Mobile carriers love holding their customers by the brass ones. But don’t sweat commitment. These days, buying a month-to-month prepaid cell phone doesn’t condemn you to toting around a flaming POS.
1. Motorola i1 | Boost Mobile
The i1 isn’t exactly the freshest phone, due to its outdated Android 1.5 OS. But with a vivid 3.1-inch HVGA display, good-enough touchscreen, Wi-Fi, and 5-MP camera, this month-to-monther is actually a keeper. And we can say “No contract, suckaz!” faster than you can type #ATTFAIL.
2. BlackBerry Curve 8530 | Virgin Mobile
Like Mephistopheles, carriers have perfected the art of temptation. Minus a two-year contract, this workhorse costs 10 times as much. It could well be worth it, thanks to document, spreadsheet, and presentation editing, plus a full-on BlackBerry OS (not some watered-down version) that supports roughly 6,000 apps. There’s even tethering, if you’re willing to sidestep Virgin’s terms of service.
get-gadget Spot-on optical trackpad. Downright slick interface. Ships with apps for Twitter, Facebook, and something called MySpace. Fully loaded: GPS, 3G, Wi-Fi, and BBM (BlackBerry messaging). Battery lives for days.
TIRED Scratch-prone plastic back feels and looks chintzy. Dinky 2.0-megapixel sensor. Mere 2.46-inch screen with 320 x 240 resolution. Grainy video.
3. LG Prime | AT&T
The housing has worse plastic than Heidi Montag, while the clunky browser looks a lot like Internet Explorer 4.0. Still, this phone isn’t an entirely bad call. We had fun taking multishot photos and 12-fps video (and playing it all back on a nice 3-inch 400 x 240 touch display). Try that with a disposable handset from The Wire.
get-gadget Featherweight at just 3.1 ounces. Standard 3.5-mm headset jack and up to 16 GB of side-loading storage (microSD card not included) mean it serves double duty as a viable music player. Battery delivers hours of talk (assuming calls aren’t dropped).
TIRED Fussy touchscreen is more difficult to finger than a mob hit man. Crummy navigation. Home-screen apps are finicky. Mobile email costs an additional $5 a month. Only 48 MB of internal memory.
4. Samsung Intensity | Verizon
Whether you’re a foot soldier or kingpin, nothing’s more satisfying than a spacious QWERTY. This slider provided the smoothest typing of the bunch. Throw in voice-recognition dialing, AIM and Yahoo messaging, and up to 16 GB of external storage, and the call sounds convincing. In practice, the meager display is embarrassingly lo-res (220 x 176 pixels) and too square, making movie-watching about as intense as a bowl of cold oatmeal.
get-gadget Dedicated voice command button. Photos turn out well in Night Shot mode. External speaker is bus-shakingly loud.
TIRED Low-quality camera with no video capture. 2.5-mm headset jack. Janky interface. Unless you’re an 11-year-old girl or Lady Gaga, the metallic red casing is a tad flashy.
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