Good service, but expensive, good coverage
Written: Dec 22, 2003
My parents had old phones from an old plan a long time ago. They had signed up for a family plan with the old PacBell Cellular a few years ago. The cellular company had already been acquired by SBC at the time that they considered renewing their phone service or switching. My mom went with a traditional mobile phone service since she uses her phone more than my dad. My dad needed something different, something that didn't cost a lot since he rarely used his phone he liked having it as an emergency phone.
So, last Christmas, I went online and ordered my dad a TracFone (www.tracfone.com). I had searched for good deals on mobile phones online, but could not find any traditional (pay-by-the-month) type establishments that had a good cheap monthly emergency phone type deal. I then started searching for pay-as-you-go type mobile providers. What about TracFone won me over? One year activated mobile service. Let me explain.
With a pay-as-you-go provider the phones are activated with a set amount of minutes for a set amount of time. With TracFone they sell 30, 60, 150, and 300 minute blocks of time. If you activate one of these blocks of time, you'll also be activating your phone and the phone number for 60 days. They also sell 150 and 300 minute blocks of time with a 365-day activation time.
Here's how it all works. When you activate your phone under one of these blocks of time, the phone number stays active for that many days. If you run out of minutes during that time the phone does not expire, you just buy another card to refill the phone. If you come to the end of the activation period and still have minutes, you can do one of two things: First, you can get another refill card of minutes to keep your phone number active or you can just let your phone expire. If you refill your phone, the minutes that are left over carry over to the next activation period. Keep in mind that the refill cards can be bought at a retail establishment or online at tracfone.com.
The process of adding minutes to the phone is a bit cumbersome and requires punching in a series of codes into the phone. Following the instructions on the website to do it is quite easy though and the website is well designed to lead on around in case there are any problems.
My Dad's Phone
Now, I knew my dad was not going to futz around with the phone. I knew that he was not going to use up all his minutes, nor was he going to be going to Target to buy a refill card to keep his phone active. So, the other companies on the market at the time who sold pay-as-you-go type services only offered short activation periods (between 30 and 60 days). Only TracFone offered the 365-day activation period which was exactly what my dad needed. I got my dad a Nokia 5180i phone online along with a 365-day activation and 150 minutes. For $95 I was able to activate my dad's phone for 365 days and give him 150 minutes. That is just under $8 a month for emergency service.
How It Worked Out
The shipment from TracFone was pretty quick. The shopping and checkout process was easy and friendly. I did not have any problems shopping on the site multiple times (for the phone and for refills for my dad).
My parents travelled to Omaha, NE for a graduation and the TracFone worked well there as it does here at home. I have tried to phone a few times and it works great. From all that I have read, TracFone uses a few cellular service providers airwaves for service, but they mostly use the Verizon network which is not shabby at all. The phone itself is a decent phone with good reception. The idle display screen shows how many time units is still available on the account along with when the account is about deactivate. Other than that change the Nokia 5180i was exactly the same as its regular counterpart.
Who TracFone Is For
If you need a mobile phone for general use and use more than a handful of minutes a month, then TracFone is definitely not for you. You'll be better suited with a traditional phone plan. TracFones are expensive if they are to be used as a regular mobile phone. The best uses for a TracFone are for an emergency phone or phone cost-controlling a mobile phone giving a TracFone to a teenager is probably the best way to keep their mobile phone bills under control! With the 300 minute card at $75, it comes out to around 25 cents a minute, which under regular usage is pretty expensive.
There are a few other drawbacks to TracFone. First, although the website is good at walking one through the activation or refill procedure, it is still a daunting task. Second, the whole need for that procedure probably will deter a lot of people who are not accustomed to mobile phones or technology. That is a lot of button pushing. Purchasing minutes online is probably the easiest way to acquire minutes, but for the regular joe it is still a laborious task. TracFone does not have a bunch of phones to offer. And the phones that they do offer are pretty boring. But, if this is an emergency phone, then a flashy phone is probably not something you want anyways. Also, this has stopped with my dad's phone, but because of the short turnover times with the phone numbers, do expect that you'll be getting a lot of wrong number calls for the previous user of the phone number you receive. It seems as if TracFone puts numbers back into service right away with out the dead-time that most mobile providers give to a number before activating it again.
The TracFone website is well-done, but it is just a bit too flashy and pushy in its approach complete with multiple flashing adds, lots of pop-up ads, and in-your-face colors. I wish that they would tone it down a bit to make it a little more professional.
If you are looking for an emergency phone or if you have a teenager who is begging for a mobile phone, then TracFone is the perfect solution for you. You can't beat the coverage that they provide and the service works rather well. If you are looking for a phone to use on a regular basis, you have to look elsewhere, the cost of a pay-as-you-go service is prohibitive and expensive.