After a Year: A Review of Virgin Mobile Service
Our Cell Phone Bill Was Too High
After a year of paying $172 a month to Brand-X for their smartphone plan, my wife and I switched to Virgin Mobile, mainly to save a lot of money. We knew going in that Virgin Mobile's coverage in the US was not nearly as good as that of Brand-X (or should I say Brand-V?), but Virgin Mobile's no-contract plan was so much cheaper, we thought we'd give it a shot. After more than a year with Virgin Mobile, I have definitely formed some opinions.
Monthly Service Fee *****
Let's start off with Virgin Mobile's strongest feature. They have several smartphone plans as well as other plans to choose from. We chose the cheapest of their Beyond Talk plans because A) It was cheap and B) It fit us like a glove. For $25 a month (each) we each get 300 anytime talk minutes, unlimited messaging and unlimited data. This has worked out very well for us. One month, my wife ran out of talk minutes so I simply topped up her minutes for $10. This carried her through the few days left in the month and we still have a $4 credit.
The Beyond Talk plans are no-contract plans. Every month I go to the Virgin Mobile website and pay for next month's service with our registered credit card. I could have them automatically charge us, but I don't do that.
Now, within a month of signing up for their $25/month plan, they increased all their Beyond Talk plans by $10 a month (300 minutes is $35, 1200 minutes is $45 and unlimited minutes is $55). Irritated, and thinking it was all my fault (I have the reverse effect on stock prices), I gritted my teeth and prepared to save a little less money. Virgin Mobile contacted me and said my cost would not rise as long as we maintained our monthly service. They grandfathered the price I signed up for-- even though there is no contract between us. After more than a year we still pay $25 (plus tax) per phone. How many times have you been screwed because you were an existing customer?
One more thing: We pay $25 plus Iowa sales tax; there are no hidden fees, no “special” taxes, no just-plain-odd additions to your bill. Our monthly payment is and always has been exactly two times $26.75, or $53.50.
Now let's turn to Virgin Mobile's Achilles Heel: coverage. Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network only; there is no roaming (and therefore no roaming charges). This was my main cause of concern and it will be a deal breaker for many people. Their map indicated that we should be all right in Eastern Iowa, but what was reality-- and what about traveling?
First, coverage has been great at home and around Eastern Iowa. We've traveled to Western Iowa, but, since we stayed on main highways, we've had no problems. I went to Detroit for a week and had no problems (this is good because I depend on Android's Navigator to get around). In actuality we don't travel much, but the one time we had no coverage was when we went to Fairbanks, Alaska. This wasn't a surprise and we prepared for this eventuality by drawing upon all our pre-cellphone skills from the ancient days.
Quality of Phones ****
We have Virgin Mobile's LG Optimus V phones. A year later, Virgin Mobile has many more models to choose from, including iPhones. Our LG phones have been great, but since phones soon get eclipsed by the next big thing, I don't worry too much about getting the latest and greatest technology at a premium price. The phones are dependable, have a great feel, have good battery life (still) and, despite being dropped several times onto hard surfaces, work flawlessly. The camera is okay and there is no flash, but that's not a major drawback for me. The pictures and video are good enough. I have a camera for super quality images and video.
I was more than pleasantly surprised at the quality of our phone conversations. The Sprint Network is famous for this and it has been our experience for more than a year.
Quality of Service and Support ****
Every month I use their website to pre-pay. It's simple and straight-forward, once you get your sea-legs. My biggest complaint has been, when I click that button to apply the charge to my card, I like to see some action, something that tells me “okay, we're doing it”. Instead, I've learned to firmly click the button and wait patiently. I have never had a problem paying online and it's easy to top up for additional minutes-- though topped up minutes are costly compared to the 300 minutes that come with our plan.
At the very beginning, I had some sort of problem, but I can't remember what the problem was. All I do know was that I had to call and talk to a human being. The shocker was, it was a pleasant experience and the problem was addressed in a timely manner. Your experience may differ, but I offer mine to give you hope.
After more than five years with Virgin Mobile, I still only pay $25 + Iowa tax per month. They even raised my minutes to 1000 per month. Although this plan is grandfathered and therefore unavailable to new customers, Virgin Mobile has stuck to their promises and never pressured me to upgrade (though I will probably do so when I get a new phone).
If it wasn't for the coverage issue, this would be five stars. I think coverage will be the deciding factor for most people. For our needs Virgin Mobile gets those five stars and I would recommend it to anyone who is in coverage and only occasionally finds themselves out of coverage and can live with that. Is Virgin Mobile right for you? They are definitely worth looking into. And I feel good every month I don't spend an extra $120 for the same service.