AT&T streamlines its smartphone installment plans

As of June 9th, you'll have two ways to get a new phone through the carrier.

AT&T's current Next installment plans are a little bewildering, to put it mildly. Do you want to trade in at 12, 18 or 24 months? How about a downpayment and installments for 28 months? Mercifully, the carrier knows what a mess it made. As of June 9th, it's streamlining its installment plans to give you just two choices. The first, Next Every Year, is for habitual upgraders: you can get a new phone every 12 months if you agree to a 2-year payment plan. The regular option, just called Next, lets you upgrade every 2 years if you're willing to make payments over 30 months.

In both cases, you can soften the month-to-month blow by trading in your old device or making a down payment. And of course, this only applies to installment customers unwilling to spend extra. You can still buy a phone outright or pay things off if you want to upgrade on your own terms.

The slimmed-down options could be crucial for AT&T. Most of its rivals already have simpler plans. T-Mobile, for instance, splits you between a regular 24-month plan or the 12-month Jump On Demand plan (with 18 months of payments). Just be aware of the lock-in for the standard Next plan -- those 30 months of payments could feel like an eternity.