Billshrink: iPhone 4 Is Best Value Among Latest Smartphones, If You Watch Data Usage

BillShrink compared the new iPhone 4 to the Droid Incredible, the Evo 4G, and the Nexus One to see which one is the cheapest in total cost of ownership, and the results were somewhat surprising given the iPhone’s reputation as a money gobbler. If you opt for the cheapest data plan AT&T offers, the TCO for the iPhone 4 is the only one of the four devices that comes in under the $2,000 mark. But beware! That “cheapest data plan” conditional is a pretty tricky one.

The problem, which BillShrink and others have noted, is that pretty much everyone expects data usage on the whole to go up in the near future. After all, it’s not like there are going to be fewer cloud-based services or apps to stream media to and from your phone. In other words, you’re going to have to bet on low-level data usage for the next 24 months, and monitor your consumption carefully (via AT&T’s online account page or the free app for your iPhone) to make sure you don’t go over the limit.

The four phones in this comparison all differ significantly in features and in plan details, so it’s not a perfect apples to apples comparison. Check out the BillShrink post following their chart for more info on what each one can offer you.


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“iPhone 4 vs EVO 4G: Total Cost of Ownership” [BillShrink]

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  1. richrecruiter says:

    Wow, $1,000 a year? No thanks, I’ll keep my dumbphone

    • 3rdUserName says:

      Me too, I have a Blackberry that I turned into dumbphone by turning off the data network.. The extra cost per month just wasn’t worth it.. I love the phone though, even if I’m not using it to it’s fullest capabilities..

      • jefeloco says:

        You’re lucky that you turned it off then before cell providers made it mandatory; that’s the problem with a lot of the newer “smart” phones, they require data to function.

        And no, I don’t think it is a hardware requirement for the required data.

    • Thyme for an edit button says:

      Yeah, me too. Damn.

    • Putts says:

      Keep in mind two things:

      1. You’re still spending money on a cell phone plan, so it’s not like it’s $1000/year MORE than you’re already paying.

      2. They assume unlimited texting plans here, which Android users can easily ditch in favor of Google Voice.

      • Thyme for an edit button says:

        It’s $600 more a year than I am spending… that’s a good chunk of change.

  2. esone1ll says:

    It’s only the cheapest is you watch data usage AND send zero texts over 2 years. Zero SMS Messages. None.

    • wingnut says:

      Yeah, even if you use Google Voice’s web app on the iPhone that is still data being transmitted going to the page, etc.

      When I did billing analysis in wireless years ago I’d run into situations like this. 8 years ago I would say that a savings of several hundred dollars is worth it over two years. With more data intensive apps making their rounds in the markets lately, it turns more into a gray area. Proceed with caution:

      Data usage is only going to continue to go up.

    • DanRydell says:

      I assume when you said “zero texts over 2 years. Zero SMS Messages. None,” you ACTUALLY meant “as many texts as you want” because the chart clearly indicates that their “minimum” plan includes unlimited messaging (which means it isn’t actually the minimum cost, but I guess they wanted to make the numbers look bigger?

      Again, that’s unlimited. As many as you want. The opposite of “none.”

      • coym says:

        No he is right. You aren’t reading the chart correctly, The iPhone with unlimited Plan is $2,959 not the cheapest. The iPhone on the minimum plan (which means no text messaging, and the lowest amount of minutes) is the lowest. So he was correct. They are only cheapest with NO TEXTING. None. The opposite of unlimited.

        • ibuprofane says:

          How they’re defining “minimum” is still including unlimited messaging, which I believe is $20/mo. 450min is $40 and 200MB of data of $15, so that adds up to the $75. If don’t text or text minimally (like me) you can save another $20/mo.

          • jessjj347 says:

            Yeah, I was just going to say that. All you have to do is download an app that will let you send SMS over a free number or email address and get the lowest texting plan ($5) in case anyone still texts your actually cell number. Then the cheapest plan is $60 / month.

        • domcolosi says:

          read the actual chart, genius.

        • Chmeeee says:

          Wow, even after he said that the chart clearly indicates unlimited messaging (which it does), you insist on not reading it and claiming he’s wrong? Impressive!

        • Chris says:

          Yes, ibuprofane is right.
          $40 for 450 voice, $20 for unlimited texts, MMS, etc and $15 for data = $75/month.
          $75 x 24 months + $199 for the phone = $1999.

