Tell Me All About AT&T Phone Experiences
December 1, 2016 2:27 PM   Subscribe

What is good, bad or ugly about AT&T cell phone service? If you have (prepaid) service with AT&T, how do you keep track of your minutes and days left? How do you pay?

I have a Tracphone, which I love to pieces. But for REASONS, I expect to change carriers. AT&T is the current front runner.

I am looking for user experiences. Tracphone is awesome because it tells me right on the phone how many minutes and days I have left, I can extend the service online or with a card bought just about anywhere or I could arrange to be able to pay on the phone itself, though I never have.

It is also awesome because I can pay for three months at a time. I don't want a super short leash of just 30 days. My recollection is that AT&T had at least one option that allowed you to pay in advance. Tracphone also lets your minutes roll over any time you add more days of service to your phone.

Tracfone is also super cheap. I top it off for $20 every three months, so it is less than $7/month to maintain (after initial phone purchase -- and my most recent phone was just $10).

So how low can I go with AT&T? What are you paying and what are you getting for it (in terms of days, minutes, data, etc)? This does not need to be limited to prepay customers only, though I am especially interested in prepay experiences. I don't use my phone much.

Also, what kind of phone is good? I currently have a tiny smart phone style phone for the first time ever and I have been able to play Tetris and check email and even check in on a couple of forums I participate in. It is tiny and very limited, but this has been super cool. These extras are not necessary, but tell me all about options. If I can find an inexpensive smart phone style phone (ie touch screen instead of physical buttons, does not fold), I would prefer that.

So, those things are foremost on my mind, but please don't let that limit your remarks. Go ahead and answer all the questions I didn't know I should have asked. Pretend I am a foreigner and have barely used a modern phone and just tell me all of everything I need to know to get the most out of AT&T and not want to shoot the company.

posted by Michele in California to Shopping (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you don't use your phone much, and like prepaid, you might want to look into a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNO, as well as AT+T. You can get one that resells AT+T minutes, so if you want the AT+T network without the company, that's an option.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:00 PM on December 1, 2016


At this point in time, I am specifically interested in AT&T experiences, not other options.
posted by Michele in California at 3:05 PM on December 1, 2016

I have a plan under the "Go Phone" option. No contract. I pay $60 per month for 8 gigs of data, unlimited calls & texts (I don't know about international, because I don't make international calls). 8 gigs is a pretty good amount. I can use wifi wherever I find it but I don't have internet at home and this gives me a reasonable amount of data. I've been running out lately because I started using Netflix. So okay, that's a lot, right? But you know, Netflix just added a download option so I can go to a coffee shop and, while I'm there, use their wifi to download the next episode of The Crown, and then watch it whenever I want and boom, no data use.

I can buy another gig for $10 or 3 gigs for $20, as often as I want throughout the month. I don't have to keep track of minutes or anything. The only thing that needs tracking is data. I can do that on my phone by asking it to remind me when I've used x amount of data, or I can go at any time to the AT&T website and find out exactly how much I have left.

I have autopay set up, which means that every month, $55 is drawn from the credit card I choose and applied to my AT&T account, and then the next day or so, it is paid from my account to AT&T. This sounds confusing because it is. The texts all confused me for months. Also, yes, it's a $60 per month plan but if you have autopay it's only $55.

Go Phone requires that you purchase a phone. There are plenty of go phone options, and I'm like, okay, I totally need whatever the best one is. I bought one about 3 years ago, and it was $250 and I thought it was worth it. It reached terminal velocity over the summer and I decided to just throw in the towel and get another, and this time the best one was like $150. Go to an AT&T store and look at the options. Samsung makes an android phone especially for the AT&T go phone, and it's not *exactly* like any other Samsung, but it's damn close. I'm pretty sure they have an iPhone option but I've blocked that out of my thoughts because I hate apple like it's the devil incarnate.

There's no onus on Go Phone. I thought people would be like, what's the matter, don't you want a contract? but no.

