BUYING GUIDE: T-Mobile: is it any good?
Plans, perks and more
Updated: T-Mobile has added a few new unlimited plans, packages for families and plans to shake up the mobile world for businesses. Read on to find out if the Uncarrier is for you.
T-Mobile has been making waves in the US wireless industry for well more than a year now, but is it really worth it to go to all the trouble of switching carriers?
That's a question that plenty of smartphone users have probably asked themselves recently, and there are a lot of factors involved in answering.
T-Mobile has gone to great lengths to brand itself as the "Un-carrier," but what does that really mean? It has unleashed features ranging from free Wi-Fi calling to unlimited international data, but how much do those flashy bonuses affect the minute-to-minute experience on the carrier?
What about the various T-Mobile plans? How do they stack up to the competition?
I switched from a Samsung Galaxy S4 on Verizon to an iPhone 6 Plus and a Simple Choice T-Mobile Jump plan this month, and I believe I can shed a little bit of light on these questions and the T-Mobile iPhone 6 Plus experience in general.
T-Mobile's Simple Choice plans are an undeniably good deal. Every T-Mobile prepaid plan comes with unlimited talk, text and data, though the carrier will kick you off its 4G LTE network if you go over your monthly allotment. That doesn't mean you're stuck without data service, and you don't get hit with a fee, either, but you are relegated to T-Mobile's slower Edge network.
But when T-Mobile CEO John Legere brags that they're contract-free, what he really means is that they don't make you sign an "annual service contract" that binds you to them under threat of heavy fees if you leave.
You do, however, still have to sign a contract if you, for example, sign up for T-Mobile Jump and get a new phone on a payment plan. Here's how signing up for T-Mobile Jump works: if you open a new line and trade in an old device, you can get a new phone for no or little money down, then pay it off on a monthly basis over the course of at most two years.
The contract you sign says you'll ultimately pay at least half the full price of your phone (after which you can upgrade), whether it takes you a year or a minute, and it's worth it for several reasons. For the iPhone 6 that means about $27 per month, and for the iPhone 6 Plus it's about $31, on top of the $10 per month that essentially covers your insurance. This can vary slightly. For example if you want more storage you might pay $100 or $200 upfront.
And for users who need to open up mobile service for more than just themselves, T-Mobile also has family plans including a four line family package for $100 that includes 10 GB of 4G LTE data.
The Un-carrier also has a new unlimited data plan for users who only need two-lines, which provides unlimited talk and text for $100 per month. Meanwhile, additional lines (with a maximum of eight) can be added for $40 per month.
T-Mobile isn't just repaving the mobile world for everyday Joes, the pink carrier is also opening some of its killer deals for businesses. Whether you're a small outfit with less than 10 employees or a mega corporation with over a thousand workers, T-Mobile promises it's rates are 40% more affordable compared to AT&T and Verizon.
Plans start at $16 per line, which then drops off to $15 when you sign up for more than 10. For bigger companies T-Mobile is also offering 100 lines for $1,500 and 1,000 lines for $15,000 per month. If you need any more than that, it'll be an additional $10 for every user.
Now what you get with every line includes 1GB of data included, plus unlimited talk and text. Users who want more data will be able to purchase 2GB for $10 or unlimited data for $30. Additionally there are pooled data options, which breaks down to $4.75 per gigabyte for an 100GB data minimum, $4.50 for a 500GB minimum and $4.25 for a 1TB minimum. You'll also get an additional gigabyte for every line you connect.
Just like it's regular Simple Choice plans T-Mobile is opening up its additional service free of charge. These include free music streaming, Wi-Fi calling and all of Un-carrier's previous intatives.
What's more setting up a business line with T-Mobile also nets you a free GoDaddy domain to launch your own website as well as a free custom email account provided through Microsoft.
In case you want to attach a family plan to your business agreement, you'll be able to do that too and get 50% off a Simple Choice plan.
Un-contracts turns contracts upside down
While T-Mobile is often considered the Un-carrier that did away with contracts it brought them back at its Un-carrier 9.0 event on March 18, 2015. But in a script flipping move, T-Mo's contracts are less about keeping users locked in but locking in their current rates.
As such existing Simple Choice subscribers will be able to sign a deal to keep their plan at the same price for two full years. You'll also be able to leave your Un-contract agreement at any point you please.
T-Mobile Jump worth it
Here's why it's worth it: T-Mobile Jump is so named because it's the plan that easily (relatively, at least) lets you jump from device to device, but it also includes a comprehensive insurance plan. It's an extra $10 a month, but that's how much you'd probably be paying for insurance anyway.
Jump covers you no matter what happens - including drunkenly dropping your phone in the toilet, which we've all done - and though you will have a deductible ($175 for the 6 Plus) it's better than paying full price for a new phone.
The "Jump" part comes in once you've paid off half your phone's total price. That can come one year in if you just pay your monthly bills normally, or sooner if you decide to pay a lump sum all at once. Either way, that's when you can upgrade to a new device, and start paying that one off on the same system. Alternatively, you can just keep paying your monthly fees if you like your current phone, and eventually you'll pay it off and own it, and your bill will become that much cheaper per month.
The T-Mobile Simple Choice plans themselves are great, but switching to T-Mobile isn't all objectively positive. The $60 Jump plan I chose gets me 3GB of 4G LTE data and, once I use that up, unlimited Edge data. That network isn't just slower, though. It's also limited - for example you can't create a mobile hotspot and tether anymore once you use up your LTE allotment.
