Getting it all in a single cheap cell phone, with a single cheap cell phone plan. Possible?
November 22, 2010 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I have an old cell phone. I have a old digital camera. I have a simple mp3 player. I want GPS. I currently pay $60/month for unlimited calling (but no data) on my Tmobile plan. Can I get all or most of these things on one cell phone without spending much (or anything) on a new phone, and without paying anymore a month?


-- I’m thinking about all of this for both day-to-day living and travel. I use the phone (it’s my only phone, so I want to retain the phone number, too) and mp3 player a lot.

-- I also get lost a whole lot, so I can’t provide myself with GPS any too soon.

-- The camera I only tend to use when I travel, so it's the least important element.

-- Since each new device has its own connectivity wires, tiny little case, and so on, it would be far easier on me to combine some of these functions. This is why I’m a little leery of just getting a stand-alone Garmin Nuvi, although that seems the most obvious cheapie way of getting GPS.

-- My current cell phone is about 5 years old, and I’ve been with Tmobile all that time, so my contract’s long since run out. I’ve more or less been happy with them. I also like the fact that my current phone is Euro-compatible (I forgot what they call this), and would like this feature in any future phone I get.

-- I also want to retain the unlimited calling plan.

-- I don’t text practically at all, so I’ve never needed/wanted a data plan before. I also have no need/desire of Web access from my phone, though I would suppose getting GPS through your phone automatically means Web access.


* Is it worth it to combine some of these functions—or does the quality of the camera, mp3 player, etc. lessen if it’s all in one device?

* Do you think I’m in a position to bargain with Tmobile? (If so, scripts are welcome; I have no natural talent with negotiating.)

* Is there another (reliable) provider I could get this sort of plan with?

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!
posted by Violet Blue to Technology (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The best course of action is to go into a local T-Mobile retail outlet, explain your situation, and ask. This is Holiday Time, and this is when the cell phone folks want to make good numbers.

Tell them you want a new phone that will do all of these things - they'll probably recommend a new Android phone ( which does all of these things ), but does require a data plan. They'll work with you, and they'll have some flexibility to help out with upgrades and whatnot.

They will want you to sign up for a new contract, but they'll most likely make it worth your while.

Couldn't hurt to go talk to them.
posted by HannoverFist at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2010

Switched to Sprint from Tmobile and got the HTC Evo. For me, best thing ever. Combined all four of those devices you mentioned. The battery life is sucky when GPS is on but I usually have it plugged into my car. I have taken tons more pictures, always have music with me, use GPS when necessary. The apps keep improving. I'm about 90% happy with everything but overall much happier than I was with all four of those devices.
posted by thorny at 1:39 PM on November 22, 2010

Forgot to mention I love the speaker on the Evo -- I have used that much more than I thought -- for example, music in the bathroom when showering and being able to whip it out and play music when just sitting around with friends...etc. I know other devices have this but thought it was worth mentioning since it was a nice surprise. Also -- the camera is great. The mp3 quality works great. Google maps is my directions app of choice...
posted by thorny at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2010

The rub with GPS is, as HannoverFist said, the data plan. When reading specs, be careful, as practically every cell phone "has GPS," but what you need is a full nav system, and all of those in a cell phone that I know of require the internet to provide the mapping.

Cameras are easy - practically all phones have them.

mp3 players are actually getting into a lot of "non-smart" phones - I had an LG (with another carrier) that was far from being a smart phone, but seemed to have a decent mp3 interface.

If you're really committed to getting all this stuff under one hood, I think you're going to end up needing a data plan. The phone (ex. Android or whatever) you can probably get without paying much or anything.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:44 PM on November 22, 2010

I got a used iPhone, jailbroke/unlocked it at home to run on T-Mobile. I think I pay $6.99 for the data plan (on top of my unlimited talk plan, probably same as yours).

I didn't have to renew my contract. Sure it's slow (no 3G) but I still love it.

Can I get all or most of these things on one cell phone without spending much (or anything) on a new phone, and without paying anymore a month?

