Opting for a prepaid, month-to-month, no-contract cell phone from folks like Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile always meant settling for a less than bleeding edge phone.
Not anymore. Last night, Boost Mobile debuted the Samsung Galaxy Prevail, the first Android smart phone – and most advanced phone – the prepaid carrier has carried.
While it's called a Galaxy phone, the Prevail isn't as feature laden as Samsung's other Galaxy S models from the major national carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
While the Prevail is a 3G phone running on Sprint's network, it's got a slightly smaller 3.2-inch LCD screen vs. the 4-inch AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode, an advanced, brighter screen technology Samsung has pioneered) displays on the other Galaxy models, shoots just 2 MP stills and only low resolution (640 x 480 VGA) video rather than 5 MP stills and HD video.
But in all other respects, it's a full-blown Android phone.
What's the big deal?
Why is such a limited capability phone news?
With a month-to-month service plan, your phone isn't subsidized by the carrier. For instance, AT&T and Verizon buy new advanced phones for much more than you pay for them. The full price of an phone, for instance, is a whopping $400 more than advertised.
AT&T and Verizon amortize their loss on these advanced phones by the fees it charges over the course of your two-year commitment. In other words, the carrier subsidizes the initial cost of its high-end phones so you can afford to buy them, spreading the cost over the life of your contract. This subsidy also is why there's a penalty if you end your contract prematurely. The carrier is just trying to make up its loss on the phone.
So, back to Prevail and why it's sort of a big deal. Typically, customers of prepaid phone companies are, shall we say, financially disadvantaged (or simply afraid or wary of a carrier commitment), so wouldn't be able to afford a $500-$600 smart phone. As a result, the phones Boost and other prepaid providers offer are usually inexpensive and, therefore, not exactly state-of-the-art.
Instead of a two-year deal and a subsidized discount on the phone, the Prevail will costs just $180, straight up. when it becomes available later this month. Yes, that's about twice as much as you'd pay for a better Android device from the major carriers. But Boost's service is just $50 a month for all the talking, texting and Web surfing you can pile up, half to a third less than you'd pay on a contract from the major carriers.
Plus, stay with Boost, and that $50/month shrinks to $35/month after 18 months, $5 for every six-month period of on-time payments.
How's the phone?
I've been playing with the Prevail the last day or so. Sure, the screen's a bit smaller, I wouldn't rely on it as my main camera, and it's a little slow (Samsung didn't say what the processor is, but it's obviously not the 1 GHz engine now regularly found in the newest smart phones and tablet PCs) – Web pages take a now glacial 5-8 seconds to load, twice to three times slower than other Galaxy S models…
But, it's got a crisp, colorful LCD screen, the external buttons are easy to find and operate (although I wish the bottom four navigation touch controls would stay illuminated longer, a flaw shared by all the Galaxy S phones), including a dedicated camera activation/shutter key, at 3.8 ounces it pleasantly weighs about 10-15 percent less than other larger Galaxy S phones – and it's a full Android phone at half or more on a monthly basis than from the big boys and no two-year commitment. Prevail also offers handy usage tips for the Android uninitiated, which you can catch a glimpse of on the screens in the picture.
Now there's no need to feel technologically inferior just because you refuse to pay through the nose to sign your cell phone life away for two years.