First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

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aida2003
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First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by aida2003 » Tue Jul 31, 2018 9:02 pm

Hello,

In cases like this topic, I'm grateful for the virtual world and forums. The people around me in the real world seem to use iPhones with expensive monthly plans mostly. When I tried to mention a prepaid plan and a 'cheaper' phone, I got a few blank looks :oops: ...

My DH and I have had dumb phones on prepaid plans for years and would like to keep them. One is Virgin Mobile and another is Page Plus.
However, since our children will start taking the same school bus home from their school, I feel like the older one should have a smartphone. I understand it would be too 'uncool' to call me or text me at work from a dumb phone nowadays.
My dilemma questions:

How to know what kind of phone to buy?
Where to buy?
Return policies for the phones?
Safety cases: Do they make durable/trustworthy safety shells/cases for the 'cheaper' phones?
Hot spots: what's that?
Should I decide on a prepaid plan first before buying a phone?
Locked or unlocked: How to know which one to buy?
What network to choose and why?
How to get a new phone number?
If I drop one prepaid plan, do I lose the phone # too?
It all flies over my head and hard to understand. :annoyed

I've googled and based on some of my reading, these are the factors that are important to me:
- I want my child to have a connected phone when she's on the bus. So, I'm guessing a prepaid plan must have cellular coverage, not Wi-Fi only;
- I've noticed that our Page Plus (Verizon network) works better in our neighborhood than Virgin Mobile (Sprint?). Would this imply that we must focus more on Verizon and AT&T than Sprint (and T-Mobile)? When I entered our zip code on Mint.com, it shows a good coverage supposedly.
- Set up of the phone and calling plan should be simple enough so I can avoid calling CS. I read that CS of Republic Wireless, FreedomPop, Tsing (?) is just awful.
- It would be nice to take this smartphone to Europe when we go there. This perhaps means that I should look for a GSM phone...? In order to use it in the EU, is a local SIM card all we need to buy there?
- If we're happy with this phone/plan, we might replace one of our dumb phones (Virgin Mobile mostly likely) too, so that we can read our child's text messages. Now it is very hard to read text on the dumb phones...Our vision is not the best anymore.
- Do phones have parental controls or is this just discussing with children to mind what content to browse and data usage limits?

I looked at a limited number of phones at Target this weekend. The young guy who tried to answer my questions definitely thought that I dropped down from some 'peter pan land'. :oops:
Anyway, it sounded as if the MotoE ($129) or MotoG ($199) Target sells would be good because they can be used on either network (GSM or the other one whose name I forgot), so we could easily switch to another plan if something doesn't work out, no? Any other place to check for an affordable and well working phone?

Sorry for a long post, but I sure would appreciate to hear some advice especially if your children carry smartphones.

Thanks

PS: I found this thread about plans, but haven't finished reading yet: viewtopic.php?t=240650

mhalley
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by mhalley » Tue Jul 31, 2018 9:24 pm

Those 2 phones get good reviews.
Clark Howard has a good cell phone plan breakdown here.

https://clark.com/best-of-mobile-electr ... ans-deals/
The main thing for a kid is a good protective case and enable find my phone for possible loss.

Saving$
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Saving$ » Tue Jul 31, 2018 9:27 pm

If you only want your child to be able to contact (text or call) you in an emergency, buy a $30 android at the grocery store, and get a $10 m plan.

I would not get a child who is just starting to take the bus a $200 phone.

Alternatively, give your child your phone, and get yourself the $200 Moto G5 (you can probably get it online for $170). Start out on the $40/m Verizon prepaid plan and switch if you find a better deal.

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BL
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by BL » Tue Jul 31, 2018 10:37 pm

I used a Tracfone ZTE smart phone ($30) last year with no problems. That might work for a kid just fine. Now I have a Moto G to get a bigger screen for old eyes.