No. I suggest you buy a nice Garmin Nuvi for navigation if you're happy with your phone/plan.
posted by exhilaration at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2010

Typically the camera on a smartphone isn't as good as a standalone camera in terms of image quality and traditionally camera-like features, but it is probably good enough, and the fact that you can do more with your photos makes it better in some ways.

The MP3 players are probably better.

The GPS is probably good enough.

Text messaging and Internet data are completely unrelated, and carriers bill them separately. I don't think they let you get a smartphone without Internet access these days. FWIW, I never sent text messages until I got a smartphone. Now I probably average about 2/day.

You're not going to be able to get unlimited talk time and data for what you're spending now. Data is a $15-30 add-on.

Phone-number porting is available with all the US carriers, and takes about 30 minutes to complete. So I wouldn't let my old number hold me captive to one carrier.

A "Euro-phone" means that it's a quad-band GSM phone. This rules out Verizon and Sprint, which don't use GSM (unless they've got some phones with both CDMA and GSM radios built in--dunno). That limits you to Tmo and AT&T. When you say "Euro-phone" does that mean you can go to Europe and stick in a local SIM card, or that you pay exhorbitant per-minute fees to Tmo for international roaming? If the former, then you'll need to unlock your phone first, since any phone you get with a carrier subsidy will be locked to that carrier.

If I was going to get an Android phone with Tmo, I'd probably shell out for the G2.
posted by adamrice at 2:07 PM on November 22, 2010

I have the mp3, camera, and phone plan for about the same price you're talking about on Verizon (no European compatibility!) on a "feature" phone, not a smart phone. It has a GPS function I can subscribe to for $9.99 a month (I think) or purchase a 24-hour pass for $3.99. Which suits me right down to the ground -- $4 for emergency un-getting-lost is just about perfect. It's entirely separate from text or data plans.

I don't know if T-mobile has this kind of option, but it's worth checking out if they have a feature phone with mp3 and camera that has a GPS "app" that doesn't require a full data plan.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:12 PM on November 22, 2010

FYI there is a T-Mobile MVNO (basically a "reseller") that has unlimited text/voice/data for $60:

Only cinch is you need to provide the device
posted by barake at 2:15 PM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: @ adamrice or anyone else: If I were to shell out for an unlocked quad band GSM phone, with whatever accoutrements, could I then just switch to the cheapest provider of unlimited chat and data for the GPS, keep the same number, and use it in Europe with another SIM card?

Or am I asking for the moon here?

Thanks to everyone for their input. Keep it coming!
posted by Violet Blue at 2:20 PM on November 22, 2010

You're stuck with AT&T and TMobile for GSM.
posted by k8t at 2:30 PM on November 22, 2010

You should be able to port your number to whatever provider you want, but keep in mind you will have to go with a GSM provider. In the US that means AT&T or T-Mobile (or one of their resellers).

I'm not sure about other phones but the latest Nokias provide free nav GPS and you can in fact preload maps onto them so as far as I know, you shouldn't need a data plan. You should also be able to purchase something similar for other phones by buying nav programs from TomTom or Garmin.
posted by kmz at 2:35 PM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: One other question: What sites should I scour for cheap used, unlocked phones?

Again, thanks everyone.
posted by Violet Blue at 2:40 PM on November 22, 2010

I was in the exact same boat a few months ago. On T-Mobile, wanted GPS navigation on my phone, didn't want to pay for a data plan. I ended up getting a Nokia 5230, sometimes referred to as the Nuron. It has a GPS receiver and stores all map data on removable microSD cards. Using the included Ovi Maps application, you can view maps and search for businesses and addresses completely offline, just like a Garmin Nuvi. It also does turn-by-turn directions. There are maps for nearly every country, which can be downloaded for free and appear to be updated fairly often.

The phone was ~$50 after rebate. I think it was marketed as the entry-level smartphone, so I had to sign up for a data plan for a free trial period to get the rebate. Just canceled the data plan after the free trial ended.

The phone also has a decent MP3 player with a standard headphone jack, as well as a usable camera. Takes microSD, which stores the map data, MP3's, videos, etc.

