Well, it’s that time again. A new year and a new look at those pesky plans that drain your wallet every month. Each year we recount the best of the best and take them out on a test drive looking for the best plan for you. The results have been counted and this week, we will let you know who has the best deal for you. Before we get started with this year’s plans, let’s take a quick look at our criteria and last year’s best of the best.
We test in 4 markets across the US: Seattle, San Francisco, Wichita and Philadelphia. We begin with purchasing a SIM to use in a selection of unlocked phones. These range from basic flip phones to LTE capable smartphones. We then go through the activation process, port numbers and test the service for voice quality and data speed. Then we look at the pricing versus the performance and give them a rating on a scale of 1-100. The actual service accounts for up to 50 points. We give this more weight due to the fact that it is the most important part of the equation. Next, we look at their customer service department and, if a prepaid service, how easy it is to reload the device. That is worth 15 points. Then we look at the selection of devices for 15 points and the price also accounts for the final 20 points of the total. Why is pricing such a small total? A $5 a month pricing difference doesn’t mean nearly as much as great coverage or if you have to spend $300 more on a phone for that network. We adjusted the pricing percentage accordingly since most carriers are very competitive on pricing.
Last year, we had 5 standouts. The first was Spot Mobile (T-Mobile Network) that offered unlimited talk, text and data (500MB at 4G) for $39.99. That plan and coverage was good enough to earn our #5 spot. Virgin Mobile snuck in at #4 with their $35 – 300 minute unlimited text and data plan. In the beginning of 2013, Sprint was the only carrier that extended LTE service to their MVNO’s and it helped Virgin Mobile’s offerings earn that spot. Net10 stumbled in to the #3 spot. Their $50 (or $45 with auto-pay discount) unlimited everything plan was handicapped by throttling data speeds and inconsistent messages from customer service. Overall, we just had to rate the $45 plan as you get as much as they give you, but with your choice of the T-Mobile or AT&T network and some ultra-low cost devices, Net10 was quite the force in last year’s survey.
Moving on to #2, we had a surprising entry from Page Plus Cellular (Verizon Wireless) and their $55 plan. This plan offered unlimited talk, text and 2GB of 3G data on the Verizon network. There was no 4G LTE in this deal, but honestly, Page Plus had stellar service. They will also activate any old VZW phones, though we heard towards the end of the year that the iPhone was becoming more and more difficult to get running on their plans. Overall, Page Plus offered the best voice coverage of any sub-$60 smartphone plan out there.
Finally, our #1 plan for the second year in a row, and a last minute squeaker in to that position as the plan in question just reappeared from the dead about 2 weeks before publication, was Red Pocket Mobile. Their $59.99 plan included unlimited talk, text and 2GB of data. It also included a larger international calling credit and many of the features that the big boys offered. To make a stronger argument for this year, they increased the data allotment a full GB later in the year bringing the plan to a total of 3GB, or a full GB more than the AT&T GoPhone offering at the same price.
Moving on to this year, we have plenty of information coming your way. We will start again with our extreme value plans, some of which you will love to know about and others, you might just want to skip over. We will then move to family plans of 4 lines before heading in to the final “Best Value In Wireless” single line plans. We look forward to sharing this with you and can’t wait to start helping you save money every month.