Messaging phones will cost you

Verizon Wireless and AT&T now require data plans for their quick messaging phones, but we think customers should have a choice.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
3 min read
Samsung Rogue: the phone that started it all. Josh Miller/CNET

One of the biggest cell phone trends of 2009 was the rapid rise of quick messaging handsets. Not quite a smartphone and made for more than making calls, quick messaging models like the Samsung Impression typically offer QWERTY keyboards, support for 3G networks, and a full HTML browser. And depending on the carrier, GPS, streaming video, and music downloads may be onboard as well.

Messaging phones have become popular because they appeal to consumers who want more than a basic device--particularly one that is centered on texting--but don't want the extra features and required data plan that come with a smartphone. On that last point, however, the landscape is changing quickly.

As customers began to take advantage of the needed features on messaging phones, carriers wanted to capitalize on the extra revenue involved. Verizon Wireless was first out of the gate last year when it required customers purchasing a Samsung Rogue and an LG enV Touch to select one of two data plans ($9.99 for 25MB of data and unlimited e-mail or $29.99 for unlimited data and e-mail). And last month, the carrier added the data plan requirement to five other quick-messaging devices. As my colleague Maggie Reardon wrote then, Verizon instituted the plans because it doesn't want customers to be upset if they incurred expensive data charges from services that they didn't realize they were using.

Fair enough, but I'd still like to be able to opt out of a data plan. If I don't want, or don't plan to use, data then I shouldn't have to pay for it. And Verizon should offer additional options like disabling data features or including a notification that I will incur charges if I go online. If I end up using them anyway then I should be responsible for the associated costs.

Required data plans are completely appropriate for full-fledged smartphones, but messaging phones don't have such a clear identity. Some people undoubtedly use them for Web browsing, video, and the like, but others are perfectly happy to stick only with messaging. And remember that text messaging isn't even included in Verizon's data packages. For that you'll need to pay for texts individually (25 cents per sent message) or buy a bundle (anywhere from from $5 to $20 per month).

Your messaging/data options for the Samsung Impression AT&T/screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Verizon Wireless is not alone. As the Boy Genius Report said Friday, AT&T has a similar policy for some of its messaging phones. For example, when we tried to buy a Samsung Impression on Monday on AT&T's Web site we were told that we had to select one of four messaging/data plans. We could choose unlimited messaging for $20 per month or we could combine messaging and data for either $20 or $30 per month. Unfortunately, we could not select the $5 plan for just 200 messages. Reportedly, the plans also will be required for the Pantech Reveal, Pantech Impact, Motorola Karma, Samsung Flight, Samsung Magnet, Samsung Solstice, Samsung Mythic, Samsung Propel, LG Xenon, LG Neon, and LG Vu.

Here again, I argue for customer choice. AT&T and Verizon may think they're doing us a favor by saving us from bill shock, but in the process we're paying for services that we may never use. To me, it's a question of personal responsibility, rather than a carrier protecting me from making mistakes. Idealistic thinking, perhaps, but it should be my call.