What’s a good Black Friday phone deal? Here’s how to tell

photo of pixel 7 pro, iphone 14 pro max, and galaxy s22 ultra in had
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You don't have to look terribly hard to find the best Black Friday phone deals (especially since Tom's Guide has gone to the trouble of rounding them up for you). But as every savvy shopper knows, some deals are better than others.

Let's start by agreeing on one thing — if you can find the phone you want at a lower price than you would normally pay, you're already playing with the house's money. You don't need an approving nod from me if you wind up with a discount on one of the best phones.

But I also think that the very best cell phone deals require you to jump through the fewest amount of hoops. And unlike other pieces of electronica that find themselves the subject of Black Friday deals, discounts on phones often seem to come with conditions, whether they're imposed by a wireless carrier or by the phone maker themselves.

Take the below deal for the Google Pixel 7, one of the better phones I reviewed in the past year and a flagship that regularly costs a relatively affordable $599. At Verizon, you can essentially get the Pixel 7 for free (opens in new tab) — the wireless carrier is offering up to $700 in credits when you trade in another device, even if it's damaged. And the offer is available whether you're opening a new line of data at Verizon or you're an existing customer.

Pixel 7: up to $700 off w/ trade-in @ Verizon (opens in new tab)

Pixel 7: up to $700 off w/ trade-in @ Verizon (opens in new tab)
Verizon is taking up to $700 off the Pixel 7 with trade-in and select 5G unlimited plans. Plus, if you switch from a competing carrier, you'll get an extra $200 Verizon gift card. Alternatively, Verizon has a BOGO offer that gets you a free Pixel 7 (up to $700 off) when you purchase one at full price.

As far as wireless carrier deals go, that one's pretty generous. But there are a couple of catches, starting with the fact that you have to sign up for a wireless plan at Verizon. That's not much of a burden — we rank Verizon's plans as some of the best unlimited data plans available right now. But a more significant bit of fine print comes with the credit you'll receive for your trade-in. It's paid out in the form of bill credits, spread out over 36 months.

In other words, to take advantage of that Pixel 7 offer, you've got to commit to Verizon for three years to get the full credit on your phone. For people who don't change wireless carriers often, that's not too big of an ask — I've been using Verizon's service for the better part of a decade now — but if you like the flexibility of being able to go elsewhere for your wireless service, maybe that three year commitment is less appealing.

Let's also talk trade-ins, which can be a great way to lower the cost of your smartphone purchase — if you've got a device that brings a big return. Right now, Samsung's got a promotion where it's offering an instant rebate of up to $350 on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 (opens in new tab), depending on which carrier you plan on using. But you can augment that with an additional discount — up to $1,000! — when you trade in your current phone. Considering that the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is one of the most expensive phones around with a starting price of $1,799, that's a very attractive offer.

Galaxy Z Fold 4: $1,999 (opens in new tab)

Galaxy Z Fold 4: $1,999 $619 @ Samsung (opens in new tab)
Samsung is taking up to $350 off the Galaxy Z Fold 4 instantly. You can save up to another $1,000 when you trade-in a phone, though more recent phones will qualify for the bigger trade-in value. This deal applies to the 512GB version of the phone.

But about that trade-in — to get the full $1,000 credit, you're going to have to hand over a phone like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which came out earlier this year, or the Galaxy Z Fold 3, which is barely a year old. An older device, like the Galaxy S20 fetches a more modest return — $375 back, to be precise. So the kinds of phones that most of us are likely to have on hand aren't going to net us the biggest discount.

Look, an additional $375 off on top of a $350 rebate is nothing to sneeze at. You just need to curb your dreams of shrinking down that Galaxy Z fold 4 price into something you'd pay for a midrange model.

To me, the best kind of phone deals are ones where you know the exact amount of the discount and that the discount is going to be applied right away. That's how you'd expect to bargain hunt for TVs, laptops and all the other kinds of gear that goes on sale this time of year, so why should phones be any different?

That's why I'd pay extra attention to Google's Black Friday sale which starts this Thursday (November 17). Along with lower prices on its Nest gear and Chromecasts, Google is offering its latest Pixel phones at a discount — the Pixel 6a as well as the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. And you don't need to trade in a thing to get the best deal.

Google Pixel 6a: $449 (opens in new tab)

Google Pixel 6a: $449 $299 @ Google (opens in new tab)

The Pixel 6a is the best budget phone of the year, even at its retail price. But for $299, there is no better phone. You get incredible camera performance, the Tensor G1 chipset with all its AI smarts, and a pocketable form factor. This is the best Android phone for the money.

Specifically, Google is taking $150 off the cost of the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 6a, lowering their costs to $749 and $299, respectively. The Pixel 7 gets a more modest discount — just $100 — but that still means you can get one of the best Android phones for $499.

And as I said, there's no trade-in required to raise or lower the size of your discount depending on the model and condition of your phone. You know exactly how much you're going to pay. What's not to like?

If in the course of shopping for a new phone this holiday season, you come across a great deal that requires a trade-in or ties you to a particular carrier for two or three years, you should still consider the offer and whether those conditions are acceptable to you. If they are, jump on that deal with both feet.

But remember, the fewer the conditions, the better the deal. That's true of everything in life, but especially when it comes to cheaper smartphones.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.