Smartphones On the Cheap

If you were at MLA you would have seen the latest in librarian accessories, the smartphone.  Everywhere I turned it seemed everyone was whipping out their phone to look at their calendar to find their next meeting, monitoring the Twitter feed, tweeting, or texting somebody. 

I bumped into a few friends who were still stuck with “dumb phones” and many of them said the main barrier to getting a smartphone was cost, as they glanced at my iPhone in my hand.  That is when told them that they didn’t have to break the bank to get a smartphone.  In fact, after the meeting (and at the end of my billing cycle) I will be dumping my iPhone and getting an Android. 

Why am I moving?  You know me as the Krafty Librarian, but you could also probably call me the Thrifty Technology Librarian (or just call me cheap, that is fine too).  Currently my iPhone has unlimited data.  Still, I pay about $85/month for it.  Add my husband on to the plan and our cell phone bill is well around $170/month.  As a mom of three kids on a budget…ouch. 

Theoretically we could go back to dumb phones, but really both he and I are hooked on smartphones like kids to sugar on Halloween.  So my husband began the process of looking for a cheap smartphone.  Oxymoron, right? Not really.  He discovered that there were pay as you go plans for smartphones.  Until recently there just weren’t a lot of pay as you go smartphones. 

One such pay as you go outfit is VirginMobile.  If you buy the phone out right you have your choice of three pay as you go models.

  1. 300 minutes talk, UNLIMITED text, UNLIMITED data for only $25/mo.  
  2. 1200 minutes talk, UNLIMITED text, UNLIMITED data for only $40/mo. 
  3. Unlimited EVERYTHING: minutes, text, and data for $60/mo.

Yes you read that correctly you could get a smartphone plan with unlimited data and texting for $25/month.  Now I know you are saying, “what savings is that if the phone isn’t free and I have to buy it?”  If you got an iPhone you still would have to pay $200 for the phone and anywhere from $60-$100/month (depending on your minutes, text, and data plan).  Many times, depending on the phone, you are going to end up paying for the phone in one way and sometimes multiple ways. You have realize that if you get the phone free and are on a plan, that plan is always more expensive because they are supplementing the cost of the phone.  So pay as you go is almost always cheaper than cell phone plans. 

For us, moving to something like VirginMobile gave us a savings of around $100/month.  That was too much savings for us not to try out.  Mike, my husband, jumped ship first and tested the LG Optimus V and VirginMobile to see if it worked well as a smartphone and got reception.  I was chicken, I stayed on AT&T with my iPhone and watched his experiment.  Afterall, I am a data hog, I use at least 2GB of data each month (sometimes more) and I did NOT want to lose being grandfathered in with AT&T unlimited data plan if the experiment failed. 

VirginMobile is on the Sprint network and it does pretty well in most major cities, but if you live in the country or out in the Western Plains States it might not be the network for you.  Mike was able to get a signal and service everywhere we go in the Cleveland area.  So he let me take his phone for a week to test it.  I wasn’t able to get a signal everywhere in my building at work but I could get signal outside no problem.  The phone itself is ok.  If you once had an iPhone you will think the LG is a little clunky and not as intuitive (I really like the one home button concept on the iPhone) but it worked and it had all of the apps I like and use. 

In the next few weeks I will bid a teary farewell to my iPhone and begin to use an Android.  For a savings of $100+/month I can’t justify staying with AT&T and my iPhone. 

So if you have been wanting to get a smartphone but just felt it was too much money, you might want to check out VirginMobile, at $25/month it is cheaper than some dumb phone plans.

12 thoughts on “Smartphones On the Cheap”

  1. I was chatting with one of the speakers after the the Top Tech Trends section program and he recommended Boost Mobile as well, for a cheaper pay as you go data plan. He also mentioned VirginMobile. I think they are more expensive that VirginMobile, but it might be worth it to put them in the mix too.

  2. I hope you got the LG Optimus V instead of the Samsung Intercept. I’ve been using the Intercept on Virgin Mobile since I signed up last fall. I love the price of the service, but I’m finding the Intercept to be buggy and kludgy. A friend who first turned me on to the Virgin Mobile service just sold his Intercept and got the Optimus and is much happier with its speed and reliability.

    If you’d like to see what apps I’m running, you can check out my profile on App Brain.

