Faking a SmartPhone: iPod Touch, MiFi, and Virgin Mobile
Maybe I’m cheap or maybe I’m frugal, but either way, I’ve found unique ways to keep my world connected for a lot less than most people pay for a monthly smartphone data plan. Granted, it usually involves me carrying more than one device and thus I lose convenience for monetary savings, but the numbers add up enough that it’s worth it. So, without further adieu, I give you the magical formula I use to save money and still stay connected on the go.
Let me be clear: this isn’t for everyone. There are a ton of valid arguments for why having an iPhone or Android smartphone and $60+/month plan is the right fit for you. However, judging by the popularity of Pay-As-You-Go plans, this may fit the bill for those sometimes techies.
The majority of my talk time is spent on a Vonage VoIP phone with 300 minutes for $11.99/month (after fees this is closer to $16). The call quality is better than cellular service, more comfortable, and is also where my Google Voice line (business number) rings. With that in mind, I use my cellular phone for phone calls every once in a while, but mostly I use it for text messaging as that is the preferred method of communication by those in their 20′s and 30′s.
iPod Touch – Apple
The iPod Touch has access to almost every app that can be used on an iPhone, and with a little searching, you can even find high quality apps that are designed to be incredibly useful without an internet connection. My favorite is an app called Calendars which syncs with your Google calendar to keep you abreast of what is happening and where. You can also load up Google Maps directions when you have wifi, zoom to your preferred level of detail, and then move around the entire route. All of those maps are stored on the device and are accessible even after you lose connectivity!
All that being said, the iPod Touch is your smartphone fake, and everyone will say to you, “Wow, your phone is so thin!” You get the cool apps, the web browser, and so much more. What you lack is true GPS, a high quality camera, and of course the cell service. Fine, time to solve that problem.
Cellular Phone – Virgin Mobile
Virgin uses the Sprint network for coverage, so if you are in Wyoming or the Dakotas, this isn’t a good option. Otherwise, it’s perfectly fine. With Virgin I choose to go with the ever-so-cheap PayLo plans. I’m on a legacy plan that requires I add $15 to the account every 3 months and I can pay $5/month for 200 text messages or $10/month for 1000 text messages. I also pay $0.18/minute for phone calls and that comes out of my prepaid amount. If you want to make use of Virgin Mobile, we can both get 60 free minutes if you use the Kickback code csdL5d7p when you activate your device.
Current PayLo plans are less flexible, but still are no-contract. Either way, the plans are cheaper than plans from major carriers and have a great selection of phones (I use a basic flip phone that cost me $20).
Internet Everywhere with MiFi – TruConnect
I learned of this deal today through a CNET article that even provides a promo code for 25% off (CNET2012 till 7/6/2012). That means for $79.99 (shipped), you get a small, rechargeable MiFi card that is no-contract access to 3G internet (up to 1.4MB speeds) anywhere. Even more exciting is that it works like a router, allowing you to connect your iPod Touch, laptop, or any other device (or friend’s device) to it! I’ve used these before and it’s very convenient for those emergency situations where you really want internet access and you can’t find free WiFi when stuck in traffic or the coffee shop’s wifi is down.
Either way, the service is $4.99/month when active and then is $0.039 for each MB of traffic. If you’re just checking email, updating maps, etc. this is really inexpensive. According to the CNET article, an average user spends $12/month on data (308MB for those doing the math). I’m taking a trip soon and this will be very handy, but then after the trip I can stop the monthly service ($4.99/month if you’re keeping up) until I need it again.
Summing Things Up
A summary of monthly fees based on my actual usage when possible.
- $12 – Vonage home phone
- $10 – Virgin Mobile cellular service and text messaging
- $0 – iPod Touch is a one-time purchase for the device, no recurring charges
- $10 – TruConnect monthly fee and 128MB data usage
Please note that for fairness, I’m excluding extra fees that are related to all phone or cellular service from this comparison as they are ever-changing and no service is without them.
Compare that to the least expensive monthly plan from Virgin Mobile at $35/month for 300 minutes, unlimited texting, and unlimited data, and we’re at least on par with the best possible pricing out there. However, I could stop using the TruConnect service and save $10 a month when I don’t need it. I could also ditch Vonage if I used the phone less and save $12/month while spending more on the per minute usage on the cell phone. I use 200 minutes of talk time on Vonage, so this isn’t a smart option for me as it would cost $36/month at 18 cents a minute.
Compare this to the cheapest Sprint plan (unlimited text and data with 450 talk minutes is $80/month and you realize that by doing things à la carte there is a lot of room for spending less money for services you are not currently using.