PROS / TracFone has more basic feature phones to choose from than any other provider.
CONS / It doesn't offer smartphones or unlimited phone plans, and the plans it does have are much more expensive that the competition's.
VERDICT / TracFone's aging business model, phones and price plans are disappointing. They simply can't compete with the modern, high-speed service you get from other prepaid services.
Editor's Note: This review has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it no longer ranks as a top 10 product. The original review is below, but check out our current top 10 about Prepaid Cell Phones here.
TracFone is one of the longest-running prepaid wireless providers in the world. Its model hasn't changed much since its inception. While other companies that offer prepaid cell phones have unlimited talk and text plans, smartphones and 4G data speeds, TracFone exclusively sells feature phones. It carries a few touchscreen models, but none of them run on modern mobile operating systems such as Android, iOS or Windows Phone.
TracFone's pricing system is based on minutes, which you buy in bundles at various rates. Depending on how many minutes you buy at once, your service is extended for 30, 90 or 365 days. If you don't use your minutes within those timeframes and don't buy more, the minutes expire. Consequently, minutes cost different amounts depending on how many you buy up front. A 60-minute bundle for $19.99 ends up costing about 33 cents per minute, while paying $199.99 for 1,500 minutes ends up costing only 13 cents per minute. Unfortunately, even the best prepaid cell phone plans you can buy from TracFone cost more per minute than anything, including unlimited plans, you can get from competing providers.
Minutes are used to measure and price everything in TracFone, from texting to web access. A text message deducts 0.3 minutes from your balance, while sending or receiving a picture message will deduct a full minute. Every minute of time you spend browsing the web on your phone will cost half a minute of airtime. Of course, in both talking and web browsing, the time you spend doing either is rounded up to the next full minute before being deducted from your balance.
With only a handful of touchscreen exceptions, all the phones TracFone offers in its online store are basic feature phones – flip- or brick-style handsets with tactile buttons and simple menus. None run modern operating systems or offer things such as app downloads, nor can any navigate the internet with advanced web browsers. A few have slide-out or BlackBerry-style keyboards for easy texting and emailing, and all are quite inexpensive, ranging in price from $15 to $90.
TracFone is a relic from the past. Its phone selection, while large, doesn't include the smartphones that dominate modern life. Its pricing options are diverse, but they're also extraordinarily expensive compared to plans you can get from almost every other provider. The company doesn't offer any plans with unlimited talk and text, and its lack of 3G data coverage makes browsing the web a slow – and consequently expensive – proposition. There are many great prepaid wireless providers you can buy pay-as-you-go plans from, but TracFone isn't one of them.