Apple makes it easy to get an updated iPhone every year with its iPhone Upgrade program, which lets you choose the carrier you want. Apple also throws in AppleCare+, which will protect your new phone.
But carriers have been offering early upgrade plans for years now, and sometimes at a lower price than Apple. You might've heard wireless carriers are offering some of the best iPhone 13 deals, making it more affordable than ever to upgrade to the latest smartphone tech.
Is Apple's iPhone upgrade program worth it? Prices have changed this year in respect to the new storage options, including the 1TB iPhone 13 Pro. So if you're considering getting your new phone through Apple's program, here's what you need to know — and how it compares to other options.
What Is the iPhone Upgrade Program?
Introduced in 2015, Apple’s upgrade program lets you pay off a new iPhone in 12 monthly installments starting at $35.33 per month for the 128GB iPhone 13 mini. The 256GB version is $39.50 per month and the 512GB model is $47.83 per month.
The flagship iPhone 13 starts at $39.50 per month for 128GB, $43.66 per month for 256GB and $52 per month for 512GB.
The 128GB iPhone 13 Pro is $49.91 per month instead of $999 in one shot. The 256GB model is $54.08 per month and the 512GB is $62.41 per month. The new 1T iPhone 13 Pro option is $70.75 per month.
You can pay $54.08 a month for the 128GB iPhone 13 Pro Max, rather than $1099 upfront. The 256GB version will cost $58.28 per month while the 512GB version will cost $66.58 per month. The new 1T iPhone 13 Pro Max option is $74.91 per month.
If you're the owner of an Apple Card, you can use it as your monthly payment method. You'll get 3% Daily Cash each time you use it for a payment.
You'll be able to pick your carrier, since the device you get will be unlocked and supports 25 LTE bands.
That's a great solution for those who want an unlocked phone, but can't afford to plunk down hundreds of dollars at once.
More importantly, the iPhone Upgrade program lets you get a new iPhone every year (after 12 installments) without being tied to one carrier. Apple also throws in its AppleCare+ warranty, which includes up to two years of hardware repairs, software support and up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage (subject to an additional service fee).
I already enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program. Now what?
Generally speaking, you can upgrade your phone once you’ve paid 12 monthly installments. You bring your iPhone into an Apple Store or request a mail-in kit and then upgrade to whatever you’d like. Apple also allows iPhone Upgrade Program participants to upgrade after six months or longer, if you’re willing to make all payments due by the 12-month mark early.
If you enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program last year, keep an eye on your email because Apple will let you know when you’re eligible for an upgrade. If you haven’t gotten an email or you’d like to check manually, you can pop over to a page on Apple’s website where you can answer a few questions and check your eligibility status.
How is Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program different from other options?
In general, Apple's offering varies from what you might get from a wireless carrier by offering better protection for your iPhone with AppleCare+, and the freedom to stick to your carrier of choice.
But with the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program, you're at the mercy of the company's price changes. For example, the iPhone 13 prices per month generally went up this year compared to the iPhone 12's. The iPhone 13 Pro's prices are mostly lower per month than the iPhone 12 Pro's, too. Also, Apple doesn't usually run external promotions when you upgrade.
T-Mobile's iPhone Upgrade Plan
T-Mobile's Jump program lets you upgrade to a new phone after 12 months worth of payments on a 12-month installment. It's similar to Sprint's offer in that you need to return your current phone in good condition, but it includes damage coverage in the monthly fee.
Coming in second on our network performance test in major American cities and offering unlimited data plans, T-Mobile's 4G LTE footprint will serve data sharks well.
AT&T's iPhone upgrade plan
AT&T offers major upgrade plan option is called Next Up. With the Next Up plan, you can trade in your phone when 50% of the full retail price is paid off (typically after about 12 months.) AT&T also a few other upgrade plan options for you to peruse, but Next Up is most like Apple's iPhone Upgrade program.
MORE: Best AT&T plans
This variety of options gives you the flexibility to choose between paying less each month or settling your debt more quickly. With AT&T, you'll own your device after making all payments, and are not tied to iPhones as your only upgrade option.
Verizon's iPhone upgrade plan
Verizon's Annual iPhone Upgrade program also requires iPhone owners to make 12 months worth of payments to upgrade to a new iPhone.
MORE: Best Verizon phone plans
Those looking for high-speed and reliable 5G coverage should opt for Verizon. Big Red blazed into first place on our carrier speed tests with its zippy network and wide-ranging coverage.
How do I sign up for Apple iPhone Upgrade Program?
iPhone Upgrade is available at Apple Retail stores in the U.S. and online through the company's website. When you go to Apple.com and try to buy an iPhone, you'll see the option to buy via the "iPhone Upgrade Program" after you've selected your phone's model, color, capacity and carrier.
Is Apple iPhone Upgrade Program a good deal?
Because of its higher price tag, getting an iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max on iPhone Upgrade is not for the budget-conscious. Sure, it comes with AppleCare+ (a $199 value) but not all people need that type of protection. You can find a cheaper option on nearly any other carrier, and won't be limited to just upgrading to iPhones in the future.
Overall, the best value is at T-Mobile, with its combo of low price, speedy network, flexibility and extra features, making it a good all-round deal. Verizon is offering great trade-in values towards your upgrade program, too, so we'd recommend using this carrier if you have a phone to give back.
Apple's program is best for those who are tough on their phones and need extra peace of mind. The perks of AppleCare+ come in handy for all sorts of damage.
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Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.