Is Mint Mobile worth it? Yes!

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.

Staples Doesn’t See Anything Wrong With Preying on Stupidity

Earlier this week I stopped by Staples at Union Square (Manhattan) to make some copies of two documents for a project.  The black and white copies were 11 cents apiece, which I thought was reasonable enough, considering the fact that I saved time by just making my copies there.  Home scanner/printer all-in-ones are fairly slow to scan and slower to print compared to a commercial machine.  The process is pretty simple too.  You put your debit card in a slot, like on an ATM, and when you’re done making copies, you press a button and your card is charged and ejected.

Today, when I was thinking about the dozen pdfs (each 10 –20 pages) that I need to print, my first thought was to go to Staples.  It would be faster, less of a hassle and I have an unlimited MetroCard.  So, off I went.  Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as making copies.

When I walked into the Staples I started looking at the black and white copiers.  There was no spot for a USB drive so I went to the counter to ask about having files printed.  The girl at the counter told me I could leave the files with her and come back and get them in about two hours, or I could rent time on their desktop computers and just print them right away.

Ok, so I went to the desktop computers.  20 cents per minute.  That wasn’t too bad, so I stuck my card into the slot and waited for it to start up.  I plugged in my thumb drive, opened the first pdf and clicked print.  A new box popped up and told me that to print 10 pages it would cost me $5.33.  Wait, what?  I did the math real quick in my head.  11 cents x 10 = $1.10 plus tax.  Uh?  What’s going on?  So I just logged off and went to the counter again, and this is the conversation I had with a male employee.

“I just wanted to double check something with you.  I tried to print out a pdf on your computer and it told me that the total cost would be 5.33.  That seems a bit expensive.”

“Oh yes, to print it’s 99 cents per color page, or 50 cents per black and white page, plus tax!”

“But, the copiers are 11 cents per black and white page.”

“Oh, well on the computers you’re getting the extra services of using the INTERNET and you’re able to print documents!” [If I could make hearts and rainbows appear around the word “Internet” there I would.  He said it like it was a powerful and beautiful magic, the likes of which a fool like me had never seen.]

“But, I’m already paying an extra 20 cents a minute to use the computers.  Why am I also paying more for the same thing as a copy, just to print?”

“Well, it’s a special extra service.”

“What’s special about it?  The end result is the same thing as a copy.  It’s a paper with text and images printed in black and white ink.  Why does it cost so much more?”

“You’re getting the extra service of being able to use our computers.”

“Yes, I get that, but I’m paying 20 cents a minute to use the computer, so why am I also being charged so much more to create the same black and white page as I could on your copier if I’d come here with a hard copy of the document?”

“Well, that’s just the way our pricing is.”

“So, you want to charge me 4 times as much to print as to make a copy and you don’t see anything wrong with that?”

“Nope.”

So, I left.  If I print a document to their copier and the copier prints it, or I put a page on the glass and copy it, it still uses the same amount of materials to produce the new page (copy or freshly printed from a file).  So, I can see paying the 20 cents a minute to use their desktop computer to open the files and send them to the printer.  Sure, why not?  But why should I pay 50 cents instead of 11 cents per page?  Hell, if you think about it, you’d only have to print about 40 pages before you’d already spent so much money you could’ve bought your own home printer, or in my case, a new black ink cartridge.

Staples, how about some better pricing on your print services?

Typical Movie Experience in Singapore

Going to the movies in Singapore can be an ugly experience if you’re not prepared for it.  I’ve often been told by Singaporeans that this is a small island and there isn’t much to do.  I’m not sure I can agree with that, since there seems to be quite a lot to do here.  There’s definitely more to do than in most places I’ve lived, but I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. Regardless, I think that mentality is partially why going to the movies has become so popular here.  More so than what I’ve come to expect anyway. Every movie is packed, even the bad ones.

The first thing you should know about going to the movies in Singapore is that you HAVE to book your seats in advance.  That’s not something I was used to, coming from the US.  There, it’s possible to book your seats in advance through the internet if you want to, but it’s often not necessary.  In some cases, there is no internet booking and you just have to show up early enough to get a ticket before the movie you want to see is sold out.  In Singapore, even days after a movie has been out, if you wait til the last minute and try to get your tickets at the theater you’re likely to be disappointed.  Movie theaters here fill up fast, often leaving only the front two or three rows open to latecomers.  I’ve sat through a movie in the 3rd row before, and it was a very unpleasant experience that left me with a stiff neck.

