One Up vs. the world: How does Sprint's new annual upgrade plan stack up?

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Just in time for iPhone launch madness, Sprint announced a contract-free early upgrade plan for tablets and smartphones on Friday. Called One Up, Sprint’s new plan is similar to T-Mobile Jump, AT&T Next, and Verizon Edge and lives up to the rumors we saw several days ago.

Like AT&T’s upgrade plan, you’ll only get to swap your devices once every 12 months. But unlike the other big wireless carriers, you’ll get a hefty discount on your monthly wireless plan just for going One Up.

Sprint was already one of the cheaper options for mobile services, but now the third-largest carrier in the U.S. should be even more appealing to penny pinchers, and it's plans still offer unlimited data.

How One Up works

The basics of Sprint’s plan are pretty straightforward. You agree to a 24-month installment plan to pay for a device along with a service package. In this case, you have to pick either Sprint’s My Way or My All-in plan. (My All-in is a multi-device plan with shared data.) Sprint’s My Way starts at $80 per month, but with One Up you get a $15 discount, knocking down your monthly service commitment to $65. That doesn't include your phone payment, though.

After 12 consecutive monthly device payments, you can swap your aging gadget for a new smartphone or tablet and start the process all over again. Sprint’s fine print says the device you trade in must be in “good and functional condition.” Like other upgrade plans, however, you can sign-up for an insurance package. That way if you accidentally smash your smartphone, you can still get a "good and functional" handset to swap for a newer phone.

It looks like One Up will eventually require a device down payment, similar to T-Mobile. For a limited time, however, Sprint says you can sign up for its upgrade plan without any money down.

One Up is available to new and existing customers who are upgrade eligible. As part of the One Up launch, any existing customer can switch to One Up if they’ve had their current phone for at least 12 months.

Estimating the cost of Sprint One Up

One Up is only available from Sprint’s company-owned retail stores, excluding Florida and Washington, D.C., so we can’t get an exact idea of One Up’s cost from the company’s website. Nevertheless, taking Sprint’s summary at face value, here’s what six months of One Up should cost with a 16GB iPhone 5s.

Sprint sells the iPhone 5s for $649.99; dividing that by 24 you end up with $27.08. Just as we did with our earlier tally for Verizon with the similarly priced Samsung Galaxy S4, we’ll call it an even $27. (You’ll have to fish the extra $0.96 out of your couch cushions once your twelve months are up.)

This estimate also does not take into account taxes or surcharges; Sprint’s One Up program does not have any financing charges.

  • First month total: $92; $27 for device costs and $65 with basic My Way plan. (This will change if Sprint eventually requires device down payments.)
  • Continuing monthly payments: $92
  • Total cost after 6 months: $552
  • Ability to swap devices: every twelve months

Apples to apples

Sprint’s $92 per month pricing blows away the $117 monthly cost we found with AT&T Next and Verizon Edge for a similarly priced phone and a capped—not unlimited—data plan. With Sprint you’ll also pay just barely more on a month-to-month basis than on T-Mobile’s Jump, which costs $90. T-Mobile, however, usually charges a down payment fee around $220 for a top-end phone, though it's currently selling the iPhone 5s with a $99 downpayment and the iPhone 5c with no down payment whatsoever.

Right now, Sprint's charging no down payments for any phone when you sign up for a One Up plan.

[Now read: TechHive's Wireless Week: Testing America's networks ]

Before you go dashing off to Sprint, however, you’ll want to make sure Sprint’s nascent 4G/LTE coverage map includes where you live. You’ll also have to decide if switching devices once every 12 months is enough for you, or if you’d rather have the option to trade out every six months, as with T-Mobile or Verizon.

Updated 9/20/13 with additional information about Sprint's insurance program.

This story, "One Up vs. the world: How does Sprint's new annual upgrade plan stack up?" was originally published by TechHive.

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