5 Cheap Alternatives to Cell Phone Insurance

Photo (cc) by robertnelson

Your cell phone is most likely to be lost or destroyed this month.

That’s according to electronics insurer Asurion, that says July is when the company receives the most insurance claims on misplaced, stolen, broken, and water-damaged phones.

The company’s data also shows that “80 percent of issues happen within the first 12 months of phone activation” and warns that the replacement cost of a smartphone can be more than double the subsidized price you get by signing a contract – “upwards of $500 to $700.”

You don’t have to tell me twice – I nearly had a heart attack all three times I dropped my iPhone. (I’ve been lucky, with only minor scuffing on its rounded corners.) Even if I could replace it at the subsidized price, I’d lose the unlimited data plan I’m grandfathered into, which in the long run would cost me even more.

I know people with worse luck: Multiple friends have shattered the screen or dropped their phones into toilets. (Don’t ask.) I also know a guy who left his phone on the driver’s seat to run back in his house for less than five minutes – and came back to a seat full of nothing but broken window glass.

A lot can happen to a phone, as Asurion comically illustrates at GottaHaveMyMobile.com. Their recommended solution, of course, is insurance. Is it worth it? I took a look at what cell phone insurance would cost a Verizon customer like me – and concluded no.

It’s a moot question in my case, because you can only enroll in the first 30 days of ownership or an upgrade. I guess that’s how they get around serving phones with “pre-existing conditions.”

The policy would cost $7 a month and allow two replacements a year. I might only be able to get one of those replacements, though. Asurion’s website lists the retail cost of an iPhone 4S at $850, and there’s a $1,500 yearly cap on claims for “advanced devices.” So if I had really bad luck, I might have to downgrade the second time. On top of that, there’s a $99 deductible for each claim.

So, being realistic, $183 would guarantee me one replacement per year. Worth it? Maybe for some – if it’s not already covered under a manufacturer’s warranty, a warranty extended for free through your credit card, or an additional plan you bought such as AppleCare. But certainly not for me, not when there are cheap or free alternatives…

1. Avoiding water damage

Any time I think it might rain, I keep a Ziploc in my pocket. When I feel the first droplet, the phone goes inside, and I can still use the touchscreen just fine. This is great for casual use, but I doubt it would survive a dunking. But there are still plenty of cheap options for people into water sports. A well-reviewed water-sealed case costs just $15 – about the price of two months’ cell insurance. For $25, the DryCase brand claims to be waterproof to a depth of 100 feet.

2. Preventing cracks and scratches

A case for your phone is an obvious way to protect it – but many people buy them for style instead of functionality, or they just don’t think they need one. I didn’t think I needed one, either, until I dropped my phone twice.

Then I bought a padded leather pouch that I clipped through my belt loop, and that worked great – until it slipped off while I was seated and didn’t notice. (Fortunately, I had my phone in hand at the time and didn’t lose it.) Then I dropped the phone a third time. Accidents will happen.

For scratch protection, MediaDevil sells screens for many devices from $5 to $15, depending on whether you want a clear, anti-glare, privacy, or mirror-effect model. Combined with a $10 rubber Griffin case, an iPhone would have pretty solid protection for under $20.

If you’re using a different model or want to combine style and substance, try Otterbox. They have lots of options in the $20-to-$30 range, and some waterproof cases too.

3. Drying out

If you drop your cell phone in water without proper protection, there are a lot of things you should not do in a moment of panic: Don’t turn it on. Don’t use a hair dryer, microwave, oven, or even direct sunlight.

Instead, leave it off (or immediately turn it off once it’s out of water), dry the outside as best you can with a towel, and stick it in a Tupperware container full of uncooked rice at least overnight. The sealed rice will absorb the moisture, and if you were both quick and lucky, your phone might be OK. I know someone this worked for after her infant son threw her phone in the toilet.

4. Getting repairs

If you have an issue with your phone, the first thing to try is a quick search. A couple of months ago, I experienced an unusual problem with my iPhone: The speakers would only work when I received a call. I couldn’t play music through them or adjust the volume, although headphones worked fine. Puzzled, I poked around online and learned it was somehow related to the docking being dirty. I cleaned out the dust and gunk with the end of a paperclip and, sure enough, problem solved.

Something like a broken screen is not so easily or cheaply repaired, but you can save the same ways you would with everything else. Get a referral to a trustworthy place from friends and family, do some comparison shopping to get a competitive quote, and ask about discounts.

If all else fails, you can turn to a national mail-in service, although with prices above $100, you might have been better off with insurance.

5. Finding a lost device

Yeah, there’s an app for that. Find My iPhone and Plan B for Android are both completely free ways to track your phone after losing it. But if you suspect somebody stole the device, please don’t try to chase down and confront the thief – call the cops instead.

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