It took us 4 months, hours of testing. Days of compiling results and waiting for phones to arrive in the mail. We sent SIM cards and activation pins all over the country. Finally, after all of this, we have found our winner. Let’s recap the top five so far with the companies that give you the best value for talking on your phone, and a few that didn’t make the list that are still great deals.
Honorable mentions are definitely given to the following carriers:
Boost Mobile – So close to cracking the top 5, but a dull selection of handsets couldn’t overcome the value of “shrinkage”.
Straight Talk – They told us that we could use our existing phone with just a SIM card, until two of our markets didn’t support that SIM and had to use a Straight Talk phone only. Still at $45 a month for unlimited voice, text and (almost) data (soft caps are in place and the TOS prohibits using the device for many things) it’s a great value.
Verizon Wireless – Can anyone beat their coverage? If only their pricing was a bit more in line with the value of the prepaid options. Seriously, Page Plus offers unlimited voice and text for $39.95, why doesn’t Big Red?
T-Mobile Value Plan – Finally a carrier that does POST-PAID plans with a discount if you own your handset! Sort of… We found that if we owned a T-Mobile handset, they didn’t require us to have that $20 a month add on for our Value Plan. Not published anywhere that we found, but $49.99 a month per line is a pretty awesome price for unlimited Voice/Text and 2GB 4G data.
iWireless (Kroger) – If the customer service was a touch better and they had a roaming agreement that took advantage of the Sprint/Verizon deal, iWireless would be fantastic. Sure, they have limited data plans, but you get credit for shopping for groceries! Nothing better than free time on the phone. Of course the 5 devices that they have are not the cream of the crop, but a non-contract Android device for $70 is nothing to be scared of either.
Now, moving on to the ones that did make the cut:
#5 – Virgin Mobile – For the data and text hungry folks that don’t talk much, the 300 minute $35 a month plan can’t be beat.
#4 – T-Mobile Monthly 4G – Again aimed at that crowd that uses their phone extensively for text and data. Their $30, 100 minute/unlimited text & data plan is fantastic. 5GB of 4G data and 2G after that will prevent you from ever worrying about overages there. Plus, the $.10 a minute voice overage won’t break the bank either.
#3 – SIMple Mobile – Running on T-Mobile’s network, SIMple Mobile offers an unlimited 3G plan for $40 a month and an unlimited 4G plan for $60 a month. Not a shabby deal, but we received one too many messages about our ‘data usage’ to make us feel comfortable about testing that ‘unlimited’ statement.
#2 – AT&T GoPhone – For a flat $75 a month, you get yourself amazing coverage, unlimited voice and text, plus 1 GB of data. With the flexible plans, you can drop that to $50 a month with 250 minutes and unlimited text or even drop it to $30 a month with cutting your data to the minimum. Pricey at the high end, but value oriented at the low end, plus you can get the iPhone to work on this plan.
And finally, the 2012 Best Value In Wireless Winner!
It won’t be much of a shocker when we announce that the winner of the 2012 Best Value In Wireless is Red Pocket Mobile. We were simply amazed by the service and quality of the carrier. They weren’t perfect, but a score of 85 out of 90 was enough to put them at the top of the heap. Let’s take a look at how they stacked up in our individual categories.
Red Pocket Mobile has plans ranging from $19.99 a month to $59.99 a month depending on your needs. The basic $19.99 plan includes a simple 250 minutes and 500 text messages. The $59.99 plan brings unlimited voice, text, MMS and 2GB of data on AT&T’s HSPA+ network (we’ll leave the 3G/3.5G/4G talk to the next session.) While the $59.99 plan does have have a cap, we respect RPM for saying up front what the limits are. Any of the plans $39.99 and over also include $2.00 in credit for international calling, which has rates from $.01 to many popular destinations.
While $60 a month for a basic unlimited plan is a bit pricey, the added bonus of not worrying about “if” my data will be cut off and the direct dial international long distance service is well worth the extra. The $60 plan also seems like a bit more of a value when you compare it to the AT&T package that totals $75 for the same service with half the data. The two year cost on this plan with a good smartphone will set you back around $1650. This is compared to the $3150 that the comparable AT&T post-paid plan will cost you. That savings of $1500 over two years works out to about $62.50 a month.
