Aug 192012
 

Recently we’ve had way too many dropped mobile calls and so I researched for new prepaid mobile phones and plans and discovered we can save a ton of money with one of these providers.  I focused on affordable minutes (talk time) and text messaging and disregarded any data options, so here are the notes I took during my quest for cheap mobile phones and plans.

 

Verizon

Price: $0.25 /min
Messages $.20 each SMS (text) $.25 MMS (multimedia)
Cheapest phone: $29.95 (includes $10 airtime)

Great reputation, great coverage, but quite expensive for a cheapo phone, so I researched and eliminated it in the beginning. Its CDMA technology has no SIM card, so you can’t use your own older or unlocked phone unless it was already on Verizon.  Some cellular stores can “flash” a Sprint or another CDMA phone onto Verizon but it costs at least $60 and you also need to sacrifice (transfer settings from) a “donor” phone which turns it into a paperweight, at least until you cancel your service.

 

AT&T GoPhone

Price: $0.10/min
Messages: $0.20 each
Cheapest phone: $19.99

(alternative plan is $2/day for unlimited talk and messaging only on days when used, which is great when you only talk and message a lot on weekends or few days a month.)

$15 card has to be renewed in 30 days, and allows for 150 minutes or 75 SMS messages or combination of less of the two.
It’s much better to buy the $25 card which doesn’t need renewal for 90 days and it gives 250 minutes or 125 SMS messages or a combination thereof. This is a very good option for people who barely use the cell phone and keep it for emergency.

 

Consumer Cellular

Plans (monthly, no contract, of course):

  • 0 minutes – $10 / month + $0.25/min (even more expensive than Verizon)
  • 100 minutes – $15.00 /mo for 100 minutes
  • 300 minutes – $20.00 /mo – this and above is where it beats GoPhone, provided that you use all these minutes monthly.
  • 700 – $30 /mo
  • 1200 – $40 /mo

Great separate messaging plans @ $2.50 for 100 messages, $5 for 500, $10 for 1,000, $20 for 2500 and $30 for 5,000 messages.
Going over the purchased minutes is expensive and it costs $0.25 for each additional minute, except with the 1200 plan at $0.10 per minute over the limit.
Cheapest phone: $35.00 for Motorola WX345

According to my research, they have great coverage because they are hosted on the AT&T network. My Brother-In-Law has a great experience with them, but they are best for those with low to medium cell phone usage, not as good for us (medium to high).  Good family plan for similar users as well, at $10 per extra line.
You can also use your own GSM phone with their SIM card.

 

PureTalkUSA

WOW!  The king of affordability and flexibility for medium minutes and amazing amount of texting!

  • $10 – 130 mins
  • $20 – 325 mins
  • $30 – 550 mins
  • $40 – 825 mins
  • $50 – 1125 mins

Messaging: – 3.3¢ each in or out (yes, you’re not reading this wrong, 3.3 cents or $0.033 per message – yippeekiyay!)
Cheapest phone: free.
Family plan: @ $5 you get extra 60 minutes per each additional line (so the basic plan with two phones is $15/mo with 190 mins, or $20 and 250 minutes for three phones).

Best feature: Every month starts with $10 plan (or add $5 and 60 mins per each extra family phone), then it rolls up if and when you use more minutes. The unused minutes roll to next month AND THEY NEVER EXPIRE!

Uses AT&T as host network, so it has great coverage nation-wide.  This is an incredible deal for low to medium cell phone usage but there are better plans for medium to high talk minutes.

 

Tracfone/Net10/Straight Talk

All of these three are subsidiaries of the huge America Movil which serves mobile and telecom customers from the tip of south America throughout most of latin America and the USA, where they buy their connectivity from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. I read in multiple locations on the web that their phone models ending with letter ‘g’ are using a GSM network (AT&T or T-Mobile) while those ending with letter ‘c’ are using the Verizon network and I later found out that was true. Moreover, I read that all Nokias are using T-Mobile network, but I couldn’t verify that myself.

Tracfone

It offers a very confusing mesh of plans – some phones offer double and some triple minutes for every card you buy, so it’s hard to compare apples and oranges. I could be wrong, but after talking to a few salespersons and trying to understand all the options I concluded that unless you buy an expensive phone this is good for an emergency and rare usage, but too expensive for our medium to high minutes.
Family plan: $9.99 for first phone with 50 mins, $5.99 for second and each additional phone with 40 extra mins.
Cheapest phone $14.99

Net10

Pay as you go: every message and minute is $.10 (hence the name Net10)
$15 for 200 minutes or $30 for 500 minutes
30 day plans $45 for unlimited minutes (unlimited price is the same as Straight Talk, but $30 gets you only half the minutes)
Cheapest phone: FREE (online only, reconditioned). Most phones are smartphones.

