cheapskate + X = smartphone
June 24, 2010 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Help me evaluate my options for getting a used smartphone with no contract.

I rarely talk on my cellphone, but would like to be able to check my email from work without worrying about inappropriate content, etc, and I've seen a couple of other things on smartphones that could be useful. However, I am a cheapskate, and am opposed to cellphone contracts. Used smartphones seem to be available at relatively decent prices, so I have thought of buying one and setting up with a pay as you go service.

VirginMobile currently has a pay as you go plan at $25 a month. A similar plan through TMobile runs $60 a month.

I don't know if any other carriers in the U.S. offer data on a pay as you go basis. Does anyone have any experience with VirginMobile's service, or know of other carriers that offer similar setups? I also don't know what kind of phone I would do best to look for with either service - I think I'd prefer an Android (with a slide-out keyboard) but am open to suggestions.

On a related note, how likely is it that TMobile might drop prices soon to compete with Virgin? I've been with TMobile prepaid for 10 years now and have never had any real problems, which seems pretty unusual for cell phone services.

Thanks - any assistance is welcome
posted by dilettante to Technology (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: Yeah, I saw that, but it has enough differences (such as the country, interest specifically in iPhone, etc) that I thought it was worth posting this one.
posted by dilettante at 6:03 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: Virgin uses (and I think is owned by) Sprint, so service on Virgin would be comparable to having Sprint service. The only phones from other carriers you can use on Virgin would be phones that as CDMA-based (such as ones that are available for Sprint or Verizon or Virgin). The phone would have to be unlocked as well (unless it's a Virgin phone).

As for T-mobile, you'd be able to use any GSM phones (such as ones from AT&T and, of course, T-mobile), but again, they'd need to be unlocked (unless it was a T-mobile phone).

For a minimum of hassle and sketchiness, I would go with a used Virgin or T-mobile smartphone (as opposed to trying to buy an unlocked phone--which may have issues, such as the iPhone which can't work on 3G on the T-mobile network). You can probably get the first-generation T-mobile Android phone used, since contracts for those phones should have ended by now. Doesn't look like Virgin has an Android phone. I wouldn't recommend the Blackberry for anything other than e-mail or instant messaging (but if that's all you do, and you don't care about HTML email or attachments, Blackberrys are awesome).

I think Virgin is more likely to raise prices to match T-mobile.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 6:09 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: Virgin and Sprint are CDMA carriers (and Sprint owns Virgin) , T-Mobile is a plain old CDMA carrier.

The main difference is that for the former, you have to ask permission for the phone to be used on their network. There's no SIM-card swapping. Some phones are similar enough on both networks to be activated on both, some are not. So your phone choice is probably limited to phones that are on the Virgin Mobile network already, with a small chance of old Sprint phones working.
posted by meowzilla at 6:15 PM on June 24, 2010

Yes, Virgin is owned by Sprint and runs on CDMA. (Otherwise, I'd consider switching to them to save money.)
posted by 47triple2 at 6:17 PM on June 24, 2010

I have a smartphone on a Tmobile prepaid plan (no data). One Cheapskate trick I might suggest is considering how much of your life is spent blanketed in wifi, and how important net connectivity is outside that blanket. In my case, we have wifi at work and at home, and lots of food chains are rolling out free wifi.

There's a kind of hacky thing with Tmobile where you tunnel traffic through their Zones network, but I've never bothered with it. I think it's mainly intended to get around port restrictions on the cheaper data plans.

Platformwise, I prefer Maemo but Android might be a better pick for most people. Especially as Meego is going to replace Maemo with a questionable relationship with Intel.
posted by pwnguin at 6:32 PM on June 24, 2010

Response by poster: We have no wifi at work, unfortunately.
posted by dilettante at 6:39 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: I recently switched from Sprint to Virgin mobile to save money, and I've been pleased with it. I have their Blackberry Curve and their $50 ($40 plus $10 for Blackberry) service.

I have had no coverage issues at all, but I've heard that Virgin does not have the benefit of all of the Sprint roaming agreements (hence the lower price), but honestly, I've noticed no difference coverage-wise from when I was on Sprint. T-Mobile has virtually no coverage, so I cannot compare to them.
posted by 4ster at 6:44 PM on June 24, 2010

*T-Mobile has virtually no coverage where I live.
posted by 4ster at 6:52 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: I have the $59.99 500 minute/unlimited text/unlimited data plan from T-Mobile, on flexpay -- no contract, no credit check, etc. and used a phone I had from a former carrier (GSM, unlocked.) After tax, the plan is just shy of $70 per month. I'm very happy with this.

