Ben’s Phone Guide (2016 edition)

Phones depreciate in value fast, their useful life is less than their lifespan.  Not because old phones don’t work anymore.  But because manufacturers stop providing security updates after about 3 years (at best!)

old_phone

What If I Told You a Hacker Can Take over Your Phone with One Text… And You Don’t Even Have to Open It?

You might be hacked now and not even know it.

Exploits like like this and like this are real.  Vulnerabilities have been found in the past and exploited.  They will be found in the future and exploited.  Some exploits require you to do nothing but receive (not even open, just receive) an SMS message and a hacker can do what he wants with your phone.  He can install malware, use your phone to launch a DDoS attack against Krebs on Security, he can spy on you (or your kids if your kids have phones) activating the camera and microphone at will listening in on your conversations and reading every message passing through the device.

The only protection against this is either (1) not have a phone (more secure), or (2) if you must have a phone, keep it up to date constantly (not as foolproof but would block all but the most sophisticated hackers).

One of the big problems with phones is security.  For iPhones you get your updates through Apple.  For Android things aren’t as clean.  The Android OS itself gets security updates, but then it has to trickle down through the manufacturer (who often doesn’t provide an update) and then the carrier you bought the phone from.

Calculating Remaining Life Before You Buy

To calculate the real cost of a phone, find out how long the manufacturer and carrier will support security updates for it.  Divide the cost of the phone by the number of months left for security updates and that’s cost of the phone.

monthly cost = cost of phone / remaining life in months

e.g.
cost of phone: $500
remaining life for security updates: 29 months
monthly-cost: $500/29 = $17.24

Oddly, the price of phones doesn’t usually drop that much after the 1st year even though they have lost 1/3rd of their useful life!

There Are Only Two Options

A lot of phone manufacturers / carriers don’t even provide updates to their phones.  They’re unsupported from the moment you bought them!

For the sake of security, I only recommend two phone manufacturers.  Google and Apple.  Both have a track record of providing timely security updates.  Google pushes out a security update every month and Apple doesn’t have a schedule but does a good job getting them out timely.  I also only recommend Apple with the caveat that you trust them because it is a proprietary closed source OS.  You are trusting them to do the right thing and have decent security.

Google Nexus Devices

Nexus 5X

Google stopped selling the Nexus, but they still have 2 years of updates left and are reasonably priced on Amazon.

Google Guarantees Security Patches on Nexus devices 3-years from the release date or at least 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device (whichever is longer).

As of October 2016, here is the cost per month as I calculate it:

Nexus 5X – security updates until October 2018.  $332. – 16GB.
Ben’s cost over remaining life:  $332/24mos = $13.83/mo
Nexus 6P – security updates until October 2018. $450 – 32GB.
Ben’s cost over remaining life: $450/24mos = $18.75/mo

(If you get a Nexus, note that there are U.S. and International versions of the phone, if you live in the U.S. you’ll want the U.S. version).

Google has not committed to EOL dates on the Pixel line but if it’s similar to Nexus you’re looking at:

Google Pixel – $650 – 32GB – probably until October 2019
Ben’s cost over remaining life: 650/36mos = ~$18.05/mo

Google Pixel XL – $770 – 32GB – probably until October 2019
Ben’s cost over remaining life: 770/36mos ~$21.38/mo

Apple Devices

iPhone 7

iOS is closed source so I consider it less secure and less open than Android, but they do a pretty decent job at keeping hackers out.  Most compromises I hear about are through hooking your iPhone up to a service like iCloud and not the iPhone itself.  I used to use an iPhone, but at the time it was the best phone (better than Blackberry).  Now that we have Android I don’t see a huge need to use a closed proprietary system.  However, it’s always good to have competition.

