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Grr: need a new US carrier and maybe new phone too

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Hey guys, I need some help. I remember these forums being very helpful back when I first got my MPx200 from AT&T Wireless way back in December 2003, so I have now returned in my hour of need.

Okay, now that I've built up the drama around the situation:

I'm living in the US, so please keep that in mind.

As you all know AT&T Wireless was bought out by Cingular. However, in Oklahoma and a few other states, for some reason a merger isn't allowed by law, and Cingular sold these states' stores/towers/customers/etc to a really crappy carrier called Alltel. Or something like that.

Which brings me to today:

I have been interested in a new phone for some time, because I finally got fed up w/ the short battery life of the MPx200 and the horrible, horrible reception (1 bar at the max standing outside on a clear day) of the network in my area. Alas I am still under contract until December.

I have a coworker who had the same phone and same problems and upgraded to the Audiovox 5600 (which from what I understand is also known as the C500 in Europe, which everyone seems to be raving about). I was really impressed with the speed increases, but what I liked most was seeing all 4 bars on the reception.

So today I went to the formerly AT&T wireless store intent on purchasing this phone. However, I got there and was informed by the sales lady that in August Alltel is shutting off GSM service, and all GSM customers are going to have to come in and "upgrade" (down to a regular phone, not a gsm smartphone? bull****, that's a downgrade) their phones. This really pisses me off, and I plan on getting of the remainder of my out of my contract somehow, probably by a "squeaky wheel gets the greese" method.

So now to find a new carrier. But to get a new phone or not? That is the question.

There is still the battery issue, but for the cost of not getting another $300 or so phone I think I can deal with charging it daily. What I'm not sure about is how the MPx200 will go reception-wise for another carrier.

And there is the matter of my MPx200 being network locked to AT&T. I've looked at a lot of "unlock your phone" sites during the past two days, but they all look really fish. I'm also not too pleased w/ the idea of forking out $70 USD to do it. Are there any of these that actually work, and are there any that don't cost 1/3 the price of a new phone?

Concerning a new phone, there are two that I'm looking at right now:

- i-Mate SP3i

- Audiovox SMT 5600 (aka C500, right?)

From what I can tell the specs look similar. Mainly I like the joystick-style approach to the up/down/left/right keys instead of buttons, as I play a lot of NES/Gameboy on my smartphone while waiting for class to start, waiting at a resturant, or etc.

If anyone has the audiovox and has played NES games on it, does it work okay enough w/ that out-of-aspect-ratio keypad? I would imagine it'd be hell to move left/right on it. Other than that I have no complaints about the Audiovox, and it seems a deal cheaper too.

But alas I do not know of a good place to buy either phone, either locked to a carrier or not. I checked out eBay, but they want $500 for SP3i's, which is crazy, and of course you obviously can't trust them since, well, its eBay...

I'll also want to be application unlocking the phone too, for the above reason of wanting to run various emulators and stuff on them.

What do you guys suggest I do?

As far as providers go, this is another hard one to call. I don't really use the actual phone parts of the phone all that much. I think I made 10 calls since Janurary, although this is also due in part to knowing I'll have to go outside to make the call... (see above)

I'm thinking right now of going with Cingular, because they have a good prepaid plan. I'm thinking $25 for 10 cents a minute that expires every 90 days would be a good start for me. However Cingular doesn't offer the Audiovox phone on their plans, meaning I'm back at looking to buy an unlocked phone on the Internet and hoping I don't get ripped off...

This whole situation is very frustrating. Any insight/advice/sympathy would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks guys.

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