How to get the iPhone 12 for free — really

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The 5G-equipped phones, which were unveiled earlier this week, include enhanced cameras, an upgraded display, a tougher glass screen and some new colors, among other bells and whistles.
Preorders for the iPhone 12 and Pro begin Friday morning before hitting stores next week. And Apple (AAPL) is releasing two more models in the coming weeks: The iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max will be available for preorder on November 6.

The cheapest phone in the lineup is the iPhone 12 mini, which starts at $699. The top-of-the-line iPhone 12 Pro Max, featuring Apple’s biggest ever smartphone display at 6.7 inches, starts at $1,099.

However, there are several ways to get cheaper — or even free — new iPhones, depending on the phone carrier.

Here’s who is offering deals:

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AT&T (T) is letting new and existing customers get the iPhone 12 for free with an $800 trade-in offer to owners of the iPhone 8 and newer. To be eligible, AT&T customers must have an unlimited data plan and stick with the carrier for 30 months on an payment installment plan.
Analysts at research firm Cowen said AT&T’s offer was the “most aggressive” deal of the big three carriers. Both Verizon and AT&T, which owns CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia, are battling a newly energized T-Mobile. But AT&T in particular is playing defense, because DIrecTV and WarnerMedia have been struggling lately.
AT&T has also been waiting for a mainstream phone with 5G capabilities to show off its new next-generation high-speed wireless network. The company announced in July that that its 5G network is now available to 205 million consumers in 395 markets across the United States.

By locking in existing customers for at least 30 more months, AT&T can help maintain its base.


The “uncarrier” is focusing on boosting its subscriber base with iPhone 12 deals. T-Mobile (TMUS) is giving owners of the iPhone 11 Pro or 10 XS a $850 trade-in credit and a $680 credit to owners of older iPhone models for new customers. Existing customers get a trade-in value between $200 to $500, depending on their phone.
Its deal is could be good for couples or families: T-Mobile (TMUS) is offering two iPhone 12 Pros for $100 each per month, including an unlimited data plan. However, shoppers have to trade-in two eligible phones for the deal. Cowen called for this a “‘go big or go home’ strategy for multi-line customers.”

“T-Mobile typically thrives on ‘jump ball’ opportunities and has a smaller iPhone base, putting them in attack position,” the analysts noted. “However, their offer is relatively benign compared to AT&T and focused on multi-line subscribers.”


Verizon (VZ) highlighted its growing 5G network at this week’s Apple event, so it’s slightly surprising Verizon isn’t offering a better deal for the iPhone 12.

Similar to its rivals, it’s offering $800 trade-in to shoppers, but they must have the iPhone X (released in 2017) or newer and be a new customer or add a new line. Existing customers can trade in an iPhone X or newer model and pay $15 month for 2 years with an eligible data plan.

“Still, like T-Mobile, Verizon provided ‘good enough’ offers but falling short to AT&T,” Cowen analysts said.

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