Frugal Plan

29 10 2012

In my last post, I talked about using an Andriod smartphone as a WiFi device . But that still leaves us carrying another phone so we can talk and text when we don’t have access to WiFi. So lets fix that. In the process, we can dump our expensive phone company, their expensive plans and long-term contracts. Instead, I’m on a $12/mo plan from PagePlus Cellular that more than meets my needs.

The first thing you need to do is find a new provider. There are companies like Cricket that have their own networks and you will have to take care that you can get decent coverage in your area. But you will probably be much better off going with a major network reseller like PagePlus a Verizon reseller or Boost a Sprint reseller. PagePlus seems to have the best deals around, but it is not by any means the only option out there.

Your choice of providers will depend on what type of phone you have. The easiest transition will be to use a Verizon phone on a Verizon reseller or Sprint phone with a Sprint reseller etc. These will be able to be programmed OTA (over the air). The resellers don’t seem to mind if your phone has a bad ESN on the network they are reselling. But I can’t guarantee that will always be the case.

You can put a Sprint phone on a Verizon reseller or vice versa because they are both CDMA networks. But the phones will have to be unlocked and flashed. You can’t mix the two types of technologies CDMA (Verizon, Sprint, MetroPCS) and GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile).

Unlocking and flashing your phone can be  a DIY job if you are technically savvy. But for $30-40, it is probably better left to a technician. Your new provider will probably help you find a service center in your area.

Now we’ve got a phone set up with limited minutes, text and data. The next step is to get unlimited calling and text when we are on WiFi. There are a variety of services that allow you to make low cost VOIP calls to regular phones, including Skype and Tango. But keeping with the frugal theme, we are going to be using Google Voice because it gives us free calling to any number in the US and Canada.

If you have fulfilled your contract with your current cell provider, you can port your current number over to Google Voice. Google will charge you $20 to do this and it will cancel your current cell service. If you are still under contract, you will most likely need to sign up for a new Google Voice number (free). You can then add your new phone number   (from your PagePlus or whoever your new provider is) and optionally your home and work numbers too, to your Google Voice account. Once it is configured you can send and receive calls and text over WiFi when it is available and have them routed to your cell number when it is not.

The 10MB of data that comes with the PagePlus plan isn’t going to allow you to jog around the neighborhood listening to Pandora. But it is enough to occasionally check your email or do a few lookups when out and about. But you will have to be sure that you disable mobile data when you aren’t using it. Otherwise apps running in the background will use up all of your data. You can get an app like Quick Settings that lets you easily turn mobile data off and on.


Frugal Fone (or how to get an Android without being extorted)

28 09 2012

I really love the concept of “smart” phones.  But wireless vendors have taken this great idea and used it as an excuse to extort their customers. Recently I had to upgrade my daughter’s broken phone and Verizon gave us a paltry selection of three phones that did not require a data plan. They were ugly and expensive phones at that ($30 was the cheapest) . However they had an excellent selection of “smart” phones, eleven of which were offered free of charge, and all of which REQUIRED an expensive data plan.

“Not a problem,” you say, “I’ll just get a nice smart phone from ebay or some other third party, join it to their network as a regular phone and just not use 3G/4G.  But our gracious providers will detect that it is a smart phone and will automatically enroll you in a data plan. I guess they couldn’t bare the thought of you possibly facing data overage charges. Isn’t that great?

But here’s a revolutionary idea, and the point of this post, get a smart phone and skip the cell provider. Consider how much of your day you spend in WiFi coverage.   If you’re like me, its probably upwards of 90-95% of your day. There are wireless networks everywhere; at home, at work, on campus, at restaurants and hotels.

With WiFi access, I can do pretty much everything on my Frugal Fone; including sending and receiving email, phone calls and text messages (talkatone), video conferencing (skype), watching Netflix and of course web browsing. And even offline it can still do some pretty cool stuff like turn-by-turn GPS navigation (CoPilot), play music and movies, listen to audio books (LibriVox), read eBooks (Moon+ Reader), and play games (Angry Birds of course).

I am assuming you are frugal as well or you wouldn’t still be here, so lets talk dollars and cents. A shiny new Galaxy S III will set you back $200 up front and $720 minimum in data charges over the next two years that you just committed yourself to. (That DOESN’T include the cost of regular cell phone service that will cost you at least $50 a month, $1200 for the contract.) But $920 is really the price tag on that shiny new Android phone from your cell provider. Not at all “smart” in my book.

If we were to buy pieces of Android phone functionality individually it might look something like this:

  • GPS navigation system – $150
  • Camera/Camcorder – $90
  • 32GB MP3/Video Player – $140
  • 5″ eBook Reader – $80
  • Handheld Gaming System – $125

That totals $585 if you were to buy them all. But again, being well beyond the threshold of being frugal, it is unlikely that we would go this route either.

Enter the Frugal Fone, and ebay or craigslist. The truth is you can buy a used Android phone and NOT connect it to your provider’s network. And because we don’t need to connect it to the cell provider, we can buy phones that have been black-listed. When a customer doesn’t fulfill their contract, cell providers will black-list their phone so it can never again join their network. And the major carriers will not allow you to use a phone sold by another carrier on their network. As such, these black-listed phones sell for much less but suit our purposes just fine. You should be able to pick up a nice one for less than it would cost you for a month or two worth of data charges.