Also, be aware that there's a difference between a carrier-branded phone and an unlocked phone. Both can be used with a prepay plan, though.
I hope with the release of Windows 10 we'll see a new wave of interest in Windows Phones. The only reason I held off with my latest is because of the App Store. With Continuum and one account across multiple devices, when my contract is up next year I would seriously consider a Windows Phone. It just needs quality apps and a less polluted store. Quality, not quantity Microsoft. I hope your vetting is going well.
Edit: (forgot to add) The guy I was chatting with online said there would be no additional charges except for the normal fees I would have to pay if I waited till the end of my contract. I'm not really sure that's true. That's one reason I would rather talk to someone at the store.
I'm no lover of any carrier of any kind, whether it be cellular, cable, satellite, or pigeons. I know companies need to turn a profit, but it's a ripoff for what we pay and get. You're streaming data, not sending a manned mission to the moon! They're like banks. Service charge for this > Fee for that. Then look at all the taxes on a monthly bill. On top of that they force those of us with a smart phone to buy a data plan. No! I don't need a data plan. I have data at home and living around the big city there's WiFi hotspots everywhere. May be fine for those that need it out in the boonies, but some don't. I'm lucky if I use 100 Mbs out of my 500 in my plan. Nice to have, but I could live without it.
Smart move to shop around. Good luck to you, Winuser, and please let us know how it goes.
MS simply need to address the fact that still a lot of major corporations have no interest in developing apps for their phones. It's OK pushing flagship phones if people can't use them the way they use their iPhones or Android phones, if you want to be glued to Facemuck or play Angry Birds I dare say you'll be fine, but if you need to do your banking on the go or book travel arrangements or whatever you can't. I don't know how MS would even address that situation but until it changes I can't see MS breaking into the major player phone market.
A few times I've emailed my bank and a few other companies questioning the lack of a Windows app. Here's one of recent to and from a gas station chain I frequent that has a rewards card campaign going on. After awhile I get blunt with them and was kind of yanking her chain here.
The emails are, of course, in reverse here.
I've literally begged my bank to develop their app for Windows phone but they simply won't, there has to be a good enough reason for them not to but I have no idea what it is. Perhaps they perceive the market to be too small for them to take the time on? Either way ultimately it's hurting sales of Windows phones, I'd love one myself but there's no point if it won't do what I now need a phone to do. I posted my bank's response a while ago, I won't hold my breath for it.