Now that you’ve picked a wireless carrier, it’s time to pick a plan. Fair warning: this can be almost as difficult as picking a carrier, and the on-again/off-again nature of special deals can serve to make it even more frustrating. Not to mention, wireless carriers have a way of nickel-and-diming you into a significantly higher bill. Here are some tips to help you decide what options are right for you.
Eliminate the Fluff
When you buy a smartphone and sign up for a data plan, expect to get offered a large number of features and add-on accessories. Many of these you won’t need. Verizon offers free cloud storage for your media ranging from a free 5GB to 250GB for $18 per month. This is extremely pricey, considering you can get 1TB of cloud space on Dropbox Pro or Google Drive for $9.99 per month, or 1TB of cloud space on OneDrive for $6.99 per month. On top of that, it may be overkill. Google offers both Android and iOS users free photo backups for Google Photo users, and Amazon does the same for Prime members.
T-Mobile offers a slew of additional add-ons that include things like Stateside International Talk and Web Guard if you have kids, but depending on your circumstances and how often you’ll use the services, these are also superfluous.
Protective cases are always a good idea, but keep in mind that shopping around can help you discover a greater diversity of choice and sometimes even cheaper products that’ll meet your needs. This also goes for accessories like Bluetooth headsets and car chargers, which can almost always be found cheaper elsewhere. By way of example, AT&T and Verizon charge you $60 for an OtterBox Defender iPhone 6s Plus case. You can find the same at Amazon for $39.
Visual voicemail is another feature that sometimes comes at added cost, but isn’t always necessary – although voicemail service absolutely is. You also have free third-party options with respect to setting up visual voicemail, such as Google Voice, which is free and comes with visual voicemail. Other add-on services like roadside assistance may be just a waste of money if you’ve already got that option included with your auto insurance or have a AAA membership.
To Insure or Not to Insure?
As you go through the online (or in-person) checkout process to buy a new smartphone, you’ll invariably come across the hard sell of device insurance. Sure, smartphones aren’t indestructible and sinking money into a $600 smartphone without insuring it against damage sounds like a bad idea at the outset. But there are others who’ll tell you it’s just a waste of money you could be spending elsewhere.
Smartphone insurance isn’t expensive measured month to month, typically costing around $5 to $10 per month – an amount well spent if you accidentally drop it two weeks after your purchase. But this obviously adds up at the end of the year, and there’re other costs to consider.
For one, the insurance payment doesn’t mean you’ll get a replacement at absolutely no cost if you break a device. There’s still the issue of having to pay a deductible, which can range anywhere from $50 to $300. If you’re on the back end of paying a device off, this is not a good deal.
There are also conditions on insurance, depending on the carrier and the device that you buy, which don’t include all possible scenarios. For example, most will cover a cracked screen, and some cover theft, but not all loss. Additionally, since insurance plan providers get to call the shots on what that “replacement” really is, you are often likely to receive a refurbished phone than a brand new one or a check. And if your insured smartphone is no longer available, you may have to settle for a replacement of equal value that’s different to what you’ve grown accustomed.
One other thing to consider: many homeowners and renter’s insurance policies cover smartphones. The only drawback here is that if your deductible is over $1,000 it may not be worth it to file a claim. And more often than not, filing a claim that does work out in your favor could increase your homeowners or renter’s insurance premium.
If you are considering buying additional insurance from your carrier, be sure to review all of your options before signing up. Verizon offers several different types of protection plans, some of which cover theft and damage, but others that do not. For example, Verizon’s Total Equipment Coverage insures you even if you drop your phone in water – however Verizon’s Wireless Extended Warranty only covers you against device defects.
T-Mobile is a bit less convoluted, but only the premium plan covers you against theft, loss and accidental damage – this includes if you happen to accidentally drop your phone in water. Sprint also protects you against accidental drops and unintentional water exposure, but takes things a step further by offering next-day replacement (in most cases) for a covered loss. AT&T offers declining deductibles that reward you with a lower premium if you don’t file a claim for more than 12 months.
The majority of smartphone insurance plans cover accidental damage from drops, and theft. Most of the time, insurance covers only the phone itself and may exclude coverage for the battery. Exclusions apply if your phone is damaged due to being improperly used.
Looking beyond carrier-based insurance, there are also alternative options worth looking into. For example, HTC’s “Uh Oh” protection plan guarantees replacement of HTC One (M8 or M9) smartphones if they come to harm from accidental drops or water exposure within the first year of ownership. This is offered free of charge.
