Though the straight numbers say that the new prepaid iPhone offerings from Cricket Wireless and Sprint Virgin Mobile are the way to go, it got us wondering what kind of hidden costs come with the too-good-to-be-true cheap option. Call us pessimists, but when someone comes along and tells us we can free ourselves from the shackles of our phone plans, for which we pay too much one way or another, for a some magic cheap phone, we get skeptical. The whisperings say that these prepaid options might cost more upfront, but save money over time. Consumers could save up to $600, one analyst told The New York Times's Brian X. Chen. But, it doesn't really shake out quite like that.
The idea behind prepaid is that the phone costs a lot but the plan does not. On Cricket Wireless, customers will spend $500 for an iPhone 4S and then $55 per month for unlimited texting and data, though at about 3GB data will feel very slow. Virgin Mobile will charge $650 for the 4S and $40 per month for 1,200 minutes and unlimited data and texting. Neither has roll-over minutes. But all of this comes without signing your soul away into a full two year contract.
How does that compare with the other guys, though? Looking around the Internets, we found two different price comparison breakdowns, leading to different conclusions, leading us to believe the overall cheapness of prepaid phones is not yet fact. One, we get from Cult of Mac's John Brownlee, who said he went for realistic phone plans versus the very cheapest option. The other, we got from PC World, which went for the cheapest possible route. As you can see in our meta-chart below, no matter what, Virgin Mobile got ranked cheapest by both guys, but that's where the similarities end.