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cass

I hate Verizon, so I decided to compare all the carriers' plans including pre-paid options to see which is the best

Lately, I've been getting pretty steamed over the policies that Verizon, my current carrier, have been putting in place to milk more money out of their customers. The most recent changes include a $30 phone upgrade fee and getting rid of unlimited data plans which really rustled my jimmies. It's coming to the point where I'm seriously considering finding a cheaper option even though my contract is still well over a year before it ends.

After reading an article by Android and Me, "7 reasons to shred your wireless contract and switch to pre-paid" (androidandme.com­/2012­/05­/opinions­/7­-reasons­-to­-shr...), it got me thinking whether a pre-paid plan is a worthwhile, cheap alternative to a contract. You do pay more upfront for a device, most likely hundreds of dollars more, but you get the flexibility of cancelling at any time without penalty and in comparison to the big 4 (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint), plans are generally cheaper for unlimited talk, text, and data.

My monthly smartphone usage includes ~2GB data, a few hundred texts at most via Google Voice with a few MMSes here and there, and rarely any phone calls. So given my smartphone habits, I decided to take some time to review all the different options out there, pick the different plan configurations that meet my needs, and see which plan is the best option. This is a comparison between the big 4's 2-year contracts along with a few pre-paid options which include Simple Mobile, Straight Talk, and T-Mobile. The phone prices are coming from the current price as of this writing for the Galaxy Nexus or for a comparable phone due to a few limitations of a plan/carrier selected.

Services, configurations, and total cost (includes the phone and any additional costs):

Verizon - up to 4G LTE speeds
  • Features - 2GB data, 450 minutes, 1000 texts
  • Costs - $80 per month, $200 subsidized phone
  • Total - $2,120 two years, $88 per month
Conclusion - Best value of the big 4, on contract. Reasonable amount of minutes, text, and data. Speeds are LTE.

AT&T - up to 4G LTE speeds
  • Features - 3GB data, 450 minutes, unlimited text
  • Cost - $90 per month, $200 subsidized phone (iPhone 4s 16GB)
  • Total - $2,360 two years, $98 per month
Conclusion - Not sure why you would get this over Verizon unless you like to take your phone international. This would be the worst option for me.

T-Mobile - up to "4G" HSPA+ speeds
  • Features - Unlimited data throttled speeds at 2GB, unlimited talk, unlimited text
  • Cost - $80 per month, $200 subsidized phone (HTC One S)
  • Total - $2,120 two years, $88 per month
Conclusion - Data is unlimited, though throttled and not 4G. Unlimited talk and text is there if you really need it.

Sprint - up to 4G WiMax/LTE speeds
  • Features - Unlimited data, unlimited talk, unlimited text
  • Cost - $70 per month, $200 subsidized phone, $10 premium data per month charge required for the Galaxy Nexus
  • Total - $2,120 two years, $88 per month
Conclusion - Data is unlimited, for real. WiMax doesn't work with the Galaxy Nexus as far as I know and their LTE is no where near Verizon and AT&T.

T-Mobile (Pre-paid) - up to "4G" HSPA+ speeds
  • Features - Unlimited data throttled speeds at 2GB, unlimited talk, unlimited text
  • Costs - $60 per month, $432 unsubsidized phone, $2 SIM card
  • Total - $1,874 per month, $78
Conclusion - Cheap option with a more trustworthy carrier. Unless you really need fast speeds beyond 2GB, this is a pretty viable option.

T-Mobile (Pre-paid, 100 minutes) - up to "4G" HSPA+ speeds
  • Features - Unlimited data throttled speeds at 5GB, 100 minutes talk, unlimited text
  • Costs - $30 per month, $432 unsubsidized phone, $2 SIM card
  • Total - $1,154 per month, $48
Conclusion - Insanely cheap comparatively, though you have to really hate talking to people on the phone to make this work.

Simple Mobile - up to "4G" HSPA+ speeds
  • Features - Unlimited throttled data, unlimited talk, unlimited text
  • Cost - $60 per month, $432 unsubsidized phone, $12 SIM card
  • Total - $1,884 two years, $79 per month
Conclusion - HSPA+ speeds for a cheap monthly rate, but it's hard to say if Simple Mobile is trustworthy given their vague claims to "unlimited" data.

