Friday, April 22, 2011

2011: A Cell Phone Odyssey

I’m not a big gadget guy, so having the latest and greatest in mobile connectivity has never been a priority. I’m not technologically averse; I just don’t tend to buy a lot of toys…or really, stuff in general.

That said, after my well-past-its-prime, 4-year old “feature” phone (i.e., it can text in the old school, hit the ‘3’ key four times to make an ‘f’ sort of way) drowned in a San Francisco rainstorm, I was using my wife’s old Motorola KRZR to get me by.

Yes, it's red.

After looking at how much Verizon was costing us each month, we decided to reassess our cell phone situation overall. We were ready…for smartphones.

First piece of advice: CHECK FOR COMPANY AND ORGANIZATION DISCOUNTS. I found out that by sheer virtue of me being employed at my company, I qualified for monthly discounts of 22% (Verizon and AT&T) and 18% (Sprint). There were some add-ons that didn’t qualify for that full % off, but most of the bill did. You can check the three carriers above by simply searching their websites for “corporate discounts”, entering your work email address, and having them send the deals right to your inbox.

If you know me, you know that some serious analysis was about to take place. With months of prior usage at my fingertips, I figured out the plans we needed. Most of our plan minutes on Verizon were calls to other Verizon phones (free on our plan), so we had to take that into consideration.

When it came down to it, Sprint’s plan of 1500 minutes and unlimited data and text was the most affordable. Plus, they offered a $125 credit PER LINE to port a number over to a Sprint smartphone. Verizon was about $30/month more expensive. AT&T was only slightly more expensive than Sprint per month, but their plan only includes 2 GB of data. I know that’s a lot, but I also don’t want to worry about overages when I’m stuck at an airport for 6 hours and decide to stream a movie.

We both got an EVO 4G. Huge display, runs Android, lots of cool features.

The drawbacks: the huge display comes on an equally huge phone. Even in my relatively large paws, the phone felt cumbersome. Also, the huge display uses huge amounts of juice. Imagine a Hummer with an 8-gallon gas tank.

Of course, those flaws are pardonable. Mostly, I was relieved to finally be done with all the research of plans and phones alike…or so I thought.

Because there was a fatal flaw: we couldn’t make calls in our own house.

Our coverage was bad enough that the first day I had the phone, I dropped a call 3 times in 5 minutes. Yikes. Things did not improve throughout the week.

Fortunately, Sprint has a 30-day guarantee during which you can cancel a contract and return equipment. Which is good, but dammit. It was time to shop again.

I wasn’t keen on AT&T’s data cap, nor Verizon’s extra $30/month. I saw that some AAA members had success getting a discount on T-Mobile, so in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned I gave them a call.

Turns out there is no AAA discount. The sales rep asked to check my employer…no dice. Finally, she asked about my wife’s company.

Hey! Turns out she gets a 10% discount.

Hey again! Turns out the plan we would consider is already on sale, bringing our total down further.

Hey hey hey! Turns out the day I called was the last day of a promotion: free myTouch 4G (their flagship phone at the moment, and Consumer Reports highest-rated smartphone) for new subscribers.

Because they offer a 30-day guarantee as well, I figured I had nothing to lose. I finally placed my order after my Sprint phone dropped my call a couple times (oh, irony).

We got the phones, and get much better coverage than before. Even if that changes, T-Mobile offers free Wi-Fi calling, which means we can make clear calls over our internet connection.

The phones is more compact and more gentle on the battery. I really, really like it. And T-Mobile’s customer service has been excellent—I’ve gotten a knowledgeable, competent person every single time I’ve called.

So, when it’s all said and done, don’t overlook T-Mobile as a potential carrier. Their reputation is mixed, but the negative impressions seem to be relegated to people who don’t use their services. Almost all the people who actually use T-Mobile seem very pleased. So far, so am I.


Anonymous said...

I have followed you for awhile now and wanted to tell you I really enjoy your blog. Even if you don't post as much as before you got married. LOL a little busy huh? You have done the research that I desperately have needed to do and for that I thank you. Our plan from Verison expires in a month and I think we'll follow your lead and try T-mobile. Keep us updated on how your service/bill is working out. Agian thanks and keep up the good work. Leslie

Anonymous said...

opps typo *again*

JJSKCK said...

Thanks so much for the feedback! I know the posts have slowed down a lot, and I'm trying to do more...but, you know, life happens.

I have called T-Mobile twice since posting this, and twice more I was impressed by their friendliness and knowledge. But when it comes down to it, the phone has to work and the plan has to be right, and T-Mobile has worked out well for us.

Again, I would definitely check for employee/organization discounts at all of them to see what they can save you. The best plan I saw overall was still at Sprint ($129 for two lines, 1500 minutes, unlimited mobile-to-mobile on ANY network) but that didn't work out. For individuals, T-Mobile is running $79 for unlimited everything.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Mark Winstanley said...

Nice article and thanks for sharing your knowledge. I really appropriate your views.

Marc The Phone Man