A few months ago, I left my Verizon cell phone contract for the wild new world of unlocked phones and prepaid cell phone plans. I thought I was getting an amazing crazy good deal with Cricket Wireless’s 10 GB Pro plan, but it’s got a couple downsides I didn’t realize until after I signed up.
Cricket is owned by AT&T. Through Cricket, you can get cheap plans that use AT&T’s 4G LTE network. If you’ve seen any of Cricket’s weird commercials starring anthropomorphic blobs, squares and furballs, they all crow about LOOK HOW MUCH 4G LTE COVERAGE WE HAVE!
Technically, this is true. But I’ll get to the problems later.
Cricket encourages people to bring their own device, and buy a Cricket SIM card. I bought a Moto X Pure Edition, ported my number from Verizon to my new Cricket SIM card, and off I went. I was all excited because for $55/month after a $5 monthly credit for doing autopay, I’d get 10 GB of data on AT&T’s 4G LTE network, plus unlimited talk and text and assorted international features that don’t matter to me because all of my Jewish Mexican cousins left Mexico and now live in San Diego and DC. But, I soon discovered some issues that bug the crap out of me:
Cricket throttles your LTE download speeds to 8 Mbps.
Sure, you’re connected to AT&T’s LTE network, but you’re never going to see any speeds faster than 8 Mbps. In general web browsing and music streaming, 8 Mbps is fine. But one of the main reasons I sprung for the 10 GB plan was so I could watch whatever videos I felt like while on the go, and the speed limit definitely messes with video quality, depending on how efficiently the video stream you’re watching manages bandwidth.
Cricket doesn’t exactly make it easy to find this information before you sign up. If you check out the page detailing their plans, there’s a tiiiiiiiiny link way at the bottom that says *Important Data Speed, Usage and Plan Pricing Info and Terms. Hell, I’m usually a very thorough online shopper and I didn’t notice this link until after I signed up. When you click this link, you get a popup which says, among other things,
High-speed data access allows download speeds of a maximum of 8 Mbps for compatible LTE devices and 4 Mbps for compatible HSPA+ devices.
The same popup window told me another thing:
Cricket charges activation fees in stores, but not if you buy a phone or SIM card online.
Not knowing this, I stupidly went to the Cricket kiosk at the mall to get a SIM card, because I already had my shiny new Moto X Pure and wanted to switch to Cricket immediately. That same barely-noticeable popup that mentions the download speed cap also says:
No activation fee for online purchases. Activation fee of up to $25 may apply for in-store activations.
I paid a damn activation fee at the stupid mall kiosk that I totally could’ve avoided if I ordered a SIM card online!
Then there’s one final nut punch from Cricket if you bring your own device:
Cricket only supports mobile hotspot on a very small list of phones, and blocks it on not only the rest of the phones they sell, but also ALL bring-your-own-device accounts.
The Add-On Features section of Cricket’s plans page says Cricket sells hotspot access for another $10/month. You can add it to your plan on an as-needed basis. But I couldn’t find anywhere on my account page to add the hotspot feature. I called Cricket support who informed me that the only way to add hotspot access to my account is to buy one of the phones for which Cricket supports hotspot access.
The very nice but also very useless Cricket support person in the Philippines who I spoke to, suggested that “even though you might have a sentimental attachment to your phone, if you really want the hotspot service, you can buy one of the Cricket phones that support hotspot.”
I don’t have a sentimental attachment to my phone. I paid $400 for the damn thing and brought it to Cricket for their supposedly great plan. I don’t want another Cricket phone that’s worse than my phone!
Since discovering these problems, I’ve now found that MetroPCS, which is owned by T-Mobile and uses T-Mobile’s network, offers a plan that’s much more suited to what I want. They have unlimited data, talk and text for $60/month, with no download speed limits, and 8 GB of hotspot usage included each month. I would be on this plan already, except T-Mobile has crap coverage in my corner of Wisconsin. They have a network in the city of Madison itself, but it quickly disappears only a short distance west of Madison.
That huge swath of the state of Wisconsin that’s white on this map is where there is zero T-Mobile/MetroPCS coverage, not even roaming. That just won’t work for me.
So...I’m chilling with my Cricket plan for now, because at least it’s cheap, and it mostly works for streaming video but isn’t great, and because the times I need to use mobile hotspot are relatively infrequent. But once a better option comes along, hey, I’ve got my unlocked phone and I can jump ship whenever I want. I’ll just have to make sure I do whatever I need to in order to avoid paying another activation fee.