Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Service Review: On The Spot With Spot Mobile


When looking for a value carrier, there are quite a few choices out there. Spot Mobile is one that has stepped up out of the shadows and created a beautiful mix of plans for the smartphone user and feature phone user alike. Getting in to Spot Mobile is as simple as grabbing a SIM card and inserting it in to any unlocked or T-Mobile compatible device. Yes, that is correct, Spot Mobile runs off the magenta 4G nationwide network, which means great coverage in metropolitan areas and a bit lower coverage levels on the outskirts of towns. With their recent refarming of the 1900mHz bands nationwide though, T-Mobile’s network is more than ready to handle most 3G and 4G devices with HSPA+ capabilities. Though Spot Mobile hasn’t jumped on to the baby LTE network that is currently rolling out, users can expect 10-15Mbps downloads with HSPA+42 compatible phones.

Cost: The plan options are even more impressive than the coverage. Starting with just a standard Talk & Text Plan for $24.99 a month, the “always around Wi-Fi’ers” will find a very low cost bill in their future. To add that occasional data use and MMS messages, you only shell out an extra $5. That $29.99 a month gets you the same unlimited talk and text with the added bonus of 250MB of data and a $5 credit for international calling. Stepping up to the $39.99 level, you get unlimited talk, text and data with the first 1GB at 4G speeds. This is double what T-Mobile offers with their $50 Simple Choice plan. You also land yourself a $10 international calling credit as well. For $10 more ($49.99) you double your data to 2GB of high speed and for $20 more ($59.99 a month) you get 3GB at 4G speeds.

One added bonus to the full offering of Spot Mobile plans in the $29.99 and higher range is the direct dial international long distance package. With the $29.99 package, you get a $5 international calling credit. Jumping to the $39.99 plan doubles it. The $49.99 and $59.99 plans both include unlimited international calling to select destinations and a $15 or $20 credit for those locations that aren’t included on the list.

Coverage and Network Speeds: Now that you have the rundown on the Spot Mobile plans, it’s time to see how the service performs. The nationwide network performed very well in the areas where our testing occurred. I especially appreciated the fact that the coverage map doesn’t include areas that require a footer of “coverage not available in…” I found that voice quality was very strong, but I did encounter a few of those “Downloading Media Content” errors that the T-Mobile network is known for. Overall, Spot Mobile’s coverage was excellent across the board. Data speeds approached 15Mbps on the Nokia Lumia 810 and topped out around 10Mbps on the slower HSPA+21 handsets that were tested. Even on an older iPhone 3Gs (HSPA+7.2) speeds were a solid 3Mbps downlink. Overall, Spot Mobile exceeded my expectations of how well it would make a $100 phone run and performed just as well on the latest and greatest hardware from various manufacturers.

Customer Service: If there is one thing that the majors have that the MVNO’s are missing, it would be stellar customer service. Fortunately, with social networking, service has become much easier for MVNO’s to offer without having to staff a full call center. Our experience with Spot Mobile ranged from “Amazing” to “Really?” but tended to slide towards the positive. Of course, our one “Really?” rating was more due to the fact that a certain editor didn’t read the instructions on how to port a number in, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I tested every mode of communication with Spot Mobile and found that calling customer service directly was the fastest option. Twitter (@spotmobile) was a very close second and actually beat the call center during normal business hours. That said, I don’t anticipate having to call for service very often as their entire system is very simple.

Refilling: They couldn’t make refilling your device much easier. Just visit a website, purchase a PIN number and key it in at the Spot Mobile website or via the instructions on the refill email. I found purchasing refills from our partner site www.getsmartphones.info very easy and the non-tax internet variety refill saves even more money.

Now, not everything was coming up roses for Spot Mobile, mainly due to the fact that the instructions on the SIM card were so easy to discard. If you are activating a new number, life is simple: 1) Buy a refill card, 2) Go to www.spotmobile.com, 3) Click activate and fill out some basic info. Done. If you are porting in a number though, you need to make sure you get your refill PIN, then call the 800 number or find an authorized dealer to perform your activation. There were a few glitches in the system that actually ended up giving me a ‘new’ number upon activation instead of porting my old one in.

Overall: I know that there are power users out there that will need more than 1GB of data. I also know that there is a very large portion of the population that will never go over 1GB of data. For users like this, Spot Mobile offers better service and more transparent options than much of the competition. While the 1GB plan at $39.99 may not be quite as good of value as the $45 2.5GB’ish Straight Talk plan, I have to like the fact that Spot Mobile tells me how much I actually get every month without being throttled or cut off. Too many of these “unlimited” plans don’t do that. Plus for an added $60 a year savings over those other plans, included international calling and better customer service, I find it hard to pass on Spot Mobile.

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