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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