Here’s a comparison of iPhone models currently getting security updates with a guess of (but not guaranteed) security updates for 3-years.

iPhone 7 Plus – probably until September 2019
Ben’s cost over remaining life: $650/35mos ~$18.57/mo

iPhone 7 Plus – probably until September 2019
Ben’s cost over remaining life: $650/35mos ~$22.00/mo

iPhone 6S – probably until September 2018
iPhone 6 / 6 Plus – probably until September 2017
iPhone 5S / 5C – probably until the next major iOS update

Where Not to Buy a Phone

Mobile carriers typically install a lot of battery sucking bloatware, which can’t be deleted, and often delay pushing out security updates by months, even years, leaving your phone vulnerable to hackers.  Not only that some of the extra software installed introduces vulnerabilities.

Also, phones bought from a mobile carrier are usually locked to that carrier so you can’t switch to someone else without purchasing a new phone.

Mobile Carriers

Having an unlocked phone I avoid the main carriers and instead use MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator).  These MVNOs use the same network that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have, but most often for a better price.  For great service and prices I like Google Fi (Sprint & T-Mobile Network), Ting (Spring or T-Mobile), and TracFone (Verizon or AT&T) and there are plenty of other MVNO operators to choose from.  You can find one that offers the best plan for your situation.  Using TracFone (which is a pre-paid service) we pay less than $10/month for a voice/data/text plan for a Nexus 5X on Verizon’s network.

Don’t Save Money with a Used Phone

I used to buy used phones off eBay to save money but now I don’t think it’s a good idea with the recent USB firmware hacks and the amount of malware out there.  Used phones are a security risk–you have no idea if a used phone has been compromised, and if it’s been plugged into a compromised USB device that rewrote it’s firmware.  Physical security is paramount.  To be safe, I always buy my phones new.

Personal Data on Work Phones and Work Data on Personal Phones

Think carefully before using your personal phone for work.  If you connect your phone to work email it almost always gives your employer complete control of the device.  They can wipe your phone when you leave, track your location, install software on your phone, and have access to all your personal data.

And similarly, if you put your personal information or your personal email account on a work phone your employer has access to that data.

What Phone Do I Have?

Kris and I both use the Nexus 5X.  I’ve reviewed the Nexus 5X here.  I will likely replace them both when security updates go EOL which will likely be 2018.  Pixel phones are bit expensive so I’m hoping they release some new phones on the Nexus line again next year.

Phone Safety Tips

  1. Always use a phone that’s getting regular (monthly) security updates.  As soon as the phone goes out of support, get a new phone.
  2. Minimize the number of apps you install.  Limit yourself to the official Google Play Store or iOS store and avoid 3rd party stores like the Amazon Store where authors don’t do as good a job at keeping things updated.
  3. Favor installing well known apps with lots of downloads as they’re more likely to be reviewed and have better security practices.
  4. Uninstall apps that you don’t use.
  5. Always buy a new phone.
  6. Don’t use a phone at all.
  7. If you have a Samsung Note 7, you might want to return it before you catch on fire.

 

TracFone on Verizon MVNO Review

We’ve been using Ting for Kris’s phone the last 3 years, it’s been great (see my Ting Review)–but at our new house Sprint’s signal isn’t that good–it can’t really pull in a 3G signal consistently.  In rural North Idaho the best coverage is indisputably Verizon, so I limited my search to Verizon MVNOs which have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program and also only considered plans with access to LTE data.

SmartPhone plan < $10/Month on Verizon LTE

After doing some research and asking questions on HowardForums I finally settled on TracFone, which offers a great plan for light to moderate Android users.  Looking at Kris’s past usage over the last 2 years TracFone (at today’s pricing) would have averaged $7.82/month!  This is for a full SmartPhone service that includes voice, texts, MMS, and data on Verizon’s LTE network. If we use it more we pay more, if we use it less we pay less.

TracFone is very confusing actually–the idea is you buy an airtime card or refill plan (25+ to choose from!) which gives you one or a combination of voice minutes, texts, megabytes, and service days.  There are six types of cards you can buy–for the most part they provide the same service just with a different way and frequency of paying for them.