          Most people (over the age of 15?) can probably get away with 200 texts but the 2GB data is more likely: $40 for voice, $5 for 200 texts and $25 for data: $70/month x 24 months + $199 phone = $1879

          Or you can have a nice company that pays for your cell phone usage – I’m at about $400 over two years,

    • ibuprofane says:

      That price was based on unlimited SMS.

  3. ktetch says:

    Soo…. The Evo4G seems to be the best. The only place the iphone beats it is with minimum data plan, where you save $10/month, and for that $10 you lose flexable storage, a better camera, and 4G (where available) plus you can use flash, and the apps store isn’t run by a group of people that want to dictate what you can use. hmmm… That $10 is really good value. And I bet the network isn’t in such a sorry state either.

    • nbs2 says:

      Huh? Looking at the chart, I’d say that the N1 is the best deal of the lot. Granted the hardware is older, but on the compared specs, you save $120 on the phone (ignore the rebate) and get an extra 50 minutes.

      I’d say that the Evo is a better option because of the rebate and the newer hardware, but rebates are always gravy.

    • bluecoyote says:

      “And I bet the network isn’t in such a sorry state either.”

      No, the Evo runs on Sprint’s network, so yeah it is.

      • GearheadGeek says:

        I don’t know where you are, but where I live and travel, I find Sprint’s network to be more than satisfactory. It’s especially amusing to listen to a friend of mine curse his iPhone for dropping calls where I have no problems. Depending on where you are, ymmv on that whole network quality thing.

        • bluecoyote says:

          Coverage and network performance is a very YMMV thing.

          I’ve had a Sprint and AT&T line for years and they’re comparable with AT&T being more reliable of the two. A lot of what has been said about AT&T’s network is a load of crap (though not all of it is… especially in NYC).

      • the_Jenkins says:

        I currently have Sprint and never experience problems. Sure, I get a few faded signals, but in the past year and a half we’ve been with them, we’ve maybe had a total of 20-30 dropped calls. Not too bad IMO.

      • Nodren says:

        according to a Zagat wireless survey: http://consumerist.com/2010/01/zagat-releases-first-cellphone-carrier-survey-results.html

        the network on sprint was rated equally to AT&T’s network. Being a sprint customer in an area that had no real at&t network problems, sprint operates just fine, i haven’t had any problems on sprint either. My brother in law who travels across the country with his job, has also had no problems with his sprint service.

  4. youbastid says:

    You get far more with Sprint’s $79.99 plan than with AT&T’s $74.99 plan – nights and weekends start at 7, calls to ALL cell phones on any network are free, and unlimited data. So that $79.99 stays at $79.99 (plus taxes and fees) whereas the AT&T plan is much likely to get overages even with lighter users. It’s the main reason I haven’t bought an iPhone – that and AT&T’s service is beyond dismal.

    • bluecoyote says:

      “AT&T’s service is beyond dismal”

      By what standards if you’re comparing it to Sprint? I don’t know of a single market (I have a Sprint business line & AT&T personal line) where Sprint’s coverage is consistently better than AT&T’s. And Sprint’s network performance lags behind AT&T’s, and as far as dropped calls go it’s the same story.

      • GearheadGeek says:

        Austin, TX. San Antonio, TX.

      • coym says:

        Yep I live in Austin and get great 4G and 3G coverage. And keep in mind that Sprint has (free) roaming on Verizon’s network. So if you are out of a sprint area, it just uses Verizon’s towers. So it has great coverage just about everywhere.

      • BobOki says:

        Savannah, ga it is better. Atlanta, ga it is better. Charleston, SC it is better. Jacksonville, Fl it is better. Orlando, Fl is it better. Not to mention I got 75-80% dropped calls on AT&T (up to 5 drops on a single call that lasted 5 min) up until I switched to Sprint and got the evo.The sprint network in our area is now decently overused (army/college town) and I have still only gotten two dropped calls total on Sprint. I have signal everywhere I have gone (I drive all day as a IT Consultant).
        It is true, due to the overusage of the network here (3g) sprint downloads ARE slower than AT&T, however, what good are download speeds when you can’t get signal/use phone?

