Is Mint Mobile worth it? Yes!

A banner image showing the Mint Mobile Fox mascot holding a smartphone.

Contents:


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:

Motorola Cingulare flip-style mobile phone

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.

Check out Marie Kondo’s Netflix special, “Tidying Up“, or her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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.

Options

Google Fi

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

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.

Mint Mobile

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.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool

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

Costs

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.

Performance

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.

Summary

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:

  1. check to make sure that your phone is unlocked by calling your current carrier.
  2. make sure your phone is compatible by using the tool on the Mint Mobile website.
  3. 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.

Weekend Adventure: The East Coast Chamber Orchestra & Rescuing Cheesecake

The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool

The Orchestra

Saturday we attended a synagogue service and ran into an acquaintance of ours who had two tickets for an orchestral performance he wasn’t going to be able to attend. He didn’t want to waste them by throwing them out, so he gave the tickets to me and my wife. I imagine he wasn’t planning on attending because of the cold. We weren’t sure we were going to go either, but we’d never seen a live orchestral performance so we figured this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Bundling up and heading back downtown after warming back up at home was a great decision!

The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool
The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool

It was a great experience that we’re both looking forward to repeating in the future. There’s something about hearing classical music performed live that is electrifying in a way that mp3s just can’t convey. I suppose it has something to do with the huge crowd of people all being there for the same reason, seeing the exertion and passion the artists are pouring into their playing on the stage, and experiencing the energy in the room as the crowd claps and cheers after sets.

The chamber orchestra we saw is called the East Coast Chamber Orchestra. They were performing as part of the Arens series of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts 2013-2014 season. ECCO is a string orchestra that plays without a conductor. The member that introduced the group said they take turns leading. I’m not sure how they do that, but they managed to pull it off extremely well.

The venue itself was odd, I thought, because it was in a high school, but Washington Irving High School’s lobby and performance hall is very attractive. It has an old style of architecture that is very classy. The seats were hard though. By about halfway through I wished I’d brought a cushion. I probably should have just folded my coat and sat on that.

The best part of the concert was when ECCO performed Virtuosity: Five Microconcertos for String Orchestra. The composer, David Ludwig, happened to be in attendance so he gave an introduction to the piece. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the music was very engaging and the artists’ performance was amazing.

The concert was eye opening for me and gave me a new appreciation for classical music. I suppose I had gotten used to the idea that complex and powerful music was something that could only be achieved with computers. We’ve been in New York City for about two years now, and we kept talking about going out to do something like this, something new, but because of our routines and schedules we never quite got around to it. So, we were introduced to an amazing new form of entertaining just by chance, because someone had extra tickets and couldn’t use them. Sometime soon, we’re going to have to go see the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Animal Rescue: Saving Cheesecake

After the concert, we walked over to Veniero’s Pasticceria on 11th Street and 1st Ave. We figured, why not finish off a great night with a great dessert and some a wine? It was getting late, though, so we got our order to go and got on the train. When we got home, we put the pastries in the fridge and went out with the dog to walk him. That’s when the evening took an unexpected turn.

We were walking past the narrow little alley next to our building where the next building over stores garbage between pick-up days. There was this orange cat sitting there in the snow, crying and pacing back and forth. The opening of the alley is blocked with a steel gate. I can only imagine the cat jumped down into the alley from behind the buildings and couldn’t get out. We couldn’t just leave him stuck there. If we did, he might have frozen to death. He was so pitiful and every time we talked to him he cried even more loudly.

I got on the phone with 911, because I expected them to send animal control. I figured, even if he goes to the shelter and runs the risk of being euthanized, that’s better than the cat dying of a combination of starvation, dehydration and hypothermia.

That call didn’t go quite as planned. I grew up with this idea in my head of firemen with ladders getting cats out of trees. I thought that was probably a little naive but at the last I thought they would send an animal control person with a ladder to get over the gate and get the cat out of the alley. The 911 operator instead transferred me to a “more appropriate agency for this situation” and I was disconnected before the call went through.

So, I called 311. After explaining the situation to the operator, she tried to transfer me back to 911 via a conference call, which ended with the 911 operator asking the 311 operator if she had any sense, since animal control issues are handled by 311. For some reason, the 311 operator was trying to pass off responsibility for doing her job onto 911. I literally had to threaten to report her to a local news station and the ASPCA as letting cats die of exposure because she was too lazy to do her job before she took the call seriously and agreed to submit the report and have police sent over to address the situation.

Keep in mind this was after midnight and I was on the phone for about 30 minutes, standing in the street, with it only being about 23 degrees outside.