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by pochax » Tue Jul 31, 2018 11:29 pm

get the moto G6 for all the reasons you said (works on GSM and CDMA so verizon and AT&T/TMobile will be fine - sprint service is the least reliable so i wouldn't choose a phone just to get it to work on Sprint). my daughter has the G6 and it is really good for her needs. the worst part about the phone is the camera and it isn't really that bad and your child won't be taking professional photos anyways. not sure when you need to buy, but there will be sales in the Fall especially Black Friday. make sure to get the G6 and not the G6 play (worse camera, worse screen, worse processor, but better battery life).

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by rolandtorres » Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:33 am

I want my child to have a connected phone when she's on the bus.
I'm not sure I follow the logic here. It sounds like you want your kids to be able to reach you- if so, a "dumbphone" would be fine for that. It actually sounds like you also want to give your kid a "cool" phone with a data plan to be connected to the internet- iphone or android, correct?
So, I'm guessing a prepaid plan must have cellular coverage, not Wi-Fi only;
- I've noticed that our Page Plus (Verizon network) works better in our neighborhood than Virgin Mobile (Sprint?). Would this imply that we must focus more on Verizon and AT&T than Sprint (and T-Mobile)? When I entered our zip code on Mint.com, it shows a good coverage supposedly.
Generally speaking, Verizon has the best coverage and Sprint has the weakest coverage. I'd just cross off Sprint since you need this to work for your kids in emergencies. AT&T and T-mobile can vary. You can punch in your location to Rootmetrics http://www.rootmetrics.com/en-US/rootscore/map here to see what others rate their provider's coverage in their area.
- Set up of the phone and calling plan should be simple enough so I can avoid calling CS. I read that CS of Republic Wireless, FreedomPop, Tsing (?) is just awful.
I'm not sure why you're considering prepaid in the first place. Is it mainly to save $? If so, you're probably going to do better with one of the MVNO resellers you mentioned with lesser service. If not, you an pay a bit more to stick with a prepaid plan that's sold by Verizon/ AT&T (including Cricket) / T-mobile where you can walk into a store if you need help. Bear in mind that if you get all the phones on a family plan, you may be eligible for discounts. Although I think the variety for regular "postpaid" family plans that share their internet data is larger. I'd surf around bestmvno.com for prepaid plans sold by one of the carriers.
- It would be nice to take this smartphone to Europe when we go there. This perhaps means that I should look for a GSM phone...? In order to use it in the EU, is a local SIM card all we need to buy there?
This is more dependent on the phone bought than your US provider. For instance, iphones on Verizon have sim slots and have global bands to work overseas if you buy a SIM card locally. Just read the specs of the phone you buy.
- Do phones have parental controls or is this just discussing with children to mind what content to browse and data usage limits?

There are some parental controls and data usage alerts you can set in an iphone or Android. You can also get a text from your plan provider when you've hit certain data thresholds. Of course, the kids may get around these controls, so the conversation is worth having regardless.

I think you need to prioritize a bit more to help you make decisions. While there may be lots of options, it doesn't mean you can mix and match to get all your needs met. More important is to get your most important needs met. Based on what you wrote, I'd say the #1 thing on your list is to have great service/ guidance/ ease of use. You need someone to help guide you and provide more help. I'd probably stick with an iphone here because it's generally easier to use and you have access to the Apple store genius bar helpers for things like parental controls and data usage alerts. If cost is an issue, don't get the latest iphone. Ones from 2yrs ago still work fine. I'd then suggest staying with Verizon as it seems to work for you and it's generally the best coverage. The internet like guys on reddit/r/nocontract want to hack the providers to get maximum data on minimal prices and are willing to jump through elaborate hoops to do so but this doesn't sound like you.

On a different note, some parents are equipping their kids with internet-connected watches instead of phones. They can still make phone calls, do messaging, have GPS, etc and are geared to kids. There's a new generation of these coming this fall, but you can read about the current ones like https://www.pcmag.com/review/346656/lg- ... n-wireless

Jablean
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Jablean » Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:49 am

tracfone, buy the 1 year card. The phone choices a few years ago for smart phones weren't great. Worked but not very smart. So kid is on my old smart phone, one I had for four years oh so after I got a new one on a "buy this and it's free plan" with AT&T. Bought the Android chip at Walmart, transferred the tracfone account over. Works great.

