Pros: inexpensive unlimited plans, great plans for families or individuals, no contracts, no credit checks
Cons: none - so far other than poor phone selection
I’ve heard this phrase from many people; “All cell phone companies suck.” Since I’ve been with many of them, I can’t disagree with that assertion. Verizon has the best coverage area but the worst customer service brought to you by third world countries. I didn't care for Cingular either. Nextel tried to cheat everyone then they were bought out by Sprint amidst class action lawsuits. T-Mobile has decent coverage, the same third-world robotic cue card readers in foreign customer call centers but I’ve had to replace my phone three times due to peeling of the blue finish on my Sony/Ericsson phone.
With Verizon and T-Mobile, calling into customer service is an exercise in futility. By the time you get your problem resolved, you’ve wasted so many cell minutes, it’s just not worth the time or energy because seldom does anything get resolved. Why do so many AMERICAN companies insist on using foreign call centers? Oh, because they like paying robots less than our minimum wage? There are plenty of Americans out of work currently, so maybe these companies should bring jobs back to our country. Pardon me for thinking out loud but it just infuriates me.
Anyway, after a recent issue with T-Mobile, I decided to allow them the pleasure of studying my middle finger, so I checked out four other companies. Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Metro PCS and Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart has cell phones and plans.
I found myself at Target to investigate Boost Mobile. I learned that Boost really is just a middleman for Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc. So basically, they’re no different than a kiosk at Costco or the mall. Virgin is the same thing. Then I checked out Metro PCS. While they have unlimited talk, text & web for a low price, and a decent variety of phones, their coverage and reception area is below par. I have used a friend’s Metro PCS phone and experienced quite a few dropped calls. So they were out of the running.
Then I drove over to my local Wal-Mart. I learned that they offer two contract-less plans; Straight Talk and Family Mobile. In both cases there are no credit checks and nothing to sign.
First up was Straight Talk which is serviced monthly – so it’s a pre-paid plan without billing. Straight Talk’s service is provided by TracFone Wireless – the fifth largest provider in the US currently. They offer two plans called “Unlimited” and “All You Need.” The Unlimited plan is unlimited talk, text, web and 411 for $45 while the “All You Need” plan is 1000 minutes, 1000 texts, 30MB of web access and free 411 calls for $30. The good thing with Straight talk is that there is no activation fee. The negative is that instead of just paying your bill every month, you need to refill the account at a variety of places each month by paying for a monthly card for service. This service is best-suited for individuals.
Then I was told about Family Mobile. There is a $25 activation fee for the SIM card, but since this service uses T-Mobile’s towers it has better coverage area than Straight Talk – especially if the merger with AT&T actually happens because the coverage area will widen exponentially. This plan is better-suited for families because the first phone line is $45 and each line after that is only an additional $25. So if you have two people on your account it’ll run $70 per month and five people would run $145 per month – for unlimited talk and text? That’s really cheap.
You get billed monthly via email, or you can set-up direct billing or you have the option of paying at any Wal-Mart location. Now, if you happen to have (or buy) T-Mobile phones (or have unlocked AT&T phones), you can use your phones and you don’t have to bother with buying new phones like you would with Straight Talk. While they do offer a variety of flip, slider, Qwerty and Smart phones, they’re in new condition but out-dated and discontinued models. So for teenagers who demand current technology, this probably won’t work.
If you (or someone on your account) needs web access, that will run five cents per megabyte purchased ahead of time with refill cards. Denominations are $10 for 200MB, $25 for 500MB or $40 for 1000MB. The good thing is that those megabytes carry over each month until it is all used up. When you initiate your new account, they give you $10/200MB worth of web access for free. Sending pictures and emails runs five cents per and making international calls (to Canada, Mexico and twelve other countries) is just five cents per minute.
In the end we went with the Family Mobile plan and like the service so far. I didn’t want to port our cell numbers because both of us wanted a fresh start. Neither of us has experienced dropped calls – yet, but the reception is poor inside of our house as it was with T-Mobile. My friend (who uses Metro PCS) has trouble getting any bars in some locations but I consistently get two to four bars in those trouble spots.
I did, however, get a scare when initiating the phone. I put the Family Mobile SIM card into my phone and realized that all my contacts (especially newer ones I only had in the phone) were gone. To my surprise, they re-appeared when the initializing process was complete. That is probably due to the fact that T-Mobile towers are used in both scenarios.
A word to the wise; before you remove your original SIM card with or without having a backup, manually enter your more important numbers and newer contacts into a contact management software program like Microsoft Outlook or other similar programs – just in case.
Since my service is less than a month old, I haven't had the need to call their customer service, so I can't rate that part of the plan yet. If and when I have interaction with them, I will update this review.
Now, if only the person who had my number (before me) would pay her bills, I wouldn’t keep getting annoying calls looking for her. I hope there comes a day when we can block unwanted numbers from calling our cell phones like I can do with Google Voice.