Apr 24 AT 4:47 PM Taylor Wimberly 68 Comments

Best no-contract wireless plans for unlocked Android devices

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When it comes to no-contract wireless plans, most of the tech world is completely clueless on how the plans operate and what experiences they provide. I won’t claim to be the top expert on the no-contract world, but I haven’t been under the weight of a wireless contract for over a year and I’ve personally tested out a good chuck of service providers including T-Mobile, Straight Talk, Solavei, Simple Mobile, and others. The following is my list of the best no-contract options available for unlocked Android devices.

1. T-Mobile

The basics:

  • Networks: T-Mobile 2G/3G/4G/LTE
  • Plans: Simple Choice plans start at $50. All Simple Choice plans include unlimited talk, text, and data. Pre-paid plans start at $30, and have varying amounts of minutes and data.
  • Data throttle: Basic plans come with 500MB of full-speed data. Additional 2GB is $10 per line, or $20 for unlimited full speed data
  • Tethering: Mobile hot spot is included with Simple Choice plans. First 500MB of data is free and additional data can be added on
  • SIM card fee: Free in-store, $10 if ordered online
  • The good: In-store support, only no-contract service to support LTE on unlocked GSM devices, discounts for multiple lines
  • The not-so-good: LTE coverage is limited to 7 markets, but will cover 100 million by mid-2013 and 200 million by end of year
  • More infoOfficial site

The final word: T-Mobile is easily the best no-contract service for Android devices since they are the only ones to currently support LTE on unlocked GSM devices, and they have in-store support. This is the best choice for most people wishing to go no-contract.

2. Solavei

The basics:

  • Networks: T-Mobile 2G/3G/4G
  • Plans: $49 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data
  • SIM card fee: $9.99 if ordered online, or free is another member gives you a SIM
  • Data throttle: 4 GB of full speed data, throttled to 2G Edge speeds if you exceed monthly limit
  • Tethering: Officially not supported, but still works anyways
  • The good: Only no-contract service that has a monthly compensation plan, good data cap for the price, includes international text, international long distance is optional, phone support available in English or Spanish
  • The not-so-good: Customer support is sometimes questionable, most short codes are not supported, no access to T-Mobile LTE yet, only one plan to choose from
  • More infoOfficial site (referral link)

The final word: Solavei is my current carrier of choice because they offer the most bang for the buck. I normally consume around 2GB of data per month, and their plan saves me $10 per month vs T-Mobile. The compensation plan is nice if you want to share the service with friends, but it’s completely optional. T-Mobile has not provided LTE access to any of their MVNO partners yet, but we hear that it’s coming soon. Others have complained about customer service, but I have only contacted them once in the last six months and I didn’t have a problem.

3. GoSmart Mobile

The basics:

  • Networks: T-Mobile 2G/3G/4G
  • Plans: $45 per month for unlimited talk, text, and high-speed data, $35 per month for unlimited talk, text, and 2G data
  • Data throttle: 5 GB of high-speed data for the $45 plan, unknown data for $35 plan
  • Tethering: Not permitted
  • SIM card fee: $8
  • The good: Lots of data for the price, owned by T-Mobile so customer support should be ok, multiple plans to choose from,  international long distance is optional
  • The not-so-good: International texting is additional $5, no access to T-Mobile LTE yet
  • More infoOfficial site

The final word: GoSmart Mobile just launched a couple months ago, so we have not heard a lot of feedback on them yet. They are owned by T-Mobile, so we expect them to offer reliable service. The plans are very competitive with Solavei, and we could bump GoSmart up to the 2nd spot if we hear good things about their customer service.

4. Red Pocket Mobile

red-pocket-mobile

The basics:

  • Networks: AT&T 2G/3G/4G
  • Plans: Start at $19 for 250 mins, goes up to $59 for unlimited talk, text, and data
  • SIM card fee: $9.99
  • Data throttle: Varies from 2 GB to 10 MB.
  • Tethering: Prohibited
  • The good: Access to AT&T’s network, most data available on AT&T with no-contract, option for international calling, multiple plans to choose from, phone support in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino
  • The not-so-good: No option to purchase additional data, no access to AT&T LTE.
  • More infoOfficial site

The final word: Red Pocket is new to this list, since we bumped off Straight Talk for not disclosing their data policy. Not everyone lives in a T-Mobile coverage area, so it’s nice to have a MVNO that operates on AT&T and still provides a couple GB of data. Their top plan with 2 GB of data might not work for the data hog, but it’s better than most no-contract options for AT&T.

5. Net 10 SIM

The basics:

  • Networks: AT&T 2G/3G/4G or T-Mobile 2G/3G/4G
  • Plans: $50 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data. $65 per month for unlimited talk, text, data, and international calling
  • SIM card fee: $9.99 from Net10,$14 for AT&T SIM from Amazon
  • Data throttle: 1.5 GB per month
  • Tethering support: Prohibited
  • The good: Choice of AT&T or T-Mobile network, clearly defined data policy, affordable international calling, $5 monthly discount for enrolling in auto-pay
  • The not-so-good: Data cap is lower than others, extra data is not available for purchase
  • More info: Official site

The final word: Net 10 SIM is owned by TracFone, the same parent company as Straight Talk, but at least they stated that you get 1.5 GB of data. This is not as much data as others offer, but it might be a good fit if you are looking to stay on AT&T’s network.

Conclusions

T-Mobile has really impressed us with their new Simple Choice plans. As long as you live in a T-Mobile service area, you should test them out for a month and see how they perform. Their ability to offer in-store support, tethering, and their access to 4G LTE is unmatched by any other no-contract provider.

If you are willing to forgo LTE for now, which might include a lot of people since T-Mobile’s LTE coverage is limited and only a handful of unlocked devices support T-Mobile LTE, then you can probably save some money on your monthly bill by going with a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). These resellers will not have the same level of customer service, but that’s what you get if you want to pay less.

Solavei remains a compelling choice if you want to refer your friends and earn a monthly bonus, and we are interested to see how the company grows this year. They claim they are working to offer 4G LTE service soon, and they will also begin to offer other wholesale services that will save their customers money. The compensation plan might be a turn off for some, but at least it is completely optional.

Even though I’m with Solavei now, I have the freedom to switch to whatever service plan comes along with a better offer. I’m currently using the unlocked HTC One Developer Edition, so I am eagerly waiting for T-Mobile to launch LTE around Dallas. It’s nice only paying $50 per month, but I think I might hop on the $70 T-Mobile plan with unlimited data when we get LTE.

I know people are going go complain that I left off Boost, Virgin Mobile and a bunch of other no-contract service providers on CDMA networks, but this list was intended for people who purchased unlocked Android devices that operate on GSM networks. There are plenty of no-contract and pre-paid options for phones that operate on Sprint or Verizon, but we choose not to cover them since they don’t support most unlocked devices.

The list of MVNOs continues to grow at a rapid pace, so look for this list to be updated over the coming months. If you find a better option or have something to say about any of our picks, please share your feedback in the comments 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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