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New iPhones coming next week with contracts, later without

July 1, 2008 | 11:48 am

Iphone UPDATE: Confused by what the more expensive phone gets you? You're not alone. Here are some answers.

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AT&T said today that it would start selling the speedier versions of Apple's iPhone on July 11, and that at some point in the future people would be able to buy the gadgets without a 2-year service contract for a bunch more money.

The wireless carrier, which for now has exclusive rights to sell the iPhone, said it would charge $599 or $699 (depending on the amount of memory in the phone) for versions of the phone without a contract.

But just because there isn't a contract doesn't mean you will be able to use the phone with service from another carrier, such as Verizon or Sprint. You won't, AT&T spokesman Wes Warnock said.

Presumably the benefit is that you get to pay AT&T by the month, although Warnock said more information wouldn't be forthcoming until the contract-less iPhones get closer to availability. And he wouldn't say when that will be.

A truly "unlocked" phone, usable on other carriers, would have helped defuse tensions between Apple and consumers who tinkered with the previous version of the iPhone to make them work on other networks. Apple had used technology updates to render many of those phone useless.

As announced by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs last month, the new iPhone 3G also can be had for $199, for the 8 gigabyte version, and $299, for the 16 gigabyte version, with a 2-year AT&T contract. AT&T is subsidizing the cheaper versions.

AT&T said today that the cheapest contract, a plan for $70 a month, would include 450 minutes of monthly use during weekdays and 5,000 minutes at night and on weekends. The most expensive of the four plans costs $130 for unlimited use. Text messaging will cost from $5 to $20 more per month.

There are a range of activation fees and criteria for discount eligibility, some of which are addressed on an AT&T information page.

Do you think the contract-free iPhone is a good deal or a rip-off? Sound off in the comments below.

-- Joseph Menn

Photo: Apple

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