So, booking online is a must. All of the major theater chains here offer the service and to get really good seats, you should try to book at least a day and a half or two days in advance. Ya, crazy right? That’s especially true if you want to book a ticket for a Friday or Saturday night. For example, about six hours ago (Thursday night at about 8pm) I booked tickets for tomorrow afternoon for a 4:40 showing. Half of the seats were already taken. Ah, and if you haven’t guessed, tickets are booked on a selected seat basis, whereas in the US it’s a first-come first-served when it comes to getting the best seats, regardless of when you bought your ticket.

An example of the seat selection screen for Cathay.  Notice the timer.  If you don’t finish in time the seats become available for someone else to book.  Also, keep in mind that this screen cap was taken 18.5 hours before the movie starts.  The blue Xs are occupied seats.

An example of the Cathay booking confirmation screen.

A friend of mine in Italy asked me what sorts of things you can expect to find at the refreshment stands in a Singapore movie theater, and in this regard things are basically the same as you would find in the US. You’ve got popcorn (sweet and salted), nachos, soda and other drinks and candies. I think there are hotdogs too. This is a bit off-topic, but I was amused to find out from Rowena that in theaters in Italy you can usually find beer at the refreshment stands. That’s an interesting example of cultural influence.

Once you get your refreshments and present your tickets you can head to the theater hall and find your seats.  You would think that at this point everything would go about the same right?  Well, sure, for the most part it does.  You sit down and get to see some previews, the admonition to turn off your cell phone ringers, and the warning that video recording is illegal.  But, interspersed with those previews and warnings are many, many commercials.  Half the time they’re local commercials for small businesses and they’re really not that great.  Also, there are a LOT of them.  I mentioned that right?  If your ticket says your movie starts at 4:30 PM, you can expect the actual film to not start until roughly 4:50 PM or a few minutes later.  I can understand sitting through a few previews and maybe a Coke or Sprite ad, but not 20+ minutes of the stuff.  So, when we go to the movies we tend to walk in a few minutes late, or we mess with our cell phones while waiting for the actual film to start.

After that it’s smooth sailing.

Just some other, dry info:  Tickets are usually 8.50 to 10 SGD apiece and refreshments are high as well, though that’s not anything new for most people.  For two people going to the movies and getting refreshments you can expect to spend 35 to 40 bucks.

Beer & Cigarettes in Singapore

Differences in prices between locations is nothing new to me, but I was shocked to see the price of alcohol and tobacco products in Singapore.

I spent most of the years I lived in the US in the southern states, where prices are more reasonable, due to lower taxes. I won’t go into the “when I was younger” stuff, but when I left the US in 2008 you could get a pack of cigarettes for about 3 dollars in Texas. It was about the same in Georgia. When I would visit my mother in New York City I would typically bring cigarettes with me, because they’re about 7 dollars a pack there, which I thought was ridiculously expensive. Beer is about 5 to 6 bucks a pack regardless of where you are in the States.

So, like I said, I was used to seeing different prices for these items. Still, I was shocked when I saw that in Singapore the average price for a pack of cigarettes is 11 Singapore dollars and the average price for a six pack is about 15 to 18 Singapore dollars. I had to wonder why the prices were so high, and after having spent some time here, I think I’ve found the reason. Singapore is a country that prides itself on cleanliness and that carries over into a push by the government to promote healthy living.

That’s not all bad, of course. I’ve never seen a place with so many parks, free work-out areas, and playgrounds, all of which are kept in near pristine condition. On top of that, each regional area has a gym and pool, which have very low entrance fees. If you’re a swimmer or you like to work out in a gym then you’ll definitely appreciate the Singapore government’s health initiatives.

On the other hand, the Singapore government has also put steep taxes on the alcohol and tobacco, to influence people to use them less, if not quit entirely. Again, that’s not exactly a bad thing. However, for foreigners who come to Singapore to live, it requires a slight lifestyle modification.

I never really drank much anyways, so cutting alcohol almost completely out of my life didn’t phase me. The cost of the cigarettes, though, makes my wallet cry. It’s hard to go from carefree smoking to counting your cigarettes and counting your puffs. I remember tossing half smoked cigarettes into butt cans on my way into buildings, but now I stop to finish the cigarette before continuing.

So, if you move to Singapore and like to drink and smoke, expect the amount of time you spend partying to get cut down. On the bright side, you can take advantage of the convenience of the gyms and pools to get back into shape, so you can look good when you take vacations to the numerous, gorgeous beaches in the Southeast Asia area.