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catdude
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by catdude » Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:03 am

Just wanna say that I've had several versions of the Moto G, and it's really a good phone. Dollar for dollar it may be the best phone around. I currently have the G5 and it does everything I need it to do...
Last edited by catdude on Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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JoMoney
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by JoMoney » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:15 am

If TMobile has acceptable service coverage in your area, there is a MVNO called "Speedtalk" that has some cheap prepaid plans like:
$160 a year with Unlimited talk and text + 500mb monthly or
$99 a year with 500minutes + 500mb data + Unlimited SMS monthly , or
$60 a year for 250 minutes or 250mb or 250 or 250 SMS monthly
as well as some other options
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student
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by student » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:36 am

If you have Comcast, then I recommend Xfinity Mobile, you get unlimited text and talk for $0 as you only pay about $2 tax. You have to be an Xfinity customer to sign up. If you transfer a number, you get a free phone. Well, $150 phone. It uses Verizon.

Mint Mobile has $15 a month if you buy one year worth. So $180 a year. Unlimited talk and text, 2G LTE data per month.

Now you have 3 phones. Cricket often has deal like $100 for 4 lines and they are giving out 4 free phones. I think they have such a promotion now.

Tmobile has the best deal for a major carrier. $160 for 4 lines unlimited everything including Netflix.
Last edited by student on Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Tamarind
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Tamarind » Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:16 am

Moto G is a very solid phone, especially at that price. The E is just fine and can sometimes be found deeply discounted - I got a refurbished one for my dad for $10. I also used a Moto X as my primary computing device for 3 years and it was excellent (a smidgen more expensive than you probably want for a kid even now).

There's a concern you don't mention about phone choice that you should have in mind. A cheap phone is probably going to be more than 2 years old design when you buy it, which means it may not get more operating system or most security updates. Over time the proportion of available apps that will actually run on the phone will drop sharply (not a big concern but will annoy kid), and if a big security hole is uncovered you might not be protected (potentially a very big concern). Especially with a kid on the phone, make sure your home WiFi is protected (a new router if you can't remember how long you've had it, antivirus for your important computers that connect to it).

I love Cricket for prepaid. They are on AT&T network. $35 per line gets you as much data as most could use. Their bargain data plan is $30. If you happen to switch to them, they will do 4 non-bargain lines for $100 (at any time, no special offer, provided you put them on autopay). Setup is very easy and they actually have quite good customer service (though not tech support). No contacts, no overage fees. If your kid exceeds the data cap they'll just slow service down which will stop them from losing videos but won't impact basic connectivity at all. They also sell refurbished phones very cheap (no leasing gimmicks).

LawEgr1
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by LawEgr1 » Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:56 am

I have an old iphone 5s, it's been great but slowing down as it ages. Will probably get an iphone SE upon the passing of this version.

I utilize the AT&T former "go-phone" plan, they've now re-branded it as something else.

For $40 per month + tax (~45/month) I get:

8GB data
Rollover data (i.e., if I use 4 GB one month, next month I get 8GB + 4GB = 12 GB)
Unlimited text
Unlimited minutes

Can easily add international add-ons for one month and remove the next.

I'd have to check details, but I believe Canada / Mexico is included as well. Service in my area is fine, but in some areas of the US it isn't as good. Very pleased with it.

Perhaps overkill for what you are looking for. Looks like there are other great options as others have pointed out!

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BL
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by BL » Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:27 am

I think you should get a smart phone before your child. Just pass on the one you have to her. Maybe get an unlocked one that you can use with your current provider.

