Find me cheap month-to-month or prepaid cellphone plans!
August 29, 2013 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I recently came back from Japan. I will be staying in Cleveland, Ohio for the next few months and need a cheap-ish smartphone but would not like to lock into a contract. Month-to-Month or prepaid seem to be the only viable options, but the only one I really know about is T-Mobile. Are there any better options?

I have a Japanese iphone 4s (softbank) that I paid off and brought home. I thought I could maybe use that, but unfortunately it is locked and I would have to pay (around $100 apparently?) to have someone unlock it for me. I've also considered grabbing a wifi hotspot and relying just on wifi, but I'm not sure how viable that would be (no one can call me, could they?)

If all else fails, I will get a cheapo-smartphone at the nearby tmobile store. I'd love to hear suggestions on what smartphone/plan to go with in that case as well.

So I guess the options are considering are:

A: Unlock my iphone 4s somehow, but $100 is a bit much and I'm not sure how legit/successful it would be.
B:Cheap smartphone/month-to-month plan. Please let me know of any good ones! Is T-Mobile one of the better options?
C: Rely entirely on wifi with my iphone 4s by buying a hotspot. Is that possible?!

Thanks in advance!
posted by Kamelot123 to Technology (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live in a smallish town, so there might be better options for you, but the cheapest and best deal I could find was Virgin. Their data plan is $35/mo for unlimited data, unlimited texting and 300 minutes of talk.
posted by switcheroo at 9:58 AM on August 29, 2013


Virgin Mobile, just about across the board.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:02 AM on August 29, 2013


Ting may be an option. It has tiered Talk/Text/Data plans and can be very cheap if you're a light user. It uses Sprint's network, so check coverage in your area. Memail me if you'd like a referral discount coupon.
posted by zombiedance at 10:07 AM on August 29, 2013


MetroPCS seems to have a pretty good month-to-month deal for smartphones. No idea about coverage in your area, though.
posted by gauche at 10:07 AM on August 29, 2013


If you are looking at T-Mobile, use PlatinumTel instead. Better prices and IMO very good customer service.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2013


Virgin Mobile and MetroPCS will not work on an iPhone you bought overseas. If you want to use that phone, your options are AT&T, T-Mobile or one of the networks that piggy back on their towers (usually cheaper). T-Mobile is cheaper than AT&T, but the signal is generally less reliable.
posted by caek at 10:40 AM on August 29, 2013


Looks like Softbank in Japan uses CDMA. Does your iPhone also have a slot for a SIM card? If so, then it can use GSM as well, and the GSM capability may very well be (is likely to be?) unlocked. Then you might be able to get prepaid service from US GSM carriers (AT&T GoPhone or resellers like O2).
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2013


Thanks so far, guys. So it seems the consensus is Virgin Mobile? Would love to hear other ideas.

To reclarify: My iphone is Locked. Japan is pretty strict regarding unlocking their phones. took it to a t-mobile store and they couldn't put in another sim - they said i would have to pay someone to try to unlock it. So I would have to do that, or buy a cheap phone instead if I were to go that route.
posted by Kamelot123 at 11:28 AM on August 29, 2013


I use a sim from straighttalk in my unlocked iPhone 4. Unlimited plan is $50/mo (including taxes) and is month-to-month. Check their website for a large selection of phones that you can buy from them also.
posted by nightwood at 11:48 AM on August 29, 2013


If you are considering switching to Android, you have great timing. Google just reduced the price of their unlocked, contract-free Nexus 4 phone to $199 (8gb), or $249 (16gb). Pairing that phone with a cheap no-contract T-Mobile plan should be pretty amazing.
posted by dcjd at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2013


Seconding nightwood. I use straighttalk with an unlocked iPhone 4.
posted by fozzie_bear at 11:58 AM on August 29, 2013


Go on ebay and search "iPhone unlock". It's about $10-20, find someone with lots of good feedback.

You give them your ESN/imei then they send you a message a few hours later or tomorrow and you restore the phone in iTunes. Bam, unlocked.

No ones totally sure how this is getting done, but it works.

Then you do the straight talk plan above, or if you barely call this plan from tmobile. It disappeared from their site, but it still exists.
posted by emptythought at 12:50 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Airvoice Wireless has some VERY affordable plans, and they can handle most phones that work on AT&T's network, including the iPhone. Right now I pay around $10/15 month, with texts at 2 cents each and voice at 4 cents/min (eating in to that credit).

Their web site sucks and it can take some back and forth to get your phone set up, but they're darn cheap. Get your phone somewhere else, they only have a few lousy ones for sale.

FYI - I do ~50-100 texts/month and under an hour of voice calls.
posted by 4midori at 1:46 PM on August 29, 2013


Hi guys,

I ended up grabbing the unlocked nexus 4, the deal sold me. Thanks a bunch!
posted by Kamelot123 at 2:27 PM on August 29, 2013


You can use your new Nexus with Platinum Tel. They have one completely pay-as-you-go plan, which is great for people who use not many minutes. It works on the T-Mobile network. I'm a former Virgin Mobile user, and PTel is much better.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:14 PM on August 29, 2013


If you actually use a lot of data and not much voice, there is no better plan than T-Mobile's $30 a month online-only deal for 100 minutes, unlimited SMS/MMS, and 5GB of high speed data. None of the GSM MVNOs allow you to use that much data any more. One thing to watch out for when comparing MVNO prepaid plans to T-Mobile direct prepaid plans is that T-Mobile, unlike the resellers I've used, bundles the taxes into the advertised rate. The $30 plan is $30, not $32.95 or whatever.

If you need at&t service with data, Redpocket is pretty much your only prepaid option other than at&t's own (expensive) GoPhone plans, which have recently improved slightly but are still overly expensive, IMO.

Oh, one other tip, if you do go with a T-Mobile direct account, don't use auto-fill where it charges your bank account or debit card every month. You can get top-up cards online (they actually just email you a code with no physical card) at a discount. You can generally get them for 5-10% below face value.
posted by wierdo at 9:14 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


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