Straight Talk

Many cell phones can be ordered online from straighttalk.com with only some more expensive offered at Walmart.  No other mortar and brick (physical) stores offer these phones and refill cards, but you can buy everything online. According to their website, you can also buy a SIM and/or use an old AT&T or T-Mobile phone, or another unlocked and USA compatible GSM unit.
Offers only two USA and one international plan:

  • $30/month is a great plan for people with high usage and allows for 1,000 minutes AND 1,000 SMS or MMS messages every month
  • $45/month for unlimited phone, messages and data
  • $60 for “unlimited” USA and international plan. I put unlimited in quotes because the number of countries it covers is limited.

Cheapest phone: Free (reconditioned, online only), or $19.99 (new, also online only). Most phones are much pricier smartphones.

 

Virgin Mobile/PayLo

(CDMA, Hosted on Sprint)

$35/ month unlimited voice, messaging & data
$30/ month for 1500 minutes and 1500 messages (better than Straight Talk but unfortunately doesn’t work well in our neighborhood)
Cheapest phone: $14.99

 

Boost Mobile

(CDMA, Hosted on Sprint)

$45 unlimited talk & text
Cheapest phone: $29.99

 

T-Mobile

(GSM)

$30/month for 1500 minutes and messages (either-or, combined)
$50/mo unimited
Cheapest phone: $29.99

 

Cricket Wireless

(CDMA, Hosted on Sprint)

$35/month unlimited voice and messaging
Cheapest phone: $19.99

 

Why We Ditched Sprint

After talking to Sprint several times they admitted they were tearing down and upgrading their towers in our neighborhood but after the dropped calls continued for longer than the promised two months(!) it was time to go.  Having spent $160 per month including taxes for nearly two years on family plan with two smartphones, I decided to look into saving a ton of money with much cheaper prepaid plans and no contract phones and found a lot of options above, suitable for different budgets and usage modes. Having learned to use home and free WiFi spots, we decided to drop mobile data. If we really miss it we can always get a MiFi card and feed all our phones, tablet or laptop when away from home.

 

Why We Chose Straight Talk

Virgin Mobile, Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile all have great plans but no signal strength in our area.  They all use Sprint and their towers here at our place in the far southern suburbs of Chicago are a mess.  T-Mobile also has some good prepaid plans but my other Brother-In-Law often gets dropped calls when at our location as well, so we looked elsewhere. Since we gave up our land line long time ago, we average over 500 minutes per month on each phone and that made us choose Straight Talk $30 plan for 1000 minutes and 1000 messages each as our best option, based also on the fact that it runs on either AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon depending on the phone you select. Being tired of dropped calls from my recent Sprint and a few years old AT&T experience, I wanted Verizon.

 

Our Selection: LG 100C and LG 220C Straight Talk Phones

We bought two Straight Talk phones ending with a ‘c’ (for CDMA) and I can confirm, both are on Verizon: when I call a nonexistent number (usually anything between three to six digits), I get a “Welcome to Verizon Wireless, your call cannot be completed as dialed…” voice reply. We didn’t have a single dropped call since and it’s been almost a month.

We ordered the little LG 100C bar phone (new for $19.99) and the just slightly bigger LG220C flip phone (refurbished, free with $45 refill card for unlimited calls, but we’ll renew it with $30) online.  My wife wanted the 220C because a flip phone is better for her purse, and so I got the little dude. I had low expectations, but it seems I got a bit better deal.  The LG 100C is very small so it fits in my smallest pockets (except for the “quarter” pocket in my blue jeans) and although very little, it has a mighty speakerphone, better than any of the iPhones and Android smartphones I’ve ever had. No Bluetooth though, which is available on the LG 220C, but if you come here often you already know that I don’t care for Bluetooth.  I was most skeptical about my toy-phone’s battery life because the spec sheet lists only 2 hours of talk time, but that must be some mistake, because the battery lasts much longer and I don’t charge it for days although I talk often.  The LG 220c flip phone has a bit bigger battery which lasts long as well, but its speakerphone is a bit less loud (still much louder than the iPhone’s).  These are very basic phones, but if all you want to do talk and send one or few text messages a day, this is all you need.  So far these have been serving us well and I can finally enjoy a reliable phone service without any dropped calls around our home.  My wife hasn’t been so happy with her 220c because she misses her old touch screen for texting (no kidding, I’ve missed the Blackberry keyboard all these years), but she got used to it after a week or two and now I’m getting text messages again. That’s about it. This set of notes turned into a review and got much longer than I wanted, but here you go, use my research for free, hopefully saving some money and time so you can enjoy a scenic route in life more often.

Disclaimer: These are mostly my notes to self, made in late July, early August 2012. Don’t rush into making a purchase based on them. I am a human being, and humans can make mistakes, so double-check the ever changing rates and minutes/messages before making your decision.

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