Apple’s latest press conference heralded the return of the 4″ premium phone. Bucking rumors, the iPhone SE is an iPhone 6s in a much smaller frame — Force Touch was the only thing left on the cutting room floor. Still, being smaller, the SE was bound to come more cheaply than its larger counterparts. We already knew that it would be possible to get the iPhone SE for free with a two-year contract, but not too many carriers are offering those anymore. We’re into the days of monthly payment plans, and, if you’ve got deeper pockets, paying full price. Let’s take a look at what Apple and the big four have to offer, and see who comes out on top.
If you want to get an iPhone SE unlocked, here’s where you should head first. The 16 GB and 64 GB models are $400 and $500 respectively. If you don’t want to pay all at once, it appears you do have options here. While it doesn’t look like the iPhone SE is part of the iPhone Upgrade Program introduced with the 6s and the 6s Plus last year, Apple is offering trade-in deals that will get you discounts on their financed monthly payment plans for the SE. Trading in an iPhone 4 or 4s gets you a 16 GB SE for $14 per month over 24 months. That goes down to $12 per month for an iPhone 5 or 5c and $10 for an iPhone 5s. Expect a few more dollars to be tacked on to each if you want the 64 GB model. Also, keep in mind that the AppleCare+ insurance program costs $99 per year.
AT&T no longer offers two-year contracts, so that leaves buying the iPhone SE outright or getting on an AT&T Next monthly installment plan. For the latter, you can pay $19.94/$25.00 per month for 20 months, $16.63/$20.84 per month for 24 months, or $13.34/$16.67 for 30 months (prices for 16 GB), on top of a $15 activation fee. You also have the option to pay $120 up front and $10 monthly for 28 months (16 GB) or $150 up front and $12.50 monthly for 28 months (64 GB). For the four payment options above, you’ll be able to trade in the iPhone SE early at 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, and 12 months, respectively.
Outside of the activation fee, those monthly fees add up to just about $400, so you’re not saving money either way — it’s just a matter of how you want to spread out the costs. AT&T’s limited time trade-in deal that can net you up to $500 in credit if you trade in a qualifying phone and buy a phone on their network is still in effect. That’s a much better trade-in deal than what Apple is offering, and while their insurance is more expensive at $10 per month, they do cover lost or stolen phones, which Apple does not do.