Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Wireless Conundrum

Alert! Before you begin, be aware that this entry is very long, and consists mostly of me vacillating about issues that are of no interest to anyone. I put it here mostly to help me make a decision, and (so altruistically!) possibly help any other poor decisiveness-challenged soul in their search to find the perfect wireless provider.

The past 2 months, I've received notifications from Verizon, beginning, "You are trending to incur high text messaging charges..." This is not because I have a texting problem, but rather because the rest of the world is textier than me. See three posts ago.

For a long time - even before Verizon started sending me its subtle upgrade nudges -  I've been contemplating possibly changing my service provider, since the ads that I keep running across are so convincing ($25 for unlimited talk and text! 50$ for unlimited everything!). I can not make up my mind, so why don't you just sit back and relax as I drag you into my agonizing decision-making process?

This whole thing got started early last spring, when I first noticed the ads for Cricket Wireless, touting some really low rates for cellular service (they're even lower now). But I quickly rejected that provider when I saw how abysmal their coverage is outside of a few select metro areas. As someone who spends several days a year traveling between Maryland and Ohio (and dreams, longingly, of a leisure trip to somewhere else), I knew I would be unhappy relying on such a feeble network.

Now, you should know that my current cellular plan (which includes talk minutes that I never exceed) costs 40$ a month. Taxes and fees bring it up to something like 48$ a month, and text messages are 20¢ each. It usually ends up being just about 50$ a month.

Shortly after the appearance of Cricket, Boost Mobile came around, with their very tempting offer of 50$ a month for unlimited nationwide talk, text, and web. I even went so far as to purchase (for 10$) a phone that will work with their SIM cards (which cost 20$), mostly to test out the reliability of the signal (because they have a decent pay-as-you go option as well). I haven't bought the SIM card yet, because it occurred to me after I got the phone that if I switch providers now, I'll have to break my contract with Verizon, which will result in a disgustingly high early-termination fee, so I might as well take my time making this decision. The other catch with switching to Boost is that they do not provide you with free phones, which Verizon does as long as you renew your contract every 2 years. Now, Boost claims that taxes are included in their monthly fee, so let's assume that miscellaneous other fees bring the bill up to 54$ a month. And then we add in the cost of a new phone--say 120$.  Spread out over two years, that would come up to approximately 60$ a month.

Now, with Verizon, I could add on unlimited text messaging OR 25MB of data transfer for the same price (that's text OR web, but not both. So Verizon has a slight disadvantage, but actually, I really can't see myself using my phone much to surf the web. After all, I spend most of my time with my laptop). So, really, when you get down to it, Boost isn't such a great deal. Rats. Now what am I going to do with that 10-dollar piece-of-junk phone I bought?

So we've concluded that Cricket is out of the question, and Boost remains only a remote possibility to consider sometime in 2011 when my Verizon contract runs out. Thus, you can pretty much ignore all the preceding paragraphs. But here is where the true dilemma appears. A few days ago, I received an email from a new provider, Credo Mobile, which has just one offer that looks pretty good: 1000 minutes and 1000 texts for 50$ a month. Plus, they'll use part of your payments to donate to nonprofit organizations. Plus, they'll throw in a free phone. Plus, they'll buy out your contract! Sounds like it's irresistable.

Just two questions: How reliable is their network? and Are the free phones any good? And a third: How much does it cost after taxes and fees? To answer question 1, Credo uses the Sprint network. I looked at the coverage map, but it is not very helpful. To find out for sure, I'd really just have to use the service for a while. But unlike Boost, Sprint does not use SIM cards, and I'd have to purchase a contract in order to test how well it works. Also, this special offer is only available until December 18, which doesn't leave much time for experimentation.

So, assuming I'd be willing to take a chance on signal strength, and assuming that fees are negligible, the decision really comes down to whether I'd be happy with the phone itself. Being the charmingly OCD person that I am, I am extremely particular about the features of my cell phone. It must have a built-in MP3 player. It must not have its primary screen on the outside (because I carry my phone in a purse along with things like emery boards, which are deadly weapons to shiny plastic, and besides, it is inevitable that sooner or later, I WILL drop the phone. And it will be on some surface like rough pavement that will cause irreversible damage to the exterior). Ideally, it would not have buttons on the outside, but my current phone does, and it's not unbearable. It must have a headphone jack. It should probably have a camera, but I might be able to live without that. It must not be shaped like a Blackberry (those things are the phone equivalent of trolls) nor have that blobby figure-8 shape that was so popular in flip phones a couple years ago. 

Unfortunately, none of the phones available from Credo meet my exacting standards. They do have some nice flip phones, but if my primary motivation for changing my plan is for text messaging purposes, then I'll feel pretty sad to trade in my QWERTY keyboard and go back to finicky ol' T9 input. They have 2 QWERTY phones, but they both have huge beautiful exterior screens with no means of protection. Oh, the irony, that my current phone is perfect for texting, but my current plan is worthless for it--and that by switching to a plan that's perfect for texting, I'd have to settle for a phone that's worthless for it!

Well, if you're still out there, and your eyes haven't glazed over and your fingernails are still short enough to type with, I'd appreciate your input on this matter. If you're not still out there, then I guess there's no point in saying goodbye now.


Amy Shipley said...

Hey, Valerie,

Does the rest of your family have Verizon? You should look into a family plan. My dad pays for my phone bill because it's just $30-40/month (I can't remember which) for all four people. It seems like it would be worth it with just one or two more people on the plan. I also just found out I have unlimited text messaging with this plan. I just got the new LG EnV3 from Verizon. It has a small exterior screen with your regular buttons, but it has the QWERTY keyboard and bigger screen on the inside. It has an MP3 player and a headphone jack and a micro SD card slot. And of course a camera. I like it so far.

Amy Shipley said...

The phone itself was $50 after their silly mail-in rebate business.

Tariq said...

You know, if you're concerned about signal strength, you can rig up a quick and dirty microwave antenna from a Pringles can.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I think CREDO has a 30-day no-contract trial period; you might get one of their new Rumor2 phones and try it out.....

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Anonymous said...

Yes, the LG Rumor2 is nice, and you can buy a Tread or Universal phone case for it online at

In fact, there's a brand new special offer launched today that might interest you. It's in their "Special Offers" tab on Facebook, but pasting the link:

Cheers. A Credo Employee / Progressive activist.