I want cellular voice & data - but only on the days I ask for it.
October 31, 2012 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Cell phone plans filter: I want a cell phone-sized Android device to mostly use on WiFi, and the Nexus 4 may be the right one. But I might use occasional cell voice & data - help me get that voice & data as cheaply as possible.

(Please ignore tablets for this question, that's an entirely different question. Also, I'm aware that the Nexus 4 does not have LTE so its cell data connection will be a bit slower than my Bionic's)

Short version: I want to buy a Nexus 4 without a contract and mostly use it on WiFi, and I would like to have the option of turning on cell voice and data service 1-2 days per week so just pay $1-$2 per day (so $5-$20 per month instead of $60-$100 per month). How can I do that?

Long version: I already have a Droid Bionic, which is good but has slowed down since it was upgraded to ICS. I work at home and my workflow is centered around using my cell phone as a pager (using Gmail filters), so while at home I only need a WiFi connection. I spend 99% of my time connected to WiFi, so I was thinking it would be nice if I could get a mobile-phone-sized WiFi-only Android device to use at home, but these don't seem to exist. At home I have a VoIP phone and don't use my cell phone for calls, so the cellular connection isn't important - just the data connection through WiFi.

Then I realized the Nexus 4 could be that WiFi-only device. I'm a die-hard Android user and I like the idea of getting a brand-new Nexus device for $300 without a cell phone contract. What I would like to do is buy a Nexus 4 and mostly use it as a WiFi-only device. I would keep using the Bionic as a cell phone and carry it with me when I'm out of the house, but most of the time I'm at home on WiFi and would use the Nexus. (Yes, 2 devices is a complicated setup, but I enjoy geeking out on complicated setups. Juggling 2 devices would be a feature of this setup, not a bug.)

However, I would like to have the option of using the Nexus as a cell phone on occasion - once or twice a week I might use it away from home instead of the Bionic, and I would need a few minutes and some data. On average I use 16.5 minutes per day and 75 MB of cellular data per day. I use Google Voice, so on the days that I'm not using the phone I could stop calls from forwarding to the Nexus and (hopefully) it would not receive any calls or texts.

I'm trying to figure out how to do that easily and as cheaply as possible. It seems that T-Mobile has some good prepaid plans that might fit the bill, but how do I turn off my service (and not get charged) 5-6 days out of the week and only switch on service if I want to use it that day? Is there an easy way to tell T-Mobile "switch me off until further notice," and later tell them "turn on my service today?" Or maybe I would have to pull my SIM card so my Nexus doesn't connect and stop Google Voice from forwarding calls so there's no incoming calls? Or are there other cellular providers who will let me turn my service on and off day-by-day?

Help me out - is there a way to have a Nexus to use on WiFi, and connect it to cellular voice & data on some days but not others?
posted by Tehhund to Technology (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add: responses that say "this is difficult to do, and here's why" are also helpful - I might as well find out right now if what I'm trying to do is difficult or impossible.
posted by Tehhund at 8:06 AM on October 31, 2012

If you can stand your budget being split down the middle, bringing your own SIM card onto an unlocked Nexus 4 is going to be the best deal. It's a little over a dollar a day, but it's unlimited calls/text/data for whenever you need it.

Service is through StraightTalk. One price monthly ($45), and you keep the same number, get data and calls when you need it.

I've never seen a Pay-as-you-go plan that allows you just to pick your days and pay only for them.
posted by deezil at 8:11 AM on October 31, 2012

Verizon used to have plans that only charged you on days when you used the phone, but I can't seem to find them on their site now.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:13 AM on October 31, 2012

Ting might be perfect for what you need. I've been with them for several months now and am very happy with their program and flexibility.
posted by buggzzee23 at 8:19 AM on October 31, 2012

Best answer: T-Mobile has pay-by-the-day plans.

I don't know about the Nexus 4 specifically but on most smartphones I've used, you can turn off cellular service pretty easily. For me, the quickest way to do this was to put the phone in Airplane Mode then turn the Wi-Fi back on. Then you're not using cellular voice or data. Totally simple.
posted by mskyle at 8:20 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

One way to be certain that it's not on the network is to pull the SIM when you don't want a cell connection.

