PROS / Your remaining minutes and service period are always shown on your phone's screen, making it easy to keep track of your usage.
CONS / TracFone doesn't offer smartphones or unlimited plans, and its prices per minute are expensive.
VERDICT / It's neither the cheapest nor the most modern cell phone company out there, but if you're looking for a feature phone you can pay for by the minute, TracFone is a great fit.
Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it has been discontinued. You can still read our original review below, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this product’s information
If you're in the market for a basic feature phone and a flexible pay-as-you-go plan, TracFone has you covered. The company doesn't have contracts or check your credit, which makes it easy to buy yourself a phone and some minutes and get on with your life. TracFone's per-minute prices, however, are surprisingly expensive. If you plan to use your phone extensively, you're much better off going with a cell phone provider that offers monthly deals with unlimited talk and text.
TracFone offers feature phones exclusively. It doesn't have smartphones or 4G data plans, so it won't suit you if you want to browse the web or stream media. Its feature phone selection, however, is excellent. Phones range in price from $10 to $90, and every kind of basic phone is available, including candy bars, slider phones, flip phones, BlackBerry-style QWERTY phones and even a touchscreen device – though it doesn't run an advanced operating system like Android.
The plans you can get are all bundles of minutes. The more minutes you buy, the cheaper they get. The smallest bundle is 60 minutes for $19.99, which comes out to about 33 cents per minute. The largest bundle is 1500 minutes for $199, lowering the per-minute price to about 13 cents. You can buy a booster for $19.99, which permanently doubles the minutes you buy, effectively halving their overall cost. And thanks to TracFone's patented, always-on display that shows you exactly how many minutes you have left in your account, it's easy to know when you're about to run out of airtime.
Some of the phones TracFone offers have basic web browsing, and all have texting capability. Browsing is deducted from your airtime just like phone calls are: If you spend three minutes browsing the web on your phone, it will deduct three minutes of airtime from your balance, rounded up to the next whole minute. Texting, on the other hand, costs a flat 0.3 minute per text, making it a potentially cost-saving way to communicate with friends and loved ones.
TracFone's pricing might seem useful and flexible at first glance, but when you measure it against any other cell phone company, you see its extraordinary expense. Where $50 won't even buy you 500 minutes of airtime with TracFone, it could net you unlimited talk and text at another provider. Plus, many of those providers offer cheap or even free smartphones, while TracFone's selection is limited to feature phones.
If you only need a simple phone for emergencies and want a few minutes on hand every month to make brief, sporadic calls, TracFone could suit you. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a cheap means of constant communication, you'll be disappointed.