updated 08:26 pm EDT, Tue October 1, 2013
Sprint-based carrier offers cheaper plans than most, no contracts
As previously reported, the US branch of carrier Virgin Mobile has introduced sales of the iPhone 5s and 5c at its stores, and is selling the off-contract phones for $100 less than Apple's advertised prices. It's not clear how long the company will offer the discount, and stores only have the 16GB model (higher capacities can be ordered through the company's website) and the gold 5s and yellow 5c are both listed as out of stock -- but the pricing makes the company the low-price leader on the hot-selling new iPhones.
Oddly, the iPhone 5 (which Virgin still carries while stocks last) remains unaffected by the sale, meaning that a new 5c is $100 cheaper than the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5c sells for $450, while the 5s starts at $550 -- both $100 lower than the listed price on Apple's web site, and those discounts also apply to the higher-capacity models. The iPhone maker does not normally allow new versions of its flagship product to be discounted from their full unlocked retail price, making the promotion unusual.
Virgin Mobile's main selling point as a carrier is that it sells customers a phone at full price and then offers cheaper-than-average plans in order to retain customers on a contract-free basis. As with most too-good-to-be-true deals, this one also has a catch: the CDMA-based iPhones are locked to Virgin (through Sprint) and the company does not offer unlocking in the US, meaning the iPhone cannot be used with any other carrier, even after it is off-contract. At present, there is no way to "jailbreak" the iPhone so it can be unlocked either (by law, Virgin offers unlocking of iPhones in other countries, but not in the US).
Plans for the Virgin Mobile US iPhones start at $35 and include 300 "anytime" minutes, unlimited texting and up to 2.5GB of unthrottled 3G or LTE data. The top tier costs $55 per month and offers unlimited talk and modest data restrictions. Users who opt for auto-pay on their pre-paid plan get a $5 per month discount.