May 17 AT 12:01 PM Taylor Wimberly 214 Comments

7 reasons to shred your wireless contract and switch to pre-paid

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Are you fed up with your wireless carrier? Wish you could lower the cost of your monthly bill? Tired of waiting on slow Android updates? Upset that Verizon won’t be carrying the current HTC One series? Want to purchase an unlocked Galaxy S III and start using it in the US months before the nerfed carrier versions arrive?

Pre-paid wireless service has existed in North America for several years, but it wasn’t a real viable option for smartphone owners until recently. There are now tons of affordable unlocked devices to choose from and plenty of options for pre-paid data at 4G HSPA+ speeds. Read on to see why you might want to shred your current wireless contract and think about joining the pre-paid club.

1. Freedom to choose your own device

Wouldn’t it suck if your internet service provider dictated what kind of computer you had to buy? What if your cable provider only allowed you to watch programming on selected TVs? That’s exactly the situation we have with some wireless carriers and the phones they allow on their networks.

If you switch to pre-paid, you can buy any unlocked GSM phone of your choice and then choose your wireless service with no contract and no commitments.

Google recently started selling their Galaxy Nexus for $399 and reports say that up to five OEMs will be selling unlocked devices through the Google Play Store by Thanksgiving. Amazon also has hundreds of unlocked phones that will work on any GSM network.

The market for used devices is also rapidly growing. You can buy and sell used Android phones on Glyde, Gazelle, Swappa, and many more online retailers.

If there is a smartphone you really desire, chances are you can buy it unlocked and prices continue to drop. An unlocked phone will cost you more in the beginning, but the long term savings will pay off big time…

2. Save money by cutting your monthly bill in half

Why put up with a $100 bill each month when you could be getting the same services for $30-45? Most post-paid monthly bills are high because the wireless companies subsidize the cost of your handset and spread it out over your 2-yr contract, but there are all other kinds of hidden fees and taxes tossed in.

Many pre-paid carriers offer flat rate pricing, so you pay exactly the monthly rate that is advertised. It’s not like a post-paid carrier that advertises a monthly plan for $59, but then your final bill comes in close to $80 after all the fees, surcharges, and taxes.

Best of all, pre-paid carriers have no contracts or commitments so there are no early termination fees if you want to switch networks. Gone are the days of paying Verizon $300 if you are unhappy with their service and want to leave 6 months into your 24 month contract.

If you do the math, going pre-paid can easily save you over $1,000+ for the span of a typical 2-yr contract. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but pre-paid smartphone service is always cheaper than post-paid.

3. Android updates from carriers are broken

The process in which North American carriers update the software on Android phones is completely broken. First a handset maker must build and test an update, then Google needs to approve it, and finally the carrier has to put their stamp of approval on it.

If one little bug is discovered, then the whole process must start over. And often times, it’s some stupid crap like carrier bloatware that is incompatible with the latest update. I’ve heard stories of certain updates being pushed back months just because they didn’t work with the carrier installed navigation app (that no one uses).

Just look at Google’s flagship Galaxy Nexus on Verizon. That device launched on December 15th with a handful of known bugs, and five months have passed without a single update.

The HTC One X is another good example. I have the AT&T version and the international version. The AT&T model has received no updates since I have had it, while the international model has been updated 5 times already by HTC. These updates has helped to improve performance, extend battery life, and squash annoying bugs. It’s a breath of fresh air to see regular updates instead of going nearly half a year with no new software from your carrier.

When carriers get out of the way, software updates flow much more frequently. A Google employee confirmed this when the Galaxy Nexus went on sale in the Play Store. He said they were “very glad that Google is back in the business of selling phones directly without any middlemen to interfere.”

4. LTE is overkill for the average user

One of the major downfalls to going pre-paid is going to be the lack of LTE service, but I have found that it’s mostly overkill for the average user. Having your smartphone connected to a 4G LTE network is really good for two things – eating up your data allowance 5x faster and draining your battery life.

