I've been no-contract since before T-Mobile made it cool

Crave writer Amanda Kooser looks at the pros and cons of using an old Droid X on a no-contract network. Definite advantage: getting away with paying less than $30 per month for her smartphone use.

Droid X
My trusty Droid X may be a little musty, but it works. Amanda Kooser/CNET

Oh, T-Mobile has gone no-contract ? Yes, this is a big step for a major national carrier, but for me, it's whoop-de-doo. I've been no-contract for a year already. Plus, I have access to that big, juicy Verizon network that lets me make calls from the middle of the mountains in New Mexico. I'm a customer of Page Plus Cellular, a company that resells Verizon's data and talk-time network. I can quit anytime, with no fear of penalties.

Now that T-Mobile got all coy and dumped the contracts , it feels a bit to me like discovering a cool underground band and then having it hit the Billboard charts and hearing its best song on a McDonald's commercial. I can't really pull off a hipper-than-thou attitude about this, though. After all, I am making some sacrifices to ride the no-contract bandwagon. Here are the pros and cons as I see them.

Making the no-contract leap
Services like Page Plus Cellular and other no-contract resellers aren't for the faint of heart. There are no safety nets or fat initial discounts on expensive smartphones. I'm using a used old Droid X I picked up for $160 on eBay. It was already guaranteed to be compatible with Page Plus by the seller, who also assisted in getting it up and running on the network. Lucky me, the phone has been solid and didn't fritz out a week after purchase.

So my Droid X is nearly 3 years old. That's ancient in smartphone terms, but, hey, I'm cool with that. It works like a champ. I have all the apps I want at my fingertips. Sure, the look and interface isn't as refined as the latest versions of Android, but that's not a deal-breaker for me. If you're a bleeding-edge smartphone user, this sort of arrangement probably isn't going to work for you.

Calling all cheapskates
Let's move on to my absolute favorite part of being a no-contract phone customer. My bill is less than $30 per month. That's a third of the price of Verizon's cheapest smartphone plan. For that amount, I'm getting 1,200 minutes of talk, 3,000 text messages, and 250MB of data.

I can hear you snickering at my paltry data allowance, but I have a secret weapon: an iPad. My Verizon iPad adds $20 per month to my communications bill and keeps me surfing, e-mailing, and working in comfortable style. That's why I never come close to burning up my smartphone data allotment. Total bill: under $50 per month for both devices.

No-contract doesn't mean no compromises
While I'm padding my bank account, I nonetheless have to pause and examine my deepest no-contract sorrow. No 4G. Right now, Page Plus only offers 3G service. That means I can't run to eBay, get a 4G phone, and bask in 4G speeds. It's just not going to happen, and there's no indication from Page Plus that it will anytime soon.

Life is full of trade-offs. I've got an old phone, but it's on a wide-reaching network. I can't access 4G, but my plan is dirt cheap. Ultimately, no-contract means I feel pretty free. I can change phones, change plans, even change providers if I want to, and I'm not going to have to jump through hoops or pay penalties or wait for a contract to expire.

No-contract works for me, but it's not for everyone. For those of you dipping your toes into the no-contract waters through T-Mobile, I say, "Welcome to the family." For those of you already taking a swim in them, how's it going for you?

 

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