Quitting the Contract: Phone Update

So, we are now about 3 and a half months into my “Great Cell Phone Experiment” and all is going well.  In fact, I can’t figure out why I didn’t do this long ago.

The Hardware:

I bought a Google Nexus 5, 16GB ($349–for $399 I could have had 32GB, but I don’t store much on the phone itself and I don’t want to tempt myself to change that after what I lost on the old one).  As with their computer hardware, the price point for a bare Apple product, un-subsidized through a major carrier was just too much for me to contemplate (the newest iPhones were around the $600 mark).  Besides, I’d had good luck with Android, and Google more or less owns my soul already anyhow (if Gmail ever goes away, I think I will cease to exist).  The Nexus (ordered directly from the Google Play store), comes naturally unbranded.  No unlocking necessary.  It was also blissfully free of the b.s. bloatware put on by a lot of carriers (seriously Verizon, I didn’t need a fucking NFL game.  I don’t watch pro football.  At all).  And the compu-geek in me loves that as soon as there is an upgrade to Android (as there should be here in a matter of a week or two) I will be among the first to get it.  There was also a certain sweetness to getting a phone that my idiot old carrier Verizon literally won’t let on its network.

I am sort of a little in love with this phone.  I’m not going to lie.

The Carrier:

My initial plan was to jump around and experiment with different pre-paid carriers.  The reality is, I’ve been happy with the one I started with and too busy with work to spend the time to change.

I opted for StraightTalk through Wal-Mart.  The initial start-up kit ran me about $50.  I got a packet of SIM cards in various sizes for the two network options–I could choose to run off of the AT&T network or the T-Mobile network.  Knowing there were plenty of other T-Mobile network options left for me to explore later (Wal Mart’s Family plan, and direct T-Mobile pre-paid)–and a first month’s service (unlimited talk, text and data). I chose to start with AT&T.

The initial set up kind of sucked ass.  If I were the type of person who regularly needed tech support and customer service, the relationship would have ceased on night one.  Straight Talk has very obviously outsourced customer service, and when I logged on their live-chat with a problem (the cards in my packet appeared to be mis-marked and I wanted to verify I was using the right card) the service agent was less than useless (actually kind of insulting, and he ended the service chat abruptly without even asking if he had answered my question).  It was really clear English was NOT his first language.  If you opt to try this and you are at all confused, please feel free to contact me and I can try to walk you through it.  My biggest problem was the incorrect packaging.  After that, the online set up of the account and registration of the card/phone was easy.

Once I got it up and running, I’ve had no real problems.  It’s nice to have unlimited talk and text.  Verizon still had me paying for a certain number of messages.  The unlimited data is only unlimited in that you can’t really go over.  That said, if you use over 2.5GB during the month, they will throttle your speed from 4G back to 2G.  Verizon was going to charge me some unreal figure for 4GB to be shared between my phone and my brother’s.  Thank you, no.

The only quirks I’ve had with the service are once I got a text saying I’d hit my 2.5GB @ 4G speed limit and would be throttled the rest of the month when I knew there was NO WAY I was even a little close.  The phone lets me track my data usage and set alarms.  I was only 3 days into the month and I hadn’t streamed anything.  But….my speed never slowed.  I think it was a fluke.  Another time I did get “not connected” error when I opened the web browser, but I hit reload and the page came right up, so it was a non-issue.  Calls have been clear.  I’ve not lost signal–but I’ve not really ventured out of urban areas to test it.

The carrier texts you a few days before the end of your month of service.  I could sign up for auto-renew (which saves a few bucks), or I could pre-pay for a longer period (6 months or a year), but for the moment I’m keeping my options open month to month.  I can re-up online, saving me from actually having to go into a Wal Mart if I don’t want to.  Right now, the monthly bill, with taxes is around $49.

Porting My Number:

I knew at the outset that I really wanted to keep my cell number.  I’ve got it on everything and changing would be a pain in the ass.  You can port the number directly to StraightTalk if you want.  When you go through the initial set up on-line, you can choose to port your old number in.  You’ll need information from your current carrier bill/account to get it done and the change over can take a day or two to happen–don’t wait until a time when you really need the phone to work.

Because of my master plan to experiment with other carriers, I opted to do something a little different.  For $25 you can port your cell number to Google Voice, and then from Google Voice (for free) you can forward that number to whatever numbers you choose.  So I ported my cell number to Google Voice where I could “park” it without having to change over and over.  I set up my new phone on Straight Talk and allowed it to assign a new phone number.  Then I logged into Google Voice and forwarded to that new number.  The downside of this is that outgoing calls and messages from your new phone will appear to come from your new number, rather than your old one.  It may cause initial confusion with friends/family/coworkers.  I warned people it may happen and so far it hasn’t been a problem.

Tentative Conclusion:

Even with the porting cost, and the initial phone outlay, I’m still on to be on the winning side money-wise in 12 months.  If I’d chosen a lower cost phone (and I could have–I splurged a bit on the Nexus), I’d make up the difference sooner.  Still need more strenuous testing on current coverage and more testing on different services/carriers, but I think we’ve got a winner.


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