TracFone Airtime Cards

tracfone_triple_paygo

TracFone 400 minute card

  • 1-year cards.   Provides 365 days of service.  For SmartPhones the face value of the minutes triples, and also provides an equal amount of tripled megabytes and texts.  So a 400 minute 1-year card provides 1200 minutes AND 1200 texts AND 1200MB (Could this be any more confusing?)
  • Pay As You Go Cards.  Provides 90 days of service.  For SmartPhones the face value triples and you get an equal amount of minutes, megabytes, and texts just like the 1-year cards.
  • Auto Refill.  Provides 30 or 90 days of service.  For SmartPhones the face value triples and you get an equal amount of minutes, texts, and megabytes like the 1-year and Pay As You Go cards.  These can be set to auto-renew every 30 or 90 days.  I should note that they won’t auto-renew when you run out of something.  They just renew every x days.
  • SmartPhone / BYOD cards.  The face value does not triple on these cards.  Provides 90 days of service along with the minutes, texts, and megabytes printed on the card.  These cards are cheaper in terms of minutes and texts, but contain a little less data and only 90 service-days.
  • Monthly Value.  Same as auto refill but refills monthly instead of every 90 days…except for the 30 day auto-refill card.
  • Data only, Text only, and Service only cards.  Then there are individual bucket options–you can purchase data, texts, and also pay to extend service.  The only bucket you can’t purchase by itself is voice minutes.

tracfone_smartphone_only_plans

Warning: I should also note, that some cards say “Double” but they are actually a worse deal.  As far as I can tell the 1-year 800 double minute card doesn’t double or triple on a SmartPhone but it costs more than the 400 minute card!  Also, bonus codes don’t work with SmartPhones–probably because tripling the value is already a great deal.  Also, if you use the monthly-value or auto-refill I’d suggest buying a buffer of at least 30 days airtime in case the refill or renewal fails.

All of the buckets on the cards: minutes, texts, and megabytes never expire.  They carry over and stack with each other.  So if you buy two 90 day cards your service end date will get pushed out 180 days. One great thing about TracFone is if you don’t use up a the units in a bucket you get to keep it–essentially let it rollover forever as long as you don’t let the service lapse.  You can build up your minutes, texts and data and keep them forever as long as you keep extending the service–which you can do by extending the service online for $50 to push the service end date out a year or by purchasing a card with service days on it.

I listed out the TracFone cards below and roughly calculated their value efficiency (far right column).  You can download my TracFone Pricing Spreadsheet (LibreOffice / OpenOffice format but it should open in Excel as well).  I make no guarantee to the accuracy of the spreadsheet.  I used the prices from TracFone or Ebay (whichever was cheaper).  Screenshot below:

tracfone_pricing2

Surprisingly the larger cards aren’t always the most efficient.  However, they /might/ be depending on your usage (see below).

I calculated the value based on the cheapest way one is able to obtain units in that bucket.  The cheapest way to acquire data is 4GB for $50, texts are 1000 for $10, Service is 365 days for $50.    It’s kind of tricky to value minutes, but the cheapest way of obtaining them is the 1-year 400 plan for $85 (if the card is bought off eBay) so after subtracting the value of the other buckets that leaves the value of a minute at $0.007.  This gives us:

Cost per Month: $4.17
Cost per MB = $0.0125
Cost per text = $0.01
Cost per minute = $0.007

tracfone_value

On the Value tab of the spreadsheet I also added a multiplier.  The reason is some people may not ever use very much of a particular bucket so you can set that multiplier to zero to rank cards that favor that bucket lower on the Value Efficiency column.  Likewise you may at times find yourself with an excess amount in a particular bucket.  For example if your service-end date is 3 or 4 years into the future you don’t get much value purchasing service days so you can set the Service multiplier to 0 (or maybe 0.5 if you still want to give it some value) to lower the value efficiency of that bucket (which would make the SmartPhone plans or Pay As You Go more attractive than the 1-year plans).

This is not an exact science, but close enough for me to help decide on which card to purchase.

(also, I found a similar spreadsheet that Hands Henderson maintains on Google Sheets.  He will likely keep his more up to date.)

