When I got my first cell phone in high school over a decade ago, I was pretty much on a family plan with my parents. But I eventually got tired of being on the same plan as my family and wanted to be on my own. I discovered that shopping around for a carrier can be a bit of a headache, especially when you're looking for a good value with great coverage. I eventually landed with T-Mobile and have stuck with it for several years.
But then Mint Mobile came along in 2015. Mint Mobile is considered a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), and it utilizes T-Mobile's cellular network in the United States. So basically, even though T-Mobile is relatively affordable for the big three U.S. carriers (the other two being Verizon and AT&T), you can actually save even more money with Mint Mobile if you want to go the T-Mobile route.
I've been using Mint Mobile for the past few weeks in tandem with my T-Mobile phone, and I'm impressed.
○ Incredibly affordable plans with an unlimited option
○ Uses the T-Mobile network
○ Wide compatibility with unlocked GSM phones
○ eSIM compatible
○ Good customer service and intuitive app to check usage
Mint Mobile: Price and availability
Mint Mobile has four tiers of plans available: 4GB of data for $15 a month, 10GB of data for $20 a month, 15GB of data for $25 a month, or Unlimited data for $30 a month. All of the plans include unlimited talk and text, nationwide coverage, and uses 4G LTE and 5G data with no extra charges for 5G. However, you do need to pay for three months of service upfront to get that pricing, so it ends up being $45, $60, $75, and $90 for the first three months for brand new customers (it's slightly higher after this introductory period). When you purchase a plan direct from Mint Mobile, you get a free 3-in-1 SIM card kit in the mail, or you can go for Digital Delivery via eSIM (this requires an eSIM eligible device).
If you are curious about trying out Mint Mobile, they do offer a 7-day free trial through eSIM, so you can give it a try with an eSIM-capable iPhone. For those who don't have an eSIM iPhone, you can also purchase a 7-day trial 3-in-1 SIM card kit for as low as $1 at places like Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and Walmart. Trial plans include 250MB of 4G LTE/5G data, 250 text messages, and 250 minutes of talk for seven days.
Mint Mobile should work with any unlocked GSM phone, including the best iPhone. But if you don't have your own phone to bring over, you can check out the best Mint Mobile phones that it sells too. There are also ways to purchase an unlocked iPhone for use on Mint Mobile specifically, too.
Mint Mobile: You get to use T-Mobile's network for less
The best thing about Mint Mobile is definitely the price. Even though I use T-Mobile as my main carrier, its plans start at $60 a line for 50GB of data. Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile's network, and you can get unlimited data for $30-$40 a month, which would cost at least $85 a month for one line with T-Mobile. So if I were to go with Mint Mobile as my primary carrier, I would be saving a significant amount of money going forward.
I enjoyed how easy it is to get set up with Mint Mobile. I just placed my order online through the Mint Mobile website and pretty much got my 3-in-1 SIM card kit the next day. However, I suspect that's because I'm in Southern California, and Mint Mobile is based in Costa Mesa, California. Still, the usual free shipping for the SIM card kit takes about 2-3 days, so you get it relatively quickly. Once you get the SIM card kit, you just pop it into your iPhone or Android device's SIM tray, activate it, and you're good to go!
During my testing with Mint Mobile, I found the speeds similar to what I get with T-Mobile every day. This includes both 4G LTE and 5G data. Of course, the speeds did vary depending on where I was — some spots do have weaker coverage due to signal, but I could do pretty much anything as I normally would. This includes being on social media, email, checking work messages on Slack, browsing webpages and news, streaming Apple Music, and downloading apps and games from the App Store. I even streamed an episode of Loki on Disney+, and I had zero buffering issues, and the quality was the highest throughout, with zero pixelation.
I will note that I did side-by-side speed tests of both T-Mobile and Mint Mobile, and it looked like Mint Mobile was slightly slower than T-Mobile most of the time. This is because Mint Mobile customers are deprioritized in favor of T-Mobile's user base in certain areas. Despite this fact, I found Mint Mobile's speeds to be good enough to do pretty much everything I needed it to do, though it may be an issue with other people.
It's important to note that while most other MVNO providers can use the faster 5G data of the networks that they're utilizing, some do charge extra to do so or impose limitation caps. Mint Mobile does not do this, so you can enjoy 5G data regardless of the plan level you choose without having to pay extra for it. Mint Mobile also only uses T-Mobile's sub-6GHz 5G, so you won't get millimeter-wave 5G, which usually can go beyond 1Gbps in terms of speed. If you want some clarification on the differences between sub-6 and mmWave 5G, we've got you covered.
