Why you need it
The problem with the latest and greatest smartphones is that along with their bright screens and spectacular features comes a hefty retail price tag. If you’ve just upgraded to the new iPhone 4S, chances are that you only paid a starting price of $200 (for a 16GB) by signing a new two-year contract with either AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. This is all well and good, but what happens if you break the glass on your phone or drop it in water while you don’t have a carrier upgrade available? Well, if you want to get yourself a brand new iPhone 4S to replace the one that you just broke, it will cost you a whopping $649. So, you can either take the risk of having to fork over that rather large chunk of change should you break your phone (for accidental damage) or you can pay a much smaller price for an insurance plan that will cover hardware malfunctions as well as idiotic accidents.
Apple Care+ ($99 for two years including two accidents)
The first option that you have with your phone, and probably the best, is getting Apple Care+ when you buy your new phone. This plan extends your Apple hardware repair and support to a total of two years and gives you accidental coverage for two incidents during that time. This means that if something goes wrong with your phone, not caused by reckless or inappropriate use, you’ll be covered for two years and Apple will repair or replace your phone. If you drop your phone on concrete, in water, or throw it across the bar while you’re drunk, you will be able to replace your phone for a $49 fee, but you will only be able to do so twice during your two-year insurance plan. Break your phone doing something stupid for the third time, and you’re pretty screwed. The plan does not cover loss or theft, but then that’s what your Find My iPhone app is for.
We would be inclined to recommend this option to everyone except for one problem: Apple is saying that you must purchase Apple Care+ for your iPhone 4S at the same time as you buy your phone. For those who pre-ordered the phone, this claim is a bit confusing. If you bought or preordered your phone through the Apple store or AT&T, Apple Care+ should have been an option at the time of purchase, but it wasn’t and still isn’t available for those buying through Verizon or Sprint. Despite the claim on the Apple Care+ buying page (that you must purchase insurance at the same time as your phone), Apple has made some provisions for early adopters. Through November 14, customers who either preordered the iPhone 4S or purchased any iPhone on or after October 14 will be able to add Apple Care+ to their device.
AT&T: Through AT&T, customers can choose a Mobile Protection Pack for a bill of $9.99 each month. This insurance covers lost, stolen, and damaged devices, but users must pay a $199 deductible to get a phone replaced. This plan includes a phone-locating service and phone support, but the carrier also offers an insurance-only option for $6.99 per month. With this insurance, you can also only make two claims, which makes the Apple Care+ protection look pretty good if you can get it.
Verizon: Verizon users can add Total Equipment Coverage for $10.99 per month, which is a hefty price when you combine that with the $169 deductible that you’ll have to pay up should you lose or break your phone. We’d recommend almost any of your other options over this one.
Sprint: The newest carrier to the iPhone family has chosen not to offer carrier protection.
The good thing about these services is that you can usually add these to your monthly bill at any time, unlike Apple Care. The not so good thing is that over a two-year period, monthly payments and one phone replacement would cost you somewhere over $400. So, if you can afford to cough up the money for an insurance plan upfront, Apple Care or a third-party is a much better offer.
SquareTrade: Right now, customers can get two years of coverage from this third-party insurer for $99. This coverage includes manufacturer defects as well as accidental coverage. If you spill on or drop your phone, you’ll have to pay a $50 deductible to get it repaired or replaced. To file a claim with the company, you can either send the phone in or take it to an Apple store and get reimbursed for the cost of repair. With this the company offers a five-day turnaround guarantee. The only catch to this option is that customers must purchase the insurance within 30 days of buying their phone.
Worth Ave. Group: This third-party insurance comes at a slightly higher price tag, but is still a good value and offers the most comprehensive coverage. Users can purchase a year of insurance for $89 or two years for $178, which includes coverage for drops, spills, and theft, and offers unlimited repairs and replacements under the plan. If you’re someone who is accident-prone more than a couple times a year, this plan will have you covered.
GoCare: This company provides a year of protection for $59 or two years for $97. This company offers very comprehensive coverage, including mechanical failures, drop, spill, and water submersion protection, but you’re are only allowed one replacement per the term of your coverage. Other pluses to this coverage include loaner phones, technical support, and data recovery. Users can buy this insurance for their phones at any time.
Things to think about before you buy
Before you purchase any type of insurance for your new phone, think about your typical phone use and history to determine how much coverage you really need. If you’ve never dropped your phone, maybe you don’t need to buy insurance or should only purchase the lowest-priced option. If you have an upgrade available on your plan (or a family plan member willing to share), you might consider waiting to purchase insurance until that upgrade is gone. There’s no point in buying carrier insurance if you have an upgrade available, since the deductible and the cost of buying a new phone on a two-year contract price are just about the same. If you are especially accident-prone, on the other hand, you might want to pick the insurance option that offers the most accident coverage and replacements.
Most people: Apple Care+ or SquareTrade
If you can get Apple Care+, it seems like the overall best value for the coverage that you get. For only $99, you’ll get two full years of Apple repair on hardware issues and up to two phone replacements (accidental damange) for only $49 each.
If you can’t get Apple Care+, SquareTrade seems to be the next best option. The price is the same (on sale) and minus the convenience of getting everything taken care of at the Apple Store, you’ll get just about the same coverage.
Accident-prone: Worth Ave. Group
This coverage has a slightly steeper price tag, but offers unlimited repairs and replacements, meaning no matter how many times you drop or spill water on your phone, you’ll be covered.
Late to the game: GoCare
If you’re buying your insurance long after you bought your phone, your options are a bit more limited. For that situation, we’d recommend GoCare, which is low-priced and offers comprehensive coverage. Only catch is that you only get a full replacement phone once in your insurance term.