If you buy an iPhone, you get a freebie called AppleCare, which covers you against defects for a full year. For a single payment of $129, you can upgrade to AppleCare+, which extends that warranty out to two years and covers you against accidental damage and water exposure (but not loss or theft). With AppleCare+ you can claim up to two replacements, each of which will run you a deductible ranging from $79 to $99.
Other options include SquareTrade, which runs from $4 to $6 per month and covers you against drops and water exposure, and Mobile Rhino, which adds theft and loss to damage coverage on iPhones and iPads starting at $129. You can also cover your smartphone with Best Buy’s Geek Squad Protection Plan, which starts at $7.99 per month and offers coverage against drops, spills, cracks, wear and tear, and mechanical failure. Geek Squad’s “complete” protection costs $10.99 per month and includes loss and theft coverage.
Whatever you route you opt for, make your decision quickly. Most smartphone insurers (whether direct from the carrier or via third-party) require that you insure your mobile device within the first 60 days.
The team at NotebookReview is split when it comes to smartphone insurance. As with any policy, it’s that thing you don’t need until you need it. Android smartphone owners have it slightly easier in forgoing insurance thanks to the rise of low-cost Android smartphones with premium features, like the Honor 5X. Apple iPhone owners face a more difficult decision given that the iPhone is still a premium-price product.
Taking a Look at Your Data Habits
A 2GB per month data plan may not sound like much if you’re unaware of how much data you actually consume. But a well-informed wireless consumer approaches his or her choice of plan based on knowledge of their data usage habits.
If you like to stream music or movies from your smartphone and do so frequently, it makes sense that a high-GB or even unlimited data plan is ideal – especially if you’re not into the idea of paying overage fees or having your data connection slow to a crawl when you max out. But if you have near-constant access to Wi-Fi and next to never stream over a cellular connection, paying an exorbitant amount of money monthly for an unlimited plan could be a waste of money.
As written earlier, exploring cellular networking technology, streaming a 90-minute movie in SD on Netflix will eat up approximately 1.5 GB of data. In HD, that same movie can devour 4.5GB of data. Data usage when streaming music varies, and depends on the quality of the stream. If you stream music at 320kbps, you can burn through some 115MB in an hour, and nine hours will consume about 1GB.
Here’s another thing to consider: all of the carriers offer tools that will help you monitor your data usage. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint offer a handful of such tools, including text message alerts that’ll inform you if you’re coming close to your limit. Additionally, you can manually check your data usage yourself by sending a predetermined text to a specific number to find out where you stand. If you use automatic text notifications, keep in mind that performing a huge download may take you over the limit before the system has had a chance to notify you.
In addition to these manual methods, carriers offer downloadable widgets and apps that you can launch to check your data manually.
Finally, both iOS and Android make it easy to find the same information. It’s found in the settings in “Cellular” or “Data Usage.”
Currently, T-Mobile is the only carrier that actually gives its subscribers access to free streaming over cellular connection to some of the most popular streaming services. Their Music Freedom service, which comes as a free inclusion with certain data packages, gives you free streaming access to about 40 different services. These include Apple Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Spotify, and even SomaFM. Similarly, Binge On is T-Mobile’s free video streaming platform, and is only available for data plans of 3GB or higher. With Binge On, you can stream for free from over 40 different platforms including Amazon Video, HBO Go, Netflix, Vevo, and Vudu.
Don’t forget that T-Mobile’s free streaming service only counts when you stream through the official apps. If you use your smartphone’s web browser to stream, it’ll count against your data.
Carriers often strike deals with corporations to offer incentive to employees to choose them. Before you settle on a particular carrier, talk to someone in your workplace administrative office to find out if there are any special wireless discounts. You might be surprised to discover you can get a small (but not inconsiderable) discount on services.
Additionally, you don’t have to be blood-related to go in a family plan with another person or persons. Family plans aren’t just for “family” – you can sign up for a cellphone carrier family plan with a roommate or significant other, provided you both share the same address.
Want to learn more about buying a smartphone? Read all about network technology, including LTE, GSM, and CDMA. And then read all about no-contract smartphone data plans and pricing. Finally, learn all about smartphone specs, the differences between iOS and Android, buying a Chinese smartphone, and buying an unlocked smartphone.