Get It for Less: Smartphones

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Most high-quality smartphones cost at least $200 when they first come out (and when paired with a new two-year service contract), but with a few notable exceptions, there's no reason to ever pay that much.

Louis Ramirez is a senior features writer for DealNews, a money-saving Web site that frequently gathers deals on new phones, and he shared his expertise with us to pass along the best strategies for finding a good deal.
You once needed to wait at least a few months before you saw any kind of deal on a new smartphone, but the time frame for price reductions is much shorter than it used to be.

Wait a few weeks
It used to be that you needed to wait at least a few months before you saw any kind of deal on a new smartphone. But with the market flooded by so many new Android phones on a weekly basis, the time frame for price reductions is much shorter than it used to be.

"The best way to save on a smartphone is not to buy it the day it's released," Ramirez says. "Now there's so many smartphones out there that the market is saturated, and you begin to see deals a week to two weeks out."

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As an example, he points to the Motorola ( MMI) Droid Razr, which came out of the gate in November for $300 but dropped to $111 on Amazon ( AMZN) after less than a week. An updated version of the phone, the Droid Razr Maxx, went on sale just a couple of weeks ago, and Verizon ( VZ) will offer a buy-one, get-one-free deal on the new model starting Friday.

If you're in the market for a new Android phone, don't pre-order it and don't buy it during the first couple of weeks it's on sale. Chances are, your patience will be rewarded very quickly.

Buy refurbished
Waiting a few weeks may work for Android phones, but Apple ( AAPL) iPhones are a different beast. New iPhones come out generally only once a year, and the price on the newest models stay fixed until the next one comes out.

There's one very good way to bypass this, though: Buy a refurbished phone. Ramirez says that he's had good luck with a refurbished iPhone, calling it "just like new." And it will certainly save you a bit of money: AT&T ( T) sells a refurbished 32 GB iPhone 4S for $249.99 with a new contract -- a $50 discount on the price for a brand-new one. Discounts for refurbished phones apply to other smartphone brands as well, Ramirez says.

Buy online
Ramirez says he generally recommends checking online retailers before bricks-and-mortar stores to get the best price on a new phone. He points to Wirefly.com and Amazon.com as two that consistently offer great deals on phones -- indeed, the latter made waves in November when it offered several phones for just a penny each. He says that if you do feel the need to shop in a physical store, carrier stores (for instance, a Verizon store) tend to offer better deals. (Once again, Apple is an exception to that rule: While you won't find refurbished iPhones at carrier stores, the prices on new iPhones are identical to those on the online Apple store.)

As a final tip, Ramirez recommends checking out Research In Motion's ( RIMM) BlackBerry to take advantage of the floundering company's desperation.

"If you're not biased on operating system , consider BlackBerry," he says. "Everyone knows that BlackBerry is hurting, so you're going to see some aggressive deals there."

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