Black Friday free-phone offers: Are the deals real?

Black Friday is known for its epic tech deals, but why shell out cash when you can get stuff for free? Or even for profit?!

This year, several retailers absolutely will drop the prices of smartphones from $200+ to, well, free. Or even below free. With some of the gift card deals out there, you’ll be able to pick up a brand-new phone and pocket $20, $30, even $100 in cash. Sounds like a good time to buy, right?

A word of caution—none of these phones are really free. All of these deals come with a stipulation: You will have to sign a new two-year contract, which means a decent-size monthly bill for the next two years. Additionally, since these are all smartphones, you’ll have to pay for calls and data.

That might not be an issue if you have a shared-data family plan but, if you open a new account, you should expect to pay at least $80 per month, or about $1920 over the next two years. Also, if you break your existing contract to buy a new phone, you’ll pay an additional fee.

But if the stars are right—and you happen to be one of the lucky few with an upgrade due—here are the best (and worst) free-phone deals you’ll see on Black Friday.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung’s flagship Galaxy smartphone is only six months old, yet some retailers will give it away for free on Black Friday.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 sports a 5-inch Super AMOLED display with a display resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, a 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, and 2GB of RAM. In other words, it’s totally capable of running the latest 3D games and seamlessly running two apps simultaneously.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Like other Galaxy smartphones, the S4 is clad in a plastic case, which might look and feel a bit cheap when compared to its competitors: the Apple iPhone and the HTC One.

However, the S4 has some features its competitors lack, including a miniSD card slot (for up to 64GB of extra storage) and several useful Samsung apps, including S Translator and S Health.

The S4 runs Android 4.2 out of the box, but you’ll be able to update it to Android 4.3 right away.

The S4 doesn’t come super cheap—right now it costs anywhere from $100 to $200, depending on where you purchase it (and that’s, of course, with a new two-year contract and after various mail-in rebates).

On Black Friday, however, several retailers will give it away for free or almost free.

Best Buy is the first place to look—if you sign a new two-year contract on Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T, this big box store will supply a free S4 to go with it. Best Buy’s deal is available for all colors of the S4, though Best Buy is the only place you can find the phone in snazzy “Blue Arctic.”

If you’d prefer not to wait in Best Buy’s lines, you can always check out Staples.

Staples will sell the S4 for a whopping $0.01 with a new two-year contract on either Verizon or AT&T. Staples says this deal won’t be available at all stores, however, so you may want to call ahead first.

Finally, Wal-Mart also will offer the S4 for free—sort of. At Wal-Mart, the S4 actually costs $99 (with a two-year contract on Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T) on Black Friday. However, the discount retailer will give you a $100 Walmart gift card if you purchase a qualifying 4G LTE phone, which the S4 happens to be.

Bottom line: If you need a new Android smartphone, brave the lines at Best Buy or Staples. But unless you’re crazy about shopping at Wal-Mart, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from its crazy crowds.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

Want all the glory of the Galaxy S4, but in a smaller, less powerful package? Enter the Galaxy S4 Mini—Samsung’s slightly smaller, cheaper version of its flagship phone.

The S4 Mini sports a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display (with a display resolution of 960 by 540 pixels), a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, and 1.5GB of RAM.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

In other words, it’s a more phone-size phone, because, let’s be serious, the S4’s 5-inch screen is just too darn big. The Mini also features 16GB of on-board storage with a miniSD slot for up to 64GB of additional storage, and it sports several of the S4’s built-in features, such as WatchOn and compatibility with the new Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

The Mini runs Android 4.2 out of the box and has not yet been updated to 4.3.

The Mini is currently free on Sprint—after a $50 mail-in rebate. But if you’d rather skip the whole mailing process, you’ll be able to pick up the phone totally free—no rebates necessary—from Sprint. The deal ends on Monday.

Bottom line: Are you really so lazy that you can’t mail in a $50 rebate? If you wait to buy the S4 Mini, you will save the cost of one stamp—$0.46.

Samsung Galaxy S III

The Samsung Galaxy S III has been out for over a year and a half, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone.

The S III has a screen that’s almost as large as the S4’s (4.8 inches, and a Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels). It also comes with a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of on-board memory. There’s also a miniSD card slot (up to 64GB of additional memory), Bluetooth 4.0, and an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera—all that good stuff.

Samsung Galaxy S III
Samsung Galaxy S III

The S III is packaged with Android 4.0, but you’ll be able to update right away to 4.3 if you’re on Sprint or U.S. Cellular.

The good news: The S III won’t just be free on Black Friday, it’ll be negative dollars. That’s right—at h.h. gregg, the 16GB S III will cost $30 on Verizon, plus you get a $100 h.h. gregg gift card with the purchase of any 4G LTE smartphone (the S III qualifies).

So if you plan to make some purchases at h.h. gregg, that’s $70 in your pocket. At Wal-Mart, the S III is just $0.97 on Verizon, plus a $100 Wal-Mart gift card. So that’s $99.03 for you!