Cell Phone Taxes, Fees, and Surcharges

Cell Phone Taxes and Fees

One thing I should note is if you buy the TracFone Cards through TracFone’s website you’ll also pay taxes, fees, and surcharges.  If you’re in a high tax state You can save some money purchasing the airtime cards from other sellers such as Ebay (just make sure you use a reputable seller and complete the transaction through a safe method like PayPal).  Some sellers on eBay will email a pin number to you within an hour of purchase.

Okay… how is this better than a regular cell phone plan?

Because, a regular cell phone plan is a “Use it or Lose it” model.  You pay for a bucket of minutes, texts, and megabytes (sometimes for an unlimited bucket).  In practice you have to choose a bucket based on your maximum usage in a month to avoid a service cutoff or overages.  But anything you don’t use is lost.  Generally for heavy users you’re better off with an expensive monthly plan, but for light users pay for what you use makes perfect sense.

Analyzing the last 2-years of usage

Phone Usage Last 2 Years

One thing to note is the peak data usage was just over 1GB, and data usage comes close to the 500MB threshold regularly enough that the minimum monthly use it or lost it plan we could comfortably get away with is one that provides 1GB of data.

What-If  — Running Cost Analysis Over 2 Years With Various Providers

I looked at several wireless providers (also included Ting for Comparison).

  • Ting (Sprint MVNO).  Pay for the bucket you fall into.
  • TracFone (Verizon/AT&T MVNO) – Prepaid with rollover.
  • PagePlus (Verizon MVNO) – $29.95/month for 1GB data, 1500 minutes, unlimited texts.
  • Verizon Prepaid – $45/month for 1GB data, unlimited minutes/texts.
  • Project Fi (Sprint/T-Mobile MVNO)  – $20 + $0.01/MB.  Unlimited minutes/texts.  Fi would likely still have the same coverage issue at our house but it can also work on WiFi.

If I took the last ~2 years usage and put it on either of these plans at today’s pricing this is what the total running cost would be:

Total Cost Analysis Over 2 Years - Ting, TracFone, PagePlus, Verizon, Project Fi

I excluded government cell phone fees and taxes, depending on the state you live in this can be a significant portion of the cost.  Currently it is possible to purchase TracFone and PagePlus cards without having to pay taxes.  With Ting, Project Fi, and Verizon Prepaid you won’t have an option to avoid the tax. (Interesting to note how closely Ting and Project Fi are matched in price for one device.  For multiple phones Ting would pull ahead).

Also, I didn’t include the time-value of money.  On a pre-paid service like TracFone you’re probably pre-paying anywhere from a few months to a few years in advance depending on how much buffer you want.  However, the ROI is so quick (usually within 3-4 months) that the value lost pre-paying is trivial next to the cost savings.  There is also additional risk with pre-paying–for example, if you for some reason need to cancel service with TracFone you’ll lose any airtime that’s been purchased in advance.  Once again the ROI is fast enough I don’t think it’s an issue.

Monthly Price Variance

Price consistency almost never pays…

monthly_price_variance3

A light user that uses around 100MB, 100 minutes, and 100 texts / month will pay $85/year or $7.08/month on TracFone.  A moderate user averaging 600 minutes, texts, and MB will pay $290/year, or $24/month.  When you start averaging above $30-40/month on a consistent bases is probably the point it would make more sense to switch to a Use it or lose it model like PagePlus, Red Pocket, or Selectel Wireless.   It’s hard for me to see how people would use their phone that much though… 600 minutes is 10 hours on the phone every month!  I’m not sure my ear would be able to handle that much talking.  Certainly I can see using that much one or two months out of the year.  And that’s a great usage scenario with TracFone–it doesn’t matter if you use up $80 worth of service in a month–what matters is your average usage over long periods of time.  That’s where you will save over Use it or lose it plans.

Hotspot with TracFone

This seems to work fine.  The Nexus 5X will Hotspot without checking for a subscription on TracFone (unlike Verizon UDP plans which charge an additional $20/month hotspot fee).

Coverage

TracFone partners with several networks, including Verizon Wireless and AT&T.  I opted to use Verizon’s network because of the better coverage in rural North Idaho.

