Why You Should Always Buy Your Phone from Apple and Never from Your Cell Carrier


Why You Should Always Buy Your Phone from Apple and Never from Your Cell Carrier

For starters, the carrier deals sometimes are not deals at all

All photos by author

I worked at an Apple retail store for a few years after closing my consulting business. I had fun, learned a thing or two, and made some money to pad out my retirement.

One of the many things that surprised me was how many customers had no idea that they could buy, activate, and set up a new phone at the store. These folks assumed that they had to buy at their cell carrier.

That’s not at all true and there are many reasons why you might choose not to buy through your carrier.

Cost, subsidies, trade-ins

Another thing that surprised me was that many customers believed that the major carriers would subsidize the purchase; that is, the carrier would absorb part of the cost in exchange for signing up for cellular service. In fact, that subsidy stopped years ago and was replaced by things that looked like subsidies but were not.

I’m not saying that carriers never offer a deal on a new phone. They do sometimes but most of the time, the deal is nothing more than interest-free payments disguised as something else. Trade-ins are often part of the supposed deals, so figuring out what you are actually getting can be confusing. However, if you take the time to write it all down and chart everything out, you will almost always find that you are paying full retail price for the dubious privilege of being locked into a cell phone contract for a specified period of time.

Why Apple?

I said the carriers sometimes do offer good deals on Apple phones. Here’s something else customers didn’t know: Apple is an agent for major carriers and can often get you the exact same deal that the carrier is advertising.

Here’s the best part: if they can’t, they’ll tell you. Not only with they tell you, but if the so-called deal is confusing, they will happily help you figure out where you end up when everything is accounted for. They’ll even tell you about other carriers’ deals if you are willing to consider switching. Why? Two things: Apple corporate is making a sale no matter where you buy it and the retail salespeople are on salary, not on commission sales. Is that true when you shop at a carrier? Think about it.


Carrier stores are much different from Apple stores. Even the smallest Apple store probably has more phones to choose from than a carrier store. The phones are right out where you can pick them up, see how they feel, see if it will fit in your pocket — it’s probably a good idea to tell an employee you’d like to test out the pocket fit before you do that!

Last year’s models are also on display. What you won’t find at the retail store is refurbished phones; these are only sold online. Did you know that those phones have a one year warranty and you can add AppleCare+?

Here’s something that likely never happens anywhere but at an Apple store:

A customer picks out her phone after going back and forth deciding between the red and the green. She has picked the green, but when the box is opened and the phone is taken out, she changes her mind. What do you think the salesperson does?

I’ve been that salesperson. I’d send the phone back to the stockroom where it will be sent off to Apple the next day and someday would turn up on the Refurbished online store. I’d have the red phone brought out, square up all the paperwork, and smile throughout. Again, straight salary, no commission.

You usually have a 14 day, no questions asked return window at Apple. Return any product for any reason, opened, set up, whatever. If necessary, Apple will help you remove any personal data you may have put on it and happily refund your money or exchange the product.

I said “usually” because there are times when the return window could be longer. That might be the case when doing Xmas shopping — ask, even if it isn’t a gift. There is also a chance it might be shorter if the sale included a new or modified carrier plan, which would be due to the carrier’s policy, not Apple.

Is your carrier that accommodating? Maybe — you can easily Google that and compare it to Apple’s easy to read and very clear policy.

Unlocked phones

Apple phones purchased online or in-store are always “unlocked”. This means that unless you have some contract with your carrier that says otherwise, you can cancel your carrier plan and go with someone else whenever you want.

All Apple phones are now universal — meaning they should work with any carrier after obtaining the proper SIM card. Apple has sims for major carriers and can help you with that transfer when buying a new phone.

Apple also sells “sim-free” phones. When staying with the same carrier, you can often simply move your sim card from the old phone to the new. Be sure to ask about that if you don’t know that this will work.

Also know that if you have been transferring physical sims for years, your old sim may not support the latest features that your carrier offers. Apple can often help you get a newer sim.

Note: With some carriers, “Quick Start” data transfer to new phones can transfer the physical sim to an e-sim in the new phone. If you do this without realizing it and transfer the physical sim also, your phone may appear to have two lines with the same phone number.

What if I’m not with a major carrier?

In that case, you almost certainly can buy from Apple but activation of service might require you to contact the carrier. The Apple folks will likely know what you need to do.


Apple has no interest payment plans for almost everything now and phones are no exception. Also, if you pay with Apple Pay and use your Apple Card, you get 3% cash back.

Apple takes trade-ins. Sometimes they offer better prices than other places, sometimes they don’t. It’s worth checking out.

What about AppleCare+?

What about it? Buy it. You can pay it monthly and keep paying for years, which might mean that you could get a five year old phone repaired for free.

Transfer and set up

If you already have a phone, you are going to want to transfer the information from your old phone to the new. Apple has made that so easy in recent years that you can do this in the comfort of your own home, but if that makes you nervous, or if doing that would mean driving a long distance without a working phone, Apple can help.

Note: there are stores that do not offer in-store setup, especially during COVID. However, phone support is available.

I checked yesterday to see if the store I worked at is currently helping customers with this task. They are, and they told me that the process usually takes about 20 minutes, plus one minute for every gigabyte of your data. At that store, if you have over 30 GB of stuff to transfer, they’ll spend fifteen or twenty minutes with you to get it started, and then you can leave to return later for picking it up. There may be a few small tasks to complete still; ask about those details if you have never done this before.

What if there is a problem?

It can happen. It might be the new phone, it might be your phone. It’s rare, but tell me, where would you prefer to be if this did happen. At an Apple store where they have the staff that knows Apple inside and out or at a carrier who sells Apple, Samsung, and who knows what else?

Yeah, I thought so.

What if it’s a carrier issue?

Yes, that can happen. But remember, Apple has agent relationships with the major carriers. Apple also has specific employees who know a lot about carrier issues and who have direct lines to the highest level of support at those carriers. Because they do so much business with, the carriers snap to attention when summoned. At major Apple events such as the first day a new phone is available, there are often carrier reps in attendance at larger stores.

These things almost always get resolved quickly and efficiently.

What if my phone acts up the next week?

Return it. It’s okay that you’ve been using it.

If you are beyond the return period, many stores can do phone repairs the same day you bring it in. If the store is too far away, stores like Best Buy and many others offer Apple Authorized Service, which means that in warranty and AppleCare+ repairs will be covered. If all else fails, you can ship your device to Apple and might even be able to get a loaner shipped to you before you send yours in.

Any questions? Let me know in the comments or, if you have subscribed to receive these posts by email, you can respond privately from your mailbox.

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