Another perk for Mint Mobile is that every plan comes with a mobile hotspot included at no extra cost, though there is a 5GB cap on the unlimited plan. I've tested it out for working at home with my iMac when I have spotty Wi-Fi issues with my cable provider, and it works flawlessly with good speeds and no hiccups. So if you ever need to tether your electronic devices because there's no good Wi-Fi around, Mint Mobile should work in a pinch — just keep in mind that data cap, so it shouldn't be used all the time.
If you're ever worried about your data usage, the Mint Mobile app lets you easily see how much data you've used, as well as how many days are left in the billing month. You can even make payments, renew your plan, and get customer service right in the app or website. You can always upgrade your plan to get more data, but you cannot downgrade to a cheaper plan. When you run out of data on a capped plan, you won't get cut off — Mint Mobile will simply throttle the speeds, but you can also purchase more data à la carte at any time. Data does not roll over to the next month, so make sure you use it as much as possible to make it worth it.
I don't spend a lot of time making phone calls, but the call quality has been great so far. Test calls with my family sounded crystal clear with no dropping out or background noise, and I sound clear to the recipient. Of course, this depends on how good T-Mobile is in your area, but if you get good coverage, then calls should sound fine.
Mint Mobile: No less than three months at a time
I honestly am not a big fan of how Mint Mobile packages its plans. What I mean by this is the fact that you may think that the $30 a month for unlimited data is a great price, but you need to purchase three months of service at a time. There is no option to just get a single month of service, even at a slightly higher price. Three months is the shortest prepaid plan available — you can go for a six or 12-month plan for even more savings monthly, but again, no option for a single month if that's all you need.
And it's important to note that these $15/$20/$25/$30 a month prices are only introductory offers for new customers — it then becomes at least $25/$35/$45/$40 a month, depending on the tier level you chose. So yes, the 15GB a month will become $45 a month after the introductory offer, while unlimited becomes $40 a month after that first three months. Still, these prices are lower than what most big carriers offer but don't expect that $30 a month for unlimited forever.
Lastly, Mint Mobile is only as strong as the T-Mobile network. If T-Mobile coverage is good in your area, then you should be golden. But if it's bad, then Mint Mobile won't be any better. For me, T-Mobile is pretty great in my area, so Mint Mobile works just as well. I highly recommend double-checking Mint Mobile's coverage in your area to see if it may work for you before signing up. And remember that there is a trial kit that lets you test the network out yourself for a week.
Mint Mobile: Alternatives
If you're interested in trying out an MVNO like Mint Mobile, but T-Mobile's network just doesn't cut it for you, then there are alternatives.
For example, Visible is another MVNO provider that uses Verizon's network. Prices with Visible start at $25 for the first month and go up to $40 after for unlimited data, messages, and minutes. Verizon has one of the strongest networks around, but standard plans can be pricey — Visible is a good alternative to save some money while getting Verizon's network quality.
For those who live in an area with strong AT&T coverage, then a great MVNO option is Cricket Wireless. Plans with Cricket start as low as $30 a month for 2GB of data, but you can go up to $60 a month with unlimited data, 15GB mobile hotspot, 150GB of cloud storage, and more. This is a good option to consider if you are a high data user living in a strong AT&T coverage zone.
Mint Mobile: Should you get it?
Mint Mobile is a good alternative to consider if you already know that you're in a good T-Mobile coverage area and want to save some money over the pink carrier. You'll be piggy-backing off of T-Mobile's reputable 4G LTE and 5G data networks for no extra charge, and the call quality is great, too, when you need to make voice or video calls. You also get a mobile hotspot included, and it's easy to tell how much data you've used so far, with the option to purchase more if need be.
You should be aware that Mint Mobile customers (and other MVNOs that use T-Mobile's network) are deprioritized in some areas, so you may get slightly less speed than a T-Mobile customer would. But for the most part, the speeds are still fast enough for most things that you would need it for. But if you already know that T-Mobile is not that strong where you live, then you should look at one of the alternatives instead.
Mint Mobile: The bottom line
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with good T-Mobile coverage, then Mint Mobile is just another option to help you save even more money when it comes to the big guys. Plans start at only $15 a month for 4GB and go up to $30 for unlimited data, including 4G LTE and 5G. However, keep in mind that you can only purchase Mint Mobile plans upfront three months at a time, which may deter some people.
Despite the issue of deprioritization, you still get great 4G LTE and 5G speeds in areas with a strong signal, which should be more than enough to get you through what you need to do on the go. And free mobile hotspot means you can tether other devices when you're in a pinch.
Remember, Mint Mobile is only as good as T-Mobile in your area. So always double-check your coverage before signing up, though you can also give it a test drive with a free 7-day trial too.
Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.
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