I need a smartphone plan with internet access with a full browser, email, decent performance, plus roughly 400 minutes per month. I'm not a big text messager. And I want to pay as little as possible.
So I went to all the web sites of all the major American mobile service providers to check out their pricing. Since I originally wrote this article there have been changes in smartphone plans. There is a now difference - a huge difference in terms of pricing. Read on...
Here is a summary of what I've found in terms of the cheapest way to get a smart phone plan from the major American providers:
1. The T-Mobile plan comes with 500 minutes of prime-time talk. Data and texts are unlimited. Total price with a subsidized phone: $80/month... and that's with 4G service! However, you can manage to get this plan for $60 a month if you're willing to pay a substantial premium for a handset. The Vibrant looks like a great choice for a handset on T-Mobile.
2. The basic Sprint plan comes with 450 minutes, like all the others except T-Mobile. But Sprint's off-peak minutes start at 7 PM, which means two more waking hours of "free" talk time, as the other providers off=peak kicks in as late as 9 PM. In addition, Sprint doesn't deduct any prime time minutes for calls to any US mobile phone number, regardless of network. Plus, the Sprint plan comes with unlimited texting for no additional fee. And with the awesome Palm Pre Phone, it seems like a great option for a lot of people. $70/month.
3. AT&T's cheapest plan also has 450 minutes, but it has "roll-over", which effectively increases monthly minutes - as unused minutes in one month are still there to use later - an nice deal if one has exceptionally high usage in a month due to, say, illness in the family. "Visual Voicemail" is included. And with the 200 MB data plan, you can walk away for a low $55/month. Yeah, it's not unlimited data, but few people actually exceed 200 MB of data in a month. Text messages are extra. This is an awesome deal, but you might want to consider a text messaging plan if you send/receive more than 25 texts in a month on average. Check out this awesome Samsung Android phone for AT&T!
4. Verizon's plan is the most simple to understand. 450 minutes per month, nights at 9 PM. Visual Voicemail is a $3/month add-on. The entry level text messaging plan is $5/month. And the Incredible is a nice matching Android-based handset. $70/month.
In short, I sum up the low-end smart phone plans like this:
- Sprint - $70/month - includes early 7 PM nights, and includes an unlimited texting package. Plus, calls to any US-based mobile phone number, regardless of carrier, doesn't use up minutes. And with a handset like the Palm Pre Phone, that's pretty amazing.
- AT&T - $55/month - has rollover, which allows you to "bank" unused minutes for use in later months. 200 MB of 3G data - more than enough for most users. Includes Visual Voicemail. And the iPhone? This is a great deal for the typical smartphone user.
- T-Mobile - $70/month - includes 50 more prime-time minutes than the other low-end plans. Includes Visual Voicemail. G1 Android Phone.
- Verizon - $70/month. And the HTC DROID Eris is super swanky.
Of course, all these plans could be impacted by hidden fees, set-up charges, and so-forth. Always check the plan you're committing to - they change frequently.
[Updated - 1-Oct-2010]