Sunday, August 5, 2012

4 (four) Pre-paid (pay as you go) cell plan options

I am not a big cell phone user and have stuck primarily with pay as you go mobile cell service.  This review is based on my experiences and knowledge of the offerings of 3 providers that I have had experience with (Tracfone, Virgin Mobile and AT&T) and 1 (T-Mobile) which I have researched as a future prospect.

(Note:  smart phones and data [plans] are used within this blog to refer to cell phones capable of accessing the internet through the cellular service).

Tracfone:  I had a Tracfone for many years and overall was very pleased.  The plans are relatively straightforward and easy to understand although I do recommend with this and any pre-paid that you consider the 1 year activation plans where they are offered so you don't need to go through the hassle of adding time.  Tracfone covered some areas such as on a boat on Schroon Lake that was not covered by AT&T.  The downside to Tracfone is that they do not have any smart phone options.

Virgin Mobile:  Simple to understand plans.  Uses the Sprint network so if Sprint works in your area, Virgin Mobile is an option.  I also respect that when Virgin Mobile did perform a change in plans, they grandfathered their existing customers into their existing plans (unlike AT&T that just trampled their existing customers).  I think Virgin Mobile has an image problem much like Hooters.  I could do without the in your face sexuality and sexy, sultry voices on their automated call line.  Thankfully, they have toned this down a notch over the years.   Virgin Mobile offers a nice selection of phones, including smart phones.  They have a simple to understand and very competitive $35 per month plan that provides "unlimited" (with throttling for excessive users) data service.

It is also noteworthy that Virgin Mobile has recently added the Iphone to their line up of phone offerings.  This is an interesting change which marks the first time that the Iphone has become available with a "pay as you go" plan.  However, since there is no commitment to a plan (which is typically 2 years with most major carriers), there is also no "subsidy" to offset the cost of the phone.  For example, Virgin Mobile offers the Iphone 4S 16 GB for 649.99.  In comparison, AT&T offers this phone for $199.99.  Through simple math, this leaves about $450 that you need to recoup through savings to make it worthwhile.  If you reasonably estimate that you could save $20 per month, it would take you 22.5 (almost 2 years - sound familiar?) to recoup the savings.  While I think the Iphone is a great phone, I do not recommend it at the current time.  Simply stated, you will pay a premium price for an Iphone which at the current time only runs on 3g cellular service.  I believe you will quickly see 4g emerge in many more areas and I do not believe the cost of the Iphone (and accompanied service costs) justifies it at this time.

AT&T - "Go Phone"  If you had asked me about this option 6 months ago, I would have raved about the AT&T Go Phone.  Go Phone did have an option where you could pay 10 cents per minute, pay 20 cents per text and then add a data (feature) plan to this "10 cents per minute plan".  (Special note:  under this plan, wrong numbers and solicitations such as "junk" text messages can get expensive very quickly).  AT&T no longer permits data plans for this plan and instead of grandfathering those who did have this plan, they sent out a notice, yanked the plan and removed all of the accumulated data time for these subscribers (me being one of them).  Go Phone now forces you to subscribe to a $25 monthly plan on top of which you can "add" a data plan - $5 per month buys you 50mb... this makes no sense to me.  If data is critical for my $30, I would recommend T-Mobile or pay the additional $35 and go with Virgin Mobile; you simply get much more for your money.  I will note, as reflected within G's Shit List, I have reached a compromise of sorts with AT&T and now have data; however, the plan I was provided is not available to new customers.

T-Mobile - I haven't personally had experience with this company or plan, but am strongly considering it.  What is most attractive to me is a $30 monthly plan that they are currently offering through Walmart for 100 minutes (calls) and unlimited text and data.  It is the data that is of particular interest to me.


A bargain, isn't a bargain if it doesn't work for you.  Before considering anyone's recommendations, you should go to the carrier's website and verify that you will have coverage in the area(s) that you plan to use the phone the most.  You may also want to ask family and friends about their "real" experiences with specific carriers.  (Unfortunately, when it comes to phone companies, I think they all could use some improvement in terms of customer service).

If you are looking for only voice calls and texting, I would look at either Tracfone or (with many reservations) AT&T.  With either of these carriers, I recommend purchasing the 1 year service (generally costing around $100) so you don't need to continually go through the process of adding time / service each month or 90 days.

If you want a smart phone (internet access / data) on a pay as you go plan, I would strongly consider either Virgin Mobile or T-Mobile.  With either of these plans, I recommend going with an Android phone.  Virgin Mobile has been in this sector for a  long time so it is very possible that you can pick up a decent Virgin Mobile Android smart phone from Craig's list if you so choose.  For example, I have seen the Optimus V on Craig's list for $50 - $70.  Virgin Mobile seems to offer a wider range of price points for their smart phones from the Optimus V for around $100 (new from retail store) to the fore-mentioned iPhone 4S.  You may find some of the Virgin Mobile Android phones on cyclical sales in Radio Shack or if the timing works for you, Black Friday will likely offer an event to catch a great deal on a Virgin Mobile Android phone.  T-Mobile offers the cheapest monthly option ($30) to get "unlimited" (with throttling) data  through Walmart if you expect to use 100 or less call minutes monthly.

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