With a two-year contract the norm and unlimited talk and text required charges for cell phone service, considering a data only cell phone plan may be the better option next time you’re in the market for a new device. These plans are often cheaper — much cheaper — than the cell phone plans offered by most major carriers, though the device choices may be more limited. Check out the top data only cell phone plans below.
Cell phone plans with voice and text are expensive, complicated things. There are contract and no contract options, subsidized phones and ones you pay for over time, and complex data restrictions. As phone calls and text messages are replaced with iMessaging, Facebook Messenger or Skype, does it make sense to wade through the comprehensive plan options that are on the market?
It might not. Data only plans can be much cheaper, even though the device choices may be more limited. You also may need some specific apps to make up for the functionality you're missing from a standard cell phone plan. Read on to find out all the details of this enticing option.
What Are the Costs?
Verizon’s services provide an excellent example of the cost savings available by switching to a data-only plan. They offer service for tablets, such as iPads, for around $30 a month. That sticker price includes four GB of data and no long-term commitment.
Compare that to their equivalent cell phone plan. An iPhone with four GB of data and no commitment racks up a service fee of $70 per month. The additional $40 is for unlimited talk and text, which is required by Verizon on all of their phone plans. Over the course of the year, choosing a cell phone plan over a data-only plan costs $480 more through Verizon.
This example isn’t extraordinary. Across the market, data-only plans range from $25 to $70 or more. There’s a price difference from carrier to carrier, but much of that range is based on the data cap you choose. An average data-only plan subscriber pays around $35 a month for email, web and some streaming.
Here’s an overview of the plan options that are currently available.
T-Mobile offers two types of data-only plans: No Contract and Unlimited Data.
Their No Contract plan is only available for Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices, but monthly access starts at $25 a month. For that price, you get 1.5 GB of data, which is enough for a month’s worth of email and web browsing, plus a limited amount of heavier use, like photo uploads. No Contract plans with a higher data allowance are also available: $35 per month for 3.5 GB and $50 a month for five GB.
Similarly, the “Unlimited” Data plan is restricted to Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone devices. Unlike the No Contract plan, it requires a two-year contract. While this can be a deal breaker for shoppers looking for flexibility in their data plan, it’s great for users whose data use isn’t consistent from month to month. For the first two GB of data used in a month, users will pay $40. After that, the Overage-Free Plus provides additional data for free but at a reduced speed.
Sprint Relay’s biggest advantage is device selection. This data-only plan can be chosen for the most popular devices, including iPhones, the Galaxy S series and HTC Evo. Like Sprint’s nearly unlimited plan, it provides users with a set amount of data, in this case five GB, and after that additional data is free but slow. This plan runs $45 a month. All incoming calls to phones on this plan are blocked and any outgoing calls incur a voice charge of $0.20 per minute.
Simple Mobile is more expensive than the T-Mobile plan options, which makes sense. This company buys leftover bandwidth in bulk and resells it directly to customers. It’s intended to be used with tablets, but it’s functional for any device with a SIM card. Two GB of data costs $45 a month.
If you’re willing to switch from a phone to a tablet, you could also take advantage of the month-to-month tablet data plans available from many other carriers. Many of the same apps available for phones function on tablets that make use of the same operating systems.
Apps are essential to fill the gap between data-only plans and the traditional cellphone plans that include voice and text, but the myriad options available do so nicely. Setting up some of these services may require some technical expertise, but many of them offer simple solutions.
There are dozens of options available to make calls using your Internet connection. Among the most popular are Skype and Google Voice.
Skype functions on iOS and Android devices and offers instant messaging, voice and video calling. Generally, calls to other Skype users are free, though you may have to pay by the minute to make calls to other people. Video calls can use data quickly, so be wary.
Google Voice is also a free option that allows users to make calls to any number. It can be connected to a Gmail email account, and you can even set up voicemail. Since Google Voice is newer, it tends to be a bit buggier than Skype’s pay-per-minute model.
Additionally, Facebook Messenger has recently added free voice calling to other users on your friends list.
The good text options are more numerous than the voice ones. On iOS, iMessaging can be enabled to allow text messages to be sent via data to any device with a phone number. These messages are also synced across devices running the same OS.
Other texting options include GroupMe, which is ideal for group messages. It does have a direct messaging option that works through push notifications.
Facebook Messenger is a popular messaging app as well, connecting users with people on their friends list or other users, depending on their privacy settings. GTalk, WeChat and Imo all offer texting alternatives.
So what’s are the downsides of switching to a data-only plan?
It takes time to set up the apps and features you need to bridge the gap between these less expensive plans and traditional talk and text plans. If you’re using a tablet, you’ll need to set up a Voice over IP, commonly referred to as a VoIP, number.
This is fairly simple to accomplish with online resources, but communicating the change with friends and family members may be a hassle, as you can’t port your old phone number to one of these services.
Google Voice is a common app choice for establishing a phone number, but it has its limitations. Text messages can’t contain pictures or videos, and your number can’t be used in group messages. On iOS devices, iMessage solves this problem, but for other devices it may be more of a concern.
Many of the services that pair well with a data-only plan only let you communicate with other users of the service, or they charge a fee to communicate with outside contacts. You may have trouble getting friends and family to use these services, especially if they’re less technically inclined. Additional expenses from messaging them may burn through what you save by switching to a data-only plan.
The advantages, however, are straightforward: savings. While these workarounds may be time consuming to research and set up, the time investment is repaid with a flexible, cheaper alternative to mobile communication and computing.
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