Which prepaid cell company to use?
May 21, 2009 5:49 PM   Subscribe

PrepaidCellFilter: Two questions about prepaid cell plans: 1. Can I use a phone I buy off eBay with one of these plans, or is it essential to use the phones provided by the carrier? 2. If I'm mostly interested in texting, which prepaid cell provider would be the best for me?

I'm thinking of ditching my Sprint contract and switching to a prepaid carrier. I only use the cell to call people if there is an emergency and little else.

However, I do like texting and would like to try and choose a plan that allows unlimited or a high number of texts at a reasonable price.

Also, I'd like to have a nicer phone with T9 rather than the cheapo Nokia phones some of these carriers give you.

So, Hive Mind, what say you?
posted by reenum to Technology (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have the cheapest Nokia phone still being manufactured (Nokia 1200), and it has T9. I don't think that'll be a problem.

Make sure the phone you get from EBay is unlocked so it can take whichever carrier you decide to use.
posted by drea at 5:55 PM on May 21, 2009

Best answer: I'm no cell phone expert, but I thought I should clarify something drea said so you don't get stuck. In the US:

GSM providers = T-mobile, AT&T
CDMA providers = Sprint, Verizon

GSM phones can't work on CDMA networks and vice-versa. GSM phones can be "unlocked" as drea said, and you can put in a different provider's SIM card-- this means you could use an unlocked phone on either T-mobile or AT&T.

CDMA phones aren't unlocked in the same way (by a code over the phone from the provider), although they may not care with prepaids since you're buying the minutes from them. I'm not quite sure how this works with CDMA (I have GSM) but the Howard Forums are a great resource for all cell phone matters.

I personally recommend an unlocked GSM phone so that when you travel overseas you can pop in a SIM card from a local provider for cheap rates.
posted by sharkfu at 6:11 PM on May 21, 2009

As drea and sharkfu point out, an unlocked GSM phone is quite versatile. I use mine when I travel to Europe and here in the States I've used it with an AT&T prepaid plan without any problems.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:35 PM on May 21, 2009

Take a look at Tracfone. Really cheap for texting and impressive coverag areas.
posted by torquemaniac at 6:57 PM on May 21, 2009

Take a look at Tracfone. Really cheap for texting and impressive coverage areas.
posted by torquemaniac at 6:57 PM on May 21, 2009

Best answer: Just to follow up to sharkfu's comments: CDMA phones generally can not be used on carriers other than the one they are originally branded to. There have been a few reports of people getting Alltel phones working on Verizon via PagePlus but generally you need to use a Verizon phone on the Verizon network (although you may buy access to the network through a MNVO that re-sells airtime such as PagePlus, Boost, Helio, 7-11, etc). I believe Tracfone puts a special firmware on their phones so you have to use a tracfone branded phone with their service.

When you buy a CDMA phone you should verify that the IEMI number is "clean" - not reported stolen or under contract from another carrier. This is somewhat the equivalent of making sure a GSM phone is unlocked.

The vast majority of pre-paid phone carriers are complete crap and hideously expensive, it really pays to shop around. Howard Forums, as other people have pointed out, is a goldmine. The carriers really seem to make their money from betting against people being able to accurately predict their needs.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:55 PM on May 21, 2009

AT&T is expensive as prepaid goes. T-Mobile is a better bet if you want GSM. Check the coverage for any plan you're interested in. Myself, I'm a Page Plus customer. I got my phone at a local convenience store for $15 - already activated with 50 minutes. You can use any Verizon phone, so if you find a cheap Verizon prepaid, you can buy it, don't activate it with Verizon, call Page Plus, and they'll do the rest.

As for buying a phone off eBay - you can do this, but beware. Sometimes you can have difficulty activating a phone that you buy from someone. If the phone has been reported as lost or stolen, you aren't going to get it activated at all. You're probably better off just buying a phone at Wal-Mart, Target, or your local convenience store instead.

And, as pointed out upthread, visit HowardForums.com for plenty of info. Those people know waaaaaay too much about cell phones.
posted by azpenguin at 11:09 PM on May 21, 2009

Best answer: I can only speak for AT&T (gophone) or Tmobile prepaid, as those are the two I use.

I'm a really light user on AT&T, so I have the pay as you go plan. There's no daily charge, but it's .25 a minute for ingoing and outgoing voice calls. If you like texting, you can add a package that gives you 200 Msgs. for $4.99/mo, 1000 Msgs. for $9.99/mo and Unlimited Msgs. for $19.99 a month extra. If you don't opt for one of the texting options, messages are .25 each way.

Tmobile, on the other hand has better voice rates, which could be as low as .10/minute. Text message are .10 to send and .05 to receive, and they don't have any packages on prepaid that would make that cheaper.

As for the phones, both carriers usually have really decent deals on their website. For instance, right now Tmobile is offering a $25 prepaid card with each phone on their website, in some cases making the phone better than free. AT&T has similar deals right now. Tmobile offers a prepaid handset with an extended keyboard for texting (Samsung t349), while AT&T has one with a full keyboard (Samsung A177), if that floats your boat.

Of course there are other choices, as all carriers offer prepaid plans. You should find out what kind of coverage you have in your area before making your decision.
posted by SteveInMaine at 10:11 AM on May 22, 2009

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