PROS / The value you get for your money with Boost Mobile is unparalleled.
CONS / It runs on Sprint’s network, the weakest of the Big Four, which means slow download speeds and strict bring-your-own-phone requirements.
VERDICT / If Sprint coverage in your area is solid, Boost Mobile is a great grab. You get more for your dollar from it than anyone else.
Perhaps one of the most recognized mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in America, Boost Mobile is master class in dichotomies. It offers great features but is sorely limited by its connection to Sprint’s nationwide network. It hands down packs the best-value plans we’ve seen from a prepaid phone company, yet it’s stingy about which phones can be brought to its service, forcing many people to buy new devices altogether. Still, Boost’s downsides are almost all the fault of its parent company Sprint, and if you can get past them, you’re left with some of the best prepaid phone plans your wallet could ask for.
It’s worth noting that Boost’s plans are in flux right now, since the company is heavily pushing its Unlimited Unhook’d plan. The plan gives you unlimited talk, text and high-speed data for $50 a month. That’s a pretty phenomenal price when you consider Boost used to offer a truly unlimited high-speed plan for $60, but there’s a caveat. Video and music are “optimized”: They’re limited to 480p resolution on the video side and 500 kbps for audio.
To be fair, 500 kbps audio is extremely high quality – most MP3s are streamed at 128 kbps, while high-quality audio is usually in the 300 kbps range, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the fidelity of your tunes. Video quality is another matter: 480p is what DVDs dish up, which sounds great until you realize that all modern phones have at least 720p resolutions and most exceed 1080p. By comparison, 480p can seem downright blurry. It’s still perfectly watchable, of course, and when you never have to worry about hitting an arbitrary data cap, the tradeoff can definitely feel worth it.
In addition to the Unlimited Unhook’d plan, Boost offers three additional options. Its $30 plan is cheap, if pedestrian, offering unlimited talk, text and 1GB of high-speed data. You can add an additional gigabyte for $5 or 2GB for $10, but if you want a higher allocation, we recommend going with one of the company’s two growing-data options. The $35 option starts at 2GB, but goes up by 500MB for every three months of on-time payments you make, up to a maximum of 5GB. There’s also a $45 plan that starts at 5GB and can grow up to 8GB after 18 months of on-time payments.
Boost’s growing data plans are incredible value picks, but we don’t know how much longer they’ll last. The provider used to have a truly unlimited $60 plan that didn’t optimize your video, but now it’s buried, and the customer service reps we talked to about it were extremely cagey. They kept pushing the $50 Unhook’d plan, refusing to acknowledge whether the $60 plan still exists. If you’re in the market and the growing data plans are still available, jump on them, but don’t be surprised if you have to do battle with Boost’s support staff to actually get your 500MB increases every three months – or if they’re phased out completely.
One great Boost feature that’s still in place is its auto-pay incentive, which cuts $5 off your bill each month if you set up automatic payments. That brings the prices of the growing data plans down to just $30 for 2GB and $40 for 5GB, which are incredible values even without growing data. You can probably get the auto-pay incentive applied to one of the newer Unlimited plans, but again, be prepared to spend a while on the phone with sales-focused service reps.
In terms of sheer value, these are the best prepaid cell phone plans we’ve reviewed, but they clearly come with a few caveats, including one we haven’t talked about yet: Sprint. As a Sprint subsidiary, Boost is limited in the download speeds it can dish up to about 8 Mbps, a third of what the competition offers. It also strictly limits which phones you can and can’t bring yourself. We’re huge fans of being able to save money by bringing a phone you already own to your new prepaid provider, but at Boost you have to already have a Sprint-capable device, and those can generally only be purchased from Sprint. Sure, Boost has its own collection of affordable prepaid smartphones, but the limitation is frustrating.
Ultimately, whether Boost is right for you comes down to two things: Do you already get decent Sprint service in your area (something best discovered by asking your friends and neighbors), and do you have a Sprint-capable phone or are you willing to buy a new one?
If the answer to both of those questions is yes, go with Boost. Its service tiers are spectacularly priced and generous with features that many other providers can be stingy over. Right now, there really isn’t a better-value pick in America – as long as you’re okay with reduced video quality.