Help File: Finding a pared-down smartphone data-service deal isn't easy

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010; G03

Q: I want a smartphone that can open my Office files and play music. Can I get one without having to pay $30 a month for data services I won't use?

A: Good luck buying such a thing new from the major wireless carriers; the phones they sell with those capabilities require signing up for voice-and-data bundles that cost around $70 a month.

But if you buy a used smartphone, you may be able to take that to a carrier and get only a voice plan -- depending on the phone and the carrier.

At one extreme, AT&T Wireless requires data service on even used smartphones, wrote spokeswoman Alexa Kaufman.

At Sprint, the trick would be to buy a phone that Sprint hasn't sold with an "Everything Data" plan requirement. But the carrier doesn't seem to have a list of phones meeting that requirement. A sufficiently old Palm Treo or Windows Mobile Sprint-compatible device could work, but check with Sprint first.

At Verizon Wireless, you'd need a smartphone "launched prior to November 2008," spokeswoman Melanie Ortel wrote.

T-Mobile has the most liberal policy. Its "Even More Plus" plans, designed for people who bring their own devices, cost $10 less than its regular plans, because they don't need to cover the subsidies that lower the price of most new phones.

Spokesman David Henderson said voice-only Even More Plus plans are available even if you bring a model T-Mobile sells today. So instead of Dumpster-diving for an antique Palm, Win Mobile or Nokia S60 smartphone, you could get a new Android device.

In any of these scenarios, remember that going online by mistake can incur per-kilobyte charges that might make international-roaming fees look cheap.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.

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