Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cell data options for under $30 per month

Yes, I’ve lost that loving feeling with AT&T GoPhone.  We started off passionately at 10 cents a minute and a data package.  Then AT&T sent out their first “Dear John” letter to let me know that they didn't love me that much and could no longer add a data package… they needed more commitment.  Yes, they would “grandfather” me into their $1.00 per day plus 10 cents per minute plan so we could stay friends and they would be willing to offer a data package.  I guess they decided being friends wouldn't work because AT&T has now taken action to end this relationship and replace it with their “resolution” which is to place me on their flat $2.00 per day plan…they say it’s better for both of us that way.  The AT&T customer service rep told me they would restore the (over) 500mb of data that had stripped without notice; yes, they restored it right after they charged me $10 to purchase it.  Unfortunately, I prepaid for a full year so I am stuck in this one sided relationship until the end of this year, but I've decided it’s time for me to start dating again.

In case the reference to GoPhone hasn't clued you in, I’m not the biggest cell phone customer.  I very seldom make a call or text, but I do enjoy some light data when I’m at work or on vacation and in this all you can eat cell plan environment this makes for some tough special needs in a partner.  In my quest I easily spotted 3 options if I were willing to go to $30 per month.  Among them, you can get an iPhone on Virgin Mobile and enroll in auto pay so that your monthly charge is $30 OR Straight Talk offering  unlimited texting Plus 1,500 Nationwide minutes & 100mb data OR T-Mobile through Walmart which provides 100 minutes of talk with unlimited text and data.

One of my biggest frustrations in reentering the cell phone dating world has been the proliferation of flash and the obscurity of substance.  Yes, everyone says they like romantic walks on the beach, but they are vague when it comes to day to day living such as doing the dishes and paying the bills.  In my quest, most providers wanted to flash their hottest new phone, but seem to want to keep secrets when it comes to monthly costs.  Moreover, the norm for cellular customer service has become abysmal.

Fortunately for me, I live in an area where service from any of the big companies, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile would work and I don’t travel enough where coverage would be a huge concern.  This quality may be more important for those dating in rural or less served areas.  I know the deal with AT&T – more of the same.  For those who are not “grandfathered,” I do not see an option to obtain data through a cell plan with AT&T for you for under $30.  Similarly, I did not find an under $30 option offering data directly from Verizon or Sprint.

With T-Mobile, it was downright painful trying to find their prepaid options.  When I searched Google, there was a tendency for non-T-Mobile sites to be presented high in the search results.  Eventually I found it and as best as I can tell you can pay $100 for a year of service (10 cents per minute / 25 cents text) and then add a data package.  Currently, T-Mobile has a sale where you can buy a monthly pass for 1gb of data for $10 (this is planned to go back to $20 in 2015).  I don’t like the uncertainty of hoping for a sale; I need a consistent partner.  Technically, this option would keep me under my target of $30 per month as the $100 (about $8.33 monthly) would meet my talk and text needs plus $10-$20 would meet my data needs.  While the $10 sounds appealing, the reality is that I would be switching in 2015 which would mean my total cost would be about $28.33 per month and this cost isn't appealing to me considering my infrequent use.

In my quest for a stable cell partner for light users, I unfortunately found that the pickings are slim.  I returned to my old partner, Tracfone.  I was a Tracfone customer for any years.  Their customer service was terrible then and as best I can tell from online reviews, it remains about the same.  On the upside, the Tracfone service that I experienced was good and the cost is extremely affordable.  My reason for leaving Tracfone was the very limited selection of phones and the absence (at that time) of data.  In exploring the Tracfone site and reviews, it appears the selection of phones has improved a little; there are now Android options.  Also, it appears that data is now in the mix although it is confusing exactly how much it costs as Tracfone uses “units” and many of the newer phones include triple units and then data is deducted based on a number of units per kb of data used.  I will note that Tracfone has rolled out a “bring your own phone” option; however, I further note that Tracfone uses CDMA whereas my existing AT&T phone uses GSM.  Given my history of experiencing questionable customer service, I don’t know if I would rush into a bring my own phone option with Tracfone.  Regardless, considering my infrequent cellular usage and that the total cost for meeting my minimal needs (likely around $100), purchasing a Tracfone and subscribing for a year is being considered as an option at this time.

A surprising suitor in a light cell phone relationship is Consumer Cellular.  I was very impressed with the raving reviews from consumer reports and AARP endorsement.  As one may guess from this post, I place a premium on customer service.  While it is not the same as having a problem and calling for a resolution, I did call the Consumer Cellular customer service phone number and was able to get through to a live person reasonably well and the representative spoke clear, unbroken English!  This was a good start.  I will also note that unlike many of the big carriers, I was able to navigate the Consumer Cellular website easily, find the bottom line about the prices quickly and found that these plans were straightforward and easy to understand.  Consumer Cellular uses AT&T towers and advertises that you can bring your AT&T phone or unlocked GSM phone.  This has an obvious appeal for me as it would seem that I may be able to seamlessly move from AT&T to Consumer Cellular and keep the AT&T phone that I have become accustomed to using.  I stress that Consumer Cellular is not for heavy cell users; that being said, I would estimate that subscribing to Consumer Cellular’s $15.00 plan for 200 talk minutes and $5.00 for 1,000 texts and 200mb of data would more than cover my needs for a total cost of $20.00.  I will note that given my very infrequent use of talk, I may even drop that to their $10.00 per month pay per minute plan.  Also noteworthy, Consumer Cellular offers a 5% discount to AARP members.  As of this posting, this is my most likely choice for the new year...who knows, maybe Consumer Cellular can bring back that loving feeling.