By Jason Cross
In the early days, you could only buy an iPhone at an Apple Store or from AT&T. Today, it’s offered by all major carriers and big retailers, and many of them want to entice you to buy with them by offering special deals. Of course, you can always buy directly from Apple in-store or online.
If you haven’t yet put in your order for an iPhone SE, here’s a summary of some of the deals and promotions offered by different retailers to help you make up your mind. For each, we’ll tell you about any current special deals, when you should consider buying there, and when you shouldn’t.
Apple’s not running any iPhone SE promotions right now. However, it is one of the few places to buy an unlocked, SIM-free iPhone SE, and it’s the go-to place to join the iPhone Upgrade Program (though the iPhone SE is not a part of that program at this time). Apple will let you trade in your old iPhone (in good condition) as credit toward a new purchase, too. That might bring the price down as low as $229.
If you really want to kick the tires on a new Apple product, a trip to the Apple Store is probably the best way to do it. If you have a lot of questions or need help with setup, Apple Store employees are generally going to be helpful, accurate, and patient, without pressuring you to buy stuff.
Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not going to be doing much in person at an Apple Store right now.
If you want to buy your phone with the iPhone Upgrade Program, you’ll have to do it at the Apple Store or in the Apple Store iOS app. The iPhone SE is not currently part of the iPhone Upgrade Program and may not ever be.
It’s also one of the few places you can get your iPhone SE SIM-free and unlocked.
If you plan to switch carriers or open a new line, buying directly from the carrier can be a better bargain—many carriers offer nice incentives to switch over. From time to time, carriers may offer deals (“buy one get one free” or other rebates), though those usually require some sort of long-term commitment. The best carrier deals tend to be for new line activations and transfers, though.
The new iPhone SE does not appear to be available from Amazon at the time of this writing. Be careful—you may see the old iPhone SE model listed quite a lot, especially refurbished units!
Amazon rarely has deals on the latest iPhone models, but it can be a good place to score a deal on an older certified refurbished model.
You’re almost never buying directly from Amazon, but rather through a reseller. And most of the iPhones you’ll find on Amazon are certified refurbished, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a brand new model.
AT&T is offering an iPhone SE (64GB) for only $5 per month. You can get a 128GB model for $10 per month or 256GB for $15 per month.
You have to pay that much over a 30 month installment plan, and you have to add a line (either start a new account or add a line to an existing account). You also have to get a postpaid Unlimited wireless plan, which start at $75 per month before discounts, and pay a $30 activation fee.
If you’re already a happy AT&T customer, or if you don’t mind being saddled to the company for more than two years, you might as well buy directly from the carrier.
The iPhone SE deal has a lot of qualifications, the worst of which is that you have to buy expensive Unlimited service. But if you were going to do that anyway, it’s paying $5 per month over 30 months is just $150—that’s a good deal on an iPhone SE.
If you’re already an AT&T customer and don’t want to add a new line, the carrier’s iPhone SE deal is not for you. And if you want the freedom to hop to different carriers at a whim, buying your iPhone SE directly from AT&T is not your best option.
Best Buy is offering an iPhone SE deal through April 23, 2020 where you get a free $50 gift card (an e-gift card, delivered to your email). You have to activate the phone on Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint to get the gift card.
Best Buy iPhone deals tend to come in two forms: A decent-sized gift card (useful only if you plan to buy more stuff from Best Buy) or a discount on buying a new phone with activation of a new line, paid in monthly installments. It’s not dissimilar to buying from a carrier, and only worthwhile if you don’t mind a long-term commitment.
If you are thinking of purchasing through Best Buy, be sure to compare its discounts with other big-box retailers and the major carriers. The best deal can vary depending on when you look.
If you want to just pay the full price for an unactivated, unlocked iPhone, you shouldn’t do it here. Best Buy used to be one of the very few retailers who would sell you a SIM-free iPhone, but you now have to sign up with Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint.
If you’re a T-Mobile customer, Best Buy is not the retailer for you.
Buying a phone directly from a fellow consumer (be it a used or new-in-box option) can always be a bit of a risk. But you can also save plenty of money if you’re willing to be patient and negotiate on price.
Just be careful. Only buy from qualified sellers with lots of positive feedback, or from someone local so you can go inspect the phone to make sure it works properly and is in the promised condition before handing over a single penny.
On a just-released phone like the iPhone SE, you’re not likely to find a good deal when buying directly from another consumer. In fact, you’ll probably pay more, especially if the model you want is in short supply. But if every store is out of stock and you can’t get one for another three weeks, and you just have to have that particular model right now, this may be your only option.
Of course, buying from someone in person while practicing social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19 is tricky, too.
1. You don’t want the newest hottest model and aren’t in a rush to buy, so you can take your time finding a good deal on the phone you want in great condition.
2. You do want the newest hottest model, the one that’s totally out of stock everywhere, and you just have to have it now even if it means paying an inflated price.
If you want an iPhone that hasn’t been on the market for six months, you’re not likely to find a good deal. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to find one that isn’t scratched, chipped, or cracked. And then, on top of all that, you have to worry about getting ripped off.
The prepaid card ships in 45 days, and you’ve got to lease your phone from Sprint, not buy it, plus port over a line from another carrier.
