It was finally time to move out of the house. And while I could keep my smartphone's contract under our AT&T family plan, it'd be inconvenient, plus it would smack of dependence.
I craved freedom, and autonomy. But how to get that, in a world of two-year smartphone contracts? Moreover, how could I keep using my phone without breaking the bank? I'd already have to pay an early termination fee as it was.
The major carriers like Sprint and Verizon charged premium prices, so I looked at the lesser-known carriers here in the U.S. like Cricket and MetroPCS. Virgin Mobile offered the best terms: The lowest tier of its "Beyond Talk" plan offers unlimited data and texting for $25 per month, plus 300 minutes besides.
That's a steal compared to most wireless carriers. Especially for someone like me, who hardly ever talks on his phone and just uses it for the wireless Internet. But it's also the same amount that I was paying for my family plan contract, plus my AT&T smartphone wouldn't work on Virgin Mobile's network. So I'd have to pay the early termination fee, buy a new phone, then pay the same amount that I was already paying, just so I could have a cheap data plan in my name. Surely there was a better way.
Thriving on a GoPhone plan
When I found out AT&T was introducing a new Android GoPhone, the LG Thrive, I got excited. Because not only was this a real Android smartphone on a prepaid data plan, the selection of plans had cheap low-end options. The $25 that gets you unlimited texting and data on Virgin Mobile only gets you 500 MB per month on a GoPhone, but there's also a $15 plan for 100 MB.
I'm usually at a Wi-Fi hotspot, so for me 3G wireless Internet is less of a lifeline and more of a contingency plan. That $15 a month is the cheapest way for me to access AT&T's wireless network, plus use AT&T's hotspots for free and get unlimited free texting with Google Voice. And while the iPhone apparently can't be switched to a GoPhone plan, my HTC Aria could with no problem, so I didn't even have to purchase a Thrive.
What about voice?
I was dismayed to find Google Voice doesn't let you make free phone calls and requires you to have voice minutes. Furthermore, the most economical voice plan on GoPhone is $25 for three months, and it gives way more minutes than I need.
I'm considering VOIP apps such as GrooVe IP, which apparently lets you make free calls with your Google Voice number. That's not bad for a $4 app and would basically give me unlimited minutes when I'm near a Wi-Fi hotspot. Away from home and from stores that have Wi-Fi, it'd still let me make quick calls using my data plan, like to meet up or check if a store is open.
But will it blend (into your life)?
A phone with no minutes and almost no data is probably not right for most people. I haven't tried Virgin Mobile's network, but if I didn't already have an AT&T phone I'd probably have bought an LG Optimus V from Virgin, and gone on its cheap Beyond Talk plan. An extra $10 a month for unlimited data could come in handy, sometimes.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.