Android Central Verdict
If you're in an area with great T-Mobile coverage, Tello is worth considering. The plans are incredibly affordable, you won't have to mess with contracts of any kind, tethering is free, and there's a pretty great referral program to boot.
Nationwide LTE and 5G coverage
Flexible, affordable plans
Free hotspot use
Bring your own phone
Taxes not included with monthly rates
Data speeds can fluctuate a lot
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Tello Mobile has some of the best wireless prices with a ton of flexibility, but it probably isn't the first carrier that comes to mind when shopping for unlimited data. Wireless providers are a dime-a-dozen these days, especially MVNOs that piggyback off larger networks and deliver their same coverage for less money each month.
Tello's simple plan structure, paired with the speed and coverage of T-Mobile's network with 5G, makes it one of the best cell phone plans for light users. With so much competition focusing on huge data amounts, it's interesting to see how it stacks up against large plans, especially those from brands like Mint Mobile and Visible. If you're looking for an easy way to save some money on phone service, Tello might be the perfect fit for you.
Disclosure: Tello provided me with a data plan and compatible phone (the Samsung Galaxy S8) for review. All the opinions in the review are my own.
Tello Mobile Review: Plans
Unlike many carriers that think unlimited plans are the way of the future, Tello gives you a lot of customization over your plan.
When picking a Tello plan, you can choose how much data and call minutes you want. Of course, as long as you have a plan with some minutes, you get free unlimited texting, included by default.
Plans start at $5 per month for 500 MB of data and no minutes (or 100 minutes and no data). The most expensive plan caps out at just $29 per month for unlimited data and minutes, or you can find any combination in the middle that works better for you. Alternatively, if you don't feel like fine-tuning everything yourself, Tello has a few pre-made plans you can choose from.
Signing up for the service and finding a plan that worked for me was as easy as I could have asked for. I just selected the data and minutes I wanted, logged in with my Google account, confirmed the order, and was on my way. I chose to get a new number with my plan, but like any other MVNO, Tello also allows you to transfer an existing number.
You can use your minutes to make calls to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China, and Romania. In fact, with Tello, you can call more than 60 different countries for no additional charge. Of course, even some "free" countries might have costs for calls to mobile numbers. Still, with so many countries included, there's a good chance you could save some serious cash if you need to call overseas.
Hotspot/tethering use is included with every plan by default, and when you consider that some other MVNOs charge as much as $10/month extra to use that, it's a pretty great freebie. You can also reconfigure your plan at any time if your usage habits change, and every 30 days, your plan will renew automatically for you.
All of this is to say that Tello Mobile is incredibly affordable. Of course, I'd prefer that taxes be included with the monthly rate, similar to how Metro by T-Mobile handles things, but that's a minor complaint compared to everything else Tello brings to the table.
Tello Mobile Review: Coverage
No matter how cheap your monthly plan costs, it's not worth anything if you don't have access to reliable coverage.
Tello used to rely on Sprint's network for its service, but as of 2021, the company has officially switched over to T-Mobile. As such, you can look forward to even broader wireless coverage than what was previously offered. This has also allowed Tello to support 5G on T-Mobile's network for no additional cost.
The calls I made on Tello sounded good to both the people I talked to and me. I never had any issues with texts not sending, and for the most part, everything just worked the way you want your wireless service to work. If you do ever run into issues with phone calls, all Tello plans include Wi-Fi calling at no extra charge.
Check out Tello's coverage map to determine if Tello will work in your area. Then, click on the map to see which bands are available in your area. If you're on the edge of LTE 600 coverage, you may have connectivity issues.
Make sure to check your coverage even if you've had T-Mobile service before. T-Mobile and some of T-Mobile's prepaid carriers fill in coverage gaps with roaming agreements that Tello will not be able to access. Still, you should have reliable service with decent LTE speeds if you're covered.
Tello Mobile Review: Data speed
If there's one big issue I found while using Tello, it's how it handles data.
Like many MVNOs, Tello advertises that it has a fast and capable 4G LTE network for data. This is true, but I only got real LTE speeds during select times of the day.
For example, while the top download speed I saw was 71.8Mbps at 8:23 a.m., it also dipped as low as 2.59Mbps on another day at 8:52 p.m.
My mean download speed was just under 16Mbps after running 18 different tests across multiple days. That's certainly not slow, but there's still room for improvement coming from my review of US Mobile, where the mean download speed was 68Mbps. Also, remember that your average rate may be much better if you live in an area with little congestion.
