Walt Mossberg

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The 411 on Phone Discounts

Q:

You recently mentioned the HTC One as being priced at $200. I’ve just been on the phone with my carrier T-Mobile, which offers me the HTC One for $100 down and $20 a month for 24 months. They explain they “no longer offer discounted phones” under their new world order or whatever. Can you explain?

A:

In the U.S., carriers traditionally subsidize the price of mobile phones and then make back the money by requiring buyers to sign a two-year contract, so they don’t defect before the carrier has made back the subsidy from them. Under this formula, the HTC One is indeed $200 at AT&T.

But T-Mobile recently announced a new approach under which it won’t subsidize the phones, but will charge something close to what the phone maker charges it, spread out in monthly payments. In return, it won’t require a two-year service contract. In the case of the HTC One and some other high-end smartphones, like the iPhone 5, that amounts to $100 down at purchase, plus $480 over two years — $20 a month. The actual voice and data service is in addition to the cost of the phone.

Q:

I have always been a Windows user, and always used security software. I just purchased a new iMac and the folks at the Apple store have told me that security software is not needed on Apple computers. What is your opinion?

A:

The Mac isn’t invulnerable to security problems. It’s just not targeted nearly as often as Windows PCs are. Relatively few Mac owners use security software because almost none of the vast array of malware programs around is designed for the Mac. Nearly every one is designed to run on Windows, and they can’t run on the Mac operating system, unless you install Windows on the Mac.

My advice: If security software makes you more comfortable, use it. Otherwise, unless you install Windows, the odds that your Mac could be successfully attacked are low enough that security software isn’t needed. However, you are still vulnerable to scams which rely on greed, carelessness or fear to get you to open suspicious links in email. Never do this, especially if the email purports to be from a financial institution or credit-rating service.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.


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