Only a few complaints. The screen brightness is low and can make it hard to see in direct sunlight. The speaker volume is also fairly low. This was almost a deal-breaker for me at the start, but either it magically got louder or I just got used to it, and it's no longer a problem now. Finally, the phone uses Symbian OS, which can be a bit non-intuitive and sluggish.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the phone. I think all Nokia phones with GPS now include free maps, so you might want to check other models as well. Another option on T-Mobile could be the Nokia E73. As far as I know, only Nokia phones offer an offline map app.

Oh, and if you're planning to use the phone for driving directions, I'd highly recommend a dedicated GPS device. I also own a Nuvi for my car, and it's light-years better than my phone would be. Bigger screen, better and faster interface, louder speakers, easier mounting. The phone works fine while traveling and walking around, but in the car it's much safer to have a purpose-built device (unless there's someone in the passenger seat to help).
posted by mshrike at 3:32 PM on November 22, 2010

If I were to shell out for an unlocked quad band GSM phone, with whatever accoutrements, could I then just switch to the cheapest provider of unlimited chat and data for the GPS, keep the same number, and use it in Europe with another SIM card?

Well, you couldn't get your data connection from AT&T or Tmo of the USA while you're in Europe using a European SIM. Your data connection is coming over the same signal as your voice connection. And cellular towers don't have that kind of range.

There are guys out there who will unlock your phone for you. And there are unlock codes floating around so you can do it yourself. Just google the carrier, phone model, and the word "unlock." But if you get your phone with a carrier subsidy, you're still on the hook for a 2-year contract.

You can also search for "unlocked GSM phones" and find independent vendors selling unlocked, no-contract phones for full price (generally in the $400-600 range). Then you can choose between Tmo and AT&T (again, no Sprint or Verizon for you), and see if you can avoid getting under contract with them. They won't make that easy. You could buy a no-contract smartphone from an independent vendor and just slide your current phone's GSM into it. It would work as a phone, but without data, its utility would be limited. And Tmo probably won't let you add data without getting under contract again (not sure). So this option probably isn't to your advantage. The carrier isn't going to give you a price break on your monthly bill for bringing your own phone to the party.
posted by adamrice at 4:35 PM on November 22, 2010

What sites should I scour for cheap used, unlocked phones?

Craigslist. g1s are definitely outdated at this point but I use mine for all of the above uses and it is more than I need. You can unlock it yourself if you buy it locked, if you're comfortable with that. Otherwise, just search "unlocked gsm" or "unlocked t-mobile"(weird search term but it'll work) or similar. If at all possible, get the SIM card first (simple mobile is the best deal for unlimited data I've seen) so you can test it when you buy the phone.

EBay offers a lot of generic Chinese phones. Depends on your level of comfort with technology, they're generally a good deal.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:22 PM on November 22, 2010

check out this deal: Nokia X6 Unlocked GSM Phone with 5 MP Camera, Capacitive Touch, gps navigation, Voice Navigation....

I'm not familiar with the phone but it seems to meet your requirements.
posted by exhilaration at 5:42 AM on November 23, 2010

I can't say enough good things about t-mobile's customer service. Go to one of their stores. You've been with them long enough that they should be falling over themselves to keep you happy. (Here's a tip for t mobile once in a while...they usually reward your loyalty with something free.)
I upgraded to my touch 3G, got my son a new phone and added a data plan. I paid about $100 up front and have a $70 rebate credit coming. The cost of my plan only increased $10 per month, because they fiddled around with my plan, basing it on the number of minutes I really use. I have enough minutes, unlimited data and text on two phones.
I have to say, I don't know what I did without this phone. I joke that it's my fiance,but really...I want to marry it.
I don't work for tmobile but I swear I could advertise for them! Go into a shop, preferably during the day when there are fewer people in the store. (I went in on a busy Saturday and they spent over an hour with me, though.)
posted by littleflowers at 11:57 AM on November 24, 2010

another deal for a T-Mo compatible phone: Nokia 5230 Navigation Edition 3G Unlocked GSM Touch Screen Phone $120+FS

(I have an alert on Slickdeals for "bluetooth", I'm looking for a deal on a BT headset, it's picking up all the phones with bluetooth as well.)
posted by exhilaration at 2:21 PM on November 24, 2010

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