I don't need a smart phone. What do I need?
November 13, 2013 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I have a Verizon iPhone 4 that is now off-contract. It's clear from my usage that I don't really need a smart phone. For my purposes, what do I need?

I love my smart phone, but it's clear from how I use it that I don't need it, and I no longer care to pay the monthly cost for it. I am going to describe my usage patterns, and you are going to tell me what to do. Thanks.

It's a Verizon iPhone 4, for what that's worth. My contract has expired and I'm now on month-to-month. I am open to options that involve somehow continuing to use this phone, or that involve switching to a different phone.

Here's what I do with my phone:

1. Phone calls: Less than 60 minutes per month.

2. Texting: about 1000/month, +/- a few hundred depending.

I rarely check e-mail or surf the web on my phone, usually doing those things on my iPad when wifi is available. I almost never play games on my phone.

I do use my phone quite a bit for listening to music and audio books, using Google maps for navigation when traveling with my kids, and for taking pictures and videos of the kids. I have often been tempted to get a dedicated GPS, and I miss my Canon PowerShot, so I think I would be happy to have a less-fancy phone alongside dedicated devices for these purposes. You can let me know if you think I'm wrong or right about this.

I'd love very specific advice like, "You need X phone through Y carrier!" I find the electronics marketplace overwhelming, and one reason I've stayed in Apple's walled garden is the way it so helpfully limits my choices, so please take my hand and lead me through the wilderness.
posted by not that girl to Technology (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It may be possible for you to use that phone on another, cheaper carrier.

It would also be helpful to know how much you're paying Verizon per month right now.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:42 AM on November 13, 2013

You may not want smart phone service (that is, paying a lot for data that you won't be using), but with the amount of texting you do, you probably do want a smart phone of some sort, maybe a blackberry? They have great keyboards. If you want to stick with Apple, you could get a used iphone 4s for a couple hundred dollars that is compatible with ATT/T-mobile, then get a pre-paid plan that won't include much data at all. There are plans like this that allow for unlimited text messages and voice, then either no data or around 100mb of data per month, enough to occasionally find your way through gps.

Some options for pre-paid service: Straighttalk wireless, $45/month unlimited voice/text, 2.5gb of data (this is repackaged service from either T-mobile or AT&T, sold by Wal-Mart)
Tmobile - $30/month for 1500 minutes/texts per month and 30mb of data (this sounds like a great deal for you, just make sure t-mobile coverage is adequate in your area)
posted by skewed at 7:49 AM on November 13, 2013

What I did in your situation was get a T-mobile smartphone (from swappa.com) and go with the $30/month plan (scroll down a bit, it's on the left just below the "pay by the day" plans) which has unlimited texting and unlimited data and 100 phone minutes. Then I sold my iPhone to finance [about half] the cost of buying a new phone. The $30 is the set price, all taxes included, and you can set it up to autopay each month so it feels just like a normal contract plan. I was paying more than twice as much with Verizon, so the plan pays for itself very quickly. It's nice because with the unlimited data you can do as much GPS and downloading music and audiobooks as you want without even worrying about getting onto wifi first.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:51 AM on November 13, 2013

I'd love very specific advice like, "You need X phone through Y carrier!"

You need the Google Nexus with T-Mobile's $30/month unlimited texts + 100 voice minutes + unlimited data plan. This is a different $30/month plan than skewed is referring to - scroll down about 2/3 of the way. Because you text more than you talk I think it would work really well for you, and you'll have lots of data in case you need it.
posted by payoto at 7:53 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Here is my thread about switching from Verizon to T-mobile.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:53 AM on November 13, 2013

LifeHacker just did an article on the 5 "best" pre-paid plans. If you like the Verizon network and want to use your existing phone, consider the pageplus option.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:55 AM on November 13, 2013

Definitely Ting. (And that's a normal link, not my referral one.) They run on Sprint's network, but with WAY different pricing than most carriers.

Flexibility to automatically adjust up (and down) according to whatever usage you happen to have that month, and it'd be super low-cost for you in the long run, provided your usage stays the same.

We were previously paying over $90/month to have three phones with just voice on AT&T; that was as far as we could cut the bill to.

For the last eight months, we've been paying $44/month for three phones with voice, text, and data, using it the way we normally would. (Only rare data use that's not wifi, typical for us phone and text - our usage is pretty constant.) We've recently added a fourth phone, which brings us to $50, but isn't going to jump any of our usage to the next bracket.

Unsurprisingly, we're absolutely loving it. And we're in a rural area, so I'd been concerned it might not work well here - but it's been just fine.

