The LG Optimus T isn’t offered by T-Mobile as a prepaid phone, but does it works with a T-Mobile prepaid plan? Yes! Back in late fall of 2010, T-Mobile’s web site began offering the T-Mobile Comet as a prepaid phone. This was T-Mobile’s first Android based phone offering to prepaid customers. That got me to thinking, if the Comet can be used as a prepaid device, then why not any of their other Android based phones? Besides, I didn’t want to buy an smart phone with a 2.8” screen, especially after using a nice 3.8” screen on my iPod Touch.
Hey, I didn’t want to spend $80/month to be locked in to a smartphone contract. First, to get some context, let me explain who prepaid phones are for. Prepaid phone plans can be great for someone who doesn’t use their cell phone a lot and doesn’t send out a lot of text messages. That eliminates about 99% of teens and anyone who doesn’t have a land line at home. In my case, I work from home. Cell signal in my home is very spotty so I use Ooma VOIP as my land line. Therefore, most of my calls are over my VOIP provider and I can count on one hand how many text messages I send out in a month. That makes me the perfect candidate for prepaid phone service.
I used to be a Verizon Wireless contract subscriber. Once I started working from home I realized that I didn’t need to pay over $40 month to keep my dumbphone going, but I still wanted the convenience of a cell phone for when I did venture out of the house. I looked around and T-Mobile has three great things going for them. First, they are a large national network. I didn’t want to worry about finding signal strength or worry about using some deep discount provider that may go belly up. Second, the price is right: $.10/minute if you buy a $100 refill. Also, a $100 refill keeps your minutes from expiring for a whole year. The other big providers just don’t match this. Finally, T-Mobile customer service is just great! They win awards for it and I can attest that they have helpful U.S. based call center reps who helped me port my phone number over from my Verizon Wireless account.
But the introduction of smart phones to the prepaid market changes all this, right? Sort of. In the second half of 2010 Virgin Mobile introduced the Samsung Intercept as one of the most affordable Android phone prepaid offerings. Their service plans started at $25/month for unlimited data and 300 talk minutes. I was very tempted to give up my T-Mobile dumbphone prepaid service and jump on this deal. However, after reading reviews, I changed my mind. There were reports of the phone not living up to expectations. But worse, I read less then stellar tales of customer service interactions with Virgin Mobile. I didn’t need that headache.
So I decided to stick it out and see if either Virgin Mobile would offer a better Android phone or if T-Mobile would start offering one. I didn’t have to wait long.
Why the LG Optimus T?
As I stated earler, I didn’t want a 2.8” screen. The T-Mobile Comet prepaid Android phone is too small in my opinion and the non-standard screen resolution is reported to lead to an aquard user experience for web pages and apps not designed for its resolution. The LG Optimus T however, is the next cheapest phone offered by T-Mobile to contract customers but it’s a huge leap in specs. It has a more standard 3.2” screen, runs Android 2.2, and (this is a big one) offers T-Mobile’s WiFi based calling. More on WiFi calling later. This phone isn’t a powerhouse but it’s a great value that can be purchased as used for a reasonable price.
Getting the LG Optimus T
T-Mobile’s SIM card based technology is great. As long as the phone you want is made for the T-Mobile network, you can remove your SIM card from one phone and put it in another. T-Mobile has offered the LG Optimus T to contract subscribers since November 2010. So eBay became my friend. I purchased my phone used from the national electronics recycler Gazelle via eBay for under $200.
Activating the LG Optimus T
This was so simple. I simply removed the SIM card from my T-Mobile prepaid dumbphone (an old Motorola Razor) and placed it in the LG Optimus T. The previous owner of the phone did a factory reset and I was greeted with the phone asking if I’d like to input my Google account info.
This is where you have to pay attention. There are several Android based phones out there that require a data connection in order to enter in your Google account info and get past this screen. However, the LG Optimus T’s setup screen also had an option to input this information later. That’s what I chose because I don’t have a data plan that could connect to the internet and validate my Google account logon information. Now if I did have another Android phone that did require a data plan to activate I could have just purchased a T-Mobile web day pass (more on that later) on my dumbphone prior to switching the SIM card. There are other forums out there that discuss what phones require a data plan to activate or not so I won’t go further in to that.