When that happens you can always call T-Mobile up and have them bump your plan up for the month, which you'll have to do if, for example, you're on a business trip and you need to tether. The way Verizon handled that for me was to automatically charge me more and bump my plan up, which was annoying - but at least I didn't notice a change or hiccup in my service when that happened.
Switching to T-Mobile
Switching to T-Mobile
Going from Verizon to T-Mobile is a jarring transition - in a good way. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have taken measures to compete with T-Mobile on some levels, but Verizon and other carriers' offerings and policies just pale in comparison with the Un-carrier's.
Switching is painless because T-Mobile pays your early termination fee (ETF), albeit in the form of a Visa prepaid card and only up to $350. It's been a few weeks since I switched, and I still haven't received this card, but that's somewhat beside the point.
To make switching even easier for users, it has rolled out Carrier Freedom. The skinny is T-Mobile will pay up to $650 for any outstanding payments bills you might have with a competing carrier for your device. And that's $650 per line. Overall this should make it way easier for users to switch if they happen to still be paying off that Nexus 6 they still have with AT&T or Verizon.
Carrier Freedom, isn't just limited to individuals either, businesses can also take advantage of as long as they have more than 10 lines. Business accounts with more than 10 users, meanwhile, will get $100 credits for every additional line.
This was a genius move on T-Mobile's part. Without the monetary penalty there's nothing holding you on a competing carrier, and there's no reason not to switch to T-Mobile.
And on top of that I essentially didn't pay anything for my shiny new iPhone 6 Plus. Here's how it breaks down per month: I pay $31 for the phone, $10 for the Jump insurance, $60 for talk, text and data, and around $10 in taxes and fees. Altogether I'm paying the same roughly $110 a month that I was on Verizon.
Verizon frequently penalized me for going over my 2GB of monthly data by charging me an extra $10 and automatically bumping me up to a bigger plan - and yes, that carried over to subsequent months, costing me even more money. So my monthly bill on Verizon was often $120, and now I'm paying less than that per month, plus I have a brand new cutting-edge smartphone and more data too.
T-Mobile's 4G LTE coverage admittedly isn't as good as its competitors'. That may be the Un-carrier's biggest weakness, although you probably won't notice if you're in a major city or another area with solid coverage. It does depend where you live, though, and my experience in Los Angeles has been fine.
A T-Mobile speed test using Ookla revealed wildly varying download and upload speeds in different areas around Los Angeles, ranging from just 6MB up to 70MB per second. That's to be expected, though, and the fact is I haven't noticed any difference in service since I switched. No dropped calls, no glaring dead spots. T-Mobile iPhone 6 Plus experience has been perfectly smooth.
My biggest complaint about switching to T-Mobile is actually the in-store experience. The staff at the store I went to were perfectly polite and helpful, but they were also either clueless or actively trying to mislead me.
For example I was told explicitly that there weren't any additional taxes or fees beyond the actual costs of the plan and phone, so I had thought my bill would be $10 cheaper per month (they didn't count the taxes and fees in the number they showed me).
In addition the T-Mobile employees I interacted with completely failed to mention all the awesome benefits of T-Mobile's pre-paid plans - all the "Un-carrier" stuff, in other words. I'll get into those below, but it would have been nice to have them spelled out for me instead of having to Google around for that info.
T-Mobile: is it any good?
Even though I'm committed to paying for this iPhone 6 Plus, I'm now paying either the same or less per month than I was on Verizon, and being on a T-Mobile pre-paid plan makes a huge difference compared with being locked into a two-year contract. Just the thought of being stuck with that plastic Galaxy S4 for another year was giving me a headache, and I feel lighter now that I've switched.
Naturally there are a variety of T-Mobile devices available, and you can also bring your own device. That's a good option if you don't want to commit to a T-Mobile Jump plan - or if you don't think you'll qualify, since a T-Mobile pre-paid plan without Jump doesn't require them to do a credit check.
And let's not forget about all the other benefits that come with a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan. These are the "Un-carrier" moves that T-Mobile has been harping about for the last year and more.
My favorite so far is T-Mobile Music Freedom, which lets you stream an unlimited amount of music from Spotify, Google Play Music and more than two dozen other streaming music services. They just added 14 more this week, in fact.
T-Mobile Music Freedom means streaming music data isn't counted against your monthly allotment. As an avid Spotify user, I'm thrilled by this. I love not having to juggle song files between my computer and phone, and that's also why I'm able to easily survive with the smallest storage options on my phones. But on Verizon I was frequently butting up against my data limit thanks to all the songs I was streaming. Now I don't have to worry about it.
T-Mobile also offers unlimited international data and texting in well over 100 countries around the world, meaning no roaming fees and no extra charges at all when you travel with your phone. It sounds too good to be real, but that's where T-Mobile is at right now.
Sprint, Verizon and AT&T all have their own versions of T-Mobile's Simple Choice plans, but ever since T-Mobile started its "Un-carrier revolution" its rivals have been playing catch-up, and they still are today.
So: is T-Mobile any good? Is it worth switching to T-Mobile? The answer right now is overwhelmingly "yes," and with T-Mobile paying your cancellation fees for you, offering cheaper plans than the competition and providing so many awesome bonuses on top of that, there's literally nothing stopping you.