A great phone for occasional use and emergencies.
Jan 23, 2004 (Updated Jun 8, 2007)
Analysis of a TracFone Prepaid Wireless brochure
First, let me compliment the other review authors, as I have found all of the reviews so far to be helpful and informative!
Also, I have created a website with more details about my experience with TracFone than what would fit here.
That website is www.cell-phone-prepaid.com if you are interested. If not, then I apologize for my shameless self-promotion!
Just to do something a little different for this review, I thought that I would walk through a TracFone brochure that I have here in front of me and give details and insights about the various selling points. I hope you find this format useful.
The Front Cover
The cover of the brochure says that TracFone offers wireless service as low as $7.99 per month with the purchase of a 1 year prepaid wireless service card.
The 1 year service card will keep your phone active for, you guessed it, one year! It will also put 400 'units' on your phone. This card currently costs $99.99 on the TracFone website. $99.99 divided by 12 comes out to about $8.33 per month, but you can't pay it monthly. You have to pay the entire $99.99 up front to buy the card.
If you have more minutes on your phone than you plan to use, TracFone has a value plan that will keep your phone active for $4.95/month, but it won't add any minutes to your phone. You'll have to buy more airtime if you run low.
There a 2 requirements for a TracFone to work:
1) The phone has to be active
2) The phone has to have unused airtime units
I say airtime units because the way it works is that your phone uses 1 unit per minute for calls sent or received while you are in your local calling area. It uses 2 units per minute for calls while you are outside of your local calling area.
TracFone does have what they call "single rate" phones now that have a somewhat smaller nationwide coverage area, but there is no roaming charge. Whenever you make a call it simply deducts one unit per minute.
When you redeem a normal airtime card it will put the airtime units on your phone and extend the activation due date another 90 days.
The Inside of the Brochure
The inside of the brochure starts off by listing several features of the service.
Free Voice Mail (digital models only) - Actually, I think that all of the models they sell now are digital. There are good instructions on the website on how to setup the voicemail on your phone.
You will actually be setting it up with the local cellular provider and not with TracFone itself. This is because TracFone does not actually own the cell phone towers, they just rent cellular phone numbers from local cellular providers. My local provider is Alltel, and my TracFone works just the same as my friends that have Alltel phones.
Free Caller ID (digital models only) - I don't remember having to do anything to set this up. It just works.
Free Call Waiting (digital models only) - I have never had a reason to try out the call waiting feature. I usually leave my phone turned off to conserve the battery, and I only give out my number to people when I have a specific reason for them to be calling me in an agreed-upon time frame.
Nationwide Long Distance Included - You never pay any extra for long distance. All that matters is whether you are in our out of your local calling area. My local calling area covers a large portion of the western half of Missouri. Again, with the single-rate TracFones, which most of them are now, your home area is nationwide.
Pay As You Go - That's what so great about having a TracFone. There are times when it comes in very very handy, but you're not locked into long and expensive monthly contracts.
By the way, your airtime minutes never expire as long as you keep your phone active. Some other prepaid cellular plans will actually delete any airtime minutes that you don't use by the end of the month. Ouch! Whenever you buy a new TracFone airtime card, the new minutes are just added to your old minutes.
Nationwide Service - TracFone claims to cover 99% of the US population, and I have no reason to doubt them. I have taken mine out into rural areas and was still able to get reception.
Available At Over 60,000 Retail Locations - I ended up buying mine at a local Staples store. I could have got a better deal by ordering it from the TracFone website, but I was in a hurry to have before the weekend. I have seen TracFones at many of the large retail chains, and I have even seen them at small mom-and-pop gas stations.
I have noticed that the best deals on the phones themselves can usually be found on the TracFone website. They are almost always running some sort of special offer. Otherwise, the cost of the phones is pretty similar at the various retailers.
I have noticed that online stores like amazon.com and walmart.com sometimes have a slightly better price on the airtime cards. Since TracFone uses common Nokia and Motorla phone, you should be able to find accessories for your phone almost anywhere.
No Activation Fees - This is a great benefit of TracFones. Outlandish activation fees have always been one of the main reasons why I didn't want to sign up with a tradition cellular plan. They want you to pay $50 or more just for the privilege of signing a one or two year contract with them!? Forget it! I went with TracFone instead.
No Contracts - Another super benefit of TracFones. If you keep your phone for a few months and decide not to use it anymore, just put it in a drawer and forget about it.
If you want to use it again, you can reactivate it later. You would get assigned a new phone number, but if you reactivate within 60 days of when it expired, you keep any unused airtime minutes from your old number.
No Credit Checks - Since it's all prepaid, they don't care about your credit history. This may or may not be a big issue for you.
No Deposits - The only money you pay up front is the purchase price of your phone and your first airtime card.
No Age Limits - A TracFone is a perfect phone to give to a teenager. If they use up all of the minutes on their phone, then it will stop working until they buy more minutes. That way you don't get a big surprise in your cell phone bill at the end of the month!
For instance, my brother added his teenage son to their account with a traditional cellular provider. One night, his son talked with his girlfriend for over 5 hours on the cell phone, while in the house, with the home phone right there! Ah, teenage love... Needless to say, my brother was not pleased with the bill he received that month!
No Surprises - The example above illustrates this benefit perfectly. Also, every TracFone has and Airtime Balance Display right on the main screen of the phone that shows you how much airtime you have left and your activation due date.
That makes it very easy to keep track of your time and plan accordingly. Furthermore, TracFone airtime cards already include all wireless taxes and fees that are tacked on to traditional cell phone bills. So when you buy an an airtime card, you know exactly how many minutes it's going to add to your phone.
The Rest of the Brochure
The rest of the brochure basically just summarizes some of the same points I have already made above.
One thing it mentions is that you can activate your new phone by calling their 800 number or by accessing their website. You will definitely want to do it over the internet because it easier and they'll give 10 extra free airtime minutes.
The website had complete instructions on how to activate the phone, and it took about 10 minutes to complete the process. After that, it took about an hour for the phone to be activated with Alltel. Then I was good to go.
Overall, the TracFone service lives up to the claims made in the sales brochure. My TracFone is the Nokia 5180i, and it has worked well for me. I usually just leave it in my glovebox, and it has worked every time I have needed it. I must admit, though, that I am drooling over the new motorla flip phones that TracFone is now selling!
My wife's parents also bought TracFones, and her grandma has owned one for a couple of years. I was interested to see how easy it was for grandma to activate her phone and add airtime minutes! I thought it was easy, but the real test was passed when I saw that grandma could do it too.
As has been mentioned in other reviews, the main negative with TracFone is with customer service. I once sent them a question by email, but never received a reply. I have found that it's important to be persistent when dealing with their customer service. Of course, that's the case with most other telecom companies as well.
If you are looking for a solid cell phone for emergency use and the occassional "I'm on your side of town, are you home?" type of call, then TracFone may be right for you. I can honestly say that I have been very pleased with mine.
(I apologize for the shameless self-promotion, but I keep my website more up-to-date that what is possible or practical with a review like this.)
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