TracFone Verizon BYOP Coverage Map

TracFone has a few limitations–it does not roam outside of Verizon’s network, and also there is no international roaming.  If you’re a frequent traveler outside the U.S. or in an area with poor Verizon coverage this wouldn’t work well.

Voice / Texting / MMS / Data / Shortcode messaging.

Voice, Texting, MMS, and Data all seem to work great.  There is a feature called short-code messaging that TracFone does not support.  I guess if you watch ridiculous shows on TV you can text to a number to vote or something of that nature.  If you like to do that this isn’t for you.

Google Voice Integration  / Conditional Call Forwarding

I don’t like normal voicemail, I prefer to have VM transcribed  so I use Google Voice for this.  Verizon’s Call Forwarding codes worked fine.  *71yourgooglevoicenumber sets your phone up to forward to Google voice if you’re on the phone, reject a call, or don’t answer.  This works as expected.

Website.  The horror

The TracFone website is really not that great.  It’s slow, you can’t do basic things like port a number in.  And often when you try to do something it errors out.

Support

I had to engage support to port Kris’s number to TracFone since their website couldn’t do it.

They have a chat support on their Facebook page (fortunately doesn’t require a Facebook login) or an 800 number.  800-367-7183.  The chat often was down but I was always able to get help on the phone.  One thing I do like about support is if they need to escalate to another person the original person stays on the line with you (at least that was the case for me).

I found support pretty helpful but not as informative about the processes as they could have been.  However, support was polite and always got things moving in the right direction.  One thing support didn’t inform me of is when porting a number in to replace an existing TracFone number the airtime gets wiped out (I was suspicious that this may happen so I bought a very cheap airtime card to test with).  After the port completed successfully the phone wasn’t working and support told me we needed to wait up to 48 hours—however it wasn’t working because of lack of airtime.  My assessment of TracFone support is that if you need hand-holding or will get upset over a glitch this isn’t the best service.  If you have patience you should be okay.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

TracFone has a great BYOP program.  I activated with a Nexus 5X and it was simply a matter of activating with the instructions in the SIM card kit.  It was up and running in minutes.  The only reason I needed to involve support was I wanted to transfer Kris’s old number in.

ESN Number Issues with Carlos Slim

Carlos Slim owns a lot of pre-paid wireless MVNOs.  One issue is all of them share the same database–so if you activate an ESN number on TracFone it will be impossible to move it over to some of the other Carlos Slim owned MVNO provider (if you should ever want to move in the future) because it gets locked to that MVNO in their system.  However, because this is 4G LTE, the Sim Card will be used to activate the correct ESN on Verizon’s network, so if you have an old or broken Verizon Wireless phone you can provide TracFone that ESN instead of the ESN for your SmartPhone.

Getting Started

tracfone_sim_card_kitYou’ll want to buy or have a Verizon phone that will work.  I bought the Nexus 5X (read my review of it here).

Second, pick up a TracFone 4G LTE CDMA Activation kit (the 4G LTE without CDMA activation kit is for AT&T’s network).  You can buy it from TracFone or you may find it in a store like WalMart.  I followed the instructions that came with the activation kit.

 

 

Making sure you don’t run out

You don’t want to run out of a bucket or that particular service will stop working.  I really don’t want to babysit this, and I want plenty of units available in case they’re needed.  So to get started I purchased a 400 minute 1-year card off Ebay.   I setup a reminder to check the TracFone balance once a quarter (every 3 months) and if it falls below a certain threshold (say 800 minutes, 800 texts, and 1000MB) I’ll purchase the appropriate Airtime card to refill the balance and extend out the service-date.  I don’t mind pre-paying years in advance–compared to a $30/month plan (which is really the next best price on a Verizon MVNO).  Even paying a year in advance still has an ROI that beats the monthly use it or lose it plans at 3 months.

