Need Help on Navigating Smart Phone Plans
September 19, 2012 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for advice on finding the best smart phone deals. I have an old clamshell phone. I need very little for myself...not even texting though want the occasional use of apps. I am currently moving to Denver and may switch from AT&T though my wireless and phones are bundled and very cheap ($90/mo for our two cheap phones and wireless for home though that would change *a lot* with upgrades?). I am really confused on what the hell is a decent deal. I don't make many calls whatsoever but my wife will be calling family or perhaps using Face Time/Messaging via an iPhone if we can afford. We don't need the newest and best phones but am not sure where to start for packaging costs, especially as we may do wireless separate once we get to Denver. Any thoughts on how you would go about this, where you would buy a phone (new or refurb), deals that have worked for you (assuming you don't use the phone for a lot but still want the options of some of the apps). iPhone? Samsung? Razr? Carriers recommendations? I want to go as low $ as possible but not make a stupid decision out of pinching the hell out of the pennies.
posted by snap_dragon to Technology (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Whoops forgot to add that I do appreciate a GPS possibility, Dropbox, Spotify, and the ability to make a simple phone call. This link on AskMefi clued me in those wants but other than that, not really caring on too much other app stuff. I don't care to watch movies/play games or look at something for too long so the high rez isn't of import to me.

Also, Thank You for the time for reading this.
posted by snap_dragon at 1:36 PM on September 19, 2012

Best answer: The cheapest deal right now for a little bit of voice, a little bit of data is Virgin Mobile no-contract or one of their budget competitors. Yes, you have to pay full price for the phones, but you'll save money over the life of the contract. However, the reason these budget operations are so inexpensive is that they're coverage isn't that good. Virgin Mobile only buys bandwidth on the Sprint network, so if you don't have good sprint coverage or you travel a lot, it can be a hassle.

Of the major cell phone networks with wide-spread coverage (which I personally think is worth the extra money each month), the cheapest option is T-Mobile's Value plans (scroll down past the 'unlimited talk' plans - it doesn't sound like you need those). Again, you have to buy the phone separate, but for 99% of the phones you save a lot of money.

What I would recommend for you is to look into what Android phones were introduced in 2010 and 2011, and then check eBay for new/refurbished models. You should be able to get a decent smartphone for $100-$250 depending on model.
posted by muddgirl at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ok let's step back. It seems you're confused about what is a marginal cost (so to speak) and what is just included in normal phone hardware. In summary:

What you pay for:
Data (how much)
Minutes (how much)
Texts (how much)
Phone (what model)

What is included in the above
App ability (either your phone does or does not have apps. If it does, you already must buy a data plan, so you will have data access for all apps to use).

Also, although you certainly pay for phone specs, it's not like buying a car. There's not a base phone you get then you can add "options." It's essentially an iPhone (choose between this years and last years model), an Android Phone (choose between a "high end" iphone competitor or a cheap one), or a non-smartphone. Yes, there are many subtleties in the Android market, but from what I can tell most of these will not matter to you, it's either high end or low end.

I'll let other people offer cheap plans. It's a cliche, but my recommendation is if it all seems very complicated, get iPhones. Tons of people can help you out with them, and they are genuinely easier to use if you are not as up to date on this stuff,
posted by Patbon at 1:59 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you go on the Apple Store site, you can very easily compare the iPhone plans from the big three carriers to see which works the best for you (if you go with iPhone). Starting this weekend, the iPhone 4 will be free with a 2-year commitment. I have a 4 right now, and it should work just fine for what you need of it.
posted by General Malaise at 2:02 PM on September 19, 2012

Best answer: Yeah, on re-read if your wife is set on getting an iPhone, the new AT&T "mobile share" plans are really competitively-priced.
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on September 19, 2012

Response by poster: Very helpful... And I found this for myself if any other reader has the same questions...
posted by snap_dragon at 2:42 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I use Virgin as my needs are light. As noted upthread, yes the coverage can be spotty. Even where it is indicated as existing, there can be dark zones. Still, over the few years that I have had it I have not had much problems.

Virgin Coverage Map

I just upgraded to The Kyocera S2300. Not a true smart phone, but with extended features from a totally basic one. So far so good, but is clearly a poor man's smart phone, so don't expect the world.

It sounds like you and your wife have two fairly different sets of needs (even if your wife is just going for Face Time/Messaging). I have no idea what iPhones and service run, but for this Virgin Sort-Of-Smart-But-Kinda-Stupid Phone, I pay $20 for basic monthly service and the phone was $32, delivered. If I want to go with the Pay-Lo program (which I probably will now that I have a phone with a keyboard), it is something like $30/mo for 1500 mins/ 1500 texts / 30mb download.

Virgin has its issues, but for the cost if you are more of a fairly normal user, it's a fine deal. And if you get tired of it, there is no contract to squirm out of and dumping a cheapo Virgin phone causes little heartburn. Heck, some people spend more on coffee in one week than what I have spent over 3 years on a Virgin phone.
posted by lampshade at 2:59 PM on September 19, 2012

That Apple comparison link I posted earlier is apparantly misleading - Mobile Share adds an additional expense per device which doesn't make it much different from the regular family plan.
posted by muddgirl at 3:21 PM on September 19, 2012

FWIW, the Windows smartphone OS is really highly regarded. Might be worth a look in addition to Apple and Android.
Pre-paid does tend to cost less if you're not a heavy user. In my neck of the woods, you're wasting your time using any network but Verizon. I understand that holds true in a lot of the country, but ymmv. They do have a pre-pay option, but it looks kinda spendy to me. To my knowledge, Page Plus is the only MVNO that uses the Verizon network; most of the others use Sprint.
posted by willpie at 3:41 PM on September 19, 2012

Best answer: If budget is a concern (and it sounds like it is), I would not be looking at an iphone, no matter how "easy to use" it is. In another thread this week someone said that the bare bones plan with Verizon is $70-80/month for the iphone.

We are looking at Ting, you only pay for what you use. I don't have any experience with this company, but they have a variety of smartphones.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:11 PM on September 19, 2012

Best answer: They don't support the iPhone, but take a look at PagePlus. Their prepaid is dirt cheap, and it uses Verizon's network. Customer service is extremely slow, but you basically never need it.
posted by jon1270 at 5:46 PM on September 19, 2012

Best answer: You may want to look at Ting. They have a pricing structure that can be very cheap if you're a light user. They operate on Sprint's network, so coverage is the same as Sprint. At present, though, they require to buy a phone from them.
posted by zombiedance at 6:44 PM on September 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks...these are all helpful answers.
posted by snap_dragon at 6:54 PM on September 19, 2012

I am very fond of VirginMobile.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 10:36 PM on September 19, 2012

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