Smart and Thrifty?
June 26, 2012 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for an inexpensive smartphone/plan combination? My wife pays $40-50 for her dumb phone now. Would love to pay the same or not too much more, but actually be able to take pictures, text without 3 keys per character, and sync her calendar. web surfing would be nice but is optional if the calendar works. Google Calendar would presumably require a data plan; but is there a windows/outlook calendar that would not? She has Outlook at work.)
posted by msalt to Technology (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Virgin Mobile offers a prepaid phone that runs $35 a month, which includes unlimited data and 300 minutes. I use it with an LG Optimus V (running Androind 2.1), that I picked up from Amazon for around $90. I'm not aware of a cheaper smartphone plan (though there could be one out there).
posted by machinecraig at 8:21 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Virgin Mobile. I have a smart phone synced with all my email and my Google calendar under an unlimited data, unlimited text and 1200 minutes a month plan for $40. I think that plan now costs $45, and they've added a 2GB data limit, which I never come remotely close to. Check out their website. They also have Blackberries and just got the iPhone (but it's very expensive because there is no contract). My LG Optimus Slider serves me fine.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:23 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does she have wifi at work? The ipod touch isn't a phone, but can do the other stuff.
posted by jon1270 at 8:23 AM on June 26, 2012

Yes, that's what we got our daughter for her Birthday -- a Virgin Mobile LG Android smartphone that we paid like $130 for at WalMart, which has unlimited data and texting (300 minutes talk) for $35 a month. It sounds like the data stuff will be more important anyhow, so like my daughter, your wife can do everything via email/facebook/text/etc. and tell people the minutes are only used for very important things.

My personal Android phone has Exchange ActiveSync which allows me to access all of my Outlooky things via my celphone; I do not know how things need to be set up with the work servers or if it's available on all Android phones, but it can be done.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:25 AM on June 26, 2012


Which is to say, I've been quite satisfied with Virgin Mobile's service - I have an Android phone with them that works fine, and you can't beat it for cheap. Their coverage is mostly confined to urban areas though, so check their coverage maps. I can't get my phone to work in most of Maine, for example.
posted by mskyle at 8:26 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Starting Friday June 29, Virgin Mobile will offer the iPhone for $30 per month - 300 minutes talk + unlimited data.

The downside to this is you buy the phone at full face value (no carrier subsidy), so the phone costs a little over $500.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:27 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Starting Friday June 29, Virgin Mobile will offer the iPhone for $30 per month - 300 minutes talk + unlimited data.

Moly! Can you bring an iPhone you already have over to that plan? I've got one through ATT, but the plan is like 70 a month between the talk time, texts and minimum data plan... the Virgin plan is way better on all fronts.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:40 AM on June 26, 2012

What I've done for this is bought a used Blackberry on eBay for $100 and then paid for T-Mobile's prepaid service. I buy $100 phone cards, which take off 10 cents for every minute used or text message sent or received, but they last a year as long as there are still minutes on them. Then I can connect my phone to my computer with a sync cable and Blackberry's calendar function automatically talks with Outlook on my computer. I also have a program that swaps info between Google Calendar and Outlook, so everything syncs seamlessly.

The Blackberry also has WiFi, and you don't need a dataplan to use it.
posted by Happydaz at 9:14 AM on June 26, 2012

You can get unlimited talk/text/3G data for $40/Month on simple mobile just bring your own unlocked GSM phone. They use T-Mobiles network. It's month to month no contract. You should have no problem getting a nice unlocked android or blackberry on craigslist or amazon for $100~$200.
posted by Long Way To Go at 9:21 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also with Virgin Mobile on a grandfathered $25/300 minute plan, and I've been very happy with them for a couple years now. I've had a couple minor issues and they've been very quick and polite in fixing them. They're a label of Sprint, so if people have been happy with Sprint/Nextel reception in your area then she should be happy with VM.

As mentioned above you won't get a discount on new phones. It looks like they have Android phones starting at $130; I have the $180 Optimus Slider and really like it. The $60 (non-Android) LG Rumor Touch seems to have both Outlook and Google Calendar syncing.
posted by Evilspork at 10:00 AM on June 26, 2012

You could look at Page Plus, which I have and have recommended here before. I have the talk and text 1200 prepaid plan, which doesn't have a lot of data but is $30 per month, they have other plans with more data. You have to buy your own phone-I have an Android. It uses the Verizon network so the coverage is good.
posted by medusa at 10:22 AM on June 26, 2012

Two other cheap smartphone options:

Ting (a Spring MVNO, running on their network) has tiered "pay what you use" Data/Text/Voice plans. Running at the lowest level of each (100 minutes voice/100 texts/100MB data) would be $15.00/month.
At present they only offer a few Android phones and one sort of blackberry-ish feature phone, and they don't let you bring your own device, but they're about the cheapest option if you want a smart phone plan but don't use much wireless data.

