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AT&T offers customers with older devices free phone

The AT&T Radiant Core smartphone. (Image courtesy AT&T, Graphic by The Desk)

AT&T will begin offering some of its wireless phone users a free device upgrade.

The perk comes as AT&T ends support for older devices that are still using the company’s outdated 3G wireless network, which the carrier intends to shut off by the end of the year.

AT&T plans to turn off its slower 3G wireless network in February 2022. From that point on, the carrier will require customers to use devices that are able to make voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calls on its 4G LTE network, which the company calls “HD Voice.”

AT&T stopped allowing customers to bring 3G-only phones last year, and it began telling customers this year that it would no longer activate LTE-capable phones that were not compatible with its VoLTE service.

Those policies only applied to new customers, though: The carrier has still allowed current customers to use 3G-only devices or those that were not HD Voice compatible, all the while warning its existing subscribers that the time was approaching when their devices would stop working with their network altogether.

As part of a broader push to get those customers to part with their non-compatible devices, AT&T is now offering some subscribers the option of upgrading to a brand-new phone, which the company will happily provide for free.

Starting this week, eligible customers began receiving a notification that they could receive a brand-new, HD Voice-capable 4G LTE phone from the carrier for free, as long as they confirmed their interest with AT&T.

To do that, customers were asked to click a link in a text message or e-mail sent to them, enter their phone number into the eligibility website, then confirm they wanted the phone, which AT&T promised would be shipped to them in a few weeks.

The phone being offered by the carrier is the AT&T Radiant Core, a device that originally retailed for $80 and was exclusive to customers of AT&T’s prepaid service. Customers who are not eligible for the device can still grab an AT&T Radiant Core phone for the low price of $35.

The AT&T Radiant Core is by no means a specs monster: The Android-powered phone offers just 16 gigabytes (GB) of on-board storage, which is barely enough to run the Android operating system. By the time the operating system is installed, there’s enough storage to download a handful of Android apps like Facebook, Instagram and Netflix before space runs out.

The good news is, the AT&T Radiant Core sports a Micro SD slot, which can be used to expand the amount of storage offered by the phone. The bad news is, it’s limited to just 64 GBs, and there’s apparently no way to install and run Android apps from it, meaning the external storage is limited to things like videos, photos and music files.

If videos and photos are your thing, the display on the AT&T Radiant Core might be a bit of a letdown: While most budget smartphones offer a high-quality, full HD display, the AT&T Radiant Core is limited to a standard definition display capable of showing video at a limited 480p resolution. That’s less resolution than even the cheapest television sets on the market.

The camera is nothing great, either: At a time when 12 megapixels is the standard on most phones, this one sports a 5 megapixel camera — good enough for outdoor shots, but expect everything else to be fuzzy. The battery life is middling too, clocking in at just 2500 milliamp hours (mAh), though it is removable.

That said, the phone is compatible with AT&T’s VoLTE technology, and it will stand the test of time when the carrier is finally ready to shut off their older 3G network and move away from devices that aren’t capable of using its HD Voice feature. And with some customers scoring it for the low price of “free,” it’s a phone that’s hard to criticize for what it is — a free upgrade for people with older devices who still want to make phone calls, send text messages and surf the web using their AT&T service.

Still, for those who are looking for newer phones with better specs, there are options that don’t break the bank.

For prepaid customers, AT&T is offering the LG Phoenix 5 for $50 with activation ($100 without activation). The phone is an upgrade from the AT&T Radiant Core in just about every way: It sports a 5.7-inch, full HD display; a 3,000 mAh (non-removable) battery and twin cameras on the back, with the main camera offering 13 megapixels. Sadly, just like the AT&T Radiant Core, the LG Phoenix 5 is limited to 16 GBs of on-board storage, and its micro SD card slot is only capable of accepting 32 GB cards.

For just a few dollars more, there’s also the Nokia 3.1 series A, a capable handset at an attractive price of just $54 with activation ($120 without activation). The phone bumps up the specs to 32 GB of on-board storage and can accept micro SD cards of up to 128 GBs. It comes with a decent processor; an 8 megapixel camera capable of recording high-definition video; a nice, full HD display; and a battery that is capable of lasting all day.

Customers who are holding on to an older iPhone device have a few options as well, though they’re better served buying from Apple directly. The best, cheapest iPhone on the market is the Apple iPhone SE (Second Generation), which costs $400 plus tax from Apple (the company offers financing with approval of its Apple Card). Apple also sells refurbished versions of its iPhone 8 model, which costs around $340.

Not an AT&T customer? AT&T Prepaid is offering a deal right now where new customers receive unlimited access to their 5G network for just $50 a month with AutoPay, with 22 GBs of priority data and 100 GBs of cloud storage included. To learn more, click or tap here.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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