Mobile companies know we all want the newest, shiniest smartphone on the market, which is why they've made it even easier for you to upgrade your mobile device more than once every two years.
Unlike a traditional cell contract, these new plans all have no, or low, down payments. Once you've paid off your device, you can leave your carrier without having to pay a "fine" for breaking a contract (dubbed an ETF, or "early termination fee" by the industry). Also, you can trade in your phone (meaning you can't, say, sell it on eBay) for the latest model every six months (T-Mobile, Verizon) or annually (AT&T, Sprint). All of the big carriers now offer special plans: T-Mobile led the pack with Jump, AT&T followed with Next, Verizon has Edge, and Sprint added a syllable with One Up. For most consumers, though, a better name might be Bust.
Until recently, buying a "subsidized" phone has long been the standard (if scammy) practice. The issue is that, while breaking up the cost of a device over two years of monthly payments is convenient, the carriers don't then discount monthly fees after a device has been paid off. So, for someone who buys an iPhone and holds onto it for more than two years, they're paying extra, and far beyond the actual cost of the device for as long as they don't upgrade.
With these quick upgrade plans, though, the deal is even worse. One quick example from a recent Lifehacker analysis illustrates the idea well: If you were to buy an HTC One from AT&T, under a regular two-year contract, you'd pay a total of $2,160. Under Next though, assuming you upgrade yearly, you'll pay a whopping $2,808. There are exceptions for some users and plans, but for most of us, it's worth running the numbers. It may be smarter to pay full price for a smartphone with a low-interest-rate credit card in exchange for a low-cost, no-contract plan.