Cell phone: cheap, simple, and maybe international?
August 8, 2017 4:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm overwhelmed by cell phone and plan options! Seeking something that is... Under-$20/month, no particular need for a smartphone or data service. In fact, just voice and text would probably be preferable. If it can take SIM cards and work outside the US, that could be useful - otherwise, a month-to-month plan would be best, since we'll probably be traveling in the near future.
posted by sibilatorix to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're willing to consider a smart phone but only use its data capabilities on WiFi, Google Fi is unlimited voice and SMS for $15/month plus a penny per megabyte of data with no minimum data use (technically it bills you for 1GB of use but refunds what you use under that, so if you literally kept the data portion off, you'd get the $10 back). Having the ability to use data every now and then if you got into an emergency (or even tremendous inconvenience) might prove useful.

SMS internationally is free in many countries and voice is $0.20/min. WiFi calls back to the US are free while international.

But it does require a Nexus 6, 6p, 5x, or Pixel.
posted by Candleman at 5:19 PM on August 8, 2017

You want an unlocked phone with a prepaid plan. That is, pay-as-you-go, no contract. You buy more minutes/texts/data as you need them. The "unlocked" part means you can swap SIM cards and carriers at will, including when you're overseas. These kinds of phones and prepaid plans are available at most big-box stores, including Walmart, Target, Best Buy.
posted by snowmentality at 6:22 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use Republic. Bought a compatible phone, pay a monthly fee. It relies heavily on wifi, call quality is fine. A friend is very happy with Ting and her used iPhone. This comparison looks pretty good.
posted by theora55 at 6:30 PM on August 8, 2017

posted by odinsdream at 8:44 PM on August 8, 2017

I use AT&T Go Phone (which was just name-changed to AT&T Prepaid). I get the 90 days for $25 option (calls a dime a minute, texts 20¢ per) which lasts me now a couple months. Since they charge tax now, that $25's really more like $27 but that still comes out to under $15/month for me. This is without any data and for service inside the US (maybe plus Canada?) only.
posted by Rash at 9:19 PM on August 8, 2017

Seconding that you take a look at Google Project Fi. Slight correction to the above commented pricing, it's $20 a month for a single line for unlimited voice and data, then additional lines are $15. It's an interesting service, if a bit quirky. It's been great for me but I love Nexus phones. If you want a different phone than the tiny, tiny selection offered you should probably look elsewhere, but speaking as a data miser I hardly ever have a phone bill above $30 per month, and I get the benefit of THREE sets of carrier towers to connect to natively.

Fi's international support is supposedly a pretty great perk but I haven't been able to take advantage of it myself so I can't comment on that. Here's a recent article from Digital Trends about the service.
posted by glonous keming at 8:10 AM on August 9, 2017

I love, love, love the cost and quality of service provided by Tello. It's like Ting but less expensive and more flexible.
posted by ReginaHart at 9:49 AM on August 9, 2017

Further research indicates I probably want a tri- or quad-band GSM phone, preferably unlocked, with a plan from Tello or similar. Except it looks like Tello might be CDMA-based. Anyone know of something with similar flexibility (or just a cheap unlimited voice/text plan) that works with GSM?
posted by sibilatorix at 11:59 AM on August 9, 2017

Ting works with GSM SIMs.
posted by odinsdream at 12:28 PM on August 9, 2017

Oh! And apparently Ting is "pay for what you use" not "prepay for what you expect to use!" I quite like that approach. Looks like I've got a carrier picked, just need to find a phone. Thanks, odinsdream!
posted by sibilatorix at 1:22 PM on August 9, 2017

You can live chat Ting and they'll help you out. Their support is fantastic.
posted by odinsdream at 6:59 PM on August 9, 2017

Got Ting and a secondhand quad-band unlocked "bea-fon" flip-phone off ebay, and it all works so far! The phone seems to be German and has some amusing translations, like the message saying it's "plugged out" when you disconnect the charger. I am very pleased. Thanks for the help!
posted by sibilatorix at 10:27 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

(the bea-fon - a model C200 - has the extra advantage of double SIM slots, which I didn't even know about when ordering it because there was so little info online, at least in English)
posted by sibilatorix at 10:29 PM on August 14, 2017

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