        • bluecoyote says:

          Savannah, ga it is better. Atlanta, ga it is better. Charleston, SC it is better. Jacksonville, Fl it is better. Orlando, Fl is it better.

          I call BS on Atlanta, Charleston, Jacksonville, and Orlando (can’t vouch for Savannah), as I’ve traveled to all frequently with both with both phones. AT&T service is far stronger in Charleston especially. Simply put, you’re either wrong, or you’re a liar.

  5. maruadventurer says:

    An interesting analysis. The problem is in the “…f You Watch Data Usage” bit.

    Whether it is the iPhone or another provider, a smart phone without well priced data plans is a oxymoron. No need to even have the smartphone if you can’t use its features without selling your financial soul.

    • DanRydell says:

      You know, smartphones didn’t originate as a way to watch/listen to streaming media over the cellular network, and many people still don’t use them for those purposes. If you don’t use any streaming media, it’s actually very easy to keep your usage under 200 MB a month. A 32 GB iPhone can hold more media than I’d ever want to stream, and media on the device is not subject to network slowness.

      • Doncosmic says:

        Agreed, it wouldn’t be hard to only use streaming media, or to download media when in range of a wifi hotspot, and just use 3G for email, and the occasional web search

      • howie_in_az says:

        There is apparently an ongoing issue with the iPhone — it will transfer up to 60MB of data in the wee hours of the morning (http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2450738).

        Four days of just this and one has blown past their 200mb allotment for the month, in which case AT&T will start the nickel-and-diming process.

  6. d0x360 says:

    Ill stick with my Nexus One thank you very much.

  7. Putts says:

    Staying under 200MB/month is nearly impossible with a smartphone. I also find it quite ridiculous that they include unlimited texting in all of the plans…Android users can easily have free texting without a texting plan by using Google Voice.

    • nodaybuttoday says:

      actually, it’s not that difficult. Wi-fi is unlimited, so if you try to be careful on what you’re doing outside of the office/home, you can manage.

  8. Roadkilled says:

    I don’t understand why they keep getting their numbers wrong. I am on a Nexus One and my plan is $60 a month. In no way is $80 a month the “minimum” if you cut out texting, which you easily can due to Google Voice’s free texts.

    Cutting that out brings the N1 far below the iPhone’s costs.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      They specifically say that their “minimum plan” includes unlimited texting across all platforms. If you don’t including texting, then the minimum for the iPhone is $55.

      • cape1232 says:

        The $80 T-Mobile plan is for a subsidized phone. If you buy an un-subsidized phone, you can get the $60 plan, but pay more for the phone. Still the un-subsidized plan actually works out to be cheaper over the life of a two year contract, and way cheaper if you keep the plan past the two year mark.

        I’m on the $60 plan and I have unlimited texting.

  9. DoubleEcho says:

    If you have a corporate discount then this is even lower. My wife has a Droid Incredible and she pays about $75-80 a month for unlimited text, 450 minutes/month and insurance on the phone. $30 data plan too of course.

  10. KPS2010 says:

    I think I’ll keep my SERO plan

  11. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    Actually, this comparo is outdated.

    Sprint now offers a 450 phone minute plan with unlimited data, text and everything else for $69.99 per month. That is $5.00 cheaper than the A&TT plan which has download caps.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Doesn’t apply to the Evo – the Evo is an add’l $10 per month because it has 4G.

      • BobOki says:

        Incorrect, the $10 is not for 4g, as stated multiple times by Sprint and by the ceo of Sprint. The $10 is a fee you pay for using the hardware of the phone.. … … which you already paid for.
        Check out: http://explainthefee.com/
        There is also a article here on consumerist about it if you look. IE BS bill.

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          Well, they can say what they want, but it, in effect, is a fee for 4G. Some of it may be because the handset is more expensive, but sold at the same $200 price point, but it’s also to do with the fact that Sprint doesn’t own the 4G network, but rather rents capacity from Clearwire.

    • johnrhoward says:

      There’s an extra $10 charge for the Evo on any plan.

  12. Draygonia says:

    Iphone is far from the best value… Look at the cost of the unlimited plan! Its lower on 2 of the phones! Plus, my EVO has already consumed a gig of data and I hardly even used it! It consumed 200 megs in the first week with email and weather updates alone! Its incredible!

    Iphone 4 may have a great screen, but it is as linear as heck… like renting a computer… you can’t do ANYTHING!