Unless you are downloading large files on a daily basis or tethering your device to share the internet connection, I have not seen many other use cases that take advantage of LTE speeds yet. Both AT&T and T-Mobile offer 4G HSPA+ networks that offer a similar experience for the majority of tasks performed with a smartphone.

A certain number of mobile workers require LTE speeds so they will be stuck with their carrier, but I have found that I can live without LTE since I’m surrounded by WiFi at home and work.

5. Straight Talk SIM

There are many options for pre-paid, SIM only service, but I decided to go with Straight Talk after doing my homework. Straight Talk is a brand of Tracfone and they offer unlimited GSM service on AT&T or T-Mobile’s network.

For only $45.95 per month (taxes included and no hidden fees), you can get unlimited talk, text, and HSPA+ data. Straight Talk lets you choose between AT&T or T-Mobile compatible SIM cards and they also offer micro SIMs for newer smartphones.

Of course the data is not truly unlimited like Sprint and the terms of service prevent tethering, but you can still get access to a HSPA+ network and get download speeds of 5-10 Mbps depending on your device and location.

For most people this is “good enough”, and it’s the same exact service they are paying double for with AT&T or T-Mobile.

I encourage you to visit Straight Talk SIM for the full details.

6. Simple Mobile

Simple Mobile is another pre-paid SIM only service that operates on T-Mobile’s network. They were recently acquired by Tracfone, but we expect them to keep the brand going.

Like Straight Talk, Simple mobile will sell you a regular SIM card or a micro SIM. Phones that were designed to operate on AT&T will still work with Simple Mobile, but they will only have access to 2G Edge data speeds.

They offer a cheaper plan for $40 per month that includes unlimited talk, text, and web, but data speeds are limited to 3G HSPA. If you want the full 4G HSPA+ speeds, then you will have to pay $60 per month.

Once again, tethering is not supported and your data speeds may be throttled if you abuse the service.

I think Straight Talk SIM is a better deal all around, but check out the Simple Mobile site for more details.

7. T-Mobile Monthly 4G and SIM-only Value Plan

If you don’t need a lot of talk time and really want to save some money, you can also go with T-Mobile’s Monthly 4G pre-paid plans. T-Mobile sells the SIM card activation kit for only $1.99 online.

As you can see above, for $30 per month customers get 100 minutes, unlimited text, and 5 GB 4G HSPA+ data (after that it’s throttled). There is a $60 per month plan that offers unlimited minutes, but it only includes 2 GB of 4G HSPA+ data. And for $70 per month you can get unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB of 4G HSPA+ data.

Just like Simple Mobile, phones that were designed to operate on AT&T will still work with Monthly 4G plans, but they will only have access to 2G Edge data speeds. I believe all the SIM cards are full size, but you can pick up a SIM card cutter for under $5 if you have a newer device.

Head over to the Monthly 4G Prepaid Plans page for the full details.

T-Mobile is one of the only nationwide carriers to sell a SIM-only service. It’s more expensive than the options listed above, but we still wanted to share it.

For $59.99 per month customers get unlimited talk, text, and data (up to 2 GB of high speed). A two-line family plan is also offered at $49.99 per line, per month.

In order to get a SIM-only Value Plan, customer will have to pay a $35 activation fee and agree to a two-year service agreement. This kind of defeats the purpose of pre-paid, and there are much better options out there.

Visit T-Mobile’s SIM-only service page for the full details.

Conclusions

  • Pre-paid plans offer access to AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ networks
  • Pre-paid has no contracts and no commitments. Switch service providers whenever you like
  • Carriers slow down Android software updates. Popular unlocked devices get more frequent updates
  • Google’s Galaxy Nexus at $399 is a great deal, and more devices are coming to the Google Play Store
  • Pre-paid is not for everyone, but if it fits your needs then it can save you a lot of money

If you have already made the jump to pre-paid, let us know how your experience has been. Would you recommend it to your friends and family? And if you are thinking about leaving your carrier, please share your concerns below.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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