Pros: Inexpensive, supports unlocked GSM phones, messages and data VERY inexpensive
Cons: Minimal support, no self-serve support, signal strength inconsistent
I had been using a T-Mobile pre-paid plan until I acquired friends in their 20's who do nothing but text, text, text. My monthly expenses tripled and I needed a plan with cheap messaging.
Consumer Cellular is a reseller for AT&T Wireless and they offer voice and message/data plans geared for light to medium users. I was able to get a voice plan for $20 with more minutes than I have ever needed, and add a messaging plan with more than enough capacity for just $10 more. Plus, the messaging plan includes data, so if I ever decide to go with a smart phone I'm covered. Again, this combination was a great fit because I'm a light user compared to most people today, and my cell phone is just to supplement my land line phone.
But the inexpensive plans come with a few bumps.
The free Motorola WX345 phone I got comes with only a "Getting Started" booklet. Turns out Motorola doesn't even make a detailed user's guide for this phone. There are no detailed instructions available for the camera functions, the web browser, or the phone settings.
The company's web site offers no self-service options beyond changing your plans. No usage statistics, no online address book back-up, no archive of messages. Live customer service is NOT available 24 hours / 7 days, and the days and hours are not displayed on their web site. The only way to find out is to call for support and be prepared to be disappointed. At least there's a number to call for a voice-bot to tell you your minute and message usage.
The Consumer Cellular web site for downloadable media like ring tones and wallpaper did not work correctly with my phone. I got charged $2.99 for a ring tone that never successfully downloaded. However, I was able to post MP3 ring tones and wallpaper images on my personal web site and download then with no problem. But I doubt most users are willing to go to those lengths.
The most serious problem for me is that the signal strength will vary from 1 to 4 bars with the phone just sitting on my desk in my apartment. Incoming voice calls usually get dropped as soon as I answer them. Consumer Cellular offered to upload new firmware to my phone but I haven't seen any sign of it changing anything.
Fortunately Consumer Cellular offers a "30 days or 30 minutes" return policy so you can test drive their service and phones to be sure they'll give you what you want. They're definitely worth a try if you're not a "mobile only" phone user.