Gears & Gadgets

Dealmaster: Breaking down the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max’s pre-order situation

The lock screen on the iPhone XS.
Enlarge / The iPhone XS will be available to pre-order on Friday.
Valentina Palladino

Update (9/14/2018 12:15am ET): Added details regarding AT&T’s pricing and pre-order promotions.

Original story: It’s iPhone season, which means it’s once again time for millions of Apple diehards to drop what they’re doing and immediately upgrade their daily drivers.

To be clear, we recommend waiting for the Ars review of the new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max—which go up for pre-order at 3am ET on Friday and begin shipping to customers on September 21—before throwing more cash in Tim Cook’s direction. But we also recognize that a whole lot of people decided they would buy one of the new handsets as soon as Apple introduced them.

So for those who are dead set on grabbing an iPhone XS straight away—and don’t want to wait for the more affordable iPhone XR next month—we’ve broken down where to get the new handsets and what the major sellers and mobile carriers are offering for your purchase.

There’s no indication that supply is constrained for either of these phones, but for those who must have the new model on day one, pre-ordering is usually required. Plus, not all of the deals offered in conjunction with these pre-orders are wholly straightforward. Let’s break it all down.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Buying from Apple

For most people, the simplest method of buying a new iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max is to get one directly from Apple. You can pull up the phones’ product page on your Web browser and furiously hit refresh at 3:01am ET, though using the Apple Store app is typically the faster method for those who have an iOS device already. In either case, it’s best to ensure your login and payment information is all squared away ahead of time, just to better your chance of avoiding sudden shipping delays. That tip applies for any other retailer mentioned below.

As a refresher, here’s how much each variant of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max costs outright:

  • iPhone XS: $ 999 (64GB), $ 1,149 (256GB), $ 1,349 (512GB)
  • iPhone XS Max: $ 1,099 (64GB), $ 1,249 (256GB), $ 1,449 (512GB)

That’s not exactly cheap! If you don’t want to pay that much upfront, here’s the obligatory reminder about Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program. This will cost you more in the long run, but it lets you pay off your phone in monthly installments over 24 months, with a simple option to upgrade to a new iPhone after 12 payments. It also packages in the company’s AppleCare+ insurance program, which in this case would drive up the price of the phones over the full 24 months. Like the similar programs offered by the big four mobile carriers, the Upgrade Program is best used if you’re sure you want to buy a new iPhone each year.

If you go this route, here’s how the pricing of the iPhone XS will break down:

  • iPhone XS: $ 49.91/month (64GB), $ 56.16/month (256GB), $ 64.50/month (512GB)
  • iPhone XS Max: $ 54.08/month (64GB), $ 60.33/month (256GB), $ 68.66/month (512GB)

Apple set up a pre-approval process for those who wanted to pre-order the iPhone XS and XS Max as soon as they become available, but the deadline for that expired on Thursday.

Trading in your old phone

As with most big phone launches, the majority of deals surrounding iPhone XS pre-orders involve trading in your old device for credit toward a new phone. The big four carriers have their own trade-in programs: those can be fruitful, but they usually pay you in credit that is returned over the course of several months. This is generally an attempt to keep you tied to their service longer.

If you don’t want to deal with that, you can sell back your device through other retailers. Apple, for one, has a trade-in program called Apple GiveBack. Currently, the company is offering up to $ 525—in the form of an Apple Store gift card or a partial refund of your purchase—for an iPhone X in acceptable condition. (The iPhone XS’ upgrades really don’t seem major enough to be warrant the hassle, though.) My iPhone 7, meanwhile, would fetch $ 200. The program accepts several non-iPhones, too, along with other types of gadgets altogether.

Note that you won’t be able to take advantage of your trade-in credit immediately in this case; you’ll still have to send your old phone to Apple and let them inspect it to ensure everything’s kosher. Apple says it’ll take 2-3 weeks for the whole process to wrap. Still, it’s a way to offset costs, and it can make the trade-in process simpler if you plan to buy through Apple as it is.