Once I declined the option to put in my Google account info, I was taken to the home screen. The first thing I did was connect to my WiFi network and then set up my Gmail account. Next I made a call to my land line. All was good! I was on the web and could make and receive calls.
Several of T-Mobile’s newer Android based phones have WiFi calling built in to them by T-Mobile. These include the G2 and MyTouch 4g. Well the LG Optimus T surprisingly also has this capability and played a large role in my decision to get this phone. WiFi calling allows you to make calls using your wireless network to facilitate the connection. This was perfect for me because I have spotty cell signal in my house. Finally – an answer to my call signal woes! One thing to remember though: WiFi calls via this feature still use plan (or prepaid) minutes.
However, when I turned on the phone, the WiFi calling feature was no where to be found. After scouring the forums about this phone, I realized that the phone needed to download an update pushed out by T-Mobile first in order to have this feature. Overnight my phone automatically pulled down the update and the next day I saw in the notification bar that it was ready to install. Once installed, it was very simple to configure it to use my wireless network to make calls.
The data plan
So if T-Mobile is offering the Comet Android phone as prepaid, then there must be a way to get Edge or 3G data going, right? Right! Yes, T-Mobile does offer two types of prepaid service. One is you buy minutes and the other is you prepay a monthly recurring amount which can include some data usage. I go the cheaper route and just purchase minutes. So how do I get data? Well just open your phone’s browser and you’ll be taken to a page stating that you don’t have a data plan. The page will then offer to sell you a web day pass for 24 hours of unlimited data for the grand total of $1.49. If you choose to accept, your prepaid balance will be deducted $1.49 and the web is at your disposal. I’ve successfully used this to check email, stream music from Pandora, use Google Navigation (which requires a data connection because the maps aren’t pre-loaded on the phone). And get this: Android 2.2 has a WiFi tethering option. So yes, I also successfully tethered my laptop to the internet via the hotspot the LG Optimus T provided.
Now granted, a web day pass is advertised as unlimited interenet. However, I haven’t tried to push the limit of what ‘unlimited’ really means. I realize that I’m using an non-approved device on a prepaid plan. I don’t want to get T-Mobile’s attention by hogging bandwidth so I keep my web use to the typical smartphone tasks and don’t attempt to stream video or upload large files.
But can I save even more?
Have you hear about Android apps like SipDroid and CSipSimple? They pair with free SIP services and can utilize Google Voice to allow you to make free phone calls over the web; no cell minutes used! Well, I tried them both. Let me save you some time and tell you not to bother. The best of the two was SipDroid. It has a great user interface and is very configurable. I paired up my Google Voice number via pbxes.com’s SIP service that has direct integration with Google Voice. I got it working but the call quality isn’t good enough on this phone in my opinion. The receiving end can hear you pretty good, but the audio quality on your end is pretty poor with AM radio like static. I also configured CSipSimple in a similar fashion but audio quality was much worse. It wasn’t just poor sounding audio, it was totally broken audio.
Overall, if you’re looking to save a few more cents by using a SIP client, this phone just doesn’t cut it. I don’t know if it’s because this phone doesn’t have a powerful enough processor or if these SIP clients just aren’t designed to be on par to traditional phone call quality. Either way, this experiment was almost a waist of time. The only possible use may be if you ran out of prepaid minutes, one of these services may work for you until you have time to refill your account.
Overall thoughts about the Android prepaid experience
There are plenty reviews out there about this phone. There are also plenty reviews out there on T-Mobile’s prepaid services. But no so many on using a prepaid Android phone, so that’s where my final thoughts will be.
The LG Optimus T isn’t offered by T-Mobile (as of yet) as a prepaid device but it works beautifully as one. I suspect it will be officially offered as a prepaid option later this year due to its low cost. I would recommend this phone to anyone as a starter Android phone who uses T-Mobile prepaid services and doesn’t want to sacrifice the screen size offered by the T-Mobile Comet. The WiFi calling ability is excellent and the option to purchase a web day pass is a huge plus. This phone is the most affordable Android phone (or at least modern Android phone running Android 2.2 or later) choice for T-Mobile prepaid use outside of the Comet. And finally, when newer low-cost phones are introduced, I will always have the option to just swap out my SIM card and not miss a beat.