Republic Wireless offers a hybrid cell/voip calling plan (the phones default to wifi whenever possible) for $19.00 a month. They're currently in beta testing, though, so you have to get on a wait list to get in.
posted by zombiedance at 10:45 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hmm, this tempts me to go back to Virgin Mobile and finally get a smart phone. Question for those who use Virgin: has their billing improved, and is their customer support still dominated by the "awesome" "youthful" "vibe" they used to have as part of their branding? Or have they actually noticed that not all of their customers are 19?
posted by scody at 11:53 AM on June 26, 2012

Best answer: I had Virgin Mobile on the $25/mo plan. Service was acceptable, though 3G was slow. The devices were lacking compared to the best out there, though the Evo 4G is pretty decent now, and the new LG sounds acceptable.

I recently upgraded to an unlocked Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile prepaid. The phone is a top quality and can be switched between GSM carriers, and costs not much more than many decent prepaid phones. T-mobile 3G is faster, and service costs $30/mo. for 5G data, unlimited texting, and 100 minutes. Extra minutes are 10 cents. There is also Straight Talk, which resells AT&T with "unlimited" everything for $45/mo, where "unlimited" apparently means "not-too-much-more-than-average usage".

I think the most important questions are:
-what is your talk/text usage?
-what carriers have good service where you live?
Those will determine what you need.
posted by akgerber at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2012

I have a pretty frugal smartphone, but admittedly I don't talk or text much. I have a T-Mobile prepaid account with which I purchase 1000 minutes every year. This costs me $100 and for me lasts all year. That is ~$8 a month.

The phone I have is a Samsung Exhibit II. It cost me $200 on Amazon with no contract. Stock, the phone is pretty uninspiring, but I have since rooted it and installed Ice Cream Sandwich on it. Now it is very nice and more up to date than most Android phones out there.

If your wife has wifi the majority of the time, she doesn't need to be paying for a data connection. Is checking facebook while waiting in line really worth $50 a month?
posted by johnio at 3:00 PM on June 26, 2012

I also have the unlocked galaxy nexus with the $30/mo T-Mobile plan, and I'm happy with it: you can order any unlocked GSM phone, then go to T-Mobile's site and order a SIM, then sign up for the plan.

If you compare to a subsidized phone, make sure you compare the total costs over the entire contract term.

I also like knowing I'm not committed for more than a month at a time, in case some better deal comes along.

I find the 100/minute included with that plan occasionally limiting. Paying for extra at $.10/minute isn't a bad deal, or I get around it by using voip (just set up a Google voice account and then download the GrooVe IP app) for longer conference calls.

Or I've briefly done as johnio says and lived with just phone service and saved the internet till I'm near wifi. The $100 dollars for 1000 minutes thing is a great deal if you don't talk a lot.
posted by bfields at 8:06 PM on June 26, 2012

Question for those who use Virgin: has their billing improved...

The $10.80 charges you mention sound like their 'add money' thing (used for minute overages) which has a $10 minimum, and that the add money thing kept getting triggered somehow.

Or have they actually noticed that not all of their customers are 19?

Granted, I only needed their phone support a couple times, but for as anti-hip as I am I didn't notice anything like that. Might depend on the rep you get with how much they've embraced the corporate flavor aid.
posted by Evilspork at 1:37 AM on June 27, 2012

Response by poster: Virgin sounds good. We're around Portland Oregon, though she travels to the East Coast a lot (big cities). Looks like solid 4G coverage.

Texts are important as my daughters are 12 and 15 and.... I dont' think I need to explain any further. I had to boost my text allowance.

In fact, I'm tempted to switch over my iPHone, which costs me $100 a month for 3G. Even buying a new iPhone unsubsidized would save money within a year, right? Would I do that at an Apple store? Androids sound much less expensive. Could I transfer my iPhone (iCalendar?) entries over?

Thanks so much!
posted by msalt at 10:06 AM on June 27, 2012

If you have an AT&T iPhone, it uses an incompatible network: GSM, while VM/Sprint is CDMA. If you have a Verizon iPhone it may be technically possible, but from what I've heard VM doesn't allow non-branded VM phones so switching may not be an option. Call them to confirm first. I assume you would be able to go to a Sprint store to do the deed, since they operate VM.

Re iCal: Doing a quick search, it looks like there are a couple iCalendar exporters, so it should be possible. The Sprint store should be able to help with that too.
posted by Evilspork at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2012

Response by poster: Does anyone have firsthand knowledge of cell coverage (and 4G coverage) for Virgin Mobile in the Portland area?
posted by msalt at 12:52 PM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: I looked hard at Virgin Mobile but it got rough reviews around Portland. We ended up getting a Verizon family plan; iPhone for me, Samsung Galaxy for her. Not quite as cheap but not bad, and service and all is great. Thanks!
posted by msalt at 10:30 AM on January 21, 2013

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