T-Mobile Jump vs AT&T Next vs Verizon Edge: which is cheaper

T-Mobile Jump upgrade policy vs Verizon, AT&T and Sprint
Don't do Jump and Edge simultaneously - you don't want to know what happens Next

Smartphone hardware upgrades happen annually, yet cell phone users are stuck with their seemingly old devices for up to two years.

That's why T-Mobile Jump, AT&T Next and Verizon Edge exist, giving early adopters a chance to take advantage of smartphone upgrades on an annual or biannual basis.

The question is: are carriers really helping their customers overcome the burden of carrying around a last-generation device and pick up a new, subsidized phone prematurely?

Looking at the numbers, T-Mobile Jump, AT&T Next and Verizon can be beneficial for a few people who want to upgrade early, but it's also a money pit for a lot of other folks.

T-Mobile Jump

T-Mobile claimed to sympathize with everyone's early upgrade dilemma by announcing Jump, its "just upgrade my phone" twice a year plan that costs $10 a month (plus taxes and fees).

This fee is comparable to phone insurance, as it covers most incidentals that can be thrown at your phone, including throwing your phone.

That's great because chances are you know someone who has had a lost, stolen or broken a smartphone recently - or maybe that person with the expensive problem on their hands was you.

Even when soaked with toilet bowl water on the inside and covered in failed dried rice on the outside, T-Mobile Jump customers will be able to upgrade twice a year, even if those days are back to back.

There's a $20 - $175 deductible applied to completely non-working, water-damaged or lost phones. That price depends on the remaining value of the unsalvageable smartphone.

T-Mobile's math

A missing or unrepairable iPhone 5, for example, will cost $175, and getting a new one from T-Mobile is a $145.99 down payment.

This worst-case scenario is $320 in addition to the ongoing cost of Jump and the month phone payments of $21.

Over the course of a year, Jump costs $120 and the iPhone $21 monthly payments amount to $252, coming out to $372. All added up, it's $692.99.

Of course, having the example's iPhone 5 in working condition brings the total yearly cost down to a more reasonable $517.99.

Also keep in mind that with T-Mobile the smartphone plan is significantly cheaper than anything that AT&T, Verizon and Sprint offer today.

AT&T, Verizon jump in

On the heels of T-Mobile Jump, AT&T Next was announced to give early adopters the ability to upgrade their smartphone on a yearly basis, including grandfathered-in unlimited data users.

Verizon Edge was unveiled with similar intentions, but its "upgraded" upgrade cycle requires a Share Everything plan to join.

In both cases, AT&T and Verizon subscribers are paying for the full price of the unsubsidized phone spread out over the course of either 20 or 24 months.

The benefit is that Next and Edge customers can upgrade when 50 percent of the retail phone is paid off - if they can turn in a still-working device.

They aren't responsible for the remaining months of device payment if they trade in a functional phone.

AT&T Next's math

AT&T Next, launching on July 26, costs $32.50 a month over the course of 20 months for an iPhone 5, and $32 over the same amount of time for a Galaxy S4. The fee varies slightly from phone to phone.

It's the full, no-contract price of a device divided by 20, which amounts to paying for the unsubsidized price of a phone in monthly installments.

The good news is that you can upgrade after 12 months, and the remaining eight months of device payments disappear with a turned in phone. For iPhone 5, that's a much more digestible $390.

A total of $390 sounds good, especially when an unlocked, no contract iPhone 5 costs $649 from Apple, a savings of $259.

However, realize that AT&T Next requires locked-in customers to turn that phone into the carrier. There's no walking away with the handset at the end of the year.

Matt Swider