That said, if Cricket is available in your area, you can buy an unlocked Verizon (CDMA) smartphone from ebay, have the phone flashed to work correctly on their network, and use their unlimited /everything/ package, which is $50 per month with no contract.
posted by biggity at 7:05 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: In the interest of full disclosure, BoostMobile (owned by Sprint/Nextel) also offers a $50 unlimited everything plan without contract, and while there has been some success utilizing Sprint phones with them, the coverage and service is not comparable to Sprint.

Walmart is also reselling Verizon service under the name SmartTalk at the same rate, though the customer service is outsourced and understaffed, and there was recently a week+ long service outage, which I think is outlandish even for Walmart. Does not seem to be possible to use any non-SmartTalk phones.
posted by biggity at 7:15 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: Virgin mobile will not allow BYOD (bring your own device) which means that in order to use their service you need a phone that says Virgin on it, and I think the Blackberry is a good option for you. Sprint also owns Boost, which does allow BYOD for some Sprint branded phones. I checked my monthly usage and found out I use under 300 minutes, so I'm on a $.10/min plan with $.35/day unlimited web access. With a Sprint phone you can get Sprint data speeds. is your friend here, specifically the pay as you go section toward the bottom.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:20 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

T-Mobile is a plain old CDMA carrier.

100% incorrect. T-Mo is GSM and for "smartphones," if you want to get on 3G, you need one that's AWS- phones unlocked from ATT or Rogers/Bell/Telus, or just about any other carrier in the world, will not work on T-Mo's 3G network.

You CANNOT "unlock" a phone from Sprint, Verizon, or any of the other horrible companies that still use the horrible US CDMA standard.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:44 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: I have the $59.99 500 minute/unlimited text/unlimited data plan from T-Mobile, on flexpay -- no contract, no credit check, etc. and used a phone I had from a former carrier (GSM, unlocked.) After tax, the plan is just shy of $70 per month. I'm very happy with this.

I have this exact same plan, under the Even More Plans by T-Mobile. I also use it with a used Nexus One* I got a couple of weeks ago. The phone works like a dream; I just plugged in the SIM card and it all worked. Fast 3G speeds and everything.

*If you do this, make sure to get the Nexus One meant for T-Mobile, and not the one for AT&T. Otherwise, you won't get the 3G speeds. They operate on different frequencies.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:59 PM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: The problem with Virgin Mobile is that you have to use their phones, and none of them are really smartphones.

Try pageplus, they have decent rates and you can use most Verizon phones and some Sprint phones.

$29.99 for 1200 minutes/text and 50mb of data is pretty good.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:48 PM on June 24, 2010

100% incorrect. T-Mo is GSM

Yes, that was exactly what I meant but did not type.
posted by meowzilla at 1:13 AM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: You really cant beat that Virgin Mobile $25 plan with unlimited data. The problem is the only decent phone they have is the blackberry, which they're selling for 300 bones!

If you want something besides that blackberry, your next bet is the the $60 a month T-mobile plan. I have said $60 Tmobile Even More Plus prepaid plan and I like it. (I hate cell phone contracts too)

I guess it comes down to which phone you want, because in 12 months, you'll have spent at least $400 more on the Tmobile plan versus the Virgin plan... That would cover the cost of the blackberry.
posted by Arbitrage1 at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: If it's just email you're interested in (low data usage), the standard PagePlus PAYGO rate is $1.20/MB. Voice minutes are $0.05 - $0.10.

On Virgin mobile, I think there are some cheaper qwerty phones available: The Kyocera M1000 Wild Card and K612 Strobe are ~$50 on ebay. Amazon sells the LG Rumor II for $90.

If the unlimited web from Boost that monkeymadness mentions allows you to check gmail or whatever, that's under $11/mo.
posted by unmake at 4:05 PM on June 25, 2010

Response by poster: Lots of good info here - thanks, everyone!
posted by dilettante at 6:45 PM on June 25, 2010

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