Simple Mobile (3G-only) - up to 3G speeds
  • Features - Unlimited throttled 3G data, unlimited talk, unlimited text
  • Cost - $40 per month, $432 unsubsidized phone, $12 SIM card
  • Total - $1,404 two years, $59 per month
Conclusion - Cheaper option, but the obvious tradeoff is 3G only. Again, it's hard to say if Simple Mobile is trustworthy given their vague claims to "unlimited" data.

Straight Talk - up to "4G" HSPA+ speeds
  • Features - Unlimited throttled data, unlimited talk, unlimited text
  • Cost - $45 per month, $432 unsubsidized phone, $15 SIM card
  • Total - $1,527 two years, $64 per month
Conclusion - Affordable monthly cost that gives you access to HSPA+ speeds and works on both AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Like Simple Mobile, Straight Talk is pretty hush on the details of their "unlimited" data, so beware.

Based on my sleuthing, I'd lean away from Simple Mobile and Straight Talk. Yes, they're super cheap, but they seem to be purposely vague with what their "unlimited" data means. I've read that people had mixed results with these two companies. Some have said that they're great and speeds are fast, others say they get throttled after using 100MB in one day. I'm not sure I'd want to deal with that uncertainty. See this thread: forum.xda­-developers.com­/showthread.php­?t­=1523559

So what would I pick out of what's left? I'd have to go with the T-Mobile's pre-paid plan. It has a nice balance between features and afforability (even with an unsubsidized phone), coverage appears to be OK in the bay area, plus the extra bonus of being off contract. It might not be the fastest network, but I've found Verizon's 3G to be fast enough, so I can't imagine it being too bad. If I feel especially ballsy, I'd probably even try out the T-Mobile pre-paid plan with 100 minutes.

I included the data above plus some more info that I put together in a way more readble spreadsheet format here: https:­/­/docs.google.com­/spreadsheet­/ccc­?key­=0Alnmb.... Feel free to make a copy and tweak the plans to your usage and see which is best for you!

tl;dr: Verizon is pissing me off so I decided to compare different plans and it turns out T-Mobile's pre-paid options are prittay, prittay, prittay good.

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27 replies
Dwayne

Your analysis shows that these pre-paid plans are decent when getting a new phone, but what you're missing is that they are EXCELLENT when taking your current phone and moving them onto these plans.

Straight Talk's Bring Your Own Phone program runs on AT&T or T-Mobile's network. You tell them which network your phone is on and they send you the right SIM card. The SIMs work WITHOUT JAILBREAKING, which to me, is huge. Given that 8 million iPhone 4s are coming out of contract in Q2 2012, it's a great option for keeping your number and getting off your $100.00/mo. plan. The cost then brings you down to ~$600/year rather than ~$1200/year. Again, no need to get a new phone if your current one works well.

You can also get a $16gb iPhone 4 on eBay for like $400 so we're looking at $1000/year.

One more thought-- these are great options if you're about to pass your current phone onto one of your children or a younger sibling. I might want to pass on my phone, but I certainly don't want to pass on my $100/mo. contract.
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jeffkoe

Some really good information here. Has anyone tried T Mobile family plan through Walmart? I am on At&t and have a total of 4 people on my plan. In the Columbus metro area AT&T data sometimes comes to a complete standstill during peak times of the day. The straight Talk, $45 per month forfor unlimited everything sounds like a good optIon for me. no one else on my plan, however, would use anywhere near 2 gigabytes of data in a month. for that reason having everyone on my plan on a 45 dollar a month unlimited data, text and talk plan would really be overkill for everyone except for me. The Walmart family plan allows subscribers to add additional data as needed to a "pool" of data for everyone, (if I understand it correctly). Is this my best option? I'd Need to buy a TMobile galaxy note i guess, but selling my at&t galaxy note should offset that expense. Any thoughts? I'm confused.
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Lee1207