In software, you can do that by turning on Airplane more (which turns off all the radios on the device), then by re-enabling wifi in the settings menu. This turns wifi on, but leaves the phone off. To re-enable, turn Airplane mode off and everything will work again.

It looks like there are a few apps that might do this in a single button, but many seem to require root access.
posted by bonehead at 8:21 AM on October 31, 2012

Response by poster: buggzzee23: T-Mobile has pay-by-the-day plans.

T-Mobile seems like the obvious answer for my situation. But a little Googling shows that some people get charged on days that they don't think they used the service - for example, someone called or texted them, or their phone briefly used a little data. So I'm thinking that I'll get charged more often than I want on T-Mobile.

I can get around this somewhat by not giving out my T-Mobile number and being extra vigilant about using Airplane Mode or pulling my SIM to avoid data charges and turning off my T-Mobile number in Google Voice to avoid incoming calls. But that level of vigilance is getting towards "pain in the neck" territory, and it would be nicer if I could find an service where I can opt-in once a week instead of opting out 6 days a week, which seems to be T-Mobile's MO.

Basically: T-Mobile's opt-out service is probably the way to go, but is there a simpler way?
posted by Tehhund at 8:44 AM on October 31, 2012

Ting is definitely what you want. Sign up for 0 minutes, 0 SMS messages, and 0 data. You pay $6 to have the line, and then for your usage, Ting bumps you into whatever tier you need, considering voice, text, and data separately. So if you made some calls, you might be bumped into the 100 voice minute plan ($3) or the 500 voice minute plan ($9) that month. and pay $9 or $15 total. Same for texts and voice; you pay for whatever tier of service you end up in for that month. You don't even have to worry about turning the service on and off.

Ting uses Sprint's network, so just make sure Sprint has good coverage for where you'll be.
posted by kindall at 8:53 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I looked into it, it seemed that the Nexus 4 won't work on either Verizon or Sprint, which is too bad as the price and specs of the device are great.
posted by exogenous at 10:59 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this works for your situation, but T-Mobile has a $30 per month plan that has unlimited text, 5GB of data and 100 minutes for $30 per month. It doesn't fit your requirement to not get charged on certain days, but it's pretty inexpensive if you don't use a lot of minutes.
posted by cnc at 11:09 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't heard that – it's supposed to work wherever you take it. It won't get to top speed on those networks, because they don't use the super-3G standard that it's built for, but it shouldn't fail altogether.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:11 AM on October 31, 2012

Looks like maybe you can't bring your own phone to Ting:
    "In order to become a Ting customer [...] you'll have to purchase a Ting phone. While your current phone can't come along for the ride, your phone number certainly can."

posted by sarah_pdx at 11:54 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could get a mobile-broadband device on the lowest plan ($25/month) and just use VOIP on your handset (via Wifi via broadband) when you feel like it.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:15 PM on October 31, 2012

Response by poster: blue_beetle: just use VOIP on your handset

Oh, I'd love to do this, but I've tried Groove IP with Google Voice and it was really awful - poor quality, lag, dropped calls. So if you have instructions to make VoIP work well on an Android phone, let me know!
posted by Tehhund at 2:28 PM on October 31, 2012

I would go with Ting and one of their mobile hotspot devices. Since you already use Google Voice, you could use Talkatone for phone functionality, via wifi when you're at home or work, and via wifi over the mobile hotspot when you're not. $19/month would get you 500MB of data. $30 would get you 1000MB. (And you don't have to choose based on your own estimate -- you're charged the rate for however much you actually used, not how much you told them you planned to use.)
posted by hades at 2:29 PM on October 31, 2012

I haven't tried Groove IP, but so far I've had no problem with poor quality or dropped calls with Talkatone. There's some lag, but that seems to be the case for all GV calls for me, even the ones where I'm using a wired phone on my side of things. I haven't noticed _more_ lag with talkatone than with other GV calls, at any rate.
posted by hades at 2:32 PM on October 31, 2012

I can get around this somewhat by not giving out my T-Mobile number and being extra vigilant about using Airplane Mode

You can use Tasker to help you be vigilant. I just opened it up on my phone and it looks like it would do exactly what you need. You can pick exactly which days you want your phone to go into airplane mode, either by days of the month or days of the week.
posted by imalaowai at 7:58 PM on October 31, 2012

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