- Getting smart about billing
- Mint Mobile Costs and Performance
- A word of caution
The good old days…
I think I got my first mobile phone in 2001 or 2002 when I was 20-21 years old. It was a flip phone from Verizon that I bought in Hinesville, Georgia when I was stationed at Fort Stewart. It looked something like this:
In fact, it may have been that model phone. It’s been 18-19 years, so I really can’t remember exactly. I also don’t remember what the thing was costing me every month, though I remember it being significant.
Fast forward almost 20 years and cell phone bills are out of control. For me and my wife to have the Verizon Go Unlimited plan together, we were paying about $180 per month. Imagine that! For just two lines. That’s more than our electric bill most months out of the year.
We wound up on Verizon for two main reasons:
- Our previous provider, Virgin Mobile, announced that it was going to stop supporting Android devices and switch to being an iPhone only service. (They later backtracked, but after I already left the service.)
- We wanted to upgrade to new phones because big jumps had been made in camera quality, which is an important feature for both of us. Also, we both needed more storage space.
And so, we found ourselves in a Best Buy signing onto a bundle that included Verizon service.
That was two years ago.
Getting smart about billing
When our phones were paid off we started thinking about how to save money on our phone bill. We’ve been getting into minimalism, essentialism, and other -isms that promote focus, stability, and de-cluttering, Marie Kondo style. And while Verizon’s service quality was excellent, that bill was definitely not sparking joy.
But, what service should we replace Verizon with? We were used to unlimited talk, text, and data. I knew that MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) worked pretty well from previous experience. MVNOs are basically prepaid services that run on the networks of major providers but under different names. So, I decided to start there and see what was available.
I went slogging through a bunch of different websites looking at different lists of the best value plans available. Most of those lists really suck, to be honest. It’s like they just looked at everything that’s available and then cut and paste some marketing material onto their sites so they could have a list of items and get clicks/pageviews for that sweet ad revenue. Apparently posts that are just lists of things do pretty well in terms of catching people’s attention.
I’m not going to bombard you with a list of services or make you check multiple pages to see content. Instead, I’ll just briefly go over what I personally looked at, what I went with (which was obviously Mint), and why.
My first instinct was to go with Google Fi. I have a Google Pixel 2 XL. It’s a great phone. It takes great photos and has plenty of storage. It runs the latest version of Android and gets updates directly from Google. So, I figured why not get service from Google as well? Short answer is that they charge too much and offer extras that don’t really apply to the average consumer.
Google Fi seems to be more targeted to people who are going to travel internationally frequently. Plus, it was about the same price as post-paid plans so I wouldn’t really save anything. Some of the more interesting extras that Google Fi offers, like automatically connecting to trusted high speed WiFi networks, are things that my phone does already because it’s a Pixel.
So, hard pass.
Verizon Visible looks like a really good service. It’s $40 bucks a month for unlimited everything. They used to have a data speed cap, but that was removed for a promotional period and would have applied to the life of our account with the service. We were already using Verizon’s service and figured it would be a piece of cake to switch over, but we hit a roadblock.
Verizon Visible claims my Google Pixel 2 XL is not compatible with their service. The phone that I’m using on Verizon is not compatible with Verizon? More like, Verizon Visible wants to push me to buy a new phone through them and give them more money that I shouldn’t have to.
So, no thank you.
I considered stuff like to Boost Mobile and Metro, but I just didn’t like the plans. They didn’t seem to be offering much for the price. That was when I stumbled onto Mint Mobile.
I’m going to be honest. Mint Mobile sounded pretty flaky and weird when I first looked at the website. I think what really threw me off was the idea of paying for multiple months in advance because that locked you in right away to something that might suck. The buy-in for the first 3 months is heavily discounted, but what finally sold me on giving it a shot is that the company is owned by Ryan Reynolds.
Maybe that sounds kind of stupid, but I figured that even if the service sucked for 3 months, it would be kind of neat to use a phone service owned by Deadpool for a while.
Mint Mobile Costs & Performance
So, I spent $120 + (normal) regulatory fees for two lines for three months of service with unlimited talk, text, and 8 GB of 4G LTE data per month running on T-Mobile’s network. We received the SIM cards for Mint about 3 business days after ordering them. The shipping was free.
Yup! Basically $20 a month for talk, text, and 8 GB of data that isn’t speed capped. After the 8 GB you get slammed down to 2G but can use another 92 GB of data if you can suffer through 2G page loads. I’m not sure you could actually use 92 GB of 2G data in a month, actually, unless you were doing something nuts.
The price-point on the plan both delighted and terrified me. On the one hand, it’s a great price for what I was getting. On the other hand, what if the service was absolutely terrible because of the price I was paying?
