PROS / Virgin partners with music services to offer free music streaming that doesn’t count toward your monthly data cap.
CONS / Virgin doesn't offer a family plan.
VERDICT / As a prepaid provider, Virgin Mobile's monthly prices are easy on the wallet. When compared to bigger cell phone carriers, however, its coverage and feature set are substandard.
Virgin Mobile doesn’t maintain its own storefronts; instead, the company sells its services either online or through Walmart. Its services have traditionally been plagued with slow speeds, low data allocations and miserly feature lists, but with some recent plan changes, Virgin is raising its value proposition. However, a few notable drawbacks keep it from standing with the best cell phone carriers in the country.
Befitting a modern cell phone company, all of Virgin’s cell phone plans include unlimited talk and text, but one attractive addition is unlimited music streaming. Virgin has partnered with a handful of streaming services to let you stream from their apps, as long and as often as you like, without digging into your monthly data. If you’re a fan of Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio, 8tracks or Napster, you’re good to go, but two of the biggest names in the game – Apple Music and Google Play Music – are notably absent.
Virgin offers three different data tiers. You can pay $35 a month for 5GB of data or $45 a month for 10GB (and if you use up your allotted data, you can add an additional gigabyte for $5). Virgin Mobile also has a $60 per month unlimited data plan, but that doesn't include HD streaming video or a mobile hotspot. Virgin has stopped offering family plans, which is too bad because bundling normally helps you save some money. Fortunately, if you enroll in autopay you can save an additional $5 each month on Virgin's cell phone plans.
Virgin’s biggest downside though is its network. As a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, Virgin leases coverage from Sprint and resells it to its customers. Sprint’s network is the weakest of the four national carriers, with spottier coverage, more dropped calls and slower download speeds than the competition. It has broader reach than T-Mobile outside of urban areas but is otherwise inferior, and all that carries over to Virgin.
Our sister site, Tom's Guide, performed speed tests and found Virgin isn't one of the speedier carriers. It placed sixth out of eight tested cell phone service providers, with a download speed of 18 Mbps and upload speed of 7 Mbps. It took an average of two minutes and 11 seconds to download the app Pokémon Go, which was just one second behind Sprint's download time.
Virgin Mobile’s unlimited music streaming, low rates and multiple payment options for new phones make decent cellular service affordable. However, when it’s pitted against the best cell phone plans from the major carriers – or even other MVNOs – its lack of features, coverage and family plans becomes painfully apparent. It’s come a long way but still falls short of our recommendation.