6 things you should know about FreedomPop's Unreal Mobile service
With prices starting at $10 per month, it sounds like a killer deal on phone service. Is it?
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Unreal now supports both CDMA and GSM phones, with Sprint providing the network for the former and AT&T for the latter. (In case you're unfamiliar with those terms, Sprint and
employ CDMA technologies in their networks; AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM.)
Which phones are compatible?
Thanks to the recent addition of the GSM option, pretty much any unlocked phone will work. If your phone supports both CDMA and GSM, I recommend getting a SIM card for the latter.
Unreal also sells a handful of phones directly, including a refurbished Alacatel Dawn for $50 and certified preowned
How much does it cost?
Unreal Mobile offers contract-free plans starting at $10 per month. That base plan includes unlimited calls, texts and data, with 1GB of high-speed data that can roll over from month to month. Other options include a $20-per-month plan that bumps you to 3GB and a 5GB plan for $30.
How does that compare with other budget-minded MVNOs? Mint Mobile, for one, offers 5GB per month for $20, but you have to prepay for 3 or 12 months at a time. Tello charges $14 and $19 per month for unlimited service and 1GB and 2GB of high-speed data. And TextNow recently introduced an unlimited single-line plan for $40 per month.
So Unreal's rates are definitely competitive. That 1GB plan for $10 stands out as one of the cheapest options for operating a phone with at least some high-speed data.
What else is included?
All plans include ad-blocking,
, live online support and rollover data: Any unused high-speed data is added to your overall pot. Unreal also lets you use your number on a tablet or computer in addition to your phone.
That last part is interesting. Although your phone will have a traditional
and use a traditional mobile network (see below), your phone number will be virtual, and therefore accessible via voice-over-IP on other devices.
If mobile hotspot is either included or available separately, we have no idea: It's not mentioned anywhere, including Unreal's FAQ pages.
Watch this: 3 ways to save money using your phone
When can I sign up?
Unreal Mobile is now available open to the public (membership was previously invitation-only), so you can sign up for service immediately. However, as with FreedomPop, you'll have to jump through the hoops of entering your ZIP code, email address and phone number before you can even see what plans or phones are available.
Be aware that if you merely click Check Availability Now, Unreal will assume that you plan to buy a phone and prevent you proceeding to checkout without selecting one. If you're bringing your own phone, be sure to click that option in the upper toolbar.
What about customer service?
In my capacity as The Cheapskate, I've written about FreedomPop multiple times. Every time, readers get in touch to complain about the carrier's customer service: unexpected charges, unanswered support requests and difficulty navigating the web portal.
It remains to be seen whether Unreal Mobile will suffer from any of these same issues, but the spokesperson did tell us that customer service will be based in the US and the company "looked at consumer concerns across the industry to ensure this service is a standout."
From what I've seen of the Unreal site so far, however, it seems similar to FreedomPop's, just with a fresh coat of paint.
Originally published May 25. Update, Sept. 7: Added new information.