  13. johnrhoward says:

    Having to watch your usage that closely on phones like this is pretty much defeating the purpose of getting phones like this. I’ll gladly pay more for an unlimited plan, I don’t want to have to get to a point where I have to be careful what I’m doing for fear I may go over and have some huge bill. It’s ridiculous to have to worry about how much data I use.

  14. bluecoyote says:

    Honestly, this chart isn’t as useful as you might think…

    1) You can shave off $10.00-$20.00 if you reduce your text messaging usage by relying more on IM services. Text messaging is a ripoff, and all of these phones have pretty good messaging features (though Android phones really need better IM clients for the big 3 services… nobody uses Google talk I’m sorry.)

    2) If you use Skype or a VOIP service, you don’t need an unlimited plan. Additionally, if most of the people you call are on a particular network, you don’t need to worry about it.

    3) If you get a corporate discount, you can knock off about $100-$200.00 a year on a plan. Verizon and AT&T have a lot of them, and Sprint does too.

  15. INsano says:

    Would be worth it to include in this chart that the plans on Sprint with unlimited data also include unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling on ANY network…so they include unlimited voice for most intents and purposes, whereas you only get 450-500 on other carriers. Oh and Sprint’s Nights and Weekends start at 7 instead of 9p.m. as with other carriers.
    What good is an 8mp camera, HSPA, a nice screen a sweet processor and a front-facing camera for video chat on the iPhone4 if you can’t use it for unlimited calling and can only use 200mb of data? A Netflix streaming app? You won’t be using that! Facetime? Forget about it! uploading videos you took with your phone’s beautiful camera? Nope! The features presented with the phone can’t be used much if you don’t want to pay overages. Shame on “bill shrink” for not calling AT&T and Apple out on that crap.

  16. enalzi says:

    That chart is misleading for the Nexus One because it shows the cheap unlimited plan without a contract but it shows the cheap minimum plan with a contract. If you buy the phone outright and get the no contract plan, you can get 500 minutes, unlimited texting and web for $59.99 a month. Over 24 months the total cost of the plan plus phone is $1968. Which is the cheapest option up there.

  17. Mike says:

    Yeah this is very mis-leading and could end up convincing people to buy a phone that is not as good of a value.

    In addition to the better nights and weekends, and the free mobile to mobile, if you buy a phone like the Evo you can replace the microSD card and get as many 16GB cards as you need. Also, the Evo is on a 4G network which is significantly faster.

    Also, you can easily replace the battery on the Evo and other models. For $10 on Ebay you can get two spare batteries and a charger.

    The iPhone does not allow you to do any of this. But it is shiny and made by Apple, and we all know what that means:

    http://www.theonion.com/video/apple-introduces-revolutionary-new-laptop-with-no,14299/

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/apple-unveils-new-productunveiling-product,2162/

  18. Nodren says:

    this comparison isn’t accurate at all, my recommendation is to actually do the research yourself. I recently left AT&T for sprint(Even paying a ETF to AT&T of about $200) and still made out saving money within a year on total cost of ownership(on a family plan, was 2 iphones now 2 evos).

    Bill shrink also failed to mention anyone who’s a member of any credit union(doesn’t matter what one) can receive a 10% discount on their phone bill with sprint.

    in my case, i dropped my monthly payments from $193 to $160 a month by switching to sprint, a far different story than what is displayed here, though I was on the $30/unlimited data plan with at&t(which i needed as we have extensive data usage)

    • jessjj347 says:

      You can get discounts with Verizon and AT&T too. Don’t know about credit unions, but you can for being a part of other things.

  19. krom says:

    Slanted. Very, very slanted. Why point out that the Nexus One costs $549 without plan? An Iphone costs more than that without plan. But pointing THAT out would make iPhone (which is conveniently also the first column of the table) not look as good.

    Likewise, the “unlimited plans” have nothing to do with the phones. They have to do with the wireless companies that sell those phones.

    Also telling is how they choose to rate “screen size”. The iPhone actually clocks in with the *smallest screen!* at 3.5 inches. But it has higher resolution. That doesn’t help much for most people, since the small screen size means in order to be readable, that meager additional resolution won’t be appreciated.