goaties
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by goaties » Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:28 am

aida2003 wrote:
Tue Jul 31, 2018 9:02 pm
How to know what kind of phone to buy?
Where to buy?
Return policies for the phones?
Safety cases: Do they make durable/trustworthy safety shells/cases for the 'cheaper' phones?
Hot spots: what's that?
Should I decide on a prepaid plan first before buying a phone?
Locked or unlocked: How to know which one to buy?
What network to choose and why?
How to get a new phone number?
If I drop one prepaid plan, do I lose the phone # too?
It all flies over my head and hard to understand. :annoyed
I too came from PagePlus to the world of smartphones. Perhaps you could start cheaply and work your way up from there? Get the kiddo a cheap phone first. I'm currently using Tracfone (Verizon) which sells lots of older smartphones in the 10 - 40 dollar range. I use the "Basic" 60 minutes/ 90 day plan which comes to about $6.75/month when you put it on autopay. Every three months it adds 180 minutes talk, 180 texts, and 180 mb of data (which is about enough to check email a few times a week) to your running total. If all you want is to help your kid look cool and be able to call you in emergencies, it will work. And it's so cheap you won't care if it gets lost or ruined.

If you want a phone which will allow you to load SIM cards, do a lot of web surfing, etc., then you'll need something such as the boy at Target suggested. If you want the phone to serve as a "hotspot"--allow other devices to surf the web through it--I haven't yet found a prepaid plan which is economical for this.

Like you, I had no idea how smartphones even worked until I had one. Starting cheap worked great. Now, after two years, I have a very good idea what I do and do not need in a phone.

Chaconne
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Chaconne » Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:38 am

My knowledge certainly isn't extensive, especially regarding your specific needs, but I do have two words of advice for you:

Consumer Cellular

I've been a customer for several years (both for iPhone purchase and service), and I am constantly amazed by how helpful, flexible and affordable they are. I would certainly check them out before ruling them out. Good luck.

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Shallowpockets » Wed Aug 01, 2018 9:04 am

Same boat here, but not for a child. For me. Forced to enter the cell phone world. I got a Moto G5 Plus, unlocked. Already used it and switched SIM cards when overseas. Had TracFone, but now switching to MINT. $45 for three months. Unlimited calls, text, 2GB data renewed each month. Service is T Mobile coverage. Will come today in mail. So I will be doing the SIM card and activation later on today. MINT has videos on all this on their website.
S.O. same thing. Inquired yesterday with her yoga broup and got blank stares. Most people have cell phone plans for years and years and years through the traditonal carriers. They dont look around. Not BHs I guess.

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telemark
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by telemark » Wed Aug 01, 2018 9:45 am

I have a Moto E4 and like it well enough. The battery life is not great but it charges quickly and best of all, the battery is replaceable. The main downside is delayed OS updates from Motorola, a common problem with budget phones. If I were buying now I would also look at the new Nokia 6.1: there is a review at

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/07 ... nd-family/

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catdude
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by catdude » Wed Aug 01, 2018 3:08 pm

hesson11 wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:38 am
Consumer Cellular
+1... Agree 100%. I've had Consumer Cellular for several years now and they're great.
catdude | | All generalizations are false, including this one.

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Housedoc » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:42 pm

I would advise against Cricket as a carrier and ZTE as a phone supplier.
SIL accompanied us on a car trip to PA a few weeks ago. She could not get a signal most of the time. WAZE would not operate, She could get emails and texts once on hotel WiFi but otherwise had a paperweight. Wife and I were on AT&T network and had no issues. Keep in mind, I am not a fan of AT&T but with a 23% company discount I can hold my nose...HA
ZTE being a Chinese company makes me leery, just my opinion

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by triceratop » Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:45 pm

You can buy an excellent iPhone SE for ~$160, and Mint SIM gives you unlimited talk/text + 2GB LTE/mo for $180/year. That is my current combination. Depending on how frugal you are this could be reasonably acceptable for you. (Unfortunately, Ring+ is no more, so that's not an option)
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by SlowMovingInvestor » Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:36 pm

Housedoc wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:42 pm
I would advise against Cricket as a carrier and ZTE as a phone supplier.
SIL accompanied us on a car trip to PA a few weeks ago. She could not get a signal most of the time. WAZE would not operate, She could get emails and texts once on hotel WiFi but otherwise had a paperweight. Wife and I were on AT&T network and had no issues. Keep in mind, I am not a fan of AT&T but with a 23% company discount I can hold my nose...HA
ZTE being a Chinese company makes me leery, just my opinion
Cricket is an ATT brand. It is possible that the brand doesn't have domestic roaming or uses different brands, but I'm surprised that service in PA proper would be that bad. I did use Cricket for a few days in Eastern PA last year, and it was excellent -- no problems at all.

aida2003
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by aida2003 » Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:09 pm

Wow! You all are awesome :!: :beer I'm so glad I asked my questions on BH. Not only did you give me examples of phones and plans to consider, but also you answered my questions using simple terminology that I was able to follow. Very helpful to a rookie like me. I plan to reread this thread on the weekend and start my research. I need to buy by the end of this month.

