Cellphones and Ting

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Ting has a referral system. If you use the URL below, you'll get
$25 off your first device and I'll get a $25 service credit
once that device is activated. Use this URL to activate your phone:
  https://zpj61s12d1.ting.com/M/

In January 2013 I heard that PlatinumTel.com, aka PTel, will be moving from the Sprint network to T-Mobile, meaning the M800, my dumb smart-phone, will not work with them. That's okay, as I think I'm mature enough for a real phone now. I still don't want to pay very much and I'm still not a much of a phone fan, so I don't think I'll use it for SMS or talk very much. A friend suggested I consider Ting.

These folks looked interesting - using a Sprint network, nice low rates on talk/data/sms so I'd never think not to use the phone when I want. They have a nicely done web site with lots of details explaining the options. The phones they sell are a bit pricey - there's no deal like my M800 with Ptel. Then I see they are introducing a BYOD plan (bring your own device) - encouraging people to find their own unlocked phone and the Ting folks will hopefully have the details to bring it on their network... no promises, but it sounded promising.

Thus began my search for a real phone. I did not want one with a physical keyboard. My tablet experience taught me it needs to run Android, preferably the latest (ICS at the time). It should have wifi support and needed a large bright screen so I can finally see and my big fingers have a chance of typing without making two errors for every character.

Ting had a short list of BYOD phones that they knew could be easily ported to their network. From that list I narrowed it down to the HTC EVO (several models) and the Samsung Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch. Searching on Google for unlocked phones showed me there were plenty available and that the EVO could be had for $125 or so, but the Galaxy SII was nearer $300. The Galaxy looked great, had more memory and was dual core - I coveted it. Badly. (This, from a guy who barely used his dumb smart-phone the previous two years.)

I decided to buy the EVO, did one last search with credit card in hand, and found the Galaxy SII for $190. I jumped and bought it with crossed fingers. OMG, it's gorgeous! (I sound like a teenage school girl!) It's early days yet, and I'm still getting used to it, but it's like having yet another tablet, only this one in my pocket. I've only tried things to prove it all works. Android rocks!

Activating the Galaxy SII was dead easy. At the web site I entered a number from the phone. As promised 24 hours later I got an Email saying it was on the network and here's a URL with some instructions for the last bits. I followed the instructions, waited a couple of minutes and began testing sms, talk and data. It was about as easy as I could imagine.

The Ting plans looked reasonable enough. It costs $6/month for access to the network (PTel was cheaper). The rates for talk, sms and data are based on what you use. I can't tell for sure how much I'll be spending for this new phone and service - it will surely be more than with PTel, given the phone was so much more expensive. Assuming I keep the phone for two years (heck, it's so much more than I need, I'm expecting it to last four or more), then it'll cost $7.50/month for the phone. To this I'll pay $6 for network access and then there will be the cost of what I use. I'm thinking this phone will cost $15-20/month, more on this in a couple of years.

3 Month Update

Three months later quite a bit has changed in our phone world. The Galaxy SII has been wonderful. I love that it is so bright and large. I can see it 20 times better than the M800 and comparing it others who got the HTC EVO, I think this is the better phone for me. Another surprise was that it can connect to my WiFi (well I knew it, just didn't know how great that would be). After some early experimenting I've decided I do not need the phone data network. What little I need a network for (like adding apps) can be done over wifi, so that saves me some money moolah.

Costs for the first three months were pretty much as I expected - right at $12-15. Yes, that's more than I was paying for PTel, but that was expected.

Then my wife began to lobby me to get off Sprint. We've been paying $42/month for her non-smart phone. Yes, we can talk for a zillion minutes, but no surprise, we almost never get over 450 minutes ever. The bad part was her plan was pretty new, so we were going to pay a penalty to buy her phone (LG Rumor Reflex). Was it going to be worth it? and how long would it take to break even?

Since she was already on the Sprint network, we could not simple port her number to Sprint (as Ting), so I ported her number to Google Voice. We then added her phone as a second device to the Ting account (getting a new number) and set up Google Voice to forward calls to it. That took getting used for my techo-phobe wife, but she seems to have settled down now. Note: I was wrong about the process we needed to move from Sprint to Ting. My son moved to Ting and just did the obvious, told Ting to do the port and a few hours his phone was ported - just as easy as for any other provider.

The LG was not on the official list of Ting devices, but the set up was dead easy thanks to Ting's instructions. Over the years we've tried porting the home number three times and had only been successful once (no thanks to AT&T and Comcast). Surprisingly this all went as smoothly as everyone claimed (we are now 2 for 4).

The Ting phone bill for both of us is now running about $22 (two devices @ $6 connection fee + $9 for 500 minutes for the two devices + $1.10 tax). Anyway you cut it, that's a drop from $50 or more for the two phones in the past - meaning we'll pay off the expensive Sprint contract in 8 months. We're satisfied with that just fine. The net is we've upgraded my phone to something any geek would like, stayed on the same phone network and cut our costs by 50%.

2 Year Update

Two years after the initial change, my use and experience remain largely the same. I've tried enabling data and when my usage hit 50MB with almost no intentional use on my part, I disabled data again. Ya, I could be smarter in restricting the apps to stop using network, but the reality, the networks are slow and I almost never found myself wanting data access for something important. Wifi seems plentiful enough.

One case where I thought data access would be really useful was on an extended trip, traveling in areas we had not been before. Then I found the Nokia 'Here' maps app which allow me to download maps of states one at a time. I've not actually needed the map, but I have used it enough to see it works rationally and well enough. Now I once again cannot find a reason for data so it remains disabled.

I have noticed that the Samsung Galaxy SII is feeling old. All my kids have joined Ting and are using the S3. Sometimes the SII gets stuck and I've had to remove the battery to recover. This might be because it still runs Android KitKat, so I'll upgrade to Lollipop soon since that does not seem to be happening my itself. The price of the S3 is less than $100 and I've been tempted to "upgrade" but my original plan was to keep the SII for 4+ years and there really is not great reason to upgrade ... now the S4 is very attractive, but I'm too cheap really.

One area I did change was to enable text messaging. Its expensive for the very little we use it, but the real reason was so that I can use two factor authentication. The importance as being able to get a text message when Google and others want to verify I am who I am, seems important enough to justify the $3/month cost. Like all of us old folks have learned, our kids will respond to a text message, but Email gets much less of a response.

Now after two years of Ting, our monthly bill is $24 for two smart phones - still seems like a good deal for us.