Bottom line: Although many buyers will balk at the idea of purchasing an older smartphone, the S III is still a good choice for people who don’t care about having the latest gadget. You can grab the S III for free right now, but if you wait until Friday, you’ll have an extra $70 to $100 in your pocket—if you’re a Verizon customer.

iPhone 5c

Want to upgrade your iPhone 4 or 4s? Don’t jump aboard Apple’s pretty gold iPhone 5s train. Instead, take a look at the 5c—the cheaper, more colorful version of Apple’s flagship phone.

The 5c is basically a no-brainer upgrade for iPhone 4 and 4s users: It’s a full-featured smartphone that closely matches the specs of Apple’s 2012 iPhone 5.

iPhone 5CImage: Applei
Apple iPhone 5C

So if you’re a couple of years behind on the upgrade scale, and you don’t want to drop $200+ on an iPhone 5s, the 5c is for you.

Not only does it come in fun colors (blue, pink, green, yellow, and white), it’s got a durable plastic casing, an A6 processor (same as the iPhone 5’s—the 5s has a more powerful processor), decent battery life (10+ hours), and iOS 7.

In addition, you can get it for free—make that for profit—on Black Friday. Wal-Mart will offer the 5c for just $45 (normally $79) on Verizon and AT&T, plus you’ll get a $75 Wal-Mart gift card. In other words, this phone will cost you approximately negative $30, if you happen to be a Wal-Mart shopper.

Bottom line: If you have an iPhone 4 or 4s and you’ve want to upgrade, Black Friday is the time to do it. Even if you’re not a Wal-Mart shopper, I’m sure you can find something to buy with the extra $30 that’ll be burning a hole in your pocket.

iPhone 4s

The iPhone 4s was released over two years ago—and while it’s a good phone, there are plenty of smartphones on the market that have surpassed it in price and features.

iphone4s
Apple iPhone 4s

The 4s sports a 3.5-inch Retina display with a resolution of 960 by 640 pixels, an Apple A5 processor, and Bluetooth 4.0. It also has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a VGA-resolution forward-facing camera, and it can record 1080p HD video.

The 4s was a great phone two years ago, but it ha recently been surpassed by other phones, such as the very affordable iPhone 5c. However, if you want to upgrade—but not too much—you can pick up the 4s for free on Black Friday.

Best Buy will offer the 8GB 4s on Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T for free.

Bottom line: No deal. The 4s is an older iPhone, and while it’s not totally outdated yet, it probably will be in two years (and you have to sign a two-year contract to get it for free). Plus, if you really want it, you can get it for free from just about any carrier—even the Apple Store itself. Don’t bother waiting in Best Buy’s insane lines for this “deal.”

Motorola Moto X

Motorola’s Moto X debuted just three months ago, and while it’s not the “super phone” many people hoped for, it’s still a pretty neat device.

The Moto X’s big selling point is its philosophy—to make your life more convenient.

It boasts sensors that can tell when you pick the phone up or take it out of your pocket, so you don’t have to hit the power button to see what time it is. It has an “Active Display,” which means all of your notifications show up on the phone’s lock screen—so you can see what you’ve missed without typing in a passcode.

Motorola Moto X

It also has a Moto Assist app, which offers convenience features such as automatic-driving detect (it knows when you’re driving and subsequently reads your texts aloud to you). It also has Touchless Control, which lets you control the phone by speaking to it.

Spec-wise, the Moto X is decent, with a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, a 4.7-inch display, and 2GB of RAM. It also has 16GB of on-board memory (though no miniSD card slot) and a 10-megapixel rear-facing camera, and it comes loaded with Android 4.2.

Although you can grab the Moto X for free from many carriers, you’ll be able to get it for a (small) profit on Black Friday from Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart will sell the Moto X for $79 on AT&T, plus you’ll get a $100 Wal-Mart gift card.

Bottom line: Although the Moto X is a cool phone, I’m not sure it’s worth $20 to hike out to Wal-Mart.

Samsung Galaxy S Mega

Sick of phones with tiny screens? Try a “phablet”—that is, a phone/tablet—such as the Samsung Galaxy S Mega. The Mega boasts a huge 6.3-inch screen, which means it’s basically the same size as a 7-inch tablet, such as the Galaxy Nexus. But it has phone capabilities!

Samsung Galaxy S Mega

Aside from being really, really big, the Mega has decent—but not excellent—specs. It has a display with a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels, a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, and 1.5GB of RAM.

According to my colleague Florence Ion, the Mega doesn’t perform like a midrange phone—instead, it switches “from the Amazon Kindle app to a game and then to email without any lag.”

But it does run Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 interface overlay, which means you will get lag as you swipe through the phone’s home screens. The Mega has decent battery life (about 10 hours), a miniSD card slot for up to 64GB of additional storage, and did I mention its really big screen?

The Mega debuted three months ago, and it was priced to sell at just $150. But this Friday you can get it for even less—Wal-Mart will sell the Mega on Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T for just $50 plus a $100 Wal-Mart gift card. So you’ll be $50 richer, but you’ll have less space in your pocket because the phone is so darn big.

Bottom line: If you like big phones (I admit…I do), then the Mega might be worth your while. While it’s no Galaxy Note 3, it does give you the screen space of a tablet and the phone capabilities of…a phone. Plus, if you head over to Wal-Mart this weekend, you’ll be able to pick it up for negative $50. That’s a win-win situation!

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments