If you're new to AT&T or you're adding an additional line, you'll pay $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB one, assuming you're comfortable with signing a two-year contract. If you'd like to keep yourself out of contract so you can leave at any time you like, you're looking at $599 for 16GB or $699 for 32GB.
What if you sign the contract and decide to ditch out in the middle of it? You'll pay $325 minus $10 times the number of months you've been in the contract in penalty fees. For example, if you're ten months into your iPhone 4 contract and you decide to jump ship, you'll pay $225 to leave. If you bought a 32GB iPhone 4 for the subsidized price of $299, that means you will have effectively paid $524 for it (not including the cost of your monthly plan over the course of those ten months, of course).
Interestingly, this means that you could theoretically save $75 on the no-commitment price of the 16GB model by buying it subsidized and breaking your contract immediately (excluding fees), but unless you're insistent on unlocking the phone immediately (assuming there's a reliable unlock available) and taking it to T-Mobile to use with 2G service alone, there probably isn't much logic in doing that. The break-even point on the 32GB model comes after three months, when your total cost for the subsidized phone plus ETF will be $594 -- once again, excluding fees and the cost of your plan.
If you're upgrading a line of AT&T service that you already have, the situation is a little bit more complicated, but AT&T has made it about as painless as possible. The first thing you need to do is confirm whether you're eligible for what AT&T refers to as the "new activation" price -- this is the same price you'd pay as though you were a new customer coming in off the street, and it's usually the best price a carrier offers on a phone. AT&T's extended eligibility by six months to many of its current customers, so make sure you check! You've got three options:
- Visit AT&T's website. From there, you'll log into your account and click on the "Check Upgrade Options" link.
- Dial *639# on your current AT&T phone. In a few seconds, you'll get a reply text message telling you what's up -- whether you're eligible, or if not, the date on which you will be.
- Call customer service. No offense to AT&T's call center reps, but we'd use this as a last resort.
You may also be required to pay what AT&T calls an "upgrade fee" of $18. Like the upgrade eligibility date, the way AT&T determines whether you've got to shell it out isn't publicly divulged; we're just told that it involves the length of the contract, the customer's payment history, monthly spend, and so on.
If you're not eligible for an upgrade, not all hope is lost; you could either add another line of service (assuming you pass the credit check) or pay what AT&T calls the "early upgrade" price. It's more than the new activation price, but it's still better than the full price of $599 / $699 -- the only downside is that your current contract is extended to a full two years again from the date of your purchase. This early upgrade pricing comes in at $200 more than the $199 / $299, which means you'll pay $399 for the 16GB iPhone 4 or $499 for the 32GB version.