Virgin Mobile and Boost’s Not-Quite-New 4G Android Phones Make Prepaid More Palatable

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Virgin Mobile's Evo V 4G -- formerly known as Sprint's Evo 3D
Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile's Evo V 4G -- formerly known as Sprint's Evo 3D

When you think about it, it shouldn’t matter that much whether you pay for your wireless service after you’ve received it — as most of us do — or before you use it, as you do if you have a prepaid carrier such as Virgin Mobile or Boost Mobile, both of which are owned by Sprint. Either way, you’re paying for service once a month. And prepaid services are high on bang for the buck and low on gotchas — Virgin, for instance, has a plan that offers unlimited voice minutes and data for just $55 a month, no contract required.

But prepaid carriers don’t subsidize their handsets, and few of their customers would pay full price — $500 and up — for one of the newest smartphones. As a result, available phones have often been pretty so-so.

At the CTIA conference here in New Orleans, however, Virgin and Boost both announced a new approach that makes these carriers more intriguing, even for folks who are currently on postpaid plans elsewhere. They’re releasing spruced-up versions of two of Sprint’s 4G WiMax phones from last year — both HTC handsets running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a newer version of HTC’s Sense software — for a reasonable $299.99.

Virgin Mobile’s phone, the HTC Evo V 4G, is a new version of the Evo 3D, a phone which Sprint announced in March of 2011. Boost’s model, the Evo Design 4G, goes under the same name on Sprint, where it’s still available and costs $399.99 if you buy it without a contract. They’re not the latest and greatest, but they’re not antiques, either.

(Side note: it’s interesting that Virgin’s phone is called the Evo V 4G, even though it, like the Evo 3G, has a no-glasses 3D screen and a 3D camera. Maybe Sprint concluded that 3D isn’t a killer smartphone feature after all.)

Of course, if you sign up for a two-year contract with a postpaid contract, you can get a respectable Android phone for a lot less than $299.99 — in fact, you can get the Evo Design 4G for $99.99, although Sprint’s version still has the increasingly aged Android 2.3 Gingerbread. But prepaid service is so much cheaper than postpaid that you can make up the difference within the first few months, then pocket the savings thereafter.

A Sprint representative told me that the company isn’t sure yet whether Virgin and Boost will get recent Sprint models at affordable prices from now on — it all depends on what the pricing it could offer would look like. I hope it works out. And do you think there’s any chance it could strike a similar deal to sell last year’s iPhone at a similar price to Virgin and Boost customers?

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