Verizon's Annual Upgrades: What You Need to Know

Get a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge from Verizon, and you need not fear being shut out in a year's time when something shinier than Samsung's latest smartphones comes along. Verizon added Samsung's new phones to its early upgrade program, allowing its customers to upgrade to a new device after paying off half their smartphone.

The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are just the latest phones to be part of Verizon's Annual Upgrade Program. Here's a quick rundown of how the program works and how it compares to early upgrade offers from other carriers.

Which Phones Are Eligible for Verizon's Annual Upgrade Program?

In addition to the newly added Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, Verizon launched its Annual Upgrade Program in 2015 with the release of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. So that's four smartphone models as of now.

MORE: Where to Buy the Galaxy S7 - Best Deals

How Do I Enroll in the Annual Upgrade Program?

Other than buying a phone on an installment plan from Verizon, you don't have to do a thing. You're part of the Annual Upgrade Program the moment you buy an eligible device — and that goes for people who pre-ordered their Galaxy S7 prior to Verizon's March 14 announcement about extending the program to include Samsung's new phones.

When Can I Upgrade?

You're eligible to upgrade after you've paid off half the phone — that's essentially a year if you make regular payments on Verizon's 24-month installment plan. You also have to wait 30 days after you've activated your phone to upgrade to a new one, but unless you've made one heck of a down payment and you're particularly eager to jump to the latest and greatest hardware, presumably that's not much of a requirement.

What Phone Can I Upgrade To?

Any phone you want, Verizon says — even if it's not part of the Annual Upgrade Program. So people who bought their iPhone 6s through Verizon last year and paid off the phone could switch to an Android device if they wanted to find out how the other half lives.

How Is This Different from Sprint's Galaxy Forever and iPhone Forever Programs?

On paper, the programs sound the same. Like Verizon and its annual upgrade, Sprint launched its Galaxy Forever program with the release of the Galaxy S7, promising the ability to upgrade after a year of payments. Galaxy Forever is identical to Sprint's iPhone Forever program, which offers the same ability to upgrade for iPhone fans.

But with Sprint's Galaxy and iPhone Forever programs, you're leasing your phone; with Verizon, you're buying it, in the form of monthly payments. In our comparison of leasing versus buying smartphones, we found that you pay slightly less to lease your phone, but at the expense of not owning your phone outright when your agreement is up.

Do Other Carriers Offer Annual Upgrade Programs?

T-Mobile's the leader in this regard, at least if you can't wait to leap to a new phone. The carrier's Jump On Demand program lets you upgrade to select phones three times a year when you lease your phone from T-Mobile. AT&T's early upgrade option lets you upgrade after 12, 18 or 24 months, depending on the length of your installment agreement.

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.