monthly fees. I switched to Spectrum and during the switch had to pay a very unpleasant fee because of the iPhone I purchased through them. Just be aware.

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It could be worse. The closest Apple Store to me is five hours away ;)

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My parents just told me an interesting story about a friend of theirs who bought used iPhones on eBay. (Which I think is a terrible idea.) He knew they were locked to AT&T but didn’t care because he liked using AT&T anyway, but what he didn’t bargain on was that they had been bought on contract and sold before the contract was paid off. AT&T figured this out and told him that they were going to shut off his service unless he paid off the contract, which he didn’t want to do because it wasn’t his contract.

He ended up taking the phones to the Apple Store and trading them in—Apple was happy to do this once they determined they weren’t on the Stolen Phone Registry.

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Many, many users don’t realize that the internals of iPhone (or any other PCS phone) are instantly and easily identifiable to a carrier. Those long strings of digits that are printed on the box and that can be found deep in the “About…” information are transmitted to every tower pinged by the phone as part of a digital handshake.

Apple makes those numbers seem negligible because of their on-boarding process. My first iPhone (a 3g) came from an Apple Store and was activated by my telling them my current cell number and their dealing with the IMEI stuff and AT&T. I’ve never had to type those numbers in or even really look at them.

Buying a used cellphone and hoping you’ll just be able to use it is futile. It’s all tracked.

(This comment is not about folks engaging in dark arts-style alterations on the phone, just the average naive seller/buyer swap market transaction.)

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Buying through Apple.com would be the way to go then.