iPhone 12 deal lets you get it for free — here's how

iPhone 12 Apple Event
(Image credit: Apple)

Pre-orders for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro get today Friday (Oct. 16), and people looking to get their hands on Apple's latest phones are doubtlessly on the hunt for the best deal. In the early stages of the iPhone 12 launch, AT&T may have won that battle, dangling a free iPhone 12 at would-be customers.

A free Apple phone? That would certainly get my attention.

AT&T's iPhone 12 offer is remarkably free of fine print. Regardless of whether, you're a new or existing AT&T customer, you can bring a qualifying trade-in device to AT&T and buy your iPhone 12 under AT&T's 30-month installment plan. Sign up for a unlimited data plan, and AT&T will give you up to $800 in bill credits spread out over the 30 months of your installment plan.

iPhone 12: was $799 now free @ AT&T

iPhone 12: was $799 now free @ AT&T
New and existing customers with an eligible trade-in device can get up to $800 credits in monthly bill credits when they buy an iPhone 12 from AT&T on an installment plan. You'll need to sign up for an unlimited data plan, too.

iPhone 12: was $799 now free @ Verizon

iPhone 12: was $799 now free @ Verizon
New Verizon customers with an eligible trade-in device can get the new iPhone 12 for free when they purchase an iPhone 12 via a Verizon installment plan and sign up for a Verizon Unlimited plan. Also, use coupon "SWITCHER250" to get a $250 Verizon eGift card. Meanwhile, existing customers can get the iPhone 12 for $15/month when purchased with an installment plan, Unlimited plan, and with eligible trade-in. 

As far as requirements go, the ones for AT&T's credit aren't too demanding. You'll need a newer iPhone like the iPhone 8 or later to qualify for the full credit, but chances are you've got a device to trade in to get some relief on the iPhone's price. And you'd need to sign up for one of AT&T's unlimited data plans anyhow to enjoy 5G service, which is really one of the marquee features for Apple's latest iPhones.

To be fair, other carriers are offering aggressive promotions to, aimed at luring would-be iPhone 12 buyers. So if you're not interested in tying yourself to AT&T for the next 30 months, both Verizon and T-Mobile will be happy to do business with you, too. The caveat there is that their most aggressive promotions are aimed at attracting new customers; existing customers qualify for some discounts, but the free iPhone deals are reserved for switchers.

At Verizon, for example, you can also get an $800 credit on an iPhone 12 purchase. But in addition to having a phone to trade-in, you also need to bring a phone number over to Verizon. Existing customers who trade in an iPhone 8 or later can lower the cost of their iPhone 12 from $33.33 a month to just $15 a month, saving $439 on their phone over the course of 24 months.

T-Mobile is offering up to $850 off any new iPhone 12, but like Verizon, the Uncarrier requires you to both trade in an eligible and add a line of data. Existing customers can get half off an iPhone 12 Pro or up to $500 off any iPhone 12 model with a trade-in.

Those are both attractive deals, but only AT&T's free iPhone 12 offer is available to newcomers and current customers alike.

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are the first new models to go on sale, arriving in stores next Friday (Oct. 23). Both are 6.1-inch devices with 5G connectivity powered by Apple's A14 Bionic chip. But the iPhone 12 Pro has a telephoto lens to go with its wide and ultrawide cameras, plus a LiDAR scanner for improved photos and augmented reality experiences. The iPhone 12 Pro is also made out of stainless steel and glass, though the iPhone 12 shares the Ceramic Shield display that makes Apple's phones more durable.

The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max don't go on sale until Nov. 13, with pre-orders beginning Nov. 6. The mini features a 5.4-inch display, while the Pro Max is a 6.7-inch iPhone.

Philip Michaels

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.