When it comes to mobile phone plans I am the worst of both worlds: I want everything, but I am extremely cheap. I love being able to use my cell phone anywhere and everywhere, but I can’t stomach paying $100+ a month for it. That is why I have been a Sprint customer for so long, they have relatively cheap plans with unlimited data. Well, my Sprint days are over now that I found a much better deal.
T-Mobile offers a Monthly 4G plan through Walmart and T-Mobile.com for $30 with unlimited texts, unlimited data, and 100 minutes. I know that sounds like very few minutes, but I looked at my usage and I was never exceeding 60 minutes anyway, so this combination was perfect. The problem with these plans is usually they have some phone that is two years out of date that you have to get to use it. This is where Google comes through. A few weeks ago, Google made Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus available through the Google Play marketplace for a little over $400 with tax and shipping. This is a very state of the art phone running Google’s latest version of Android, and doesn’t have all that bloatware on it that the phone companies like to add. That may seem like a lot of money for a phone, but when you compare that to what you would pay for a comparable phone on a new contract it is a good deal. Let’s break it down a bit: A similar phone such as the HTC One from T-Mobile (or the basically identical Galaxy Nexus from Sprint or Verizon) will run you around $200 with a new contract, so this phone is $200 more. This is only $8.33 a month over a 2 year contract. That is a lot less than the difference in price of the monthly plans. The other benefit with this phone is it is unlocked, meaning you can use it with any GSM provider, which in the US typically means T-Mobile or AT&T, but you can also find some discount carriers such as Simple Mobile also offer GSM plans that are reasonable, just not as good as T-Mobile.
Prepaid plans, aren’t those just for teenagers and drug dealers?
Prepaid plans are typically targeted to those who buy their phones along with cases of beer and cigarettes, but don’t discount it just yet. There are a few great things about prepaid plans that you might not know about:
- No Tax. Typically contract plans will boast “$49.99 everything!” plans, but when you look they have “plus taxes, fees, etc” listed with them. The prepaid plans are a flat rate with no additional costs.
- No Contracts. This means you can switch at any time without an early termination fee. On a phone like the Galaxy Nexus these can typically be $350. You can switch to another provider at any time and only be out that months cost, so wait till the end of the month to do so.
- Consistently Lower Prices. The plans are almost always cheaper than comparable contract plans. It seems to be true across the board, mostly due to repaying that huge handset discount they gave you up front.
The other thing that might be a barrier is worrying about going and buying a prepaid card every month to recharge your phone. At least with T-Mobile, you can set up automatic payments with a bank account or credit card so you get billed and pay for it just like a contract phone.
OK, All sounds good… but what about my precious phone number?
Here’s where Google comes to the rescue once again, use Google Voice as your conduit for all your calls. Google Voice allows you to have a phone number that can forward to any other phone that you own, plus it can forward texts and provide visual voice mail which transcribes your callers’ messages to text. When you install the Google Voice application on your Android phone, you can also make all your outgoing calls through Google Voice, which will then show your google voice number as your outgoing number as well. This means it doesn’t matter what your phone’s number is, all they ever will see is your Google Voice number. If you want to hang onto your current cell phone number, you can transfer it to Google Voice for a one time charge of $20. After doing this you can switch phone companies to your hearts content and never have to tell all your friends your new number or pay for another number porting again.
I’m sold, how do I get it?
Buying the phone is easy, just go to play.google.com and you should see a banner ad for the Galaxy Nexus at the top. I ordered and received my phone in two days, which was very quick. You can also order from Amazon or Expansys if you prefer, but my experience ordering directly from Google was very good. To get the SIM card you need from T-Mobile is a little tricker. You can order a SIM card kit from T-Mobile.com for under $2, which is the best deal, but it took me 5 days to get that. I got impatient and went down to my local Walmart and bought the cheapest T-Mobile phone they had ($30) and activated it in store with the $30 plan. I then moved the SIM card to the Nexus and it worked without any fiddling. Don’t worry that the box doesn’t say “4G” like the more expensive ones do, it still gives you 4G service once you put the card into the Galaxy Nexus. I believe activating the SIM kit you get in the mail from TMobile should work just as well, but I have not tried that yet. There is another advantage of that extra phone, you can always pop your SIM card back in when you go somewhere you wouldn’t want your $400 phone to be, like the beach or camping.
Wait, for $50 it says on T-Mobile’s site I can get unlimited talk too, why not just get that and have all the minutes you want?
Ah, here is where you need to read the fine print. T-Mobile’s definition of “unlimited” data isn’t really unlimited at full speed. Each plan has a different cutoff where they slow your data connection. The $50 plan has a limit of 100MB of data at 4G speeds, and the $30 has 5 GB! That is an insane difference that made me say I could do with only 100 minutes of talk time.
OK, but I really need more that 100 minutes of talk time, any options?
Yes, there are two. First you can find out what they charge for more minutes on the $30 a month plan. I’d guess it was at the 10 cents a minute rate of the $15/month plan. That gives you 200 extra minutes before you hit a monthly cost of $50. There is another option that will give you unlimited minutes for free, use Groove IP. Groove IP is a voice over IP app which works with Google Voice to make phone calls over the Internet. The full version of Groove IP is about $6 and allows you to make calls over your mobile data connection or WiFi, it also integrates with the normal dialer so you don’t have to remember to use a separate program. Your calls will still look like they are coming from your phone number and you wont use any minutes. If you are on WiFi you also won’t use any data toward that 5GB 4G cap. This is a win/win for saving minutes and data, heck if you never leave the house you can get away with a Galaxy Nexus and no cell phone plan!
Ok, so what is this big savings you’re getting with all this trouble?
I had a pretty good deal with Sprint. I had a company discount which brought my monthly bill down to about $78 a month. Over a 2 year term with a new $200 phone that costs me a grand total of $2072. With the T-Mobile plan and the Galaxy nexus, plus throw in the number porting, the extra phone, and the Groove IP app… the total cost for my new setup is $776 over 2 years. That is almost 1/3 the cost of the “cheap” Sprint plan. This was enough of a difference that I went ahead and canceled my Sprint plan 2 months early and paid the $50 termination fee. That was still cheaper than 2 more months of Sprint bills.
Any catches that I should be concerned with?
OK, there are a few hiccups you need to worry about. Mostly this is related to porting your number. Moving your number from your cell phone provider with cancel your existing service immediately. Make sure you are ready to do this and are aware of any early termination fees you may have to pay. Supposedly there are ways to not cancel your service by adding a second number to your current phone, but I have not looked into this. The second thing is it takes about 24 hours to port your number. During that time your number will be out of commission, so let anyone who really needs to contact you know the number of your new phone for that period of time. The last really minor thing I found was that you can’t have Google Voice pick up the voicemail if you ignore a call from your phone by pressing the ignore button. It will instead go to T-Mobile’s voicemail system. If you just let the call ring, it will use the Google voicemail. A minor annoyance at best. The other thing about being contract free is that T-Mobile has no obligation to offer this pricing long term, so you never know if they may change the cost or other terms of the plan. The good news is you have an unlocked phone and you can walk to another carrier easily, Simple Mobile’s $60 no contract plan is still cheaper that what I was paying at Sprint. All in all this is a great way to lower a monthly cost you could be putting toward something else.