I've been on Walmart/T Mobile for about a year and a half. I have 2 lines. The original reason I switched was at the time T Mobile didn't have non contract plans. I'm thinking about switching again but it has more to do with Walmart than the actual service I am outside Philly and the other line is in Cleveland. I use a 3g smarphone and run wifi in the house. I'm a moderate data user but I'm on the "old" plan which includes unlimited data.
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Jillxz

Unfortunately , Verizon is the only one that is reliable in my area. Cannot get T-Mobile or Sprint and AT&T is sometimes , maybe you get connected. So I have no real choice . I could not carry a phone over to Strainght Talk because it would be a Verizon phone. They do use Verizon Towers too , but Straight Talk has teir own Verizon Phones . And I would not have one because they are very inferior pnones.
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Vee99

Verizon now has smartphone Prepaid phones. I'm in the process of seeing if I want to switch to their prepaid or t-mobiles. May be an option for you since Verizon coverage is better in your area.
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iMario

Well done!
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jdmp10

I switched to T-Mobile Monthly 4G as they refer to their Pre-paid plan since March of this year from Sprint, paying on average between $25 to $30 less a month for the $60/month plan. I can't say I am ecstatic about T-Mobile's service, primarily in houses/buildings where it seems to have a harder them penetrating walls then its rival carriers. But I make due with its fallbacks knowing I am saving no less then $25 every month.

At the moment I am using a Nokia N8 with the Monthly 4G, was using a N9 prior to that but was having major issues with signal strength and keeping a stable signal in closed areas. So far my N8 hasn't had any issues like that which I am happy to report. I do have an older N900 which I am curious to test as well.

I remember hearing not long ago that Verizon had introduced or was in the process of introducing Pre-paid plans but would start no less then $80 for a plan with a smartphone and if I remember correctly, the $60 T-Mobile monthly 4G was still far more of a value, but that doesn't surprise anyone I don't think knowing Verizon's way of doing business.
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Dwayne

The problem is the T-Mo service. Straight Talk's Bring Your Own phone is how to do it. Get a good device on the AT&T network via eBay for like $300-400 and your yearly cell phone costs drop to under $1k. Again, if you have your own phone already off-contract, the savings are gravy.
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frankspin

My issue with going with services like Simple Talk or Ting, even T-Mobile, is reliability and coverage. Whenever I look at maps of their coverage they never give me a comfortable feeling for my area which is near a major metro. The other issue I have is how long will they last?

As much as I want to move away from Verizon I don't think I will simply because of coverage and cost. Being that I'm a long time customer they have given me access to a customer loyalty plan which is $10 cheaper than the lowest family plan option (you should ask about these as they have them for single lines too) and I'm still getting a 17% discount on my line plus a small percentage for each data line. So right now for two lines on a family plan with 500 text and data (plus unlimited in-network talk+text) I'm paying $140/month. I simply will not get a better like that anywhere else with the coverage Verizon offers. The only place I'd switch to is AT&T and that'd be for SIM and speed but I refuse to pay $20/month for text messaging per line.

Have you considered the option of buying your phone off craigslist or ebay? You can find Galaxy Nexus for $250-$300 with valid ESN and in good condition.
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johnswilson1

Straight Talk uses AT&T's network (also TMobile's but you get to choose which). I've been using an AT&T compatible sim with them and have had no issues really. Every now and then there's an MMS setting reset that's needed. But i'll take that over paying AT&T $100 a month.
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Kanogul

I use Straight Talk, and while I don't have a smartphone, I can say that my cell phone coverage has been fairly respectable. The way it was explained to me (I'm certainly not claiming to know) is that depending on the area in which you purchase your Straight Talk phone, it uses towers from different companies (T-Mobile, etc.). So, if reception worries you, be sure to ask a reputable source.

