Simple prepaid cell phone
April 23, 2008 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Best simple, prepaid cell phone

I need a cell phone about once a week, and don't want to pay the $40/mo. subscription fee. I don't need (and prefer NOT to have) email, internet, camera, games, etc. Give me the phone, the whole phone and nothing but the phone.

Which one gives the best reception? Is there one on which the prepaid minutes never expire?
posted by KRS to Technology (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I bought a Virgin phone for use when I'm in the USA (I live in England). As long as I add $20 every 90 days, the minutes never expire. I top up using PayPal. You can buy a basic phone for $10 (I've got the Kyocera Marbl, which is $15).

I couldn't get reception in the Catskills but haven't had a problem anywhere else. You can check coverage on the Virgin Mobile website.
posted by essexjan at 12:34 PM on April 23, 2008

Believe it or not, has some stuff I found useful (which they probably took from elsewhere, but whatever).

Top five phones.
Find the best plan for you.

I filled out the quiz based on the information you gave, and guessed on the rest. So if you won't be making international calls, will use your phone little, but with no very long gaps (travelling overseas), will travel out of your state only occasionally, and will text 3 or fewer times per week, these are the plans for you. Virgin and boost are tied it seems. But fill it out for yourself.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2008

Which one gives the best reception?

That's heavily dependent on the regional area and the physical phone that you are using. The best thing to do is ask everyone you know who lives near you what carrier they use and how many bars they get, how often their calls get dropped, etc.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2008

I've got a virgin mobile phone. It's okay, the coverage is spotty at my house and where I go school and often requires that I stand outside to have a conversation, but it does work most of the time. Anytime I call into virgin mobile I get tortured by the sound of the ultra-hipster-trendy Simone robot requesting that I speak to her instead pushing buttons, it gets old really fast. But hey, the phone was cheap so I wasn't expecting much.

I plan on ditching virgin mobile within the next few months because of this.
posted by 517 at 12:52 PM on April 23, 2008

I was looking for about the same thing and ended up with T-mobile prepaid. Once you put $100 (1000 minutes) into the phone, your minutes don't expire for a year. I think topping off your minutes restarts the timer as well, but I'm not 100% sure about that. I couldn't find a plan where the minutes didn't expire.

They sell a Moto v195 for $40 which is an excellent no frills phone. Seems durable and is easy to connect to a computer and add ring tones.

Reception, as someone already noted, is very local thing.
posted by Crossbar at 12:59 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tracfone is good, no daily charges or anything like that, but their customer service is TERRIBLE. You wait on hold forever only to get on a horrible VOIP connection to someone in India.

Some of their phones sell in places like walmart and 7-11 for as low $18

hard to beat for occasional usage, good for kids as well
posted by Mr_Chips at 1:28 PM on April 23, 2008

I live in Pittsburgh, but have never had trouble with the reception on my Net10 phone (the company's part of TracFone, but less annoying in various ways) and have done a bit of traveling across the country in the almost three years I've had it. I buy minutes online in 300 minute/60 day activation blocks whenever I need them, which is fairly infrequently ever since they implemented cumulative service- minutes and activation just add up without expiring, and it's a flat 10 cents a minute rate so I'm always under $15/month. My refurbished, frill-less Motorola V171 was about $20 initially. Not sure from the website if they offer it anymore, but there are others for $30. Depending on where you're located, I highly recommend it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 1:46 PM on April 23, 2008

I had cingular for a while. It worked ok. The thing I didn't like about it is that your minutes expire if you don't use them. Unless you buy a ton in the begining. If you buy $100 worth they won't expire but if you buy $15 you have to use them within the month. Very very annoying.

But otherwise it worked good and it was my voicemail for a year when I didn't have a private phone.
posted by sully75 at 1:51 PM on April 23, 2008

Re T-Mobile: I think topping off your minutes restarts the timer as well, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

It does. If you have X minutes of credit left and you buy Y more minutes that are good for three months, you end up with (X + Y) minutes on your phone that expire three months from now. At least that's how it seemed to work when I re-upped mine.
posted by letourneau at 3:27 PM on April 23, 2008

One nice thing about Virgin is that you can use your balance to buy a new phone, if you are someone like me who doesn't even use $5 worth of minutes each month.
posted by smackfu at 5:03 PM on April 23, 2008

I think topping off your [T-Mobile] minutes restarts the timer as well, but I'm not 100% sure about that

It does. If you add $100 (1000 minutes, with a one year expiration) on April 23, 2008, then don't use a single minute, but add a $10 refill on April 22, 2009, you will then have $110 (1100 minutes) that are good until April 22, 2010. Adding the $10 resets the clock on your first $100. Because you are a "gold rewards" customer (which happens when you add the first $100), you're given an additional 12 months every time you add minutes, no matter what denomination refill you buy.

Be aware that for T-Mobile, that first $100 deposit is very important. Without it, you are not a "gold rewards" customer, which means that your minutes will cost slightly more, and will expire sooner. Unless you are prepared to put that $100 in when you buy the phone, other carriers will be more cost effective. sells refill minutes at a discount. My last $100 T-Mobile refill cost $92.
posted by toxic at 5:11 PM on April 23, 2008

"Tracfone is good, no daily charges or anything like that, but their customer service is TERRIBLE."

Tracfone national coverage is excellent, though. Must be the very best - I have travelled coast-to-coast and north-to-south and the only place I could not get service was Canada (duh - stupid national boundaries!). No roaming charges, either -- I just use one prepaid minute per minute of call time, wherever I am. You are normally offered a double-minutes deal each year when renewing and unused minutes roll over to the next year. I'm a low user -- a few calls and text msgs per week -- and I think my minutes are into higher calculus now ... about $100/year, plus $15 upwards for the phone. You can buy online or at Target, BestBuy, Walmart, etc.
posted by Susurration at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2008

If you are in their coverage area (basically Verizon's coverage area) then I'd recommend Page Plus. Minutes are good for 120 days from purchase, so they don't last as long as the T-Mobile Gold Rewards 1-year expiration - however, they're cheaper by a LONG shot. You can get 8 cents a minute on a $25 card. On T-Mobile, you have to buy a $100 card to get 10 cents a minute, which is their best rate. If you buy an $80 card from Page Plus, you get airtime at 5.6 cents a minute. Their website is if you wanna check them out (do be sure you check the coverage map while you're there). As for a phone, you can buy one from them, or any Verizon phone will work. You can buy one of the Verizon InPulse prepaid phones at Wal-Mart or Target. You can activate for free over the phone with Page Plus. (They also give you 100 free minutes when you activate.) Been using them for several months with no trouble at all. (I do, however, recommend you check out the prepaid forums at since these guys are a gold mone of info on this stuff.)
posted by azpenguin at 8:10 PM on April 23, 2008

My husband and I love our Tracphones.
posted by Lynsey at 10:51 PM on April 23, 2008

Is it possible to transfer a phone # to a prepaid phone?
posted by bsdfish at 11:35 PM on April 23, 2008

Is it possible to transfer a phone # to a prepaid phone?

Of course.

As long as it's a cellular number. Any US-based cellular number can be ported to any other US cellular carrier. This is mandated by the FCC, and is no different among pre-paid and post-paid cellular services.
posted by toxic at 8:53 AM on April 24, 2008

« Older Drop off child care in Manhattan?   |   Create my own RSS feed? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.