Most people will save money on Ting - the exceptions are generally heavy data users. There's a calculator on their site. It looks like your typical usage might be in the $14-23 range?
posted by stormyteal at 8:04 AM on November 13, 2013

Forgot to mention - the customer service is as good as the price. I needed to call because our previous carrier was being slow about transferring the number. I darn near dropped the house phone when they answered on the second ring; I'd expected typical hold times.

Oh yeah, and no contracts.
posted by stormyteal at 8:09 AM on November 13, 2013

I've been very happy using a verizon iphone 4 with the $30 page plus plan, which includes tons of minutes and text plus all the data i need (mostly used for navigation and checking email).

It's pretty much perfect for my needs. Transferring was simple, and the only issue for me was that the iphone's visual voicemail no longer works, but that was quickly remedied by installing google voice.
posted by susanvance at 8:13 AM on November 13, 2013

If you get a dedicated GPS, then I'd suggest going with a carrier like Ting that benefits low data use. However, if you're going to use Google Maps downloading data on the fly on a regular basis, you'd be better off with T-Mobile's $30/month 100 minutes plan+unlimited text and data.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:18 AM on November 13, 2013

Thanks! Good stuff to go on here.
posted by not that girl at 10:04 AM on November 13, 2013

I broke my iPhone last year and didn't want to pay for a new one. Like you, I realised that I don't really need a smartphone. I decided to stay with AT&T because I'm on a family plan and it's absurdly cheap ($10) to have a non-smartphone.

After looking at the disappointing non-smartphone options for AT&T, I decided that I was better off buying my own cheap unlocked phone. I eventually settled on a Nokia 301, which I had to import, as Nokia stopped bringing dumbphones to the States due to lack of demand.

The model I have doesn't work with the US 3G bands, but it's indestructible and the battery literally lasts a week. With the browser that came with it, I find that it's quite easy to look up quick things (i.e. pharmacy hours). I think there is a model for sale now that uses North American 3G.

I'd recommend using a GSM carrier and buying an unlocked phone, since nobody bothers making nice dumbphones for CDMA (Verizon&Sprint) any longer. I'm partial to Nokia because they've been doing the simple-phone thing the longest and really have every detail figured out.

Also: I replaced my camera with a cheap Canon, and when I need smart-phone-y things, which is rarely, I have a tablet with an optional prepaid dataplan. I find that the trio works as well, if not better than a smartphone.

posted by ooklala at 10:15 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need a Palm Pixi on the $30/month Page Plus Cellular plan.

My usage is almost identical to yours, I've had this phone and plan for two years, and I am INCREDIBLY happy with it. Page Plus piggybacks on Verizon so they have fantastic coverage, the Palm Pixi is wifi- and texting-friendly (the physical keyboard is awesome), and the phone itself would only run you about $40. Plus, it's super easy to set up (there's lots of info about this on the Amazon reviews for the Palm Pixi) and you're not locked into any kind of contract.

The one mitigating factor is that it doesn't really do GPS (or if it can, I can't figure out how), and the camera isn't great. But other than that, I could not recommend this phone/plan combo more.
posted by littlegreen at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

One other thing to consider, since you do so much texting, is that Android smartphones have Swype typing, which is OMG SO MUCH FASTER AND EASIER than iPhone typing, and works really really well.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:29 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

In case people are interested in an update: I bought a very used Samsung Galaxy S off of eBay for a pittance, and signed up for ting. I love ting--the estimate up-thread that my monthly cost would be about $14 is spot on. However, Sprint is terrible where I am. While I've been able to text to my heart's content, I almost never have enough of a signal to make or receive calls. This is a problem since many of the very few calls I get are from my kids when they're at home without me.

Friday, my very used phone began to glitch super-badly, and has not recovered after a factory reset. So I've been thinking about whether to stick with ting & Sprint or not, and came back here to review other answers.

I think payoto's Nexus + T-Mobile might be the way to go. The Nexus is relatively inexpensive to buy without a contract, and I've had T-Mobile in the past and service around here is fine. It's hard to go to $30/month after looking at $12-14, but I would like to be able to make calls, and after all I'm coming down from $75/month + fees.
posted by not that girl at 8:33 AM on December 16, 2013

Also: I am totally hooked on swype. It's amazing. Reason enough right there to leave Apple, in my view.
posted by not that girl at 8:40 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think it was mentioned upthread, but T-mobile is also nice because their phones have native wifi calling, so even if cell signal is bad you can still make and receive calls if there's wifi.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:49 AM on December 16, 2013

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