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What Is a Prepaid Smartphone?

Helen Akers
Updated May 17, 2024
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A prepaid smartphone is a smartphone devise that has a cellular prepaid plan. These plans allow wireless phone subscribers to pay for service as they use it, without any long-term commitments. Smart phone devices are cellular phones that have advanced features, such as Internet and e-mail capabilities that are typically found on personal digital assistants (PDAs) or computers.

Most major cell phone carriers are beginning to offer the prepaid smartphone as an alternative to post-paid or contract service. Subscribers are able to obtain wireless service without getting their credit checked. They are able to purchase voice minutes as well as credits towards data usage on a pay as you go basis. Instead of a contract plan that specifies a certain amount of minutes and data usage per month for a flat fee, prepaid phones stop working once the subscriber runs out of minutes.

Prepaid smartphone plans can be a good way to avoid billing surprises or extra charges for additional usage. In the long-term, these plans may be more expensive since the per minute or data unit charge is typically higher than that of post-paid plans. The subscriber usually needs to continue making payments to his account for minutes and data allotments in order to prevent service interruptions. Wireless carriers typically sell prepaid phone and data cards that the subscriber can purchase in certain denominations or allotments.

There are a limited number of smartphone makes and models available with a prepaid plan. The costs of these phones are more expensive than a traditional cell phone. Unlike post-paid service contracts, rebates and purchase incentives to help offset the higher costs of a smartphone may not be available. A prepaid smartphone usually has the same capabilities that comparable post-paid models do.

One of the differentiating characteristics between a regular cell phone and a smartphone is that it provides more than just basic phone service. While smartphones do retain their focus on voice and calling capabilities, they give subscribers the ability to coordinate data communications. Most of these communications are largely web-based and may include integration with social networking and personal financial accounts.

Historically, prepaid service was geared more towards customer segments with lower incomes and credit problems. The prepaid smartphone emerged as a way for cellular companies to target higher income segments who may not want to commit to a long-term contract. A prepaid plan is a less risky way for subscribers to try out a carrier's service. Most wireless companies do allow prepaid customers to transfer their service to post-paid contracts using the same phone.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Helen Akers
By Helen Akers
Helen Akers, a talented writer with a passion for making a difference, brings a unique perspective to her work. With a background in creative writing, she crafts compelling stories and content to inspire and challenge readers, showcasing her commitment to qualitative impact and service to others.
Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On Jan 19, 2015

@Vincenzo -- Most carriers have a solution to the problem of kids burning up too much data or two many talk minutes. A parent can simply log onto the account and set limits for kids. That way, a kid can't exceed a limit because the account will lock them out of doing it.

There is nothing wrong with a heck of a lot of prepaid smartphones, of course, but there are things you can do other than getting one of those prepaid plans to control your kids' data and talk usage.

By Vincenzo — On Jan 19, 2015

@Logicfest -- I happen to love those prepaid cell plans. I learned the value of those a couple of years ago when I gave my daughter a smartphone. She loved to burn through her data allotment and that cost me more money. She managed to go over her allotted minutes and that cost me even more money.

With a prepaid plan, her phone stops working when she burns through those minutes or data and I don't wind up getting charged more money. When viewed in that light, a prepaid plan certainly doesn't cost more money than a regular one.

By Logicfest — On Jan 18, 2015

Prepaid cell plans may wind up costing more in the long run? Heck, they will almost always wind up costing more in the long run. The big advantage of a typical cell plan is that you lock yourself into somewhere from a year to two years (more or less) so you can get locked in prices and a few discounts.

Those prepaid things generally come without discounts and are rarely attached to the newest and best phones on the market.

Those are great for some people, but it might be wise to avoid them.

Helen Akers
Helen Akers
Helen Akers, a talented writer with a passion for making a difference, brings a unique perspective to her work. With a...
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