How to Find the Best No Contract Smartphone Plans in 2015 – Part 1
Last updated 3/26/2016
Almost everyone has a smartphone or will have one shortly. Their usefulness is undeniable. This convenience comes at a high cost and often a multi-year commitment. We examine some little known companies that can take the average cell phone bill from just under $150 to as little as $30 a month. It is surprising that only 1-2% of subscribers switch to other carriers every year, they must feel married to their service.
Important: As with any mobile wireless plan, you need to ensure you have coverage where you need it. Home, work, play, you need signal otherwise it does not matter what the price is.
Traditionally, smartphone buyers were able to purchase the latest smartphone at a significant discount, often $199, when they committed to a new 2 year plan with a major wireless carrier like, AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile. Things have changed. There are many more options available to smartphone owners.
No contract Smartphone plans are increasing in popularity due to the growing trend of low-cost prepaid smartphones and lower cost unlocked smartphones. Unlocked smartphones like the Google Nexus 6 ($499) and the Motorola Moto G ($199) are very affordable, and consumers do not have to lock themselves into a 2-year contract. Additionally, used smartphones are readily available on eBay and Craigslist, fueled by people selling off their old phone when upgrading.
If you are stuck in a contract, look for ways to get out of it. This can happen when they change terms of their contract. Also, look for discounts on the plan. Many larger employers have discounts with carriers.
We will examine the leading prepaid no contract smartphone plans to help you find the best one.
Check and compare coverage using Open Signal.
Key Factors to Look for in a No Contract Wireless Carrier
Here are the main attributes you need to understand when evaluating a wireless carrier:
- Price – of course you want to minimize this.
- Network – these carriers buy access on one of the major 4 networks. Understand which network works well in your home and area of travel.
- Minutes – Only purchase as many minutes as you need. More people are concerned with text and data limits.
- Text Messages – Make sure you have enough to cover your needs.
- Data –Pick a plan that has enough data for your needs.
- Smartphones – Ensure that your desired phone is available for this carrier.
- International – does the carrier allow you to use the phone internationally?
Wireless Data Requirements
If you are a current smartphone user, check your bill to see how much data you use. Your new plan can be sized to your current usage patterns. According to Nielsen, the average person used 733MB of data in early 2013. Most people paid for a lot more, approximately 2GB. In 2014 the average smartphone user was estimated to use 2.3GB. In 2015 it is projected to be 3.2GB.
Keep in mind that most people are connected to Wi-Fi to perform data intensive operations. Roughly 70% of mobile device Internet traffic is now carried by Wi-Fi.
If you are new to smartphones, consider these guidelines:
- Email, Social Networking, News, Web Browsing – 1GB per month
- Plus music streaming or downloading, sharing photos, download apps – 3GB per month
- Plus movies, video streaming – unlimited per month
These are some rough figures to help you select the appropriate plan. Keep in mind that most unlimited plans slow down your data transfers after you pass a preset limit.
Not every phone will be available on every network. You need to decide on the handset that you will be using. The major choice is Android or iOS, after that, most wireless carriers have the same popular smartphones.
Does the carrier allow you to bring your own phone? Most of the ones that allow you to do this support GSM technology that is used by the AT&T and T-Mobile wireless networks. Those which run on Sprint or Verizon networks usually require you to buy a new smartphone. Consider this before you buy an unlocked or used phone off eBay or Craigslist.
Android – is supported by all prepaid wireless carriers.
iPhone – is not available on MetroPCS, Freedom Pop, and Republic Wireless.
Summary of No-Contract Plans for a Single Smartphone
*Unlimited Data Plans slowed to 2G-3G speeds after monthly allotment of data has been used.
** Sprint's Fine Print: "Sprint may terminate service if off-network roaming usage in a month exceeds: (1) 400 min. or a majority of min.; or (2) 100 MB or a majority of KB."
T-Mobile is one of the major four wireless carriers in the United States. They have a wide range of no contract smartphones available for purchase. They run a GSM network, allowing you to purchase an unlocked phone and use it on their network. All you need to do is buy their SIM starter kit.
Coverage - Good to very good depending on your area. Check their coverage maps
Best Plan - T-Mobile an excellent $30 per month plan with unlimited web and text, and 100 minutes. This Plan requires you to activate a new account with a New SIM. T-Mobile stores do not sell inactivated SIM cards. The first 5GB of data is available at up to 4G speeds. This plan is available for devices purchased from Walmart or devices activated on T-Mobile.com.
If you need more voice minutes, consider their $50 T-Mobile plan with unlimited talk and text. First 500MB of data at up to 4G speed.
Smartphone selection – Various, including Galaxy S4 and 5, Nokia Lumia 635, and iPhone 6 and 6 plus.
Bring your device - You can buy an unlocked GSM iPhone or Android Smartphone elsewhere and then buy their SIM starter kit to take advantage of this plan.
T-Mobile is best when:
- You are on a budget
- You want to use an existing unlocked GSM phone
- You are a Heavy Data User
- You use very few voice minutes
- Good Coverage in your local area
Virgin Mobile is a subsidiary of Sprint and uses the same CDMA technology and network. Virgin's lowest prepaid price plan offers a little more Anytime minutes than T-Mobile's but costs a few bucks more. The only downside is the throttling starts after 2.5GB. It will boil down to what you need more, Data or Minutes, and if coverage is good in your area (assuming you are using an iPhone).
