PhotoDon't like those lengthy cell phone contracts? AT&T is giving you a chance to cut the cord, or at least snip it a little bit -- but it comes at a price.

AT&T calls its new program "AT&T Next." Simply put, it lets you buy any phone or tablet you want at full price without signing up for a two- or three-year network service contract. Instead, you have to sign up for an AT&T Next service contract, which as we interpret AT&Tspeak does not have a fixed term.

What's so great about that? Well, not too much except for the no-long-term contract part. The rub is that you'll be paying full price for the phone you select instead of having AT&T subsidize the device in exchange for a multi-year contract.

Of course, while there's no contract, you'll be signing an interest-free financing plan (i.e., a contract) that lets you pay for the phone in 20 monthly payments. After 12 payments, you can trade the device in on a new one; after 20 payments, the phone or tablet is yours and you can keep it, sell it or give it away. 

Of course, if you lose the phone or it gets damaged or stolen, you'll still have to make the payments, so if you're one of those people who tends to drop the phone into the toilet or back over it with your Hummer, it might be a good idea to look into insurance. 

To hear AT&T tell it, this is the greatest thing since unsliced bread. 

“With AT&T Next, customers can get the newest smartphone or tablet every year with no down payment. That’s hard to beat, and it’s an incredible value for customers who want the latest and greatest every year,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and chief executive officer of AT&T Mobility.


AT&T Wireless July 16, 2013, 2:58 p.m.
Consumers rate AT&T Wireless

Why is this such a great deal? Well, it depends on a lot of things -- like what AT&T will be charging you for network service and how much you wind up spending for the phone or tablet. See AT&T's website for more information on network plan pricing (we couldn't find it but maybe you can).

Phones and tablets aren't cheap, you know. Consumers who've gotten used to getting a new phone every few years for $100 or so will be shocked to learn that new iPhones, Droids and so forth can easily top the $500 mark -- a cool $25 or so per month just to pay for the phone plus the monthly network charge.

Oh, and about that "no-contract" network agreement, you can cancel it at any time but if you do -- guess what -- the full amount of your installment contract on the device becomes immediately payable. 

So, yes, you can quit anytime you want. But it will cost you.

Freedom, as they say, isn't free.

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