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No-contract mobile plans compared: Verizon Edge, AT&T Next, T-Mobile Jump

Verizon is the latest carrier to jump on the no-contract craze. Let's see how its offering stacks up against already-announced plans.

Hot on the heels of T-Mobile and AT&T, Verizon Thursday announced Verizon Edge, a new plan that lets you switch your smartphone or tablet as quickly as every six months.

The new plan is similar to T-Mobile's Jump plan announced on July 10, followed by the AT&T Next plan announced on Tuesday. Like its predecessors, Edge doesn't require a service contract and only asks that you commit to making monthly payments based on the full price of the phone.

Verizon Edge basics

Verizon's program is very similar to T-Mobile's Jump plan, although it is slightly more complex.

Just like the T-Mobile offer, device payments are spread out across 24 months. (AT&T Next bases its payments on a 20-month schedule.) Verizon Edge will then let you switch your smartphone or tablet every six months, which works out to twice a year like T-Mobile's plan. With Verizon, 50 percent of your device has to be paid off before you can make the switch.

T-Mobile requires you to wait six months before making your first device change, but then lets you switch twice a year on any schedule you'd like. AT&T Next, on the other hand, will only let you get a new handset every twelve months.

Just as with Jump and Next, with the new Verizon plan, you hand in your old phone to refresh your device. You then start the process again.

Plan comparisons

Even though the plans are very similar, the details of each plan may appeal to different people. Let's take a quick comparison of each plan's monthly cost using the Samsung Galaxy S4, available on all three, as a baseline device.

Since the focus with each device is the monthly option with the ability to switch, we won't compare total costs of the phone if you extend through the full 20 or 24 months.

T-Mobile Jump: With T-Mobile's plan, the Galaxy S4 will set you back $20 a month over 24 months plus an upfront cost of $150 for the phone plus $10 for the SIM card.

For service, we'll choose the lowest monthly plan that still offers adequate data (minimum 1GB), text, and talk minutes. We'll also assume we signed up at the beginning of each carrier's billing cycle.

The best-priced service plan on T-Mobile costs $60 a month for unlimited talk and text plus a 2GB monthly data allowance.

On top of all that, we have to add another $10 for the Jump program.

First month total on T-Mobile: $220

Continuing monthly payments: $90 ($60 for service, $20 for phone, $10 for Jump)

Total cost after six months: $670

Ability to make a switch: twice a year (initial six-month waiting period)

The extra cost for Jump lets you switch phones twice a year and also insures your phone against loss, theft, and damage. So even if you smash that beautiful S4 on the pavement, you can still switch it out for a new device. You do have to pay an insurance deductible.

AT&T Next: AT&T offers the same retail price for the Galaxy S4 as T-Mobile, but with a 20-month payment plan, you'll pay $32 every 30 days. Next does not require a down payment on the device.

Using AT&T, you get a better price with its Mobile Share plans compared to the carrier's individual plans. The cheapest plan AT&T offers includes unlimited talk and text plus 1GB of data for $85 per month.

First month total cost: $117

Total monthly cost: $117 ($32 for phone, $85 for service)

Total cost after six months: $702

Ability to make a switch: once every twelve months

Verizon Edge:  Verizon is a little more expensive for the Galaxy S4 with a list price of $650, which works out to about $27.08 per month. For convenience's sake, let's call it an even $27 and assume you'll pay the extra $1.92 when you switch phones.

Verizon has done away with its individual plan options, so we'll have to choose one of its Share Everything plans. The lowest reasonable plan we can get is $90 per month.

Like AT&T Next, Verizon isn't asking for a first-time down payment, but you do have to pay the first monthly phone payment at the time of purchase. Verizon did not specify whether activation fees were waived.

First month total cost: $117

Total monthly cost: $117 ($27 for phone, $90 for service)

Total cost after six months: $702 (if you want to switch phones at this point, add another $163, which is the balance of your 50 percent that has to be paid off before you can make the switch.)

Ability to make a switch: every six months if device is 50 percent paid off

Who wins?

Overall, Verizon and AT&T are slightly more expensive options compared to T-Mobile after six months of service. T-Mobile not only gives you a cheaper price, but the carrier offers a larger data allowance. That extra $10 per month you pay for Jump also protects you from clumsy hands, unintended dips in the swimming pool, and other accidents that may befall your device.

But whether T-Mobile is a realistic option for you depends on the carrier's network coverage in your area.

Also keep in mind that even though you save an extra $52 over the first six months with T-Mobile, you'll still have to make another device down payment when you switch, which will add another $150 to $200 to your annual cost. AT&T and Verizon don't require a down payment for their devices.

The truth about uncarriers

It's nice to see the carriers trying out new payment options, but in reality these full retail plans don't really let you out of multi-year commitments.

The carriers may not have a contract to hold over your head but, just as before, you still have to buy your way out. With these plans at least you're not paying a nebulous early termination fee or some other penalty. Instead, you have to fork over the full retail cost of the device.

That's a nice advantage, but not everyone will be able to come up with the extra $400 to $500 just to jump ship early. If you do decide to cancel before you're monthly payments end just remember to ask your carrier to unlock the phone before you leave.

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