Cheap cellphone service for non-talkers

Basically, we don’t need a cellphone except for the occasional biz trip and to tote along while cycling Just In Case. Paying a buck or two a day for something we don’t need doesn’t sit well with us.

So here’s the cheapest alternative we’ve found…

Go to virginmobileusa.com and buy a $10 phone. Some are free, but as of right now the Kyocera Marbl has the longest battery life and the fewest features. It’ll be obsolete by the time you see this; struggle through their “compare phones” and specs to find the really valuable number: standby battery life.

They strongly encourage a monthly plan. If you actually use the phone, a monthly plan might make sense. If you never do any talking and don’t expect any calls, skip all that.

The key step: sign up for Auto Top-up with either a credit card or PayPal. That reduces the mandatory payment to $15 every three months. Well, it’s really $16.22 after title, taxes, tags, and tip, but you get the idea: five-and-change a month for a phone.

The cost per minute is staggering: 20 cents/minute or some such. That’s 75-ish minutes of air time per month, far more than we ever talk. We must occasionally talk to somebody and burn down the account just to keep it under control.

Text messaging is worse: 10 or 15 cents each. A major ripoff. ‘Nuff said.

Coverage is by Sprint, so you take your chances. It’s marginal in the house, OK outdoors, better elsewhere.

Their Website is choked with gratuitous Flash, difficult to navigate, has no search function, and suffers from terrible layout. Oh, yeah and their customer service is stunningly bad.

I did get an actual competent human when I had to swap out the first Marbl: the hinge spring broke, holding it slightly open. As they say on the website: For everything else, give us a call at 1-888-322-1122.

It’s not obvious that paying more gets you better service, though.