Also, my deal breaker was that I absolutely had to keep the phone number I've had for 20 years, and that was no problem at all with AT&T.
posted by janey47 at 3:26 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, wait, okay, as far as paying in advance -- that part where I said the payment options are confusing, it wouldn't be confusing for you because instead of autopay, you would just load up your "account" with, you know, $180 or whatever, and then every month AT&T would withdraw the $60 or $55 or whatever, you would need to ask whether you would get the $5 rebate if you just pay in advance, but probably you would, it seems basically automatic to me.
posted by janey47 at 3:28 PM on December 1, 2016

I've also used Go Phone service, since many years before, when it was Cingular. I'm still using the same, original sim card. I pay the $25 for 90 days (this only phone and text, no data); there's various other prices and intervals. A few months ago they started charging tax so now it's really $27+ for 90 days. How to keep track of minutes left? Every time I call (10¢/min) or text (20¢/140chars), a few seconds later I get a text back from AT&T saying how many dimes I just used and how many dollars are left. Nothing says when it expires except when you put more funds into the account, and I like being able to do that with cash at the machine back in the corner of the AT&T store. You can also do those payments online. I've gotten really close to expiration, but still don't know what happens when that does. It all works fine for me, but note I'm not using my cell for internet. I dunno what it's like now, setting up a new account.
posted by Rash at 3:51 PM on December 1, 2016

I have the exact same Go Phone service that Rash describes--and I've had it since the Cingular days, too!
Your payment rolls over if you don't use it up, but if you forget to renew at the end of 90 days you go back to zero. You do get a recorded reminder if you make a call when the renewal date is getting close. You can refill using an automated system via phone with a credit/debit card, and there's probably an online option, too. I'm on the auto-renewals plan now so I don't have to worry about it.
I don't remember the exact model phone I have but it's your standard 5" touchscreen, non-flipping phone.
I have internet access through the plan but I don't use it on my cell much so I don't know how that affects your minutes.
If you're looking for a cheap, no contract option, this is a great way to go.
posted by bookmammal at 4:42 PM on December 1, 2016

Here's some SoCal specific network info for you:
The current AT&T network started out (way back in the day) as LA Cellular. They were acquired by AT&T Wireless (who did not have a network footprint in SoCal at the time), which was then acquired by Cingular (who had their own network, formerly PacBell Wireless).
The merged company was required by the FCC to divest one of the two networks. The newly re-branded AT&T kept the old ATTWS network and sold the Cingular network to what would become T-Mobile.
The other longstanding player is Verizon, who started out around here as Airtouch.

I mention all this history because, in my experience, they put new towers in the footprints of their old ones, so that info can help you decide today even though the network technology is different.
posted by ApathyGirl at 5:44 PM on December 1, 2016

I don't have a whole lot to add on the plans/pricing part - but before you switch to AT&T (or any other carrier), find someone who has and ask them to hang out with you where you work/live.

Reception can range dramatically from location to location, carrier to carrier.
posted by FlatHill at 2:16 PM on December 2, 2016

If money is an issue, you should consider Straight Talk. They sell SIMs that work on both at&t and T-Mobile. (They prefer different networks, but can use both) and are about $10 cheaper than service directly from at&t.

If you need more data, Cricket (which is now just a brand of at&t) or T-Mobile direct are other options that are generally cheaper than at&t for the same amount of data. h2o uses T-Mobile (and is, or was last year, cheaper) and is pretty convenient in terms of having top-up cards widely available.

GoPhone is fine, though. The main disadvantage other than price is that it is limited to at&t only, you can't roam on T-Mobile like you can with Straight Talk.
posted by wierdo at 7:55 PM on December 2, 2016

Thank you for your helpful responses. My Tracfone was recently disposed of. "Lord willing and the crick don't rise," I hope to get a new phone this month.
posted by Michele in California at 2:20 PM on January 2, 2017

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