Small Carriers Compared: Slash Your Smartphone Bill
With an estimated subscriber base of about 6 million users, Virgin Mobile has positioned itself as the carrier of choice for “savvy connectors”—18- to 34-year-olds who use their phones 24/7 to stay connected with their friends, but use voice minutes less than other forms of communication, such as Facebook, Instagram, instant messaging and text. Riding on Sprint’s network, the provider’s monthly Beyond Talk plans offer unlimited data, with varying amounts of voice minutes. And you can now get 4G on the cheap.
Unlike other small carriers such as Cricket Wireless, Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer plans with a lot of bells and whistles. However, Beyond Talk subscribers enjoy free access to Virgin Mobile Live, which allows users to stream studio and live performances from past and present Virgin Mobile Festival artists.
Virgin Mobile offers nationwide service via Sprint’s network, covering major metropolitan areas on the West Coast, as well as most of the Northeast and the Midwest. However, certain parts of the country—most of the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming—enjoy barely any coverage at all.
As of May 31, customers who purchase the HTC Evo V can start streaming data at 4G speeds over Sprint’s WiMax network (sorry, no LTE here). The 4G network covers more than 70 major metro areas.
Plans and Value
Even among small carriers, Virgin Mobile’s plans are cheap. First off are the Beyond Talk plans, which include unlimited data and messaging. For 300 anytime minutes, unlimited texting and data, you’ll pay just $35; 1,200 minutes and unlimited texting and data costs $45 per month and $55 per month gets you unlimited data, texting and talk time. Note that these plans include 2.5GB of full-speed data; once you hit that cap, you may get throttled speeds.
If you opt for a phone with mobile hotspot capability, you’ll have to pay $15 extra per month to use that service.
In June, Virgin Mobile became the second small carrier—after Cricket Wireless—to carry the iPhone 4S. Of course, buyers looking for a no-contract iPhone on Virgin Mobile will have to swallow a $549 price tag as a trade-off, as well as 3G speeds (the iPhone won’t run on Sprint’s WiMax network). As of press time, Virgin Mobile also offers seven other smartphones through its online store: the HTC EVO V 4G, HTC Wildfire S, LG Optimus Elite, LG Optimus Slider, LG Optimus V, Motorola Triumph and Venture. Two of the above handsets—the Optimus Slider and Venture—have physical keyboards, which heavy texters will appreciate.
The carrier’s flagship phone is the EVO V 4G, which is Virgin’s version of Sprint’s EVO 3D. It offers 4G WiMax speeds, a 1.2-GHz processor, 4.3-inch screen and mobile hotspot capability. You also get a 5-MP camera with 720p video recording and a front-facing camera.
If you’re looking to stay connected for the smallest monthly fee possible, it’s hard to beat Virgin Mobile—for just $35 per month, you can get unlimited texts and 2.5GB of data. However, you’ll be trading minutes for bytes. Although Virgin’s 4G network doesn’t use the fastest technology, you’re getting very good speeds for the money.
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