The best TracFone
Smart budgeters know that TracFone is one of the best deals for no-contract, pay-as-you-go cell phone service. Though most major carriers have prepaid plans (a bit more costly than pay-as-you-go plans), TracFone has evolved its offerings. It provides service using the top major networks and remains affordable. TracFone still has basic non-smartphone models and now favorite brands of Android and iOS smartphones, too. You can bring any unlocked smartphone to TracFone and still benefit from their straightforward plans.
Our shopping guide helps you determine which model fits your lifestyle and cellular needs, including our top pick, TracFone's iPhone 6s, a solid and beloved Apple product paired with TracFone's affordable coverage.
Considerations when choosing TracFones
For those who may not want, or need, a smartphone, TracFone is ideal for anyone who prefers basic cell phones as a backup or a simple communications tool. Basic non-smartphone plans allow you to buy a plan, which doubles or triples your minutes, making pay-as-you-go a high-value plan for a cell phone. But if you do want to upgrade into the world of smartphones, you have your pick of Android or a few quality Apple models. TracFone doesn't allow smartphone pay-as-you-go plans to double or triple the minutes. What you buy is what you get, but you can always buy add-ons through the month if you run out of data or texting units, for example.
Some users love TracFone's customer service, others not so much. Over time, TracFone's customer service technology has greatly improved. For example, it takes a fraction of the time to switch your old number to a new phone, but you have to do it either over the phone or online. Online chat boxes are helpful when you're stuck, too. But if you prefer to fix problems by walking into a brick-and-mortar store and handing over your phone to an associate, you may want to consider a pricier contract service.
Larger screens mean bigger phones. If you want an easy read, choose a 5-inch or larger screen. Basic flip phones will have the smallest screens, averaging about 2.8 inches, though some have 4.5-inch touch screens that are large enough to use as a video recording device.
Smartphones have touch screens that allow you to click, swipe, pinch, and drag icons, text, and more with your fingers on the screen rather than using keyboard commands. But not all touchscreens are smartphones. Some of TracFone's basic models are what are called "feature phones," which offer a touchscreen with limited capabilities.
TracFone's basic cell phones and flip phones are often on sale for well under $100, and frequently under $20 when you hit the promotions at the right time. Android smartphones range between $25 up to $260. Apple iPhone models on TracFone's site run from $175 up to $325, but be on the lookout for promotions that considerably lower the price.
Q. Will a TracFone smartphone update automatically like phones do on contracted plans?
A. Continuous software updates keep a smartphone updated with the latest features. No matter what smartphone you buy to use with a TracFone plan, it will receive software updates just as it would if you had a contracted plan.
Q. Does TracFone have its own network?
A. TracFone actually has something better than its own network. It leases network space from the nation's four leading providers -- AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. You don't pay the premium prices to enjoy those networks' service, however. That's why TracFone is well known for its consistent and robust coverage.
TracFones we recommend
Best of the best: TracFone Apple 6s
Our take: TracFone sells a locked Apple 6s (32 GB), or you can buy this unlocked, renewed model that'll work just as well with the pay-as-you-go plans.
What we like: Apple still supports its stellar 6s phone. It has a fast processor, a roomy 4.7-inch screen, and 3D Touch (which is why it's a bit thicker than the 6). Download the TracFone app to monitor your account, and you're all set.
What we dislike: TracFone doesn't support visual voicemail on iPhone 6s.
Best bang for your buck: TracFone Samsung Galaxy J1 Luna 4G With Airtime Bundle
Our take: An affordable starter Android smartphone.
What we like: The 4.5-inch screen is just big enough. You'll receive $40 of free airtime with purchase.
What we dislike: Slows down when storage fills up too fast with pre-installed apps.
Choice 3: TracFone LG L442G 4G Flip Phone
Our take: Sometimes an affordable flip phone is all you need for an alternative way to communicate, or if you're simply a low-volume cell phone user.
What we like: Solid but lightweight, simple-to-use flip phone with consistent, clear voice quality and volume, plus easy texting capabilities.
What we dislike: Weak battery life.
Marilyn Zelinsky-Syarto is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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