Coverage - Okay to good depending on your area. Better on the East Coast than the West Coast. Check their coverage maps
Best Plan - Virgin mobile $35 per month with 300 talk minutes and unlimited text and web with 2.5 GB high speed data OR unlimited text, web, and talk with 250 MB high speed data.
Only $30 per month and more talk minutes than T-Mobile when you use an iPhone and sign up for Auto Pay.
Smartphone Selection – iPhones including 6 and 6 plus, Nokia Lumia 635 and $50 Android phones. No Samsung Galaxy phones.
Bring your device - You need to buy a phone from them. Sprint and Boost Mobile phones will not work.
Virgin Mobile is best when:
- You are a Heavy Data User
- You use Low Voice or VoIP minutes
- You want to use an iPhone
- Sprint has good coverage in your area
Boost Mobile is owned by Sprint and uses the same CDMA technology. Boost Mobile offer much better no-contract options than Sprint. They offer only a limited number of plans but lots of Smartphones are available.
Coverage – Sprint’s Network
Best Plan – Monthly Unlimited Talk, Text, and data. The cheapest of these plans is $35/month with 1GB 3G/4G Data.
Smartphone Selection –Good Variety. 42 phones including the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, the Galaxy S4 through 6, and the Moto G.
Bring Your Own – Can use some older Sprint Smartphones on Boost but not the newer ones. The best Smartphone allowed is the HTC Hero. Not worth it!
Boost Mobile is best when:
- You have reliable Sprint coverage
- Want more Smartphone variety
- Want a cheap Unlimited plan
Consumer Cellular is a no contract carrier that is often recommended by Consumer Reports. They have a 30 day risk free trial. Their products are sold in many Sears and Target stores. Family plans to share minutes. Maximum of 4GB available. For superlight users, they have a Talk only plan from $10/month. They use US based call centers.
Coverage – GSM, AT&T Network
Best Plan – Monthly Unlimited Text, and 3GB data $30/month. Need to pay more for Talk, +$50 for Unlimited minutes/month
Smartphone Selection –Not a lot of Variety. Latest iPhones, 5 lower end Android phones and no Samsung ones, and some flip phones.
Bring Your Own – Can use AT&T or T-Mobile Smartphones. Free SIM Card.
Consumer Cellular is best when:
- You have reliable AT&T coverage
- Have a phone to use or want an iPhone
- You need the flexibility to change talk, data needs - Even Monthly
- Need a family plan to share talk and data
- Want a cheap plan
- Discount for AARP members
Cricket Wireless (Parent company: Leap Wireless International) is a well known no contract wireless provider that was purchased by AT&T Wireless. In May 2014, Aio merged into Cricket Wireless after AT&T bought Leap Wireless. (Cricket) They will be moving from CDMA Sprint Network to GSM AT&T shortly.
Cricket has a variety of Smartphones from the latest Samsung Galaxy to very inexpensive Android and Windows and Nokia Phone Smartphones. They have their own stores and also sell their products in major retailers. The have a good selection of iPhones.
There's also a Bring Your Own Phone option for $9.99.
Monthly Cell phone plans start at $40 for unlimited talk, text, and web. (first 2.5 GB at 4G LTE speed) Cricket uses the nationwide AT&T Network. Additional lines are discounted more on their family plans.
Cricket throttles 4G LTE speeds to 8Mbps and 4G HSPDA speeds to 4Mbps before you hit your cap. Hot spot access costs extra.
Metro PCS has one of the lowest prices for Unlimited Voice, Text, and Data. However, data speed throttling starts after 500MB (MegaBytes). Be sure to keep the network coverage into consideration, so you can get the best experience. Metro PCS is under T-Mobile's network, as they were acquired last year.
Coverage - Okay at best on the T-Mobile network
Best Plan - $30 per month unlimited talk, text, and web with first 1GB of data at up to 4G LTE speeds.
Smartphone Selection - Very Limited but Metro PCS offers the popular Samsung Galaxy S6 and some inexpensive Microsoft and LG phones. No iPhones.
Bring your device - Purchase a SIM card and pop it into your GSM phone.
Metro PCS is best when:
- You are use a lot voice minutes
- You don't care if data is 2G or 3G speed
- Need Lowest Price for unlimited talk, text, and data
- T-Mobile has good coverage in your area
Tracfone owns NET10 and Straight Talk. Straight Talk is a little more expensive than other pre-paid wireless providers, but it utilizes both CDMA and GSM technology used on the AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint network. This network will favor T-Mobile and Sprint in most areas even though AT&T has a better LTE coverage than T-Mobile and Sprint. Straight Talk also sells SIM cards available for the T-Mobile network.
Coverage - Okay to good depending on your area. Check their coverage maps.
Best Plan - $45 per month for unlimited talk, text, and web for a No contract Smartphone plan. First 5GB Data at high speed.
Smartphone Selection - They offer the older Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6, 6 plus. There are also very inexpensive reconditioned Android phones.
Bring your device – Unlocked GSM or locked T-Mobile phone or Non-LTE Verizon phones; Just buy a SIM Card
Preferred Network Based on Phone:
- iPhone 5c, 5, 5s – Verizon
- iPhone 6, 6 plus– AT&T
- Samsung Galaxy S5 or 6 – T-Mobile
You can check for compatibility with Straight Talk's guide here.
Straight Talk is best when:
- You want Unlimited Talk, Text, and 2.5GB LTE speed
- You want one of the lowest price Unlimited plans on AT&T's Network
- AT&T or T-Mobile has good coverage in your area