Big phone companies try to confuse you. When you go to their site they offer you an overwhelming amount of phones and plans. As you try to sort it out, it only gets more confusing. They do this on purpose. Most people give up and go to the mall or their local store. This is when the scamming really starts. The sales guy tries to sell you as much as he can while making your bill as high as possible.
When cell phones first got popular you could get an affordable plan for $20 - $40 a month. But the phones kept getting more complicated and the plans got more expensive. Then came the smartphone. This allowed the phone companies to charge $60, $80, $100 or more! At first you got unlimited bandwidth. Then, companies like AT&T, T-mobile, Verizon, and Sprint changed their policy. No more unlimited bandwidth. Prices went up. Monthly data limits went down.
Well, I'm happy to report that I figured out how to cut my smartphone bill in half. I still get to surf the web, chat, send email, watch video, stream music, and do all the other cool stuff that I used to do. The only difference is that my bill is $30 a month instead of $60. This method isn't magic. Anyone can do it by following simple instructions. Also check out the Cheap Smartphone FAQ (frequently asked questions).
What have you got to lose? Just a ridiculously high cell phone bill. I'm not charging you anything. This information is free for anyone to use.
HOW TO GET A CHEAP SMARTPHONE:
DON'T CALL OR TALK TO CELL PHONE COMPANY EMPLOYEES ABOUT THIS!
Under NO circumstances should you call, go to a store, or talk to an employee about this method. They will tell you that you can't do it. They will tell you that it won't work. They will tell you that this method is not for your specific plan or phone. If you tell them that you are doing this they'll threaten to disable your account or start billing you for a higher amount. You'll regret talking to them so don't do it!
The first thing that you need is an UNLOCKED phone. The only exception here is T-mobile. Since you will be signing up for a monthly T-mobile plan you can use a phone that is locked to the T-mobile network. Phone companies in the USA (like Verizon, T-mobile, AT&T or Sprint) sell phones that are locked into their specific networks. This means that you can't take an iPhone from the AT&T network and start using it on T-mobile without first unlocking it. Verizon or Sprint phones won't work with this method at all. These companies use an entirely different network architecture (called CDMA) that is not compatible with T-mobile. If you have a Verizon or Sprint phone you'll have to get a new, unlocked phone that works on T-mobile's GSM network. Places to get unlocked phones:
Get a T-Mobile SIM Card Activation Kit from the web site. The total cost should be about $3 plus tax and includes free shipping (it works out to about $3.25). It should take 4 to 5 days for your prepaid SIM card activation kit to arrive in the mail. (Note: if you have an iPhone you should buy a Micro SIM card kit). It will look something like this:
Activate your SIM card on the web site: http://www.T-Mobile.com/PrepaidActivation. Do NOT call the 1-800 number printed in the kit. And definitely do NOT take it to a local store to activate. If they find out that you are using this for a smartphone that is not on their approved list from Wal-Mart they will tell you that it can't be done. They will attempt to switch you to a $50, $80 or $100 / month plan instead. If you activate it on the web site they don't have any way of knowing what type of phone or device you have. Just follow the steps on the web site. It will ask you for:
The first plan only offers 30 MB of data which is very small. You could use this up by watching one YouTube video. The second plan says "unlimited" but, really gives you up to 5GB at up to 4G speeds. It is available for new activations only and sold exclusively in-store at Wal-Mart, on Walmart.com, and T-Mobile.com.
Choose how you want to fund your account. These accounts are prepaid and do not require any contract. It's a monthly account that you pay for in advance. You can either provide a credit card and pay on the T-mobile web site. Or you can purchase minute refills from Wal-Mart or Walmart.com. You can manage your new phone on the web by creating an account at my.t-mobile.com. As long as you pay for your next month in advance your account will remain active.
The final steps are to log in at my.t-mobile.com and disable Web Guard (parental controls) and set up voicemail. You should be able to press and hold the 1 key on your phone to access your voicemail. If this doesn't work, you can call 1-805-637-7243 and follow the instructions.
Note for iPhone / iPad users:
You will have to set your device up to use the T-mobile network settings. Just use your old SIM or get on WIFI and point your device's browser to: http://www.unlockit.co.nz
Also, if you have a 2 year contract with AT&T you should check the fine print carefully before you break your contract. It could end up costing you a lot of money.
Enjoy your smartphone and say goodbye to your $80 / month bill!
Cheap Smartphone FAQ (frequently asked questions)
Q: Can I keep my same phone number?
A: No. Well, not easily. People have reported talking T-mobile customer support into porting their existing number. So, it can be done. But, there are a lot of people who have said that T-mobile will tell you that you can't do it. If you can convince a support agent to port your existing number to a pre-paid account then it will work. It all depends on who you talk to, how lazy they are and how well they know the system. If you do want to attempt it
Q: Can I use an Apple iPhone / iPad with this method?
A: Yes. But, the iPhone uses a different sized SIM card. To get it to work you'll have to buy a Micro SIM card activation kit or get a SIM cutter which costs about $6. AT&T also uses a different frequency for their network. So, when you switch, you might not get full 3G speed. But, this might be changing very soon.
Q: How do I get the data plan to work with my iPhone / iPad?
A: There are settings you have to change to enable Data, MMS and WAP services on the T-Mobile network. For automatic setup just go to: http://www.unlockit.co.nz from your iPhone or iPad.
Q: Why can't I get to certain web sites?
A: By default, T-Mobile's very restrictive Web Guard feature (parental controls) is turned on. Customers designated as the Primary Account Holder (PAH) can add or remove Web Guard via My T-Mobile. There is more information about how to disable it on the T-mobile site.
Q: Can't I just get a Micro SIM from T-mobile's site and use it with the prepaid service on my iPhone / iPad?
A: Yes! Just go here and buy the prepaid Micro SIM card activation kit. If you already have a full-sized SIM card you can get a SIM cutter and use it to make a Micro SIM for your device.
Last updated: February 07, 2012