Who can I trust?
September 7, 2010 12:21 PM   Subscribe

How does one go about finding a reliable wireless company? My AT&T phone just died and I'm considering using this opportunity to find a cheaper plan. But I hear so many conflicting reviews.

First off I have a regular old non-smart phone that's a 3-year-old hand-me-down that has just recently refused to charge after suffering from picky connector syndrome.

I'm eligible for a free phone from AT&T but I'm thinking about taking this opportunity to find cheaper accomodations.

Here's my dilemma: AT&T gets horrible reviews for service and call quality here in Chicago but I've never experienced any problems with dropped calls, bad quality calls, customer service, or anything. So how can I trust other peoples' bad reviews of other companies? I need to find a company that is reliable because this is my only phone. And I don't have any extra cash to plunk down on trial and error.

Other info:
I'm paying them ~$56 every month (the $39.99 voice plan + $5 text + taxes/fees) for more minutes and text than I use. (But that's partially because the two people I talk to the most are on AT&T also so it doesn't drain my minutes. But really I don't spend that much time on the phone and don't send more than 1 or 2 texts a day). My circumstances are such that anywhere I can trim anything from my bills will help me get those bills paid.

Please note that while I would love to have a smartphone a data plan is no way near my budget right now.
posted by amethysts to Technology (6 answers total)
Everybody sucks.

I know that's not what you want to hear. But it's true.

I've had a cell phone on every company. I was on AT&T from 1996 until 2003, when I switched to Verizon so I could use mobile-to-mobile minutes with Mr. M. the year he was traveling all the time. I switched to T Mobile in 2005 because I wanted a smartphone and VZW's data plans were, I felt, onerous. (Tmobile had the best customer service out of anyone I have ever used, fwiw.) I switched to AT&T because I wanted an iPhone and I don't have the same problems with it that everyone else does; I also don't talk on the phone very much, either.

In your case why not go for something like a TracFone, where you can load the minutes? I know Mr. M. has looked at MetroPCS because it's a flat rate.
posted by micawber at 12:35 PM on September 7, 2010

Peoples' review vary based on their micro-scale locations. I have Sprint, for example, and I notice that I never get a 4G signal at home or at work. Clearly this means there is no service anywhere, and Sprint sucks, right?

Nope. Checking the coverage map, there is a tiny circle of no coverage right where my office is, and the same where my apartment is. Anywhere else, I do get a signal, as advertised. I just happen to be in that 99.9999% of people who don't get a good signal at either place. Statistically unlikely, but it's going to happen to someone. (FWIW, their 3G signal is much better than T-Mobile or AT&T at both places. YMMV.)

Anyway, you can never really know for sure where your phone will and won't work. That's why most companies let you try for 30 days without having to commit. You try it at home and at work, and if it doesn't work, cancel and change providers.

Honestly, unless you go prepaid and never call anyone, you aren't going to do much better than $60 a month. (The equation changes if you want data, though; AT&T is super-expensive while T-Mobile is rather cheap.)

I would stick with AT&T unless you hate them out of principle. If the service works for you, stick with it, you aren't going to get much of a discount anywhere else. I wouldn't sign a new contract, though. When you want to get a data plan and a cool smartphone, then switch providers.
posted by jrockway at 12:41 PM on September 7, 2010

Pricing is essentially standardized at $39.99 across the industry so you are unlikely to get anything cheaper. The only possible cheaper option would likely be prepaid, which probably isn't a good option for you. If AT&T is working for you in your area (it does for me in mine) than I'd stick with it, if you're willing to gamble on someone new, go with whichever company will give you the best free phone.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:43 PM on September 7, 2010

There are two ways to get cell phone service:

(1) Full-price phone with cheap pre-paid service, or
(2) Free phone with expensive monthly contract.

Only you can do the math to figure out which is the best deal for you in the long run, or whether paying less for a phone now makes up for the fact that you are essentially paying for a bunch of minutes that you don't use.

If AT&T is working for you, then stick with it - in my experience, T-Mobile plans are $5-$10 cheaper per month, but you may not get as good reception.
posted by muddgirl at 12:56 PM on September 7, 2010

Ah well, I guess I'm stuck then. I got my call data and priced out the prepaid plans and some of the other plans around and it always comes out to $60/month no matter what I do. Thanks for your help.
posted by amethysts at 1:50 PM on September 7, 2010

I am a Verizon refugee, but I loved the Verizon network. My solution from the exorbitant contract fees was to go to Page Plus Cellular, $29.95 for 1200 talk and text and 50 MB data. Unlimited is $44.95, I think, but only lets you have 20 MB data. Not sure why you get less data on the unlimited plan.

It seems to work with any Verizon phone, except the prepaid ones.
posted by puterbug at 4:31 PM on October 3, 2010

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