How To Give Your Old iPhone To Your Kids, Cheaply

Let’s say you’ve upgraded to a new iPhone and want your kids to have your old one. More and more, kids have phones. The iPhone is nice, since it doubles as a game device. But you don’t want them to have the smartphone features AT&T charges more for, both to save money and maybe to keep them off the web. Here’s some advice.

Technically, if you’re going to use an iPhone, AT&T will charge you $15 to $25 for a data plan, no ifs, ands or buts. You have to have it. Those are the rules, even if you don’t want data on the phone. In fact, AT&T will even suggest that you need to have the data plan, otherwise you won’t be able to use the phone to update it and so on.

The GoPhone Route

The reality is a bit different. AT&T has pre-paid phones, through its GoPhone service. Want to turn that iPhone into a data-less, data plan-less phone? One way is to turn it into a GoPhone.

Put a GoPhone SIM card into an iPhone, and you can make calls, get text messages and just fine. You even get voicemail. It won’t be the iPhone’s visual voicemail, but your kids will struggle on somehow. After all, their parents did for years.

What you can’t do is get out onto the web, which for many parents is just fine. Of course, you can still get out via WiFi. But you won’t have your kids running around chewing up their prepayments surfing the web.

Where do you get a GoPhone SIM card? Any AT&T store will sell one to you. I wouldn’t tell them you want it for an iPhone. Do that, and you’re going to get the “No, you can’t do that response.”

Instead, find some old AT&T-compatible non-smartphone, take it in, and say you want a GoPhone SIM card for it. You’ll have to top the card up initially with at least $25, I believe, and that lasts 90 days. Text messages and calls cost $0.25 each, and you can add on text messaging bundles.

Don’t have an old phone? Buy one. Sometimes you can get a refurbished basic model online direct from AT&T for as little as $25, and that includes $25 in call credits. Right now, the cheapest phone is $45. That also comes with call credit.

Oh, where to put the SIM card? If you don’t know, look at the top of your iPhone. There’s a small hole, just the right size to put the end of a paper clip into. Push one in there, and the SIM card along with its holder will come out of your iPhone. But the new SIM card into that.

The Family Plan Route

Want your kids on your calling plan? You can do that, too. The key is that you need to put them on using a “dumb” phone. Again, find an old AT&T-compatible non-smartphone or buy a cheap GoPhone. Take that phone in and ask to have it added to your account. You’ll be given a SIM card for it. They’ll probably even put the card in your phone. Take the SIM card out (you know, after you’ve left the store) and put it in your iPhone. Now you’ve got an extra line using an iPhone for $10 per month.

You shouldn’t find the data will work on the iPhone, because that’s not been enabled for the dumb phone that AT&T thinks is on your account. But to be safe, go to Settings, then General, then Network and disable Cellular Data. That should do the trick.

Warning Time

Worried about how AT&T might react to this? Technically, they could boot you from their network. Chances are, they won’t even notice. But yes, do this, and you’re taking a risk. Going the GoPhone route is “safer,” in that you’re only risking that prepaid line.

Obviously, if you start having phone-specific problems, you’re not going to get AT&T support. They’ll think you’re using a different model phone, so you might find if there’s a problem with your voicemail, they might not be able to help. But you’ll probably be OK, in most case.

As for updating the phone, you can do that via iTunes just like a “real” data enabled iPhone. iTunes doesn’t care what SIM card is in your phone. But you will have to have the phone tied to your Apple account. Yes, you can have more than one phone on the same Apple account.

Is it cheating to do this? Technically, yes. If you have qualms, don’t do it. Personally, I wish AT&T wouldn’t consider a “smartphone” to be smart (and charge a data plan for it) if you’ve specifically asked for the smart parts to be disabled. And having been in a number of AT&T stores recently, I’ve heard a number of parents specifically ask for exactly that.

Hence this post 🙂