  3. A friend checked into VirginMobile and tried it. She liked the phone well enough but had trouble with customer service when she needed to troubleshoot. You might want to check that as well.

  4. I’m amazed that more people don’t do this.

    I’m a thrifty librarian too (in UK), and bought my iPhone 3GS in July 2009. I bought it outright, which cost a few hundred pounds but that included free data for 12 months. At the end of the 12 months, I moved to a Text and Web tariff. For £10/month (about $16) I get unlimited texts within the UK, and 500MB data (I mainly use wifi so don’t need any more data than this each month). I also get the £10 as phone credit so it doesn’t actually cost me anything, I just have to top up to get the free texts and data. I currently have about £50 credit on my phone because the only thing it gets used for is phone calls (which I don’t do much of).

    I’ll no doubt want to upgrade at some point but I’m still happy with my phone for now and over the 22 months I’ve had it so far it has cost me a lot less than a contract would have, even with the initial cost of buying the phone.

  5. Jo, cell phones and their plans are totally different in the States. Most people still have plans through major carriers and don’t have pay as you go plans. I don’t know how things work exactly in the UK or elsewhere, but it just goes to show you that if you look around a bit you might find a better deal.

  6. I am going with the LG. I have played with my husband’s and it is ok. I found it easier if we both get the same phone (unless it is really bad) because we both know how to use it and can pick up either one if somebody forgets their phone.

  7. I’ve had my Optimus V for a couple of weeks now and it was GREAT at MLA (where I ran into several other librarians who’d either made the switch or were thinking about it). It does go through batteries awfully fast – plugging it in overnight is an absolute necessity, and with the kind of workout I was giving it during the conference I was barely making it through the day – but otherwise it’s been fantastic.

    And I kind of love that it doesn’t work in rural places! Nice to get away from the phone once in a while :)

  8. I have a ‘dumb phone’ and a 4th generation iPod touch. I used a Virgin MiFi (mobile wifi hotspot) at MLA 2011 in Minneapolis, and also during 2010 conference trips to Seattle and San Francisco. I love it! Tethering for up to 5 wifi devices at one time, unlimited data for $40 per 30 days, pay-as-you-go, no contract, $150 one-time charge to buy the MiFi device. They added data limits to the plans at some point, but I’m grandfathered in. I think the new plans are still pretty affordable, compared to the contract options from other carriers.

  9. My husband uses JuiceDefender to help deal with the lack of battery life. There is a free and pay version, he has the free version and says it is pretty good. I know my iPhone battery was having a hard time keeping up with the workout I gave it at MLA. There were plenty of times I had to charge it on my lap top in a meeting or in some corner at a wall socket. I think we just have to get used to packing our chargers in our meeting bags.

  10. As someone from a rural state (ND) that just lost most of their Sprint coverage due to AT&T taking over a majority of the cell phone towers, I would love to hear of some other pay as you go options. Thanks to the AT&T takeover, we can finally get iPhones in North Dakota but I don’t want to pay for lots of minutes that I’ll never use.

  11. It is the wild west with cell phones, for as many companies there are twice as many pricing models because some like Verizon have both a cell phone plan (contract) model and a pay as you go model. So it is best to look at all that you can find and see if their wonky pricing metrics jive with your usage and whether they have decent coverage in your area.

    Here is a list of some that I found that have pay as you go.
    Verizon – Has pay as you go but you have to pay attention to your minutes, texting, and data so it seems to be a pit of a pain in the butt because if you go over you get socked.
    T-Mobile – Has pay as you go where you have to watch every minute, text and data, but they also have a pay by month plan that features unlimited talk, text, and data.
    BoostMobile – Has an interesting $50 unlimited plan. For every 6 on-time payments, Boost will lower your monthly payment by $5, so by 18 months your plan is $35.
    Revol Wireless – Has multiple pay as you go plans, some you have to watch your minutes while others are unlimited.

    If you decide to go with a pay by month plan it is important to know whether you have to watch your minutes for your stuff (voice, text, data) or have unlimited stuff. If you have to watch your minutes do you get socked if you go over. I know by experience with VirginMobile if you go over your voice minutes, they turn off the voice feature (you can still text and surf b/c that is unlimited) until you to re-up your minutes. This could be annoying, but if you rarely use all your voice minutes it is nice that you can do that for the few times that you go over. With VirginMobile, when you re-up your minutes your month starts anew on that date.

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