I have a couple of questions:
What's the difference between prepaid plans offered by major carriers vs. not widely known companies?
Why do people choose latter vs. former or vice versa?

I vaguely recall that we had a plan with Sprint for 2+ years 16-18 years ago when we lived in Detroit. At the time, we had to sign a contract for 2 years. I hated paying high prices and arguing with its CS fighting weird fees and surcharges on the monthly statements. Major companies didn't offer prepaid plans then (I think). Once we got Virgin Mobile and Page Plus prepaid plans we've stayed loyal to them. So, it was a surprise to me to read that I should look at the prepaid plans from the major carriers. It sounds like these carriers didn't want to lose their customers completely and decided to offer cheaper options after all?
rolandtorres wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:33 am
I want my child to have a connected phone when she's on the bus.
I'm not sure I follow the logic here. It sounds like you want your kids to be able to reach you- if so, a "dumbphone" would be fine for that. It actually sounds like you also want to give your kid a "cool" phone with a data plan to be connected to the internet- iphone or android, correct?
I don't really want my child to use the internet on the phone on the bus, but depending on the price of the prepaid plan, if a data plan is included I won't deny either. I don't know how much data is consumed by checking/writing an email, playing on some apps, browsing Amazon, or chatting with school mates on the Google Classroom. How fast does 500 MB of data disappear?? I've looked at Mint only and it offers 2 GB data plan, so if I went with this plan, it would be a ton of data to use for $15/mo. But I'm still undecided about this data thingy. Right now I only know that calling and texting are important.
However, even though I would be fine to give a "dumb phone" to my children, I wouldn't want to be in their shoes to get it.... I am 99% certain none of the kids at their school carries a dumb phone.

My goal is to have one phone between the two kids for the next two school years. When the older child leaves the middle school to go to high school, the younger sibling will probably need a phone too (unless I leave my FT job to become an Uber mom :mrgreen: then; it's kind of my wish).

One last question. Does I rookie like me need to research different systems like Android, iphone, or some Chinese or Korean systems used to build the phones? All I know is that I consider myself a bit of anti-Apple. I don't want to get sucked into its 'circle of things', KWIM? Until now we haven't owned anything Apple and I feel weirdly proud of that. :P

Now, to contribute to this thread, unless BH's figured it out by themselves, I got a revelation today when I read this article "This Company Outsources Customer Service Back to the Customer" in Business Week. This would explain why so many reviews mention terrible CS at FreedomPop, Republic Wireless and other companies:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles ... ow-organic

focusedonwhatmatters
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by focusedonwhatmatters » Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:21 pm

Look at Ting
www.ting.com

Ting is post-paid (pay for what you used), no contracts, good coverage, and good customer service. Each line is $6, then combined usage of minutes, texts, and data. So if there are three phones, your bill would be $18, plus whatever you used for the month.

You can bring your own phone or buy from them. You can also set limits for usage.

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by go_mets » Wed Aug 01, 2018 9:25 pm

aida2003 wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:09 pm
One last question. Does I rookie like me need to research different systems like Android, iphone, or some Chinese or Korean systems used to build the phones? All I know is that I consider myself a bit of anti-Apple.
Apple or Android are your two choices.

I have switched over to the Verizon network with a Tracfone and a Verizon pre-paid phone that is on Red Pocket.
Verizon will completely shutdown 3G on Dec 31, 2019 so "dumb" phones will no longer work.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/verizon- ... ohn-hickey


If it was me, I would buy your children the Tracfone LG Rebel 3 from HSN for $59.95
It is on the Verizon network.
My mom has it. 1500 minutes/1500 texts/1500 MB data included for the first year.
$10 for 1000 texts additional
$10 for 1GB of data additional

.

