What phone/data plan is best for me?
July 7, 2014 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I've long been with AT&T simply because it worked well and the cost of moving was a deterrent. After (naively) getting insurance after a stolen phone a few months ago, by latest phone was water damaged. Considering I've gone 10+ years without losing or missing a phone I never needed it insured. At the store, without looking at the contract I was told the deductible was $50, instead it is actually $200. This is enough to make me leave and pay a fee. Considering I like my iPhone and don't want to switch what's my best option (usage details within).

I don't really talk on my phone but my messaging numbers are high. I by far use my phone for things like checking emails, meeting reminders and things. During the summer my data rates go up as I use it to play Spotify or streaming music. I travel quite a bit but usually to larger cities (LA/ATL/SEA). So being in the middle of nowhere usually isn't a problem if that still is even a problem for phones anymore.

My biggest gotcha is that I sometimes use my phone as a hotspot. My work is a bit variable so sometimes I'll spend the afternoon at the pool, coffeeshop or whatever and then suddenly need an email I need to respond to. Or I'll be an airport and want to just work. Anything that doesn't incur extra fees for this or at least makes it explicit how much it'll cost would be great. I would wager my monthly data usage for this is maybe 2GB a month with some months seeing none.

I'm not opposed to purchasing another device as a hotspot but my biggest worry is it is just another device I have to carry and something I'll forget. Having my phone do it seems like the most logical and easiest option.

Lastly, what are my best insurance options? AppleCare+ something else? The high dollar amount a month coupled with a high deductible makes AT&T's seem like a bad deal which is why I always avoided it. Are there third party insurance options?
posted by geoff. to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
what are my best insurance options?

Self-insurance. If insurance were worth buying, the expected payout of the insurance would have to be more than the cost of the premiums. Since that would prevent the insurer from making any money, the expected payout of the insurance has to be less than the cost of the premiums. As a result, insurance is never worth buying unless you can't afford the loss (for instance, medical insurance or homeowners insurance). If you can't afford to lose your cell phone, you should have a cheaper cell phone rather than paying for insurance.
posted by saeculorum at 7:47 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding service plans, I've been basically happy on T Mobile. The basic plan doesn't have a ton of data, but they'll never cut you off completely or charge you extra; they just slow down your bandwidth until the next month ticks over. You can buy unlocked phones, too. This pulls you out of the upgrade loop that ATT/Verizon keep you on. The service costs are way, way lower because they don't essentially integrate the cost of the upgrade plan. Plus, unlocked phones don't have weird carrier constraints on using them as a hotspot (although it does contribute to your monthly bandwidth limits). Finally, international data is free. You didn't mention international travel, but being able to rely on my phone internationally without stressing about fees is a total game changer.

It's a wash at two years, but after that point if you don't get a new phone, you're saving a ton of money each month. Though given your anxiety about insurance perhaps that's not a realistic way to model it.

Industry speculation seems to be that tmobile is losing a ton of money offering all this stuff in a ploy to grab market share, and that they're sure to collapse eventually. But in the short term they've made me pretty happy and I think they would align nicely for your needs. You'd probably want to boost the default bandwidth cap though.
posted by heresiarch at 7:52 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also like T-Mobile a lot. Crucial for you, they will currently pay your termination fee if you switch from AT&T.

And yes, the international data roaming is the killer feature for me.

Caveat is that, barring regulatory intervention, they are about to be bought out by Sprint, which is my least favorite carrier by a mile.
posted by spitbull at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ting does "pay for only what you use" pricing for minutes, text and data.

You can use your phone as a hotspot.

They have a program in place if you have an AT&T iPhone you need to sell.
posted by Lucinda at 9:16 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

nthing T-Mobile. I've recently switched from AT&T and have been very pleased. It seems like their Simple Choice plan would fit you well -- price is good, it comes with unlimited messaging (and talk, for that matter), every bit of your LTE data can be used for a mobile hotspot without any extra charge, and their ETF-payment makes the move almost painless. Three caveats if you go that way: T-Mob's network is fabulous in urban areas, but it's nothing like AT&Ts in the boonies, so be sure to check their service map to make sure it will work for you; the ETF-payment requires that you buy a phone from them, so you won't be able to take advantage of it if you want to BYOD; and if you *do* BYOD I'm not sure how the AT&T iPhone will work -- at the very least I think you'd lose visual voicemail.

Your best bet, if you want to do this, would probably be to trade in your current phone (they give a fairly decent credit if it's modern and in good condition) and buy one from them. You can either do it outright, which will greatly reduce your monthly payments, or finance it over two years as with most other carriers -- except you're not locked in to a contract, and you don't need to keep paying "subsidy" fees once the device is paid off. If you want to leave you just owe them the balance on your phone and you're done.

One additional nice thing for you, since you mention music streaming explicitly, is that T-Mobile just recently announced that data used in streaming from all the major music sources (including Spotify) will not count against your data cap. It's, essentially, free.
posted by jammer at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2014

Response by poster: Ah was just informed by the t-mobile rep that my current plan, "AT&T Next" is built in such a way that there's no ETF but everything is buried into the cost of the phone. So they moved the ETF fee from the end, to the beginning and when I want to exit out I have to pay the cost of the phone which t-mobile won't cover. Don't know how true this is, or if it was a mobile sales rep talking.
posted by geoff. at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2014

I had to get a new phone to switch to Ting but I am terribly glad that I did, especially because I'm similar in having some months where I barely use data, and some where I use quite a bit. Most months my bill is ~$25, which has basically already paid for my new phone, although I'm on Android--the iPhone switch might be a little more expensive, but, still. Hotspot's included, etc. With my usage, I could hit 2gb a month and still be under $50. But yeah, I don't insure my phone, I just keep a service that's cheap enough that I can afford to replace it if need be.
posted by Sequence at 10:32 AM on July 7, 2014

Nthing Ting. I fortunately got to bring my Sprint phone with me, but they paid 25% of my ETF. I haven't paid more than $25/month and usually more like $19. They don't offer any insurance, but I probably would never insure a phone again (never needed it, fortunately). If anything happened, I'd score a phone off Ebay and curse my luck. I could not be happier with this service, but it does use Sprint's network for good or ill.
posted by rawralphadawg at 11:30 AM on July 7, 2014

Another vote for Ting here. Buy the phones up front, pay only for what you use. Our family of three (with one heavy-texting teenager) averages $65-85/month. Ting does use the Sprint network so check the coverage maps.
posted by erebora at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2014

(sidebar: check out Square Trade's phone protection plans if you want to insure your next phone. I don't have one for my phone, but they just bought me out of my laptop for a quirky issue that won't go away)
posted by getawaysticks at 6:30 AM on July 8, 2014

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