Mint is able to keep their plans that cheap because they have themselves set up as a wholesaler. They sell multiple months of service at a time so they get a discount from T-Mobile and they pass those savings on to the consumer. They’re basically the Costco or Sam’s Club of MVNOs.
Passing on savings and helping consumers give a big middle finger to the major phone carriers is part of their marketing platform, though it’s a bit ironic since Mint runs on T-Mobile. The savings is real, though, and I’m enjoying it.
After the promotional period for the first three months, it’s $105 per line for another three months, or you can pay for a year up front and keep the promotional per month price. On my current plan it would wind up being $263.78 for a year of service, including regulatory fees and taxes. There’s also a $15 per month plan with 3 GB of data and a $25 per month plan with 12 GB of data.
I was a little concerned about the data cap, but I tweaked a few apps to not auto-play videos, stopped watching Netflix without the WiFi on at the gym, switched photo backups to WiFi-only, and started downloading my Spotify playlists while on WiFi. It only took a few minutes to run through updating app settings and I’m able to use the phone’s built in Settings menu to monitor each app’s data usage to see if I needed to make any additional changes.
Now, with 11 days left on my current 30-day cycle, I’ve only used 1.44 GB of data. That’s with regular use, including Google Maps, Waze Navigation, Transit, some Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Outlook, Memrise, and web browsing for news. I think the majority of my data usage before, which often hit 14+GB a month, was streaming Spotify with high-quality audio. So, the 8 GB 4G LTE data cap is really not a problem.
Caveat: I’m an Optimum Online customer and can automatically connect to Optimum Online hotspots around the Bronx. I also made use of LinkNYC free public WiFi and library/museum/business/transit free WiFi when available. Basically, I was more conscious about using free WiFi resources where before I didn’t give it any thought.
In terms of actual performance, I can see the difference between Mint and Verizon, but it’s not as severe as I expected. The calls are choppier in Midtown Manhattan, especially if we try to use Telegram data calling. If I try to play video over mobile, the quality isn’t as good and sometimes it buffers. At $20 per month, I feel like this is a fair trade-off. Almost everyone has some issues in Midtown and this is more of a T-Mobile coverage problem than a Mint problem.
The more serious issue I’ve noticed relates to data connectivity. If my phone has been connected to a WiFi network, mobile data often doesn’t automatically kick on when I lose the WiFi signal. I have to put my phone in Airplane Mode for a few seconds to force the data connection to activate.
I’ve seen this complaint repeated in a few forums and my wife’s phone has the same problem, so I know it’s not unique to my experience. On my wife’s iPhone, using the Airplane Mode trick sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes she has to power-cycle the device, which is time consuming and disruptive.
Other than that, the service works as well as I would expect from any mobile service.
In short, there’s no reason to overpay for mobile service unless you really want to or you just have money to burn. We decided to stop and switched to an MVNO and we were able to do that without compromising our quality of life in any serious way by switching to Mint Mobile.
In the process, we saved $440 in the first 3 months of service. After the promotional period, we’ll still save $110 per month compared to what we were paying Verizon. If we do the one-year up-front renewal we’ll save about $1624 compared to what we would have paid Verizon.
It feels like we’re paying a fair price for the service we’re getting instead of feeling ripped off every month.
Performance-wise, the issue where the phone occasionally doesn’t start using mobile data after leaving a WiFi network is aggravating, but not a deal-breaker. Not for me, anyway. The issue seems to be a lot more annoying with an iPhone, so keep that in mind.
Long-story short: unless something changes drastically, when my three month promo period is up, I’m going to buy a year of Mint Mobile service up-front. I’m going to play with data usage to see what I can get away with comfortably without hitting my cap and maybe I’ll move to the 12 GB plan so I can stream more spur-of-the-moment music, but I’m pretty satisfied with Mint Mobile so far.
A word of caution
Before you commit to changing carriers (buy a SIM or remove your SIM from your phone) do yourself a favor and do these three things first:
- check to make sure that your phone is unlocked by calling your current carrier.
- make sure your phone is compatible by using the tool on the Mint Mobile website.
- make sure your phone hasn’t been IMEI blacklisted. You can find that out easily and for free by using the IMEI checker on T-Mobile’s website. If it has an issue it’ll let you know that your phone is blocked. I’ll write more about that in a follow-up post.
If you see that your phone is “blocked” or “blacklisted” using an IMEI checker, do not remove the SIM card from your phone until the issue is resolved. If you do, when you put any SIM card back into the phone (including the one you just took out), the service associated with the SIM card will check the IMEI blacklist and if your phone is on it, it will prevent your phone from activating and you won’t be able to use it again on any carrier.