Best mobile phone and plan for me.....can you help?

I mainly use my smartphone when I go out and for navigation.  I  overheard someone saying they use tracfone and only spend $30 every few months. I have T- mobiile, the reception is terrible...can’t get signal frequently and spend 50 per month flat-rate. Should I purchase phone minutes and buy data for navigation?  Current plan is wasted money for me.
sheana11Asked:
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KimputerIT ManagerCommented:
Depends on many many data points.

- Why can't you get a signal? Is it the T-Mobile coverage (check on the website how the coverage should be in the neighborhoods you often frequent). If it's bad, do other providers do it better (change providers), or are they lacking as well? (No reason to change providers)
- Data usage, if you really keep it under wraps (use Google Maps, load regions to offline maps where you frequent), Tracfone could be an option. Leave data connection open, and you'll beat traffic most of the time (rerouted when needed, Google Maps keeps track of it, obviously, your data usage will be higher). If you don't care about the traffic and re-routing, you can turn off data after route has been calculated (you'll save TONS of money this way, if you keep track of your routes and keep downloading those regions while on WiFi)
Scott FellDeveloper & EE ModeratorCommented:
The first thing you want to do is check which carrier has the best signal in your area.  Your main choices in the US are going to be Verizon, T-Mobile, ATT and Sprint. Any other options such as tracphone use those networks.  Here is one tool http://webcoveragemap.rootmetrics.com/en-US just be sure to switch to the different networks and view the areas.

As far as plans go, I started using visible https://www.visible.com/  It is a MNVO using the Verizon network.  The current offering is $40 per month for unlimited.  In just about every other plan, 'unlimited' means after a certain amount of data the speed comes to a screeching halt.  This is something you will want to investigate. Verizon takes you down to I think 600kbps, others are much slower.   With visible. it is (for now at least) truly unlimited.  

Like all MNVO's, you do not get the full speed of the network.  When I used Verizon, I could get data upwards to 10Mps. With Visible they cap the speed at 5Mps. That is still fast enough to stream video and more than enough for navigation.  VZW has the largest network and is most likely the best choice as far as the major networks go.  Because I am in a rural area and can't get the full power of the  network anyway, switching to visible made good sense. Instead of paying nearly $100 per month, I pay $40.  

The one big caveat though is the limited amount of supported phones.  Most iPhones are supported and for android only the s9 or s9+ for high end phones. I went with the R2 and added a 128gb sd card.  The R2 is a ZTE phone with not so great reviews but I have been very happy with it.  The camera will not be as good as the more expensive phones but for my use everything works fine.
sheana11Author Commented:
Kimputer, I used to have straight talk, and a cheap phone, and I never had any connection problems. Someone I spoke to said perhaps it's my settings, so if you know what they're talking about please help.

I still want to get a service more in line with my usage, but reliable.
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KimputerIT ManagerCommented:
If you or someone else has a spare phone lying around, try the sim card in that phone to test it a week or so. As one of the bigger telcom provider, it's hard to believe service is so bad when others have it. So it might be due to the phone. There aren't a lot of settings to tweak with when it comes to connecting to the voice/data network. EVERY basic phone you buy in the stores should work reliably straight out of the box.
Martin NguyenHelpDesk TechnicianCommented:
Hi sheana11,
I looked up Straight Talk and its an MVNO that uses all 4 carriers, which is actually pretty impressive and should provide great coverage. You might want to look into what Straight Talk uses in your area, and if it allows you to access all 4 networks depending on whichever one has the best signal that should explain why you never had any connection issues.

I have T-Mobile but the area I live/commute/work is well covered so I haven't had issues, but when travelling I know its spotty. Did you check to see how T-Mobile coverage is in your area based on the rootmetrics link Scott provided?

In regards to your usage case. You mention
I mainly use my smartphone when I go out and for navigation.
Does this mean you only need data for navigation and nothing else?

If that is truly the case, you can get a minutes only phone plan and then do what Kimputer suggested and download Offline maps and use that to navigate. Another option if you don't want to plan ahead that frequently would be to get a dedicated GPS device that has lifetime map and traffic updates. The downsides to this are another device to charge/carry around and a higher up front cost, but that could potentially be recouped by savings from not having a data plan.

I looked at Straight Talk's plans, and they have a 1500 minute per month plan with 150 MB of data for $30. If this fits your use case for minutes (who talks on the phone for more than 25 hours in a month?), 150 MB might be enough to use for navigation. You could always check your T-Mobile plan for how much data use you typically average, your phone might be able to tell you as well.

Hope this helps!
Martin

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sheana11Author Commented:
You know, I am not familiar with turning data on/off or checking my usage.  I went to the website to check reception and T-Mobile should be OK. However, I can only tell you that when I had Straight talk, I was able to call from inside a hospital but not with this much more expensive phone and plan.

That being said, if you can add some more explanation about the data usage, how to use offline maps, I would appreciate it and I can close this question.
Martin NguyenHelpDesk TechnicianCommented:
Hi sheana11,

If you wanted to download a map and use it offline like Kimputer mentioned, you would open up the map area you'd want in your Google Maps app and click the 3 dots to open up the more menu and Download offline map -> Download.

Then you can turn turn on Wi-Fi only in Maps and only your offline maps will be accessible, which should reduce your data usage.
sheana11Author Commented:
Thanks to all for your help!
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