For $49.99, you can get something called the BLU R1 HD, which is a basement-dwelling handset you’d likely see at the corner store as a burner phone.
If you want something a little more familiar, Amazon is offering the Moto G for as little as $124.99, a $25 discount (for a limited time!). After the promotional period, the Moto G starts at $149.99, which is still $50 lower than the MSRP.
What you save monetarily you give up in privacy. Here’s how Amazon phrases it:
The breakthrough pricing on unlocked smartphones is supported by personalized offers and ads, including deals and product recommendations, displayed on the phone’s lockscreen. When a customer sees an offer, they can tap to learn more about it or simply unlock their phone to dismiss.
More to the point, Amazon loads its own apps (the Amazon app proper as well as some Prime apps for media) onto your device, which can’t be removed.
Amazon is enticing users with unlocked devices, which means you can use them with any carrier — almost. If you grab that BLU R1 HD, it’s only available for AT&T and T-Mobile; Verizon and Sprint use a different technology, and that phone doesn’t work on those networks.
And one last thing — the deal is only available to Prime members, which has a $99 annual cost. Even if you updated your device every two years, you’d actually be spending an additional $99 versus just buying the device outright.
The Kindle effect
Amazon’s ‘savings’ here are actually quite subversive. This scheme is the same type of discount-for-ad-space it offers with Kindle devices.
Oddly, it’s a program that never made its way to the laughable Fire phone. Perhaps it was meant for version two of the phone, which never saw the light of day — and Amazon just found a way to turn any Android phone into a Fire phone.
It’s also a bit strange that Amazon is touting the ‘freedom’ of having an unlocked device, but strapping users to Prime in a big way. If you’ve ever been poking around the Web and seen an ad that made you think ‘whoa, I was just looking at that on Amazon, how creepy,’ that’s a feeling you’d get from your phone every day with this program.
It’s not clear how this might work moving forward, either. We can’t say if Amazon is simply buying phones, loading its software on them and selling them to customers — or of it has hardware partners.
To that, it’s easy to see a company like Samsung making dedicated phones for Prime, but hard to see them agreeing to have flagship devices like the Galaxy S sold at a discount with ads slapped across the screen.
It’s obviously a pilot program, though. Hopefully, Amazon simply kills this scheme as fast as they did the Fire phone.
Update: Th is article was edited to clarify that Amazon’s ad program is opt-out.