    The comparison of ITAS with Android Market also slants by rating by quantity instead of quality. And it ignores third-party apps which aren’t listed in either official app channel. Among third-party channels, more support Android than iOS. Furthermore, the Android SDK comes for all major platforms while the iOS SDK comes only for Macs, so there is broader potential.

    And including the “minimum plan” cost is a joke. No one who seriously cares about getting the most out of this level of smartphone would bother with a minimum plan. It’s just a desperate way to show how the iPhone’s cost *could* be lower. But the people who buy phones for functionality instead of status symbols, and care about annual cost, will see that the iPhone is in fact the second most expensive in terms of “hidden costs” on the list.

  20. Satertek says:

    Can’t understand why anyone would even consider a contract with T-Mobile. Price is $20 less per month on the no-contract Even More Plus and you can leave any time. (Works out to $1440+$530=$1970 for a full 2 years for a Nexus One for 500min/text/web)

    This makes T-Mobile the cheapest option by far becuase of the ability to leave at any time without an ETF.

  21. Geekybiker says:

    Very misleading chart. Its rather disingenuous to compare plans with really different features. ATT and Verizon are the most expensive for a typical smartphone user by a good amount.

  22. BlazerUnit says:

    Increased data usage if a false concern in the short term, I think. Every rate adjustment to date has had to reflect a growing usage of data. Read the “Ten years of Blackberry” feature from Engadget, and peruse how much people paid for web/data access back in the day.

    http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/28/ten-years-of-blackberry/

    There will either be a trend to cut prices on data use, or a move toward apps making smarter use of that data.

  23. wild homes loves you but chooses darkness! says:

    First: the chart is mistaken. AT&T’s data plans $20 and $25, respectively, for the new ones (and $30 for the older unlimited one). Second: I don’t agree with your interpretation of the chart. The Nexus is a better deal than the iPhone if you buy it straight up with Even More Plus… comparable plans:

    iPhone 4: $199.99/$299.99 for the device, $39.99 voice, $20 unlimited text, $20 200MB data. Over 24 months this option is either $2120 or $2220.

    Nexus: $529.99 for the device, $59.99 similar minutes with unlimited text and data.
    Over 24 months this option is $1970.

    For that matter, it stacks up unfavorably to the Evo, as well.

    iPhone 4: $199.99/$299.99 for the device, $39.99 voice, $20 unlimited text, $20 200MB data.
    iPhone 4 over 24 months is either $2120 or $2220.

    Evo: $199.99 for the device, $79.99 for comparable voice with unlimited text and data.
    Evo over 24 months is $2120.

    So the Evo is the same price as the cheapest iPhone’s worst data plan, while offering unlimited data.

    I can’t speak as much to Verizon’s plans.

  24. v0rt says:

    There is a very large gulf separating “cheapest irrespective of what service your money gets you” and “best value.”

  25. teke367 says:

    Another thing this fails to mention (understandably) is the deal you get with Sprint on family plans. I don’t know the exact numbers, buy my plans has one charge for data on ALL phones, and one charge for texts on all phones, I believe the texts are $20 to $25 a month for the whole family, and I don’t know the data charge, but its definitely cheaper than $30 per line. As far as I know the other carriers (at least not Verizon or AT&T) don’t offer group data rates.

    As far as the Nexus One, seems like a nice phone, but until Google and T-Mobile explain why they both charge an ETF if you cancel between one and three months, I would not buy, it just sounds fishy. Then again, since they don’t sell online anymore, perhaps that’s not an issue anymore.

  26. MrHacks says:

    This infographic doesn’t show the Average cost like the comparison chart between the original Motorola Droid and the iPhone 3GS. The Droid X is also not listed. The maximum TCO on this chart is also lower across the board compared to the predecessors.

  27. khooray says:

    I use TextFree on my iphone and NO SMS texting thru ATT, so I can text all i want for free.

  28. khooray says:

    I’m grandfathered in to the iphone’s Unlimited $30/mo data plan but there should be something available between the 200mb and the 2gb plans. I don’t see the need to save $5 and only get 2gb and NEVER be able to go back to unlimited.
    200mb isn’t even close to being enough. I used 20mb just setting up some apps and doing a search on my phone yesterday. I’d be over the 200mb limit in just a few days.
    The whole ides is NOT to have to be in a wifi area, othewise I could use my laptop or netbook.