What cellphone plan should I get?

I’m considering getting myself a cellphone or two (one for the lady) and I have no experience with carriers and plans here in the U.S. Since there is no right plan for everybody, let me tell you what things i’m looking for or in a plan:

Things I don’t care about:

-The phone itself. I don’t need a color screen, fancy ringtones, cameras, mp3 support and the like.

-Weekend/night minutes. I’m not going to use it more heavily during weekends or after hours.

-GPRS, WAP and all that internet connectivity stuff. I’m just going to use it to talk, store phone numbers and maybe send an sms or two every year.

-That nextel walkie-talkie feature. I’ll only get that when I want to become annoying. :wink:

-Great coverage. Average coverage will do just fine. Did you notice how average rhymes with coverage? Nifty!

Things I care about (in this order):

-The monthly fee. The lower the better (as opposed to ALL those folks who want high fees)

-Duration of the contract. The shorter the better.

-Pc connectivity. I’d like to backup my phonebook once in a while. If I can do that without buying extra accessories, it’d be nice.

-Decent amount of “free” minutes. I’m probably going to use the cell less than the average user though so I don’t need all that much.
So what do you think I should go with?

If it’s a phone that you’re not going to use much, I’d seriously look into a prepaid plan. I’ve got the Virgin flavor of such a plan, and I’m a big fan of it. I have to put $20 on the phone every three months, giving me a monthly fee of ~$7 to have a cell phone, which can’t be beat (unless you use the phone a lot, which would drive up your per minute costs).

Here’s why I got it:
–I didn’t want another monthly charge of like $35 to have a cell phone. I wanted one basically for emergencies only - it’s not like this was going to become my primary phone or one that I used with any sort of frequency at all.

–Of the prepaid plans I looked at, Virgin was a) one of the cheapest, and b)didn’t make you hook up any sort of credit card to automatically refresh the thing. Of course, it’s an option, and you can, but you don’t have to - you can also buy cards at Target or Best Buy and add money to your phone that way. One of the other plans I looked at (I believe it was AT&T) required you to connect the phone to a credit card, then automatically put money on it every month. Hello? I said I didn’t want a monthly plan. How is this prepaid? Not sure if they still have that or not.

–Virgin piggybacks on Sprint’s network, so quality and coverage has always been pretty good. That said, I don’t have a good connection here in my building or out in the sticks. However, you should be able to use it in any major city and along most major interstates. Check all coverage maps before deciding.

–It’s an easy plan. No nighttimes, no anytimes, no overages, nothing. It’s 25 cents a minute for the first ten minutes a day, then 10 cents a minute for every minute thereafter. I only pay for the minutes I use, and I never lose anything (tho I understand that most plans have rollover features now and such). I know that I’m paying more per minute than I would with a plan, but since I rarely ever use it, I’m still saving money. However, if you’re buying a phone that you’ll use heavily or frequently, you’d probably save money with a plan. Determine your own usage before buying.

–No contract. I don’t want the phone anymore, I don’t pay. No fees, tho’ I’d lose any money that was still on the phone. They give you a little bit of a grace period (I think it’s 30 days) before they deactivate your number, however, so you have some time to pay up and still be able to use your phone. After that grace period, however, you’ll have to buy another phone or contact them in some way to reactivate it and such.

You do have to add $20 every three months, and this can add up over time (I think I’m up to like $60, now, because I don’t use the phone that often). But any accumulated money doesn’t count towards the $20 - it’s not like, I have a balance, so my phone should work, right? Nope, you still have to pay up. I think that if I used my phone just slightly more, however, I’d probably eat up this balance.

I’m really happy with mine. Give them a look while you’re doing your research.

Snickers has good advice, but I bought my first cell phone in December because I moved somewhere where it was going to be my primary phone (we don’t have a house line), and I have a long commute to work. For me, it made sense to get a plan with a lot of minutes, free nights and weekends, etc. I chose Verizon because most of my friends had it, and Verizon users can call each other for free. The coverage is very good throughout Florida, although my plan is in-state only. I don’t leave Florida often enough for this to become an issue. I got a free phone (a solid, simple, non-flip Nokia model) for signing a 2-year contract at Best Buy, but that was fine with me because a cell phone is more useful than paying for a land line. It’s a bit expensive: $60 a month, but I get 800 minutes a month and never fear any charges for exceeding my minutes. The peace of mind is nice.

So for you, it all comes down to whether you intend to use your phone for emergencies, or rely on it more as a primary means of communication. I’m happy with my Verizon service despite the monthly $60 and the 2-year contract, but everyone’s needs are different.

I looked into prepaid plans and Beyond Wireless seems particularly interesting. Does anyone here use their services?

Here’s a detailed comparison: http://www.cellguru.net/prepaid_compare.htm

      • I got a couple more general cell-phone questions: I live in one place now, but plan on moving halfway across the US in a few months, from the St Louis area to Dallas/Ft Worth. I want to get a cellphone with a “regular”/monthly plan before than so I have a phone when I arrive, and I probably won’t get a landline there, as the cellphone will be paid for anyway. Will I still get charged for calls the same no matter where I am? That is, after I arrive in Dallas my address with the cellphone company will still be in St Louis. If I make local calls in Dallas then, will they charge me any more than if I was in St Louis, making local calls in the St Louis area? I will change my address with the phone company eventually anyway, but I am just curious: if you only make a local call, does it matter where you are at when you make the local call?
  • Also just looking today I noticed that nearly-all the cellphones at one local big store were flip-phones. I was told once that the one-piece phones were a lot more durable over the long run. Considering I will keep the same phone for at least 1-2 years, is this still the case, or is it not really an issue?

If you don’t plan on using it that much, prepaid is the way to go. I had a regular plan from Verizon that gave me 150 minutes, no long distance charges, no roaming charges for $40 per month. I rarely used more than 60 minutes per month, so I swicthed to Verizon prepaid. $80 for a new phone, and the minimum purchase per month is $15, which is usually enough for me. When it isn’t, I just buy another $15 worth of service. Figured I was saving $25 per month, which paid for the new phone in under 4 months.

For prepaid, you will have to buy the phone at full price. The deals come from promos when you sign up for a contract. Expect an up-front cost of probably nearly $100, as it is being more and more difficult to get a really basic phone. Another thing to check out is whether or not the phone will be locked to a specific carrier. I honestly have no clue if that is the case with prepaid phones.