Finding the Best Value in Cell Phone Plans

May 7th 2016
Science fiction always serves not just to predict the future, but to inform it as well. We are given visions of what may come. In the 1960s, we were promised tourist trips to the moon in "2001: A Space Odyssey." "The Jetsons" had us imagining flying cars and robot assistants. "Star Trek" promised transporters and hand-held communicators. Well, we got one of those. Today's mobile devices go far beyond what Captain Kirk was using. We have so many choices that it can be confusing.
What Do You Want in Cell Phone Plans?
The Device - The best way to find real value is to first determine just what it is you want. Are you going to be online frequently, checking Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest? Do you imagine a world of horrors if you are unable to do so for a few hours? The Motorola Moto X can do that at a value. Laptopmag.com called it the best smartphone deal. For apps and camera tech, nothing beats the iPhone 5s. The Samsung Galaxy S4 was rated as having the best features, while the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was called the best overall smartphone. 
Perhaps all you want from a phone is -- wait for it -- to talk on the phone? You are in luck because there are many phones you can buy outright for around $20.00 or less. The point is this -- don't pay for more phone than you are going to use. The latest and greatest might look sweet, but how much are you going to use all those extras? 
Contract vs. No Contract - Gone are the days when you had to commit to a contract to get the best phones. Pressure from companies like Virgin Mobile, Cricket and Boost Mobile have even forced major carriers to start offering month-to-month plans. What are the advantages of each?
Contract - In reality, the only reasons to sign on to a long-term contract these days are if you are getting a very good intro price on your phone or if you just want to stay with a carrier and commit. Getting a great device for little or no money upfront has its costs down the line. Monthly rates are higher than month-to-month plans. 
No Contract - The watershed moment for no-contract plans came when consumers could get service with the very latest phones. With virtually every device out there, competition switched to price. On that front, the battle was won by month-to-month providers. 
When Virgin Mobile rolled out the iPhone 5s in the summer of 2013, the combined cost of the device and service, if paid for with auto-billing, came out to $1270 over two years, or $52.92 a month. None of the contract carriers were coming close to that price for unlimited data, even if the devices were free. Of course, you had to come up with $549.99 upfront to buy the iPhone 5s. That's a marketing tool for companies offering the phones at little cost -- not everyone can afford to pay that much upfront. 
Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons
Family Plans - This is a segment where the month-to-month plans fall short. They price service per device. If you are going to have multiple phones on a plan, a report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that T-Mobile is the best. There are more providers coming online that promise to bring costs down more. One of them is Ting. They just rolled out in 2012 and charge for everything incrementally. Phone minutes, texts and data usage all have a price point. 
The bottom line is that, here in the United States, we are finally starting to see the same sort of offerings customers with mobile devices have enjoyed for years overseas. Along with more choice will come much lower pricing. Be smart and shop around. 

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