The lease price on an iPhone SE is usually $16.67 per month over 18 months, but the company will apply an $11.67 bill credit each month (after two months) so you end up paying just $5 per month after the first couple months. Note that this is a phone lease not a purchase, and requires the activation of a new line.
You’re essentially getting $100 back and paying only $5 a month to lease an iPhone SE…we’re not big fans of phone leasing programs, but those two things combined mean you essentially get a free iPhone SE loaner for 20 months when you pay for a new Sprint line (and pay applicable taxes and such).
One of Sprint’s deals is for people who bring a number over from another carrier, and the other is only valid with new line activations.
So if you want to switch to Sprint you get a good deal. If you’re already a Sprint customer, you don’t.
As a person-to-person sales market, deals on Swappa vary a lot. Depending on the age and condition of a device, you can pay anything from above retail (on very hard-to-get iPhone models) to hundreds of dollars less. If you missed the early-preorder window and you want a hot new iPhone right away, you can probably buy a new-in-box model direct from another consumer…at a considerable markup.
Don’t expect to find any good deals on the iPhone SE in any person-to-person marketplace until the phone has been available for at least a few months.
There are lots of person-to-person sales services out there, from eBay to OfferUp to Letgo to Facebook Marketplace, and they all carry their share of risk of the seller trying to rip you off.
We like Swappa because it does more to protect buyers: The company reviews every listing to help ensure that the seller isn’t a scammer. It verifies ESN numbers to weed out any that are not fully paid for, listed as stolen, or unavailable for activation. It makes sure that sellers have reset the device and disabled iCloud so it can be set up as a new user. And it requires verification photos to prove ownership and verify condition.
Is it fool-proof? No, but sellers on Swappa have to jump through just enough hoops to keep most of the scammers at bay. If you’re buying a phone from a random person on the internet, that’s a big deal.
No matter how diligent Swappa is about eliminating scammers and fraud, you’re still buying a phone directly from another human over the internet using a PayPal account. You can save a lot of money, but there are always things that can go wrong—and you don’t have the same recourse as if you bought from a major retailer or carrier.
T-Mobile will give you a free iPhone SE (64GB) when you activate a new line. You also have to trade in your old phone, and buy your iPhone SE on a monthly payment plan. The discount comes in the form of a bill credit that covers the cost of the iPhone SE.
If you want to switch to T-Mobile or activate a new line (for a family member or something), and are willing to stick with them for two years, it’s a free iPhone SE. You don’t have to buy some really expensive plan, and it’s an actual phone purchase, not a lease, so you’ll own it after two years.
As with most carriers, T-Mobile’s deals are designed around adding customers and keeping them locked into the carrier for awhile. In this case, the phone is cheaper than most, but T-Mobile wants you to trade in a “qualifying phone” which means an iPhone 7 or equivalent (in good condition) or better. If you trade in an iPhone 6 or 6s, you can get $300 off (again, paid over monthly installments).
Verizon does not yet have a deal specific to the iPhone SE available. The company is waiving activation fees for online orders and offers free two-day shipping, though.
With no special deal on offer, there’s no good reason to buy directly from Verizon. Even if you plan to use Verizon as a carrier, you’re better off buying an unlocked phone from Apple and then activating it on Verizon.
Verizon doesn’t seem interested in pushing the iPhone SE in particular. The carrier is offering deals on other iPhones, including big trade-in credit for turning in your old device and activating new lines with qualifying service.
At Walmart you can get an iPhone SE for $199—that’s $200 off the base price—until June 17, 2020. You have to buy the phone on a monthly installment plan in conjunction with either AT&T or Verizon. You’re paying $6.63 per month for 30 months on AT&T or $8.29 per month for 24 months on Verizon.
The deal appears to be valid for upgrades if you already have a qualifying AT&T or Verizon plan. That’s a big distinction from the carriers themselves, whose deals mostly require you to activate new lines. As Verizon doesn’t have its own specific iPhone SE deal, it’s one way to get such a thing for Verizon customers.
The deal is only for those with Verizon or AT&T plans (or who are willing to switch to them) and locks you in to the carrier for either 2 years (Verizon) or 2.5 years (AT&T). You’ll have to buy off the full remainder of the purchase price if you want to jump ship before that. If you’re an AT&T customer, the carrier’s own deal is a little cheaper.
Comcast’s carrier, Xfinity Mobile, is a Verizon MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). That means it buys wholesale access from Verizon and resells it. You connect to Verizon towers and have Verizon coverage.
The company will give you $200 off any new iPhone, including the iPhone SE, until May 17, 2020. You have to purchase the phone in a 24-month device payment plan, and the savings are applied as monthly bill credits. You also have to bring a number over from another carrier and activate a new line.
In order to qualify for Xfinity Mobile, you have to be an Xfinity Internet customer. If you are, and you don’t mind paying monthly for your phone over two years, it’s not a bad deal. And Xfinity Mobile’s rates aren’t terrible, though not as low as some other MVNOs.
If you’re not an Xfinity Internet customer or don’t plan to become one, this deal is off the table. It’s also no good for anyone who is already an Xfinity Mobile customer, as it requires you to bring over a number from another carrier to a new line. Other carriers offer cheaper iPhone SE deals, but sometimes with more qualifications (like device trade-in).
This story, “Where to buy the iPhone SE (2020)” was originally published by
Jason has written professionally about technology for over 20 years. His goal is to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.
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