Cost Rating: 8
Device selection on Red Pocket is a bit difficult. Yes, everything on the planet works well with it, but some have limitations or require some trickiness to get it rolling. Our Windows Phones, BlackBerries, Android and Dumb Phones fired right up and required a small APN adjustment and we were rolling.
Our iPhones, however, didn’t fair so well. When we first started testing, iOS 5.0.1 was out and a jailbreak solution was easy and made setup simple. Now with 5.1 out, there still isn’t a free jailbreak solution available that doesn’t require a tethering option. Simply put, you need to jailbreak your iOS devices to use MMS. Data and Voice seemed to work without a hitch, but losing MMS would be a deal breaker for some. Keep tabs on this one as an untethered jailbreak should be right around the corner.
The only other portion we ran into issues with as far as using any device on the planet was the inconsistent performance of the BlackBerry system. We think this is due to the lack of BIS support, but honestly, it seemed like our PIN, BBM and a few other BlackBerry features worked part of the time?
That said, Red Pocket still has the largest support system of any of the carriers we ranked in our Top 5 as they will activate any device that will work on the 850/900 bands, no questions asked.
Device Selection: 10
This was a tough one for us. We know that forums are for complaining, but we sure read about quite a few people that couldn’t reach Red Pocket’s Customer Service. It was sad, but we had zero issues with them. Sure, our phone hold times varied from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, but we’ve waited just as long for a Verizon Wireless representative, so we didn’t see the major issue with that. Sure, the 10 minute times were better, but honestly, during high volume times, everyone has issues.
Fortunately, our experience with the online chat service was even better than our phone times. The three times we attempted to contact customer service from the website, we were able to get in twice within minutes and the third time within 10. For the average user with a computer, we highly recommend using the online chat over phone service.
Refilling our devices was painless and RPM offers an auto-refill program as well. We never have been big fans of auto-refills as we like to have control over when we buy our time, so we opted for purchasing PIN’s from 3rd party sites and either entering them directly into the device or keying them at the website. Even ordering a replacement SIM was simple and quick.
Customer Service: 9
Coverage on Red Pocket Mobile was remarkable. We were able to hear crystal clear phone calls in all four markets. Data speeds were well above the competition clocking in between 900kbps and 4.5Mbps. This is in comparison to other networks that were running in the 300kbps to 600kbps. The “4G” claims may be a bit of an exaggeration, but again, we will leave that to the network guru’s to argue.
Across the board, Red Pocket’s coverage was identical to AT&T’s coverage, which was by far the best of the value plans we tested. Verizon’s CDMA voice network offered more coverage and their LTE network was much faster, but for $55 a month more, we can’t see how the minimal difference would matter to most users.
So what we put together from our experience with Red Pocket Mobile is a variety of service levels that range from the most basic $20 plan that included a few minutes and some texts to a $40 unlimited voice and text plan to a smartphone friendly $60 unlimited voice, text and 2GB data plan. All of which are fully interchangeable from month to month, and none of them require a contract. You can pick up phones from eBay or Amazon for under $10 that will work with the voice service and a large selection of AT&T smartphones can be had for under $100 that will shine on RPM.
It’s hard to bet against a company that offers such a tremendous value in their services. Are they the cheapest option? No, but honestly, if your phone doesn’t work the way you need it to, is that cheaper plan worth it? For us, this was about finding value, and in looking at the numbers, Red Pocket delivers a level of service that is consistent with the major carriers plans costing $90-140 a month. For that $1000-2000 savings over the life of your contract, we have chosen Red Pocket Mobile as our 2012 Best Value In Wireless.
You can check out Red Pocket Mobile at our online store and receive a free SIM card with any plan purchase. You can also sign up or get refills for most of the programs that we featured in our 2012 Best Value In Wireless survey at our online store as well. Don’t forget that we are featuring all our smartphone accessories on super sale to celebrate the end of our 2012 Best Value series as well. So, take a look back at the options, check your usage and see what is the best deal for you.