Product Reviews

The Best Prepaid Cell Phones on the US Market

Matt Smith 05-01-2012

best prepaid cell phoneMobile phone contracts suck. Everyone knows it, but we accept them because often we don’t seem to have much choice. The selection of pre-paid phones is poor and off-contract phones are expensive.


But perhaps you simply aren’t willing to accept a contract, however, or simply don’t use much mobile data or many cell minutes. If that’s the case, a pre-paid phone makes a lot of sense even when compared to a non-contract monthly plan. So what are the best options?


best prepaid cell phone

T-Mobile offers numerous pre-paid plans including monthly, daily and pay-as-you-go options. You can also purchase smartphones directly from T-Mobile even if you just want a pay-as-you-go option.

For those looking for the cream of the crop, Samsung’s Galaxy S (available refurbished) and the T-Mobile Sidekick are the best options. The Galaxy S is a solid flagship 4” Android smartphone The 5 Best Cheap Android Phones in 2017 Looking for an inexpensive Android phone? You've come to the right place. Read More , while the T-Mobile Sidekick is the perfect phone for frequent texters. Both phones are over $300, however.

A more affordable option is the LG Optimus T, which typically costs $179.99. CNET called it one of the best entry-level smartphones due to its combination of performance and affordability. The 3.2” touchscreen 4 Touch Screen Test Apps to Check Your Android Touchscreen Here are the best touch screen test apps for Android to make sure your device's touchscreen is working properly. Read More is small by the standards of today’s flagship phones, but it works well enough.


AT&T GoPhone

best prepaid phones

Pickings are slimmer at AT&T, which offers prepaid under the brand name of GoPhone. Plan options are not bad, however, and include monthly, daily and pay-by-the-minute options.

The best phone option is certainly the Samsung Captivate, an aging 4” Android smartphone that still appears reasonably modern. It’s nearly $500, however, which is a difficult price to pay for hardware that’s not cutting edge.

Unfortunately, there are not any affordable smartphone options sold for pre-paid users. The $349.99 Palm Pixi is the least expensive offering, but spending that much for a device with limited future support seems dubious. You’ll want to look at another carrier if you want a solid but inexpensive pre-paid smartphone.



best prepaid phones

You’ll only find monthly and daily pre-paid plans at Verzion, and if you go for the monthly unlimited or daily plan, your phone selection is reduced to “basic phones” – either flip-phones or feature phones. This is obviously not going to be acceptable to many geeks.

The only way to grab a decent phone is to select a monthly 3G plan. If you do that, you’ll be able to select from a number of quality options including the Droid X2, the Droid 3, and the Xperia Play. Prices aren’t outrageous, either – the Play is about $250 and the Droid X2 is just a hair under $300. This is arguably the best selection of off-contract phones available directly from a carrier.

However, you’ll be paying for a monthly minute allowance regardless of how often you use them. If you want to go pre-paid because you don’t use many minutes or much mobile data, these plans aren’t going to save you any money.


Boost Mobile

best prepaid phones

Created specifically as a low-cost, no-contract carrier, Boost Mobile offers a number of plans with monthly, daily and pay-as-you-go options. However, the pay-as-your-go and standard monthly options lock you into basic and feature phones. You need to go for a daily or Android/BlackBerry monthly plan to obtain a smartphone.

Unfortunately the phone options aren’t going to blow you away. There’s only a few smartphones to choose from regardless of plan, the best being the Samsung Transformer Ultra, an Android 2.3 phone with a slide-out keyboard and an okay display size of 3.5 inches. This will set you back $229.99.

Less expensive is the Samsung Galaxy Prevail, is $149.99. But you’re downgraded to Android 2.2, have to do with a 3.2” touchscreen, and don’t receive a keyboard. Though this phone is decent for the price, but the LG Optimus T available through T-Mobile is better.


Virgin Mobile

best prepaid cell phone

This low-cost carrier only offers no-contract monthly plans. Virgin Mobile’s PayLo plan is the least expensive, offering 1,500 minutes for $30/month, but the phone choices are terrible.

If you go with a regular plan, however, you can buy some of the best value-oriented Android phones on the market. These include the LG Optimus Slider for $199.99 and the LG Optimus V for $129.99. Rates are good for the plans, as well.

Other Options

Notably missing from this comparison is Sprint. I could not find any pre-paid options for the carrier. This is probably because they own Boost Mobile and have a contract with Virgin Mobile allowing the smaller carrier access to Sprint’s network.

Depending on where you live, there may be a regional carrier offering additional prepaid smartphones. In my area, for example, we have Cricket Wireless. These options are worth looking at before buying, but check customer reviews of the service.

Another option worth considering is the purchase of a used or new off-contract phone through a third party. Though this is often the most expensive way to obtain a phone, you can use that phone on any network supported by the phone’s cellular radio without signing up for a contract. You might even be able to use it on a daily or per-minute basis. Call the carriers you’re considering to make sure the phone you want to use is compatible with their network and pre-paid plans.

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  1. fredrick_jhon
    January 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    prepaid smart phones are highly convenient than the post paid mobiles . these days people often opt for such phones and your review will surly help in this regard .

  2. Catul
    January 6, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    AT&T has the Pantech Crossover, an Android prepaid option for only $120 (with $25 airtime credit) - check it out on Amazon.

    • Aibek
      January 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm


  3. Austin Beatty
    January 6, 2012 at 12:34 am

    I have a Samsung Galaxy Player 4.0 (basically an Android version of an iPod TOuch, wifi only), and just bring a basic prepaid Verizon "dumphone" with me (soon to switch to T-Mobile though, much better for the basic non-data prepaid plans). I use Google Voice and when I'm on wifi I get unlimited calls and texts on my Galaxy Player, and Google Voice can forward them to the dumbphone in case I don't have wifi. This costs barely anything, the amount needed to pay for a basic prepaid phone can be under $10 a month, and if you have wifi most places you go, then you can use Google Voice for free most of the time.

  4. phritzg
    January 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I'm satisfied plodding along with my old TracFone; I don't need the latest and hottest (and most expensive) phone out there.  I do have a dual-boot Nook Color with scores of apps though.

  5. Sonny Bass
    January 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Virgin Mobile Samsung Intercept rooted & flashed with UbuntuDroid is a great low cost alternative

  6. Spencer
    January 5, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I got the Moto Triumph with Virgin Mobile on Cyber Monday. It runs great, 1GHZ Processor and 512MB RAM. I came from an Intercept though. I don't have many nice things to say about it other than I learned a lot about flashing since it was so crappy.

    • Aibek
      January 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      thanks for the feedback, I am sure many potential buyers would apprecaite a heads up like that

  7. Taosaur Ftagn
    January 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    The big pro of AT&T prepaid is the ease of popping a SIM card in an aftermarket phone. The last few months, I've been spending roughly $10/mo on a solid, last-gen Android phone that I bought on craigslist for $120. I'm supplementing with Google Talk/Voice.

  8. Nick K.D Chaleunphone
    January 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    In these tough economic times were people are going to make cut backs, I think the Prepaid monthly no contract phones are the way to go.

  9. Guest
    January 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    we have cricket wireless in most of Texas as well. Its what i use and I'm extremely satisfied, only paying 45 a month on a Motorola Droid 3 (which they unlocked and flashed for only $5) unlimited data, text and voice I can only say good things about this regional carrier.