If you’ve dismissed no-contract wireless carriers as a low-rent last resort for people with bad credit, you may want to look again. They can provide a good deal for many people.
Sprint’s no-commitment carriers, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, have new smart phones running the latest Android version, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. Both the HTC EVO V 4G from Virgin Mobile and the HTC Design from Boost Mobile are nice phones with most of the features you’d expect from an Android 4 phone purchased from one of the mainstream carriers. The terms “outdated” or “basic” certainly don’t come to mind when looking at them.
Phones from no-contract carriers cost more upfront than phones that come with a two-year commitment from one of the mainstream wireless companies. An Android 4 phone from Verizon or AT&T would set you back around $200 and provide access to blazing fast 4G LTE service. That zippy 4G LTE comes with a high price, though. Expect to fork over around $90 a month for a one-device plan or $130 for a plan with two phones, on a 2 GB data plan that shares that allotment with both phones. This works out to $1,080 in a year for one phone or $1,560 with a second smart phone.
Unless you spend around $7 a month for insurance, if you drop your phone and break it before you’re eligible for a discounted upgrade, you’ll need to hand over full price for a replacement – often around $500 or $600.
The new Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile phones each carry $299.99 price tags. Monthly unlimited talk and text plans with Boost Mobile start at $50 per month and can decrease to as low as $35 with 18 months of on-time payments. This works out to about $600 per phone in a year’s time for Boost Mobile, not including the on-time payment discount. Virgin Mobile’s plans start at $35 per month for 300 voice minutes. You can also get 1200 voice minutes for $45 per month, or unlimited minutes for $55 per month. If you don’t need a lot of voice minutes and choose Virgin Mobile’s cheapest plan, you’d spend $420 over 12 months.
The companies don’t charge extra for going over their 2.5 GB monthly data allotment, but they do slow down the speed significantly. This won’t happen for the large majority of users, especially if you use Wi-Fi whenever you can. You can easily track your data usage under Settings, Usage, or download a free widget such as 3G Watchdog (which actually tracks both 4G and 3G usage).
Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile use Sprint’s wireless network, and the main drawback to their phones is that Sprint’s data signal doesn’t penetrate buildings terribly well. If you’re using Wi-Fi whenever possible while you’re indoors, you won’t mind not having the most robust data network available.
If you mainly need a phone for phone calls, email and texting, with some game playing and video watching on occasion, the $500 or more you can save in a year would more than compensate for having to pay full price for the phone itself. Using Wi-Fi when watching videos or downloading apps will most likely keep you well within the 2.5 GB full-speed data limit.
Blackberry phones still can’t be beat for their email functionality. You might love a Boost Mobile Blackberry Curve 8530 for $99.99 for email, texting and voice calls. There are a fair number of Blackberry apps available, though not as many as there are for Android phones. Boost Mobile’s Blackberry plans cost $10 more per month than their Android plans.
No-contract phones aren’t right for everyone. If a smart phone is your personal or business lifeline, you might prefer a mainstream carrier with a larger network, particularly if you frequently travel outside of large urban areas. You won’t find the hottest new phone on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S III, with one of the no-commitment carriers. Downloading apps, playing games and watching videos when you don’t have a Wi-Fi signal is significantly faster on 4G LTE service than on the mobile service offered by Boost or Virgin. However, for the average smart phone user looking to save some serious dough, no-contract wireless companies are definitely worth investigating.