Chaconne
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Chaconne » Wed Aug 01, 2018 10:28 pm

"I have a couple of questions:
What's the difference between prepaid plans offered by major carriers vs. not widely known companies?
Why do people choose latter vs. former or vice versa?"

Not sure I can explain the difference, because I don't have to know. With Consumer Cellular, which I recommended above, you can choose the number of talk minutes and text you want, and the amount of data you want (mix and match various levels) with NEVER a contract, a prepayment or anything else you don't want.

I pay about $35 a month for unlimited talk, unlimited text and 115.61 MB of data, which I never come close to using. They use the AT&T network, which I've never had a problem with. You can cancel at any time. I'm really not sure why anyone would NOT use Consumer Cellular, although I admit I don't know a whole lot about other companies/plans.

Jablean
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by Jablean » Thu Aug 02, 2018 12:17 am

You are research heavy. Decide on the service - prepaid then go down to the local Walmart and buy a phone from that service, you can always upgrade later - reason those like tracfone are easy. Don't worry about data, they'll amost always be using free wifi - data is only for in the car, on the bus. Some kids chat a lot to others, mine texts me and that's about it. And middle school kids are fine with dumb phones which you can get for free, upgrade to a newer phone at any time very easily.

sawdust60
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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by sawdust60 » Thu Aug 02, 2018 1:27 am

I start kids with whatever low-cost unlocked GSM phone seems reasonable, and get a H2O Wireless sim card from one of the sellers on amazon. This is an AT&T MVNO. They also have a few phones for sale on their website h2owirelessnow.com.

I mostly use the $10/90-day plan -- that's $3.33/month, or until you use up the voice/text/data. This plan is good if you keep cellular data turned off and rely on wifi -- which is nearly everywhere. Quite amazing how kids understand and conserve their usage. When you find yourself doing refills multiple times within the month, you can change to a plan with unlimited voice/text and various GB data plans.

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Re: First smartphone:What to buy and what prepaid plan to sign on?

Post by pochax » Thu Aug 02, 2018 8:40 am

aida2003 wrote:
Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:09 pm
I have a couple of questions:
What's the difference between prepaid plans offered by major carriers vs. not widely known companies?
Why do people choose latter vs. former or vice versa?

One last question. Does I rookie like me need to research different systems like Android, iphone, or some Chinese or Korean systems used to build the phones? All I know is that I consider myself a bit of anti-Apple. I don't want to get sucked into its 'circle of things', KWIM? Until now we haven't owned anything Apple and I feel weirdly proud of that. :P
difference between prepaid plans offered by major carriers vs. not widely known companies:
mostly price and in many cases throttled max LTE speed (example: AT&T will throttle Cricket LTE speed to 8Mbps on most plans and 3Mbps on their "Unlimited 2 plan") which will be fast enough for everything except streaming HD video. possibly some roaming capability is also lost with the MVNO (ie. lesser known brand name). however, cricket coverage is the same as AT&T because cricket is owned by AT&T.

Why do people choose latter vs. former or vice versa?
they choose MVNO to save $$$. they choose brand name because they do not understand MVNOs and think they have less "coverage" - OR- believe customer service will be better with brand name (which may be true) -OR- they want the faster LTE speed (which also maybe true, although TMobile MVNOs such as "MetroPCS" do not throttle data speed).

Does I rookie like me need to research different systems like Android, iphone, or some Chinese or Korean systems used to build the phones?
No, it's really just Android (by Google) or iOS (by Apple). each will try to get you into their system but this is less a matter of which phone you buy and more a matter of what services matter to you. although if you want to err on the side of flexibility, Android seems more "open" than iOS. many phones will add a "skin" to android and call it a different name like "oxygen OS" (in OnePlus phones), "EMUI" (in Huawei phones), but they are modifications of the android OS to add utility or change the look, but the app store is all android (Google Play Store).

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