You have plenty other options, though. Best Buy has a fairly extensive trade-in program that pays you back in store credit, which can be helpful here since the retailer will sell iPhone XS models that work with the major carriers. Gazelle is a particularly attractive alternative since it can pay you in cash instead of store credit. Others like Swappa and Glyde may offer good value as well. Or you can try to sell it on eBay, if you’re willing to brave that minefield.

Verizon

Now let’s move to the carriers. First, Verizon says it will offer the iPhone XS for $ 999.99 outright or $ 41.66 a month for 24 months. The iPhone XS Max, meanwhile, will cost $ 1,099.99 outright or $ 45.83 a month for 24 months.

The carrier is promoting a deal in which it will take $ 700 off a second iPhone purchase for those who buy an iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus on a device payment plan and activate a new line of service. Verizon says the deal will apply to both new and existing customers, but, as expected, that $ 700 is returned in the form of bill credits spread out over 24 months, not as one instant discount.

Beyond that, Verizon says it will give a minimum of $ 100 in trade-in credit toward the purchase of a new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus. A company spokesperson could not confirm exactly which phones will give back what amount of credit. Again, that value is returned in the form of 24 monthly bill credits.

The carrier will have a couple other offers. Verizon says those who buy an iPhone on a device payment plan can take $ 100 off an iPad with a payment plan or $ 50 off an Apple Watch on a payment plan. Finally, the company says it will take 25 percent off “select Beats products” with the purchase of a new iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, though it’s worth ensuring any discounted product is actually cheaper than its street price elsewhere.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile will sell the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max outright for the same prices as Apple. It will sell each variant on an installment plan, too: the iPhone XS will range from $ 280 to $ 630 down with 24 monthly payments of $ 30, while the iPhone XS Max will range from $ 380 to $ 730 down with the same 24 monthly payments of $ 30.

The magenta carrier says those who trade in an older iPhone toward the purchase of a new model can get up to $ 300 off to their purchase. That, too, comes in the form of bill credits spread out over 24 months.

Here’s how that trade-in credit will break down, according to a T-Mobile representative:

  • $ 300 off: iPhone 8, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus
  • $ 200 off: iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus
  • $ 100 off: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or any earlier iPhone in “good working condition”

AT&T

AT&T says it will offer the iPhone XS starting at $ 999.99 outright, $ 33.34 a month on a 30-month “AT&T Next” installment plan, or $ 41.67 a month on a 24-month “AT&T Next Every Year” installment plan. It will sell the iPhone XS Max, meanwhile, starting at $ 1,099.99 outright, $ 36.67 a month on a 30-month installment plan, or $ 45.84 a month on a 24-month installment plan.

As a reminder, AT&T’s 30-month plan requires 80 percent of the phone’s sales price to be paid off before a user can upgrade, while the 24-month plan allows for an upgrade once 50 percent of the phone’s sales price is paid.

As for pre-order deals, an AT&T representative said those who purchase a new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone X and add a new line of service can get a 64GB iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus at no extra cost. Alternatively, they can get up to $ 700 toward a second iPhone X, iPhone XS, or iPhone XS Max, according to the representative. Much like the Verizon deal mentioned above, that “up to $ 700” is paid back through monthly bill credits.

Sprint

Sprint will offer the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max on Friday, too, but the carrier hasn’t announced any special pre-order deals as of this writing.

The others

  • Best Buy says it will offer a store gift card worth up to $ 275 with the trade-in of an iPhone 7 or newer, but notes that the deal is only available in-store, not online. The retailer has listings for Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max devices on its site.
  • Walmart has a landing page for the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max live on its website, but hasn’t specified any pre-order deals.
  • Target is in the same boat at Walmart.
  • Sam’s Club says those who activate a 24-month payment plan with the purchase of a new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max will get a $ 100 store gift card.
  • US Cellular will have both new iPhones available for pre-order, but won’t offer a special trade-in promotion.
  • Comcast says its Xfinity Mobile MVNO will offer a $ 300 gift card for those who purchase a new iPhone (or Samsung phone), activate a new line, and port their number over to the service. You’ll have to stay with the service for at least 90 days to be eligible for the gift card, and it won’t send the card for a whopping 16-18 weeks after the new line has been activated. Once the card has been sent, Comcast says it will be good for 180 days.

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