Every once in a while, I find that my phone drops reception, but for the most part, I have no issues. Occasionally, it will give me a "Cannot find network" error, but the longest this has lasted is about 5 minutes. All in all, I have been very satisfied with the performance (and especially the cost) of my Straight Talk service.
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iMario

They're using what is, I believe, called "domestic roaming". The only problem with that is that you have to disable "no data connection when in roaming" and not foget to turn it back on when going abroad :)
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anomalyconcept

On some of the Android ROMs (CyanogenMod 7 and 9, in particular) have options for national and international roaming data under the 'mobile networks' options which may help with this.
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iMario

I was CM 7 user and now on GNE I didn't find time to try more ROMs other than LiquidSmooth (feature rich, but not the synonym for stability) and Gummy (excellent). Will eventually give CM (9) a chance again :)
Thanks for the thumbs up.
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andrewkalies

Great work, Cass! I didn't even know T-Mobile had plans that cheap.

Edit: Under both T-Mobile prepaids above in the 'Total' section, are you sure you mean $1,874 and $1,154 per month? That seems super high for a $60/m and $30/m plan..
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cass

The total cost over two years includes the price of the phone and any additional costs. So tack on another couple hundred dollars for the unsubsidized phone.
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andrewkalies

Ah, yeah that makes sense if it's for two years (I wasn't taking that into consideration). Sorry about that!
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groovechicken

You should add ting.com to the comparison.
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syand

Could add Ting.com, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile. But they don't allow you to bring your own phone. But Ting has an impressive lineup of phones.
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anomalyconcept

I think Virgin and Boost use CDMA which wouldn't be as easy as changing a SIM. It's should still be theoretically possible to bring your own phone, just requires some configuration on their end (which they seem to be unwilling to do).
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joelhamill

I believe both Virgin and Boost use Sprint's CDMA network.
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wyldtek

I agree with groovechicken, you should definitely add ting.com. Tracfone owns Straight Talk and recently acquired Simple Mobile so I wonder if those will be combined at some point. Straight Talk is my backup in case my current situation stops working.

I'm an extreme case. I jumped through some questionable hoops to get a AT&T data-only plan on my phone. I ported my old number to Google Voice in early 2011 (after my AT&T unlimited plan was "accidentally" taken from me). I rarely talk on the phone and if I do I just use Gmail calling or GrooveIP. I don't use MMS either. Can't beat $25 per month (+tax) for 2GB with no contract.
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zxc314

Cass, nice work love what you put together. I work for a small company and we recently (as of about two years ago) switched over to T-Mo prepaid and I'd say largely it's great and we save several hundred dollars a month from a business plan. Had to convince my boss the upfront cost of a phone is overcome by the savings in a short time and it's worth it. Not to mention getting a new handset on craigslist or ebay can make the saving enormous. And I love the idea of being FREE!
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radikal

from what i can tell, straight talk and simple mobile are not good in my area. I have sprint. Unlimited all the way
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Inspectorator

Actually, StraightTalk/TracFone has the largest coverage area of any "carrier." They ride on all the big towers; Verizon, AT&T, Sprint. When you go to the StraightTalk they ask for your ZIP code and they then display the phones that work on your best "home" network (Verizon, AT&T or Sprint). StraightTalk's first Android phone offering, for instance, runs on the Sprint network. So, if you're already a Sprint customer, you know that you've got Sprint signal coverage.
I'll never get suckered into a two year contract again!
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joelhamill

That is some pretty good sleuthing there. I'm intrigued by the T-Mobile $30/month plan. If I wasn't part of a family plan paying $45/month (unlimited) on Verizon I would most likely use that pre paid option.
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jeffkoe

Factor in that your purchase of a phone up front is a one time, large expense but you will be able to change phones at a lower cost in the future if you don't mind selling your phone when trading up. If you chose a GSM carrier, the Nexus 4 is available through the Google Play Store for $300 and $350, depending on how much storage you want.
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Jillxz

johnswilson1 2 months ago

Straight Talk uses AT&T's network (also TMobile's but you get to choose which). I've been using an AT&T compatible sim with them and have had no issues really. Every now and then there's an MMS setting reset that's needed. But i'll take that over paying AT&T $100 a month.

Yes and it also uses the Verizon Network. Seems everywhere I read this fact is left out. yes indeed Straight Talk uses the Verizon Network.
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