Tracfone: Use it for emergencies or limited use only.
Feb 12, 2005 (Updated Feb 12, 2005)
Tracfone Prepaid Service is Expensive and for Emergencies Only.
James P. Zaworski
I had the Tracfone Prepaid service thrust upon me as a gift for my last birthday, along with about 450 minutes of call time. I had previously resisted the mobile telephone revolution, but thought that I would emerge from the Dark Ages to the 21st Century and maybe give myself some brain cancer in exchange for convenience. Well, the Tracfone that I got was the Nokia 5125 and the Tracfone service plan covers my 32 county home range here in Southern Illinois. Tracfone has a generally wide coverage, but when you go out of your home range you will be roaming, and if you pick up a signal at all that is useful to you, you may or may not be able to use your Tracfone. For that reason, I have two of them that cover two areas of Illinois, as I will make the 320 mile driving trip at least five times a year to visit my family near Chicago. What follows is a review detailing what I like about the service, and what I absolutely detest about the service.
Tracfone is designed for the individuals who either cannot afford a contract subscription plan of 1-2 years, which is standard for mobile telephone services in the USA in general, or for individuals who do not make many calls in a given month to justify the expensive mobile phone service, or for those individuals who just want to have a phone in the car in case of an emergency. I think that I fall into all three of these categories, so I thought that Tracfone would be the ideal service for me. It has worked for me but there are also some issues that I have with this service.
Review of Tracfone Prepaid Service.
What I Like about Tracfone Prepaid Service.
1) It is a prepaid mobile/cell phone you can use. There are no contracts to sign, no obligations beyond buying the prepaid phone and the prepaid minute plans. On the phone itself, whether it be the Nokia or Motorola Tracfones that you can pick up when starting the service that are standard, you have on the display right in front of you how many minutes, or units, of call time remain. Of course, you have to activate your minutes, and the act of doing this is initially kind of tedious and difficult.
2) It is a good emergency telephone. This is probably the main reason I got Tracfone in the first place, as I did not have a mobile phone and had a few incidences when my car broke down and had to walk through the pouring rain to a telephone to call for a towing service. For the first time in my life, I ran out of gas in my car, and had my handy Tracfone with me, called a friend, and soon had five gallons of gas in my tank without having to hitch a ride. So, for emergencies, Tracfone will function adequately.
3) Connectivity, service area range. Tracfone has geographical areas carved up, as it were, for the home range of their phone service. As I mentioned before, I have a 32 county home range where my units equal number of minutes. However, if you go beyond your home range, your units are double or triple to use, that is, if you can get service while roaming.
4) Prepaid cards, adding minutes, call plans, special deals. With Tracfone, you have to research how and when to get the good deals. One way to get better deals at least on future service plans is to buy the double minutes plan, and there are two of these available. The first one is the service that gets you double minutes for one full year, and the cost is $95 for that service. This turned out to be the plan I chose, because if I buy a 200 minute prepaid Tracfone card, I get 400 minutes on it. The other deal is the double minutes for the life of the phone, which I have not done nor inquired about, because I will just eventually get a regular service plan for a mobile phone from Verizon or AT&T. However, there are special deals where you can get extra minutes for free if you buy this plan or that, and they have special promotions too. For instance, this year Tracfone gives you a deal of 40 bonus minutes with the purchase of a 100-minute airtime card and they give you a promotion code.
5) Initial price. At about $40 now, you can get a Nokia 5125 Tracfone and 40 minutes of prepaid service. It is not such a bad deal if you just need an emergency telephone. This is what my mother has, and she is 79 years old and still drives a car. She does not jabber on the telephone, so 40 minutes lasts her all year, barring emergencies, and her reasoning is that she will not have to use 40 minutes to call someone in case of emergency. (unless she gets an automated 911 service, with all of those menu options!)
6) Tracfone has a long distance service option. I picked this one up so I can talk more easily with my international contacts. You can find the link on the www.tracfone.com website to purchase this option.
What I do not like about Tracfone.
1) Price. Everything on Tracfone prepaid service is expensive! If you buy the Tracfone and initial service, you get away at about $40 for the 40 minutes that last one-year and the phone. You have to activate the phone and away you go. But, if you use the phone as I end up using it, that is, ordering a pizza, ordering Chinese food for take out, and other usual phone activities not necessarily described as emergencies, you are going to run out of 40 minutes pretty quickly! So, you have to buy more prepaid minutes. This gets expensive. A 100-minute Tracfone card costs about $19.99. The 200-minute card is $29.99. Pretty soon, you are using your Tracfone and buying 200 minutes of call time a month, and suddenly you are paying more than a contract with a major carrier per month! One way around this is the double minutes feature, but that will cost you an extra $100 for a year of double minutes, so you have to weigh the costs here seriously. The 300 minutes double minute plan for one year will cost $150. Too expensive!
2) Coverage. Tracfone has a limited call area. I earlier mentioned that I have two Tracfones. The reason is that the first one was a gift from my mother. She bought the phone at a Wal-mart in Joliet, near Chicago. I live 320 miles south of there, and this Tracfone does not work in Southern Illinois!!!!! It only works in the home range in the Joliet and Chicago area. So, I bought another one for myself down here, and it works in my 32 county area. But it does not work in Joliet or Chicago! Even with roaming features, neither phone works in the other home area. And, there is a 100-mile gap in the middle of the state where neither phone works for me, even while roaming. So, if I ever have an emergency and need to call someone, I cannot rely on either Tracfone to get me out of it. So much for one of three reasons for this phone, for emergency purposes. This is really insane!
3) Coding in the new minutes from your prepaid card. Initially, this takes a rocket scientist with the patience of Mother Theresa to perform! Well, not really. It is just a hassle to punch in all the codes. You can do it by either calling the Tracfone number and using their prerecorded instructions over the phone, or do it online at www.tracfone.com where you can go step by step and get the job done more easily. Still, it is kind of a hassle to do.
4) No international long distance coverage at all.
This is a domestic use only phone. The only way I can get around this is to use another prepaid service, my AT&T long distance card, to call anything internationally. Then I use two services at once, and it is really expensive.
5) The telephones themselves are nothing special. I have a Nokia 5125 (read my review of this phone here: http://www.epinions.com/content_173165612676)
So, all in all, the Tracfone Prepaid Service is good for some people with limited mobile telephone needs. I thought I was one of those people, but am ending up being the other kind of person, one who needs a consistent plan with a budget in mind for reliable service without prices going through the roof.
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