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Want an off-contract Nokia Lumia 920 today? Many stores won’t sell it without a new contract

As you may already know, the Nokia Lumia 920 is selling for an interesting $450 without a contract according to Nokia and AT&T. While this is not as attractive (price-wise) as the unlocked Google Nexus 4 ($299+), there is a compelling argument for wanting to get Nokia’s latest without a contract (many phones sell for $650 to $750 off-contract).

We’ve heard reports that many AT&T stores refused to sell no-contract Nokia Lumia 920 to the public, but AT&T and Nokia had previously said that this was a mis-communication with the stores, and that this problem should be solved by now. We wanted to check for ourselves and we showed up in the AT&T store on 3rd and Market in San Francisco…

Surprise! The staff was adamant about not selling the Nokia Lumia 920 without a contract.  Out of curiosity, we called Best Buy, which says that it too does not sell the smartphone without a contract. We tried a few more locations, but in the end, we could not find a retail location to buy it without a contract in San Francisco. Everyone said: “go to the AT&T website”.

So, went to the AT&T website, and we can see an option for buying an off-contract Nokia Lumia 920. We chose the “no commitment” option and… surprise! The AT&T website wants the buyer to select a plan. Yes, “no commitment” apparently does not mean “without a plan” (+fees…). It probably means that you can end the plan without a penalty because you paid the phone full price. No commitment probably does not mean “unlocked” either. If you choose a prepaid plan, the Lumia 920 is simply not one of the phone options…

As you know, the “Plan B”, Best Buy, didn’t work out… but out plan C is to order the Lumia 920 on bestbuy.com then pick it up at the store. That circumvents the store’s refusal to sell a phone without a contract. If you want to pick up a Lumia 920 on the same day, that’s the only option that we found to be viable. Now, there is a significant drawback: Best Buy will charge you $599, which is way above the theoretical $449 of AT&T.

The only place where you can order the Lumia 920 without a plan and without jumping through hoops and loops is on the online Microsoft Store. Microsoft will charge you $499, but it is simple. Just remember that off-contract does not mean “unlocked”. These phones are likely locked to the AT&T network, and if you ask nicely, AT&T *may* provide you with the unlock code.

In the end, the logic is probably something like this: the retailer makes more money with a contract because they are getting a share of your monthly payments or a bigger bonus. So, from their point of view, they would rather sell nothing and keep the opportunity open for another new subscriber. From a financial perspective, it’s understandable, but there is clearly something like “customer service” and “customer satisfaction” that should be taken into account…

Filed in Cellphones. Read more about AT&T, Lumia 920 and Nokia.

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