Tracfone Prepaid Review - Now for Smartphones

Table of Contents

1 - Rates and Coverage

2 - Phone Selection

3 - Features and Misc.

Our First Choice

Indeed, we initially chose Tracfone as our prepaid cell phone service. They offered a good balance of features, reliability, coverage and price, especially price. We were happy with our choice, but let's review and see if it's right for you.

First, let's compare where we're coming from. We're your basic family here two young children, so you probably won't find it surprising that we decided to cut unnecessary expenses in order to try to provide the best for our children. One way to do that is to get rid of your monthly cell phone contracts.

Update: Smartphones now available!

Android smart phones are now available from Samsung, LG, ZTE and Huawei.

Nowadays there are such great choices that even when you choose a prepaid phone you don't have to miss...

Blowing out candles on birthday cake

the party.

Why Choose Prepaid?

Well, you can purchase their phones and airtime cards almost anywhere. It's hard to find a store in America that doesn't carry them!

They also have good deals online, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

First, we'll check out their coverage, rates, handsets, features and customer service. By the time we're done, you'll be confident in your decision about whether to go with them.

How good is their Coverage?

Coverage is key - especially when traveling. Tracfone lease their network coverage from other cellphone companies. Practically speaking, this actually translates to great coverage.

Note: "your mileage may vary". In my area, Tracfone seems to lease their network from AT&T. In other areas, they use the T-Mobile or Verizon (if you have a CDMA phone) networks.

One way to find out who your local carrier is by sending a text or MMS message via a friend's Tracfone to one of your email addresses. The messages you receive will have the sender's address in the format similar to "my-phone-number@mms.the carrier's domain.com". In my case, messages came from my-phone-number@txt.att.com, so I knew my local carrier for Tracfone was AT&T.

So the coverage is good.

How are their Rates?

An airtime card will allow you to add minutes, data and texts to your account balance. The minutes are usually good for a period of 90 days or 1 year depending on the card.

Separate data and text cards can add additional data and texts to the account balance of smart phones.

For Current Phones

Triple Minutes for Life

Triple Minutes for Life (TMFL) phones give you three times the number of minutes stated on the airtime card (except for the smartphone or byop plan cards).

Double-minutes-For-Life

Double-Minutes-For-Life (DMFL) phones simply give you twice the number of minutes for every airtime card activate.

If you have a phone that's not a double-minutes phone, you can also buy a double-minute cards that will convert your phone and give you double the minutes on future airtime card purchases.

When you activate your card, the phone actually displays the number of units you have, NOT minutes.

No roaming charges

There are no roaming charges with their recent phones. No matter where you're calling from, every minute of a call uses up 1 unit of your account balance.

Text messages

Text messages on feature phones cost only 0.3 units from your airtime balance. Smartphones have a separate allotment of texts.

On Old "Standard" Rate Phones

Older models may be "standard-rate" phones, for calls from your home calling area, 1 minute uses up 1 unit of your account balance. Text messages on these older Tracfones cost 0.5 units.

Roaming Charges on Older Phones

Older Tracfones may charge a roaming rate of an additional minute for each minute of a call.

These airtime minutes have to be used within their...

Service Period

Minutes Do Rollover

Units on an airtime card are usually valid for 90 days. If you add airtime before your units run out or before the service period ends, the remaining units rollover and your service period should be extended by 90 days beyond the current expiration date. Using two 90-day cards, you can extend your service period to a maximum of 180 days.

You can continue to add minutes, but for a service period longer than 180 days, you may have to buy a one-year airtime card. At least that's the official policy.

You pay more for these one-year cards because you are paying for an extended service period and for the minutes. You can extend your service period to a maximum of about two years (730 days to be exact).

Promo Codes

Luckily, there is always a pretty good promo code available which adds up to 200 or 250 minutes to a one-year card. Factoring in those extra minutes makes the one-year cards a worthwhile purchase.

So now that the rates are pretty reasonable, you're probably asking yourself:

Are there Family Plans?

And if you have decided but want to get phones for the whole family you can check out their family plans.

Some member of the family may also want to purchase ringtones.

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Related Pages

While Tracfone offers a great selection, their plans don't really work for those who text a lot. So if that's what you're interested in, you may want to check some of the other plans.

Here's a list of smart phones from Straight Talk.

More Options

People often choose prepaid phones for their kids because they're affordable. However, if you're concerned about usage, you may want to consider plan with parental controls such as Kajeet.

One drawback with TF is that you can't use it with unlocked GSM phones. (You can now bring a CDMA phone and buy an access code.) However, you can use the Straight Talk and NET10 unlimited plans with a SIM card.

Pay as you go and monthly plans are available from PTel (Platinumtel) and can be used with unlocked phones on T-Mobile's network.

The same is available from Red Pocket which runs on the AT&T network.