PROS / Consumer Cellular runs on AT&T’s network, the best option for non-carrier cell phone providers.
CONS / If you need more than 4GB of data, you’re out of luck; speeds are throttled once you hit 4GB of usage and turned off completely when you hit 6GB.
VERDICT / Consumer Cellular is a great choice for AARP members and retired family, but tech junkies may find themselves wishing for a whole lot more out of the company.
You'd be forgiven for not having heard of Consumer Cellular. An AARP partner, the company doesn't advertise itself far beyond its target demographic, which is made up of AARP members and families of older, retired individuals. Its prices are competitive, and thanks to AT&T's network, its coverage and data speeds are both quite solid. Yet Consumer Cellular doesn't offer the same experience you get at the best cell phone providers, which is why – at least for most people – we recommend carriers higher on our lineup.
Next to the cheap, unlimited talk and text options offered by all the best cell phone plans across its competition, Consumer Cellular's limited-talk, limited-text options are affordable but disappointing. The company breaks those plans into two halves – voice minutes and text/data allocations – which you pay for separately. Minutes are available in six different tiers, ranging from zero minutes for just $10 a month (useful if you almost never call, with overages billed per minute) to unlimited minutes for $50.
Text and data bundles are likewise tiered but in connected allocations. Thus, you can buy 300 texts and 30MB of data per month for $2.50 or unlimited texts and 3GB of data for $30. You can't, however, buy very few text messages and a lot of data. When you compare Consumer Cellular's cell phone plans with what's on offer at other cell phone companies, it performs decently enough: You can expect 3GB of data and 750 talk minutes for about $50 or 1,500 minutes for $60 total. Heavy chatters will miss the ubiquity of cheap, unlimited talk and text plans.
Given that it operates on AT&T's nationwide network, Consumer Cellular sports some of the best cell phone service you can get. It's not quite as widespread as Verizon offers, nor as fast as what T-Mobile can provide, but AT&T's network finds a nice balance between speed and coverage, and Consumer Cellular reaps the benefits. The downside is in data allocations: Due to the nature of its deal with AT&T, its customers can’t use more than 4GB of data at high speeds, and 6GB of data total, per month. That’s not a big problem if you’re only buying service for yourself, but if you want to add lines to your plan for $10 each and share the minutes and data, you’ll have to watch your usage.
The company also falls flat in device selection. The only flagship devices available are Apple iPhones; every Android phone on offer is either dated or midtier. Given that Consumer Cellular's superb EasyPay monthly payment system makes buying expensive flagship phones easy, the lack of Android diversity is almost maddening.
Consumer Cellular is a perfectly capable cell phone provider, offering great customer service and decent rates to its customers. But it's a company that's very focused on a specific audience, and users outside that audience will find their desires – for phone variety, lots of data, and quality-of-life features such as unlimited talk and text – all but ignored. If you can take advantage of its AARP member discounts, Consumer Cellular is worth a look; otherwise, it's not very compelling.