Cell Phones: Going Prepaid?

So, I have this iWone 3G. Greg has one, too. It’s something of a boat anchor these days, now that the novelty has worn off (it’s been about a year and a half).

I’m not an iPhone gamer. I don’t really use social networking stuff (Hootsuite) on it except on rare occasions. Email is only for reference rather than composition. It is my primary camera at the moment, sadly, since my real one won’t hold a charge on fresh batteries.

So what do I use it for? Contacts, calendar, phone calls, static music, and Pandora. The first two come from our good friend Uncle Google. The last two are definitely “wants” rather than “needs”.

I’d say making phone calls is a requirement.

For my and Greg’s phone service, though, I’m paying about $100, after a very nice corporate discount. It was about $120 before I trimmed some stuff a few days ago. Taking on a triple-digit cell phone bill wasn’t my brightest idea, I know. Glad I got the iPhone craze out of my system.

In my simplification, decluttering, and financial planning processes, this cell phone bill is a big pain in my ass. Greg is far more attached to his iPhone than I am, although the fact that he works from home (meaning he’s on wifi rather than 3G) and rarely uses the actual “phone” portion of his iPhone makes for lower data usage options: fewer texts, a 200 MB data plan.

Strangely, though, despite digging into my rollover minutes every month lately (I have thousands, with hundreds expiring each month), I’m pretty willing to change my behaviors to slash on costs. Going from 250 to less than 200 texts a month? Easily done. Moving my two-to-three hour Friday night phone calls to Skype or Google Voice? Easily done.

There are still the wedding-related calls, the family calls, the business calls, the volunteer work calls, and the onesies/twosies with Greg to arrange for various honey-do’s. That’s around 400 minutes a month for me.

Data is another story. I’m not sure where my numbers would be if I didn’t use Pandora. I’ll be running that experiment in March.

One kicker comes in with Google Calendar/Contacts. I am pretty attached to having that on-hand, and I access that information often when I’m not at a computer. That means wifi, a data plan, or a way to sync through my desktop, right? I’d be fine with wifi only on my iPhone, but AT&T requires a data plan for no less than $15.

I started looking at prepaid plans, which seem to be a reasonable way to get my portion of the phone bill down below $40. Here’s what I’ve compiled so far:

Net10

  • Plan info: 900 min good for 90 days
  • Cost/month: $20

Texts are charged at half a minute per. They have a sketchy-looking support forum, where issues are often taken “offline”. And the stock photos! They hurt my soul.

Who poses for those photos?

Tracfone

  • Plan info: 1000 min/yr
  • Cost/month: $40

That 1000 min is $120 and includes texts like Net10, but would probably last 3 months, making for a $40/month average bill. This is apparently the parent company of Net10, because they have the same obnoxious back-end on their site. *shudder*

T-Mobile

  • Plan info: 1500 min/mo
  • Cost/month: $30

Includes texts as part of the minutes and 30 MB data, but 1500 min is totally overkill and their phones are pretty lousy. They also have a plan like Tracfone’s, but without included texts.

Virgin Mobile

  • Plan info: 1500 min/mo
  • Cost/month: $30

500 texts, 10 MB web, and decent phones for my basic needs. Still more minutes than I’ll ever use, and is 10 MB enough for online contacts and calendaring? If so, this seems like the best deal so far.

I’m not making any decisions super-quick, because I still need to see if it’s worth ending my contract early and getting Greg onto a solo iPhone plan. If it all shakes out to be the same monthly cost in the end, then it’s not worth the hassle.

Another thing I’ll be fixing soon: $58 broadband internet.

  • I suggest looking carefully into coverage areas. Even with as large as T-Mobile is (the largest network amongst those that you’ve listed), I have various places with poor coverage. Most notably, my office (in a basement) has no T-Mobile coverage, despite having poor, but usable, ATT coverage.

    Also, I don’t know how heavily you tend to use your smartphone, but I’ve used 62 MiB since the 10th and used over 325 last cycle.

    • Ouch. Yes, I should definitely check into coverage areas, because I’d want to improve on AT&T. Of course, some of the AT&T connectivity issues may be iPhone-related rather than network related. Not sure.

      As for data, I don’t have numbers for what my “ideal” usage would be. I use Pandora something like 8-10 hours per day on my phone on week days, so I’m in the 1.7 – 2.5 GB usage range per month (I’m still on the old unlimited data plan). If I cut that out and just did a bit of web browsing, Google Mapping, and calendaring/contacting, my numbers might look more like Greg’s, which are in the 15 – 40 MiB range per month.