We know that our readers are pretty savvy folks, and want the best deal for mobile data they can find. Mint Mobile, which you've seen mentioned a lot on the site in recent months, is an alternative carrier that promises great LTE speeds and coverage for less than any other carrier.
But people were skeptical — what's the catch? Why is it so cheap? And are there any downsides? We decided to let the AC community decide for itself. Four forum members, some of whom were provided Mint Mobile service in exchange for moderating the forum (but were not influenced for a review in any way) had this to say.
On setting it up
All four reviewers had a very easy time setting up Mint Mobile because it is essentially "plug and play." You get a SIM kit in the mail, which takes a couple of days, and go to the company's web page to activate the SIM card. Here's what DecAway had to say:
I turned my device off, pulled out the old SIM card and popped the Mint Mobile, SIM card into my phone and powered it back up. After a few minutes of working your way through the activation process, you'll be in business and can power up your device and connect to the network. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the ease of activating the SIM and establishing service!
The others noted that the APN — the address that allows the SIM to connect to the Mint Mobile network — should automatically work, but on some phones, it may need to be entered manually. That's easy enough since instructions are in the Getting Started guide. dpham00 said this:
Setup was straightforward. The provided pamphlet guides you through the activation process, porting your phone number (optional), inserting your sim (the provided sim has perforations, and can be punched out for a mini, micro, or nano sim), and setting up the APN. After doing the activation process, I didn't have to do any setup at all, I just popped in the sim and everything worked fine.
Here's where things get interesting. All four reviewers agreed that performance was good, not great and that it varied wildly depending on the time of day and the location. dpham00 said that his experience was inconsistent:
Performance seemed to be a little inconsistent – even immediately after getting a good speed test, I would sometimes struggle to open a web page. This could be an issue with the Mint Mobile being de-prioritized over T-Mobile customers, or something with the connection itself as sometimes, simply turning airplane mode on, and off again, will get things going.
He notes that, indeed, because Mint Mobile is an MVNO — an alternative carrier — it must piggyback off a larger network, which in this case is T-Mobile. While it's unlikely that T-Mobile is actively deprioritizing Mint Mobile traffic, it not be privy to the network's fastest speeds, especially during times of congestion.
DecAway had a similar experience, but found that performance was mainly very good, and quite reliable:
After a week of using the service I can tell you that it's definitely not always "blazing" fast, as noted by Mint Mobile, but it can be… and it is adequate. Mint Mobile users are naturally deprioritized, meaning in congested areas your bandwidth will be much more limited at times, which I attribute to the slower speeds that I received. However, is that necessarily bad? Well, the answer is that it depends. First, objectively, I just paid roughly $12 bucks for 2GB of LTE data... Reflecting on my experience with Mint Mobile so far, I have been able to achieve download speeds of up to 21.04mbps and 12.24mbps, with a top-end 13.79mbps and 9.99mbps upload speeds.
Update: DecAway returned to his Mint Mobile service four months later and noted that it's still quite good. "For the most part, the service has been reliable, and efficient – especially for the price." He noted that it appears reliability and speed had increased, and that it was "generally just more efficient ... the difference is appreciated and I am definitely happier with the service than I was in the beginning."
Those are pretty good speeds. VDub2174 had a similarly good experience, but remarked on the excellent Mint Mobile coverage:
Coverage was great for me! When I checked the coverage map I saw that I was in an area that got great 4G LTE coverage. Living in a suburb area I sometimes get spotty 4G LTE but in my direct neighborhood it was great. I kept an eye on my reception while going about my day and saw that coverage was on point with my T-Mobile phone.
He also enjoyed access to Wi-Fi Calling, which is a hallmark T-Mobile feature that made the jump to its MVNO partners.
User Golfdriver97 also enjoyed the wide coverage provided by T-Mobile's network, saying he didn't have a problem with speed or network availability anywhere he went.
Had good to high signal where I went. So there wasn't any gaps in coverage.
All four reviewers noted that Mint Mobile, even with its sometimes-spotty LTE data speeds, is a good deal. From dpham00:
So the question you are having now is – is it worth it? I would say for the price, absolutely. It is aggressively priced if you are willing to make a commitment from 3 months and up, especially at the one year mark. Sure it has a few hiccups here and there, but if you are looking at Mint Mobile, then you are looking for a bargain basement pricing, and as such, you will have to deal with the occasional problem here and there. If you are using it a lot and demand the best performance, then you would probably be better off with one of the big 3. However, I think this is great for someone who uses the internet somewhat sparingly and can accept some hiccups.
I would honestly say give them a shot. Start by getting an independent number at first. This way you aren't porting your number and find out that it doesn't work for you.
That's another sentiment shared by all reviewers: Mint Mobile is alright as a primary number — VDub2174 said his number was recycled and received a lot of spam calls — but better as a secondary number primarily for data usage. While Mint Mobile doesn't support tethering, it's a good way to watch media on the go for less money. VDub2174 sums it up nicely:
Pricing is very affordable when compared to other plans so if you're looking for a plan that gives you the most bang for your buck, I would check out Mint Mobile.
DecAway said that Mint Mobile is great for most situations:
If you carry two phones around like me and can turn on wireless tethering with the other device, it really makes up for the shortfalls. If you're cool with occasional inconsistencies in data speeds, then it's also less worrisome. Call quality and messaging are more than adequate, so if you really need a cheap phone plan with the promise of internet in uncongested areas and off-peak times, this could be the answer for you.
In his four-months-later follow-up, he noted that Mint Mobile, despite having increased its prices a little, is still great value for the money. "The prices have shimmied up a little bit from their initial offering, but they are still lower than the competition."
His conclusion speaks for itself:
I still recommend Mint Mobile.
Concluding the 3-month social experiment with the service, I decided to re-up for another year, which at the time was offered for $199 for 12-months, based on the 2 GB plan (currently you can get the exact same plan for $184.00, including tax). Originally I had been a bit more hesitant to recommend the service as a primary form of service – and if you need unlimited data and like to carrier finance phones, I still don't.
However, if you like cheap service that's reliable and you purchase your own phones, I would definitely recommend giving it a try. It could work really well for you.
So there you go. Mint Mobile is a great choice for people who don't need a lot of add-ons, and can deal with a few occasional slowdowns when it comes to cheap wireless data service.
Head to our dedicated Mint Mobile forums to ask questions and get more information!
Update, September 6, 2017: This article has been updated to reflect new information from a four-month-later review update.
Alternative carriers (MVNOS)
- What is an alternative mobile carrier?
- What are the advantages of going with an alternative carrier?
- How to make sure your phone works on a prepaid alternative carrier
- 8 Important Considerations When Switching To An MVNO
- These are the cheapest data plans you can buy in the U.S.
- Mint SIM vs. Cricket Wireless: Which is better for you?
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