Final Thoughts

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship. – Benjamin Franklin

TracFone is a very affordable service for light and even moderate SmartPhone users who have the patience to figure things out.  Also, it’s easy to make mistakes on TracFone (like buying the 800 minute card that doesn’t triple)–if you’re the type to get angry over losing a few dollars over glitches and stupid policies this may not be the plan for you.  TracFone users will also need the  discipline to check on the  account every quarter or so to make sure they have plenty of airtime and service left before reaching the expiration.  If you can deal with TracFone the cost savings are well worth it.   Consider a $60/month plan, a $30/month plan, and TracFone at $10/month.  Look at it over a 2-year period.  The first plan will run $1,440, the second $720, but with TracFone only $240!  It’s hard to beat that pricing!

With T-Mobile shaking up the wireless industry, Google Fi introducing a service that spans across multiple networks, and Ting offering great auto-adjusting bucket plan the wireless industry is finally starting to get competitive.  For the consumers this is nothing but great news and I hope that we’ll see more improvement to infrastructure and pricing in 2016.

 

Meet Ting. New cell phone service challenging Virgin Mobile

We switched to Ting from Virgin Mobile… here’s my quick review:

Ting LogoWhat is Ting?

Ting was started by Tucows in 2012, like Virgin Mobile it’s an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) backed by Sprint wireless.  Ting’s marketing point is that most people don’t actually use all the data, texting, and voice that they pay for.  So why not just pay for what you use?

 

Ting Buckets

Ting Buckets

With Ting You don’t pick a plan, you are automatically put into whatever bucket you land in based on your usage for each category for each month.  This is a nice change from traditional providers that make you choose a plan based on the most minutes you think you’ll need even if a smaller plan would have worked for you most months.

Ting charges $6/month per phone, and then you pay based on the bucket you fall into for Minutes, Texts, and Data.  Each bucket is shared across all your devices if you have multiple phones.  If you don’t use anything you get charged nothing in those categories.  There’s also a 5% grace on all the buckets so the 100 minute bucket is really 105, 500 minutes is really 525, etc.

Family using TingIt’s great for families with light usage,  say you have a family of four and combined you’ll use less than 1000 minutes, 2000 texts, and 500 megabytes.   You’re monthly cost will be: $6×4+$18+$8+$24 = $74.  I know people that spend more than that on one cell phone!

 

Free Roaming on Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular Networks

Sprint / Verizon Coverage Map
Dark Green = Sprint, Light Green = Verizon

Ting offers free roaming for voice/text on Verizon or U.S. Cellular when out of range of Sprint’s network.  This is advantageous in North Idaho.  On the map above dark green is Sprint coverage, light green is Verizon coverage.  Entire cities (such as Bonners Ferry) aren’t even covered on Sprint.  Unfortunately Ting does not offer data roaming.  At least there are several GPS apps that are designed to work without a network connection.

Bring Your Own Sprint Phone

Sprint Samsung Galaxy S3One major advantage Ting has over Virgin Mobile is you can BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).  Ting has a list of devices they support and Sprint is a large enough network there’s a large eco system on eBay so it’s easier to buy and sell Sprint branded phones.  I wanted to get Kris the Samsung Galaxy S3.  New this costs around $400 to $450 but I found a refurbished Sprint S3 on eBay for $250.  With cell phones I think the sweet spot is a year after they come out.  Everyone on Sprint is selling their S3 to get the S4.  Next year I can probably sell the S3 for $180 and get an S4 for $250.  Not only do phones lose half their value during the first year but it takes about a year for the bugs to get worked out and by then there’s enough reviews you’ll know what the best phone is.

Ting Community Forums

There’s a great community on the Ting forums https://help.ting.com/categories/20027121-Community-Forums where people have posted tips on porting, rooting, setting up Google Voice, etc.

Carbon Rom ScreenshotRooted Phones

While not supported, Ting does not frown on rooting your phone and installing custom roms, on Ting’s forum there are several threads on custom roms, and Carbon Rom supports Ting: http://goo.im/devs/carbon/ting

I put the LiquidSmooth 2.8 rom on Kris’ phone (I recommend activating with Ting on the stock rom).

Tethering works!

Tethering is allowed and included in the plans at no extra cost.

Data Not Throttled

Virgin Mobile’s “Unlimited Data” plans actually throttle you at 2.5GB, Ting will not throttle you but data can get pretty expensive.