In day-to-day use, visiting websites, hopping on Twitter, and endlessly scrolling through Reddit all worked well. The times in which the slower data speeds were the most annoying were when I was trying to move a lot of data at once, such as downloading or updating an app.
It's also worth keeping in mind that T-Mobile has been making consistent improvements to its 5G coverage and speeds so, with a modern and more capable phone, you may see much better speeds. This is especially true when it comes to congested areas which T-Mobile's mid-band 5G will be able to handle a lot better than LTE.
Tello Mobile Review: Phone selection
As we see with most MVNOs, Tello Mobile allows you to bring your own phone. Since Tello uses T-Mobile's network, you need to make sure it's a GSM device and is unlocked. Most of the best Android phones will work well on the network. To save even more, you could also get one of the best budget Android phones.
Alternatively, you can buy a device directly through Tello.
Tello sells a selection of cheap refurbished and new phones, mostly under $300. The highest-end phones you might buy from Tello are the OnePlus Nord N200 5G and the iPhone XR. These are solid phones, but they aren't exactly new and fast. You can also grab a cheaper refurbished phone, or even a flip phone.
I'd love to see a larger helping of more current devices later down the road, but it's a fine start.
Tello Mobile Review: Competition
Mint Mobile can be very cheap, with significant savings available if you're willing to pay for six or 12 months upfront. If you need 4GB of data, Mint Mobile costs $15 per month if you pay for the whole year. Mint also offers plans with 10GB or 15GB of data and an unlimited plan with 35GB of high-speed data. Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile's network and as we found in our Mint Mobile review, phone compatibility was strong.
Visible keeps things as simple as possible with a single plan, unlimited data, and coverage from Verizon. Visible's plan starts at $40 per month but can be as low as $25 per month if you join a Visible party from Visible's website. Unfortunately, Visible doesn't support nearly as many phones as Mint Mobile or Tello and requires one of a handful of compatible phones to activate. We also found in our Visible review that speeds could struggle in congested areas.
Our US Mobile review found the carrier has a lot in common with Tello, allowing you to create your own plan on the T-Mobile network. US Mobile also offers a Verizon SIM. US Mobile has an unlimited plan that can be made into a family plan with maximum savings when you bring more than three lines. If you sign up for a family plan, you also get US Mobile perks, including streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, or even Playstation Plus.
Tello Mobile Review: Should you join?
There are a lot of MVNO and prepaid carriers competing for your dollars these days, including Cricket, Metro, Mint Mobile, Ting, etc.
So is Tello worth joining over everything else that's out there? Like many things in life, that ultimately comes down to your personal needs.
You should join if...
- You're looking for a basic phone plan
One of Tello's strengths is just how low you can go. $5 per month for just 100 minutes or 500MB of data is about as basic as you can get. Not everyone needs unlimited data and a ton of extra features on every phone line. If you need just the most basic service on one of your lines, Tello is a great fit.
- You have good T-Mobile coverage where you live
T-Mobile's network has expanded a lot over the years, and here in 2021, it has coverage for the vast majority of people in the U.S.
You should not join if...
- You need a ton of data
Tello has an unlimited plan, but data slows after 25GB of usage, which is a lot, especially on a phone. But if you need every bit of that data and more, some other carriers might work out better for you. Visible's unlimited plan has no data cap and is actually a bit cheaper if you're willing to give up the international features and settle for a lower data priority.
Tello delivers great pricing and highly customizable plans, and if you refer friends or family to join, you can save $10 on your monthly bill. Even heavier users could save some money with up to 25GB of high-speed data for under $30 per month.
Data speeds aren't the best I've ever encountered, but they're still plenty usable and should only be an issue for the most hardcore users. Everything else about Tello works really well, and if you decide to give it a shot, I think you'll be pretty happy.
A solid wireless service with great pricing.
If you're in an area with great T-Mobile coverage, Tello is certainly worth considering. The plans are incredibly affordable, you won't have to mess with contracts of any kind, tethering is free, and there's a pretty great referral program to boot.
This article was updated in July 2022 with the following changes.
- New images were added to represent the current Tello website and offers.
- Updated phone availability.
- Formatting updates for the new site design.
- Plan information has been updated with the new price for unlimited.
- Information about 5G added to data speed section.