Right about the time she finished taking my info and was about to submit the report, the cat made a loud yowling noise and launched himself vertically at the gate and managed to catch hold of the grating and haul himself to the top. He almost fell back in, but he eventually jumped down onto the sidewalk.

Cheesecake spending the night in our travel carrier in the bathroom.
Cheesecake spending the night in our travel carrier in the bathroom.

Of course, it didn’t end there. I couldn’t leave the cat in the cold. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. So, I called to the cat and he followed me upstairs where I put him in the bathroom of our apartment. I dug a big animal carrier we have from our international move with our cats back to the US out of the closet and put the cat in it for the night.

Today we took him to New York City Animal Care and Control. We tried to get him into a few no-kill shelters, but all of the NK shelters in NYC are not accepting cats. So, we’ll keep up with his progress and try to make sure he doesn’t get euthanized, but at least he’s not freezing to death.

Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.

Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.

He is a very good cat. Very well behaved. I had my gloves on, but when I picked him up he didn’t even try to fight back. He seemed very happy just to be warm and to have something to eat and drink. According to my wife, he was very behaved at the shelter as well.

When the intake person asked for the cat’s name, my wife called him Cheesecake. So, now Cheesecake is in the shelter, going through a health assessment. I hope this turns out well.

This is just a frozen strawberry and a chunk of ice I found on the sidewalk. It seemed oddly out place.
This is just a frozen strawberry and a chunk of ice I found on the sidewalk. It seemed oddly out place.

The Tokyo Circus in Lower East Manhattan

Tokyo Circus in Union Square Station, Manhattan, New York City.

On my way home from class tonight, I passed through Union Square station, and I happened to hear some really funky music playing.  There was a crowd so I stopped to see what was going on and saw this wildly dressed group of Asian people dancing around and having a good time.  I won’t lie.  My first thought was, “WTF Asian people.  Ha ha ha!”  They’re obviously slightly off center from normal, but they were holding signs that say “Be Yourself” and “Your smile is beautiful”.  It’s an encouraging, positive message, and I felt it was worth a dollar in the hat they had sitting on the floor.

When I got home, I took a look at the photos I’d taken and noticed a web address on the sign the guy on the right was holding that led to a site that identifies them as “Tokyo Circus”.  It has an ad that says they performed at a local bar on the 26th.  I guess they’re still hanging around to raise funds.  Maybe their performance wasn’t as profitable as they’d hoped.  This sort of thing seems a little out there, even for NYC.

After looking at some of the … unusual… videos they have displayed on their site, like the ones below, it makes me wonder just what my dollar is going to support, but at least it’s entertaining!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v/8v074W9OAi0

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v/-4EbbeaSDpo

New York City Express Train Gymnastics and Dancing

A night or two ago I was on the express train, either the 4 or 5 (they run the same track), heading to Union Square, and this guy announced that he was going to give us a performance.  He reached into a plastic bag on the floor and turned on his radio.  Then he did some gymnastics and dancing using the bars in the train that you’re meant to hold onto.  I was a bit worried that he might accidentally kick someone in the head, maybe me since I was sitting so close.  He pulled it off without incident though, and it was definitely entertaining after a long day, so when he asked for a handout afterwards, quite a few people gave him some change.  I gave him a dollar.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v/ep9Dwie5Ym0

I never hand out money to beggars, because it annoys me and there are plenty of social programs to help them get a job, but I don’t mind handing out a little cash to someone that’s working for it, even if it’s just a minute long show on a subway train.

Acrobatic Street Performers on Orchard Road

Asian Acrobats on Orchard Road in Singapore
Asian Acrobats on Orchard Road in Singapore

In January I happened to be walking down Orchard Road and I saw a crowd gathering.  There were two girls doing an acrobatics performance for tips.  They were really good, so I pulled out my camera and tried to record some of it.  The lighting was pretty bad since it was late, but this is what I got:

Acrobat Street Performers

This past Saturday I saw them again, doing another performance on Orchard Road.  I was a bit surprised, but their act is good, so I suppose there’s no reason for them to stop.  This time, it was still early evening so I got out my camera and managed to get some better video this time, as well as the nice photo at the top of this post.

Flexy Girls Performing on Orchard Road

At the end of the second video, you’ll see a man walk up and lean forward.  He was dropping money into a basket.  We decided to chip in too, since the performance was really good and when we dropped our money in we saw that they were doing really well for themselves.  That’s good.  Real Talent should be rewarded.

I hope you enjoy the videos!  Let me know what you think of this pair and their act!