Here's how to make sure you have the right service plan for your phone, at the right price.
We all want phone service that works just right each and every time we need it. And of course, we don't want to overpay for it, either. That's a tough find, but you can get close and find a plan that's good for you with a little legwork. Don't worry, it's easy legwork!
The perfect plan
The perfect phone plan may be a unicorn and something that most of us will never see, but in this case, close enough is probably fine. Ideally, we want a plan that lets us buy what we need at a good price, then refunds us for what we didn't use at the end of the billing cycle. And it has to give us great service everywhere we go.
A plan like this almost exists (we can't vouch for the good service everywhere part) with Google's Project Fi. It's not exactly cheap, but you do get refunded for any data you paid for and don't use in a month. It's unfortunate that you have to have a Nexus (6 or higher) or Pixel to use it, as this makes it a non-starter for most people.
For everyone else, you need to do a few things before you start shopping around for service to make sure you get something that suits you well and comes in at a price you like.
What you need to do
The most important thing is to get service that works where you are. Not just where you are most of the time, but where you are regularly. If you commute or spend weekends away or whatever, make sure the service you buy gives you a good signal. Plenty of us here at Mobile Nations travel a good bit, so trust us when we say nothing is as frustrating as not having service when you need to contact someone. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: paying for service that doesn't work is not a bargain no matter how cheap it is. Don't be discouraged if you have to pay a little more for something that works.
Coverage maps don't tell the whole story — ask your friends and family.
And don't rely on a company's coverage map. Ask your friends what company they use and how they like it. You might even have to try it for yourself for a month and then try something else if it's not up to snuff. Porting your number is easy and free.
Know what phones work on which carriers. Whether you want to bring the phone you have or pick up another one, you need to be aware of what carrier networks will work for it. Plenty of models work seamlessly for any carrier that uses AT&T's or T-Mobile's network, but Sprint and Verizon-branded phones can be a little different. If you have a phone from Sprint or Verizon, that doesn't mean you can't use a network from AT&T or T-Mobile. Plenty of them are fully functional, but plenty aren't.
You can usually find out the answer of which phones and which carriers are compatible online. I've found the WillMyPhoneWork website to be a great resource and the first place you should look.
- Complete list of AT&T MVNOs
- Complete list of Sprint MVNOs
- Complete list of T-Mobile MVNOs
- Complete list of Verizon MVNOs
Know how you will use it. You need to know how many minutes you use the phone on calls, how many texts you send, and how much data you use each month on average so you know what plan to choose. You'll find plenty of plans with unlimited calling and texting (not including roaming or international use) as well as a choice of different amounts of data. Get the average, then pick the next higher plan to start with. Unless you're signing a contract you can change it next month if you need to. Be sure to find out how to add more data in the middle of the month, too.
Finding out how much you use is fairly easy. You can use an app, check with your carrier either online or over the phone, or even check the settings of the phone itself.
Find out what costs extra. Many cheap prepaid plans are no-frills offerings. If you want to call or text internationally, will be roaming outside the coverage area every now and then or want to tether your phone's data connection to a laptop or tablet you need to check and see if these services are covered. They probably aren't.
The good news is that many smaller carriers offer these services on top of their basic plans, and things can still be a good bit cheaper than what you're paying now. You'll find this information on the company website, and if you can't, don't be afraid to give them a call. They want your business and should be happy to answer any questions.
We're here to help answer any questions you might have.
Here's a final tip that doesn't directly apply to the plan or the costs, but is important. Know what to do if you need help. You're going to find that customer service isn't the same on a smaller carrier compared to one of the Big Four. You'll get answers that cover the service itself and find a few tutorials for things like setting up your SIM card online, but if you need help with your phone don't expect your carrier to give it to you. These companies are in the business of selling service with a minimum of overhead. That means customer service is there for general questions about the network or the plan, but nothing further.
Thankfully, there are plenty of web sites like Android Central that can help. And if you can't find an article to walk you through your issue, chances are you'll find it in online forums. Or at least find someone to help you through it.
Don't get discouraged! Wading through all the information about different carriers and different plans can feel a bit overwhelming. Narrowing down your choices using these tips can help. When you're saving money every month, you'll know it was worth it!
Alternative carriers (MVNOS)
- What is an alternative mobile carrier?
- What are the advantages of going with an alternative carrier?
- How to make sure your phone works on a prepaid alternative carrier
- 8 Important Considerations When Switching To An MVNO
- These are the cheapest data plans you can buy in the U.S.
- Mint SIM vs. Cricket Wireless: Which is better for you?