It’s not me, AT&T. It's you.
I’m sick of your two-year contracts, your high prices and coverage in my San Francisco home that is so poor I have to use a microcell tower to have an intelligible conversation. So I took T-Mobile up on its offer of a free seven-day trial, and while I have some issues, it’s a better deal for me overall -- and quite possibly for you.
Everyone’s situation is a bit different, of course, but my experience can give you some guidance on how to evaluate T-Mobile’s offer and service.
Signing up is easy. You simply go to the T-Mobile website and follow the directions. Although the trial is free, T-Mobile places a hold on your credit card for more than $700 -- the price of the trial iPhone, plus sales tax in your state. T-Mobile releases the hold when you return the undamaged phone. One tip: You may need to preauthorize the hold with your credit card company.
You get the phone in a couple of days, and then the really important stuff happens. Test it around the house, your office, and wherever you'll use it frequently. In my case, the quality of the voice connection was better than AT&T's, and best of all I no longer need to use a microcell. I’ve had that microcell -- a device that boosts the network signal by routing to your Wi-Fi network -- for a few years and it is showing signs that it may die. The thought of spending another $130 or so to enable my phone to do what it's supposed to really bugs me.
Data, of course, is another story. However, I use a Wi-Fi network in my home, so I'm not overly concerned that my download speed on T-Mobile is generally slower than when I’m on AT&T when I'm at home. That’s not the case outside my home. Still, it’s a downside, and if your home Wi-Fi network isn't reliable, it could be a deal killer.
T-Mobile now allows customers to stream music from a variety of sites, including Pandora, iTunes Radio, Spotify and Slacker, without using any of their monthly data allowance. I drove to many different parts of San Francisco with my loaner iPhone connected to Pandora, and reception was uniformly good -- a real plus for a music lover. It’s important to remember that cellular coverage is uneven across the country, and even within different cities, so be sure to drive around a bit before you decide to move to T-Mobile.
If you switch, T-Mobile will pay your carrier's early termination fee (ETF). However, there is a caveat. You have to trade in a working phone. It doesn’t have to be the one you're currently using, but if you don’t trade something in T-Mobile will not pay the ETF. It's also worth noting that when you return your trial phone you should bring the confirmation email you received from T-Mobile when you first signed up. If you don't, you may have to wait around while an employee calls customer care for the information needed to release the hold on your credit card.
In general, T-Mobile service plans are cheaper, but you need to see how many devices you own and how many people will share your service to get comparable prices. In my case, I’ll be saving about $20 a month for the same amount of data plus unlimited talk and text. (You can see T-Mobile’s data plans here.)
Finally, if you're interested in the upcoming iPhone 6, which is expected to be released in September, you probably want to wait to switch. If you don't, you have to buy a current phone from T-Mobile and make at least six monthly payments before you can upgrade. Money spent on a phone you buy today will not be credited towards the purchase of a new phone.
I'm waiting for the iPhone 6, and then I'll say goodbye to AT&T…unless someone makes me a better offer.