In a previous post, I discussed the positive reasons to ditch your two-year cell phone contract and switch to a non-contract phone. Today I’d like to take a look at a comparison of non-contract cell phone plans. Since there are more services out there than I can put into one post, I studied all I could find and included the five that I think are either the best investment or have the best coverage.
1. Straight Talk
I have been a Straight Talk customer for several years. Owned by TracPhone, Straight Talk is only available at Walmart. The phones run from free to $350. With Straight Talk you can pay as you go for as little as 10 cents per minute. Or you can pay for a monthly plan.
They have unlimited everything for $45/month and an All You Need Plan that gives you 1000 talk minutes, 1000 text messages, and 30 megabytes of data for $30/month. They offer international calling, discounts, and a SIM card program with which you can use your own unlocked phone. The downside to Straight Talk? Their Android phones use an outdated operating system.
2. Virgin Mobile
Running on the Sprint network with CDMA phones, Virgin Mobile definitely beats Straight Talk in their phone offerings. Priced from $12-$450, they offer a few top-of-the-line Android phones using the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system on a 4G network, plus the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S.
As for calling plans, you can go as cheap as $20/month. That gets you 400 minutes of talk, 15 cents/text, and $1.50/MB of data. But why do that when you can get 1,500 minutes of talk, 1,500 text messages, and 30MB of data for $30? Or, of course, you can go with the unlimited everything for $40 for non-smartphones. If you have a smartphone, the price starts at $35 and goes up to $55 for unlimited everything. Virgin Mobile also offers phones that work as a mobile hotspot for an additional $15/month. And, they have an assortment of Broadband2Go plans that provide wireless for your other devices. Virgin Mobile also offers international calling for an extra charge.
3. Boost Mobile
Boost Mobile offers the most plan choices I’ve seen. Beginning with a pay-as-you-go for 20 cents/minute up to their monthly unlimited everything for $55/month for an Android phone or $60/month for a BlackBerry. Operating on the Sprint network, Boost Mobile’s 15 phone choices range in price from $29 to $370. They do have a few choices with the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system as well.
The nice thing about Boost Mobile is their shrinking payments plan. If you renew your plan on time for six months, your rate drops by $5. After the next six months, the same thing happens. How low you can get your monthly rate, depends on the plan you have chosen. If you stick with Boost Mobile, this program makes their rates very competitive.
If data is not what you want on your phone, T-Mobile has you covered for as low as 10 cents/minute. You just buy the time as you need it. However, if you want a monthly plan, they have those too — from $30-$70/month, depending on your needs. Their phones range in price from $40-$650, and they do have phones using the latest Android operating system.
T-Mobile offers an international calling plan, mobile hotspot services, and a BlackBerry Internet service. You can also purchase a T-Mobile SIM card to use in your unlocked GSM phone. Although T-Mobile says they cover 96% of Americans, their coverage map for my neck of the woods is pretty sketchy. So if you live rurally, I’d check that map before investing in a T-Mobile phone.
AT&T offers some of the same services you’d get from a contract plan with no contract on their GoPhone plan. However, AT&T is the least economical of all the options I’ve explored thus far, if you want an unlimited package for a smartphone. A smartphone unlimited package – unlimited being talk and text – runs $65/month with only 1GB of data. However, if you use your phone primarily for texting, as do a lot of teens, AT&T has a great plan with unlimited texting and 250 minutes of talk for just $25.
AT&T’s phones range in price from $20-$200 and were the most unattractive of all that I’ve seen. So if having the latest and greatest looking toy is important to you, AT&T’s GoPhone plan is not for you. The one thing I was excited to see on their GoPhone plan page is that AT&T includes unlimited international texting on all their monthly plans. That’s important when you’re the mother of a missionary.
Looking at other options, no other companies were able to compete with these five.
MetroPCS has some wonderful plan options all on a 4G LTE network, but their coverage area looked really spotty.
Cricket offers a great $60/month plan that includes international texting and tethering to your laptop but their coverage didn’t impress me, either.
My first cell phone was with Net10, also owned by TracPhone, and they have some straightforward deals but crummy phones.
Remember, the key to cutting your expenses on your cell phone bill does not necessarily mean finding latest and greatest for the least amount of money; but going with who offers what you need for the least amount of money.
What about you? Which non-contract cell phone carrier do you use? Feel free to share if I missed your favorite!