Porting Phone Number from Virgin Mobile

The port from Virgin Mobile went pretty smooth, my port failed at first because I entered the phone number as the account number.  You need your real account number and the only way to get it is to call them up.  I called Virgin Mobile support and had no trouble getting the account number, called Ting support (who answered on the first ring) and was ported over a few hours later.

Customer Service

Ting has a no hold policy, in the one call I made I found this was true, the phone was immediately picked up and I was speaking to someone who spoke my native language (English).  Ting does not offer phone support on the weekends.

Ting DashboardWeb Interface, Control Panel, etc.

I found the web interface clean and useful, here are a few screenshots.Ting Web Control Panel

Ting Usage Alerts

Android App

The Ting Android App can show a summary, estimate your bill based on your current usage, and manage your devices.  It is not real-time, it seems to lag a few hours behind (and yes, you can set it to only update on wifi so you’re not using up your data).

Ting Android App

International Roaming

Ting can roam internationally although with extra surcharge fees which are listed on their website.  It’s probably not a big deal for most people but for me it’s nice to be able to drop into Canada for a few days and still be able to use my phone if I need to.  The surcharges are reasonable but I’d probably turn my data off most of the time and keep calls to a minimum until I could find a wireless hotspot to make a SIP or Skype call.

Google Voice Integration

Google Voice can be used for Ting Voicemail, here’s a setup guide: https://help.ting.com/entries/23265727-Google-Voice-Voicemail-setup

The Cell Phone Tax

Be aware that you will be charged State and Federal tax on top of your cell phone bill.  Federal is currently 5.82% plus your state rate (see below).

state_cell_tax_rates

Your tax rate doesn’t change if you’re traveling from state to state, most providers determine your tax rate from your billing address and that’s the rate you pay regardless of where you use your phone.

This is one advantage Virgin Mobile has over Ting since Virgin Mobile eats the taxes for you.  I believe Virgin Mobile is the only provider that does this.

Who is Ting For?

Ting is for the individual, business, or family with light to moderate overall usage and are okay without data outside of Sprint’s Coverage.  Where Ting excels is when you have multiple devices that can share the same buckets.

SAMSUNG M400Ting is a cheap alternative to Pay as you go phones, or would make a great emergency backup phone to your landline.  You can get a Samsung M400 dumb phone, and your monthly phone bill is $6.  $9 if you use it to text or a call, and $12 if you do both.  Plus if you need to talk longer you’re not concerned about having to refill your minutes, you just move up into the next bucket for that month.

Who is Ting Not For?

If your usage is so high that your phone bill with Ting will normally be over $60/month per phone you’re probably better off with a Verizon Prepaid Plan ($60 for Unlimited Text/Talk 2GB or $70 for 4GB).  Typically a heavy data user will get a better deal with Verizon or Virgin Mobile,

You need data and you’re not in Sprint’s coverage area, or you need 4G speeds and you’re not in Sprint’s LTE coverage area.

If you’re grandfathered into a great plan such as the Virgin Mobile $25/month plan, depending on where your usage falls this can be a better deal since Virgin Mobile offers unlimited text/data.  One thing to consider is Virgin Mobile eats Federal/State cell phone taxes where Ting does not, so cell phone taxes in the state that you live in may be a deciding factor.

Give Ben $25!

Okay, I guess you can have $25 too… if you use this link when you signup we’ll each get a $25 credit to our Ting accounts. $25 Credit for Signing up for Ting

 

Android, Affordable

My dream cell phone plan comes true.  The mobile provider targeted towards trendy-youth of all places has the best plan designed for mostly data usage.  $25/monthly for 300 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited data.  A few days ago Virgin Mobile launched a new Android phone, the LG Optimus V (Optimus One).  LG’s strategy with this phone is to sell a lot of them for a low enough price that people can afford them.  Sure, Verizon Wireless has a slightly better network (Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network), and offers better phones but it’s hard to ignore an $1170 price difference after 2 years.  Not to mention the value of not being locked into a contract.