Free or close to it
Free phones are available year-round—not just during the holidays. But if your shopping list is a long one, picking up a no-cost phone for the price of signing a new contract can help you stretch your holiday budget. Note that some of the phones we've included here aren't entirely free: For some reason, AT&T lists its phones for 9 cents or 99 cents.
iPhone 4 (AT&T/Verizon)
The first iPhone with a Retina display, the iPhone 4 remains a solid device two years after its debut. It's capable of running the latest version of iOS (though it doesn't support every feature). Thanks to an excellent battery life, the iPhone 4 is a killer deal when you get it for free. Keep in mind though, it only comes in an 8GB model.
Samsung Focus S (AT&T)
It's a little more than a year old, but the Focus is still a killer phone. Running the Windows Phone OS, a 1.4GHz processor, the Focus can access to AT&T's HSPA+ 4G network (not LTE mind you), making it a great free option. If you've been thinking about getting into Windows Phone this could be your chance.
Nokia Lumia 900 (AT&T)
The Nokia Lumia 900 is a superb Windows Phone that has a ton of great features. It's got LTE connectivity (if that service is available in your area), and webpages look great on the device's 4.3-inch display. The design is sleek as well, offering the sturdy feel of Nokia phones from the past. One thing to note: There's no removable battery, and you'll also be limited to 16GB of internal memory. Still that's better than the 8GB you get in the iPhone 4.
Motorola Atrix 2 (AT&T)
If you're looking for a dual-core Android phone that doesn't cost anything, look no further than the Motorola Atrix 2. This smartphone sports a 4.3-inch screen and 1GB of memory along with expandable storage. In our video tests, the Atrix 2 tallied a battery life of 8.5 hours.
Pantech Burst (AT&T)
The Pantech Burst is a quick phone, even with just a single-core processor running at 1.2GHz. It faired well running games like Minecraft, Osmos HD, and World of Goo. Watch out for the camera, though, as it only sports 5 megapixels. Photos have a strange hazy look and the 720p video capture isn't the best.
LG Viper 4G LTE (Sprint)
The LG Viper was Sprint's first LTE phone, and it still has some cool features not found on comparable models. It has access to Google Wallet, the mobile payment service that's getting more popular all the time. The phone also features a "platinum" rating by UL Environment for its sustainable build and packaging. If you feel like doing the environment a solid, the phone is made from 50 percent recycled plastic.
Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile)
The Galaxy S II has a huge screen as well as near-field communication (NFC) capabilities for mobile payments. We haven't even mentioned its beast of a processor and 1GB of memory. The 4.52-inch screen might be a bit too big for some, though. If 4G networking is available in your area, the Galaxy S II is a terrific free option.
HTC Radar 4G (T-Mobile)
The Radar 4G by HTC has a nice crisp display and a stylish all-white aluminum design. However, it doesn't have a removable battery, so don't expect to be able to swap one out if you're running low on juice. The Windows Phone OS provides an easy-to-use interface, with more than enough power provided by the phone's 1GHz Snapdragon processor.
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