Shopping for phones is still a mess of hidden details

I spent the better part of last week digging through websites, calling representatives and generally pulling my hair out trying to sort out all the details about cellular phone service from the Big Four. I came to a couple of conclusions, the clearest of which is that all four of them do whatever they can to hide the tiny details that can make a big difference for some of us.

I know that most companies do this. But most companies aren't all over your TV, paying for ads on YouTube and everywhere else, and have huge colorful graphics plastered all over their website with tiny disclaimers and superscript references way down at the bottom in a different color font. I'll go out on a limb and say it's damn near deceitful.

You don't have to trick people into buying something that's worth the money. Phone service included.

The things they feel the need to hide behind three links aren't even that terrible. I doubt many people would fault a company for cutting off your service if you make too many calls from outside the U.S. on the "wrong" plan or using your phone to do something against the law. And we all know there are fees for everything, so why bury them? It only makes a carrier and their service look better to people who aren't aware of all the baggage that comes with any phone plan, so I'll assume they are doing it to purposefully deceive new customers. If you know someone shopping for their first phone plan, help them out.

I also saw two things that I really liked this week. Verizon and Sprint get a shout out here for doing something better than anyone else.

Starting with Sprint, I want to talk about their new changes to their unlimited plans. They are super basic — calls, texts. data and some tethering. They are also super cheap, especially if you need more than one phone line. This is just what a lot of people are looking for. There are options for calling to Canada and Mexico (for example) but they are options, as is not added to a base plan making it more expensive. I'd like to see the rest follow and show us something a good bit cheaper with zero frills.

Verizon and Sprint each buck a trend and get a good-guy award.

Verizon does something important about those hidden details I talked about earlier. If you go through the motions to set up new phone service through Verizon on their new unlimited plan, part of the checkout process has a big blue link saying "see all the details of this plan" right where you can see it. When you click on it, you'll find the full terms and conditions for everything you picked and have in your cart. They are written in garbled legal language, of course, but they are there. Where you can find them. The only thing they could do better would be to force you to click to agree and put them in those bullet points telling us how great the plan is on the front page of

So thanks, Sprint and Verizon. I'm not a fan of any service company, but I do appreciate the little things.

Short and sweet this week so we all can prep for an onslaught of phonery stuff in the next 48 hours.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Good write up thanks! It's awesome to have guys like you to do this kind of stuff for those of us who never do it. I'll bet some of those phone calls got pretty interesting!! 😉
  • Did I miss something, what are Tmobile and AT&T doing that hides stuff
  • Sprint is the worst offender lol. New customers get great rates for unlimited plans, and then a year later the rates double and you're stuck because you financed a phone. That's the definition of disingenuous.
  • Yup, noticed this the other day.
  • You dont know what you are talking about. Definition of disingenuous: not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does. After March 2018, you know what the rates will go to whether a single line or family plan. Maybe try calculating the total cost of the Sprint plan versus everyone else including the cost of the phone and see what you end up paying in that period you would be financing a phone. Do you really think you are going to save $90 a month for the next year compared to other family plans? ATT wants $100 a month for their a single line plan. Sprint is $50 for the service for the next year. Do your homework before making comments.
  • Well, I pay $113/month for Unlimited everything with a V20 on Tmobile, without any external discounts or bill credits. Sprint would charge me roughly that with taxes & fees, for worse service. My bill would then double in a year because I'd be stuck financing that V20 without the option to upgrade to a new phone every 4 months or so and without free music & video streaming. Never mind that Sprint only offers that upfront pricing to "well-qualified customers" after a credit check, there are multiple documented instances of Sprint employees refusing to allow new customers to bring their own devices and forcing them into financing plans, and despite going through every step of the sign up process except actually doing so, there was still nothing on Sprint's website that let me know my price would double in 12 months. And there likely wouldn't be until after I had completed the process. See: disingenuous. Saw plenty about their crappy iPhone Forever plan though. Have a nice night.
  • No, you wouldn't be paying that much. My bill was $85 for a single line before unlimited freedom came about and I am leasing a Note 5. If the phone you wanted to bring isnt CDMA it won't work. T-mo is GSM. All this back and forth may not matter in the end because there is a possibility Sprint and T-Mobile may merge later in the year. The talk is all over the internet and in business publications. If you pay over $110 for a single line, you got screwed.
  • I forgot that I'm financing a UE megaboom speaker and a $40 tech21 case, and there's taxes on everything but the plan. The point is, I pay less for service on Tmo overall and I get more. My pricing is clear, upfront, and consistent and I don't have to play games with the Tmo reps to get all the information. Anyone claiming that Sprint is more transparent than Tmo or AT&T is some kind of simple.
  • Since T-Mo included all the taxes and fees in their pricing, I agree it makes it simpler. I think Sprint's days maybe numbered anyway.
  • Yep... Sleeze to the max. Sprint is the worst for coverage by far too. Dont know what they base their 1% better ad campaign on, but everyone i know on sprint had / has nothing nice to say about it.
  • This is why you should buy a Pixel and use Project Fi. Extremely simple, cheap, no tricks, and it works great. My favorite part about it is that I can send SMS as well as Hangouts messages from the Chrome Hangouts App on Windows. Uses a combination of Sprint, T Mobile, and US Cellular. Switches to whichever is the better connection.
  • Unless you're on WiFi, the data buckets on Fi don't make a whole lot of sense for those in the unlimited market.
  • I choose my service provider by getting really drunk, stumbling into carrier stores, and yelling at employees. The store that lets me rant the longest before calling the cops gets my money.
  • This is how I do all my shopping
  • Lol
  • Luckily I don't buy the crippled carrier phones anyway. Feel bad for the people who get sold crappy devices by the carrier reps who themselves have no idea about the phones.
  • Everyone always does single person or 4- line plans.
    What about those of us with a family of 6 and 4 tablets, the 10 max devices on a providers plan account without going to a business account? We can't be the only ones. And I am sick of doing all the research myself.
  • As far as the big four carriers go, there is nothing out there for just a married couple, with no kids (2 line plans). T-Mobile and Verizon offer four line plans. T-Mobile will offer their's for $40/line, but only for four lines. We'd seriously consider switching if they would do two line plans because of the extras with T-Mobile. But as is, our Wal-Mart Family Mobile plan is still better for us. I get 5GB of data, my wife gets 2, and our bill is just under $70/month, using T-Mobile's network.
  • Guess I got lucky with T-Mobile being on an ancient 5GB/Unlimited prepaid deal.
    Also I'm a TracFone user on a back-up device.
    I really appreciate the adjust-ability with TracFone plus coverage on the AT&T network often fills in where T-Mobile pales.
  • With all respect, I'm not sure Jerry has ever worked a retail or sales sector job like this before. That's all I've ever done through several companies and every single time it is stressed upon to be as clear with the customer as possible, hiding no details that are important to them. I understand why Jerry wants every single little letter of detail right up front-page because he knows about this stuff; however, most people don't know and don't care (because it doesn't affect them). There is something Neil Degrease Tyson always says that I agree with which is that we tend to make up stuff (essentially) when we get to the limits of our knowledge. I think tech retail is beyond the limit of Jerry's (and others') knowledge so they resort to thinking that companies want to hide stuff. That is not good for business. We are told and encouraged to be as open as possible, but of course on a website, marketing efforts don't work if businesses focus on the details that affect very little amounts of users versus the important parts that most people care about.
  • The most important thing to consider is price. The web sites on all wireless carriers fail to give you the price up front. You have to sign up beforehand.
  • Jerry...if you think the US experience is bad....come up North to get shocked.