Cell Phone Service

Parent Q&A

Phone Plan Recommendations? Oct 9, 2019 (3 responses below)
  • Phone Plan Recommendations?

    (3 replies)

    Hello parents - got a family phone plan that you like and is reasonably priced? Our oldest is withdrawing from the family plan (AT&T), leaving us with 2 parents (not heavy data users) and 1 child (big texter). We're looking for good cell reception (we're in Berkeley), unlimited texting, and consistent billing/fees. Thanks in advance for your recommendations.

    RE: Phone Plan Recommendations? ()

    Yes! We use Consumer Cellular— I can’t say enough good things about this company. not only is it the cheapest plan I know of for multiple lines, including unlimited phone and text, but I *love* their customer service (real people answering right away) and policies (for example, if you use more data than your plan covers, they simply charge you the difference ($10) between your plan and the next one for that particular month— there are no “gotcha” fees.) They’ll also send you a message if you’re getting close to your monthly allowance, if you’d like to stay within your plan’s limits. And their data allowances are generous— several tiers to choose from— the one we chose is more than enough for 3 of us. You can choose whether to be on AT&T network or T-mobile— I find reception better in N. Berkeley with AT&T (I’ve used both). I think they were designed for seniors unfamiliar with technology, so everything is very, very clear on their webpage— but they work extremely well, and cheaply, for us— with  all taxes, $70 for 3 lines with unlimited text and calls and plenty of data— they have cheaper plans, too. I think the only down side I’ve found is they pretty much have no international travel plan— you’d have to just buy a SIM card abroad if you’re traveling— I’m not sure of the details because we haven’t left the country since we got the plan, but that’s what it seems like from what I’ve read on their website. 

    RE: Phone Plan Recommendations? ()

    I'm not sure how they compare price-wise to other companies, but we've had a family plan (including unlimited texting, a must with 2 teens!) with Credo for years and they have great customer service and actively support liberal causes, in sharp contrast to AT&T and the other big phone companies.

    RE: Phone Plan Recommendations? ()

    Right now the best deal is with Google's Google Fi.  It's been receiving great reviews. 

  • Hi all, we're a family of 2, paying close to $150/month for our two phones with Verizon. Coverage is admittedly great, but it seems the price keeps increasing. Of course we see the ads about alternate brands. Has anyone made the switch from Verizon and found great coverage,but at a lower price?  What was your experience?  Thanks for your input and recommendations. 

    Project Fi from Google has been amazing. Cheap, no contract, great phones, amazing coverage, and rollover & pay-per-use data.

    I switched from AT&T to Google's Project Fi and have been quite happy. Here is the coverage map: https://fi.google.com/coverage. It also supports calls over Wi-Fi. My monthly payment for two phones went from about $150 to $80. The only catch is that you have to buy one of a few phones that is compatible with Project Fi. They are releasing additional phones this fall. Here is my referral code if you want to try it (gives you $20 credit after a month): https://g.co/fi/r/FVU2H3

    I'm not sure this counts as "great," but we are on T-Mobile prepaid plans and find it perfectly fine. It is not quite as good as Verizon, but it is very much worth it for the lower cost. Our plan no longer officially exists through T-Mobile, so to get it, you apparently now have to buy a T-Mobile sim card from Walmart (oh the hoops they make you jump through!) But it is $30/30 days for 5 GB of data and 100 minutes of talk time (plus unlimited texts). Well worth it for me. If you need more data or talk time than that, definitely check out the prepaid offerings of all of the carriers to see if there's something cheaper. You do have to bring your own phone to those plans, but I found it paid for itself pretty quickly vs. the contracts that include "free" phones.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

T- mobile cell service- or other provider?

March 2014

After years with ATand T, I am tired of paying over $110 , for 700 mins, no texting and 200 data plan. I do not need unlimited talk and text or ore data,, but it seems like it is not possible to get around this.

Tmobile seems to have great deals- sowhat are people's experience with this provider? I live in North Berkeley - how is the services there? I also have an IPhone 4S and do not want to buy another phone- t mobile phone service is compatible with att phones. Any advise would be appreciated. Anon

I switched from AT to T-Mobile recently and am very pleased with decision. I also have an iPhone 4S and was able to use it with T-Mobile; just needed to pay $10 for a new sim card that you insert into the phone. And I live in North Berkeley and the cell coverage is much better than AT I now get a strong signal at home; whereas, with AT I couldn't even make calls from home. I also like that T-Mobile doesn't 'hide' the cost of the phone into the monthly fee -- since I don't want to upgrade phones every 2 years. Definitely recommend the switch. Daniel

I have had a T-Mobile Prepaid phone for years and love it. Do to the nature of my job I always have an unlimited iPhone from work so I don't need data on my own phone. I want my own phone but I don't want to pay a lot for it. I was very worried during the merger talks last year but luckily that fell apart. I spend maybe $300 a year on the phone. My old phone was stolen recently and I found they sell cheap T-Mobile prepaid phones at Costco. I live in the Oakland hills and I there are only two companies that get reception - one of them happens to be T-Mobile. I have never had a problem with reception on T-Mobile. If you don't need data and don't want to spend a lot - I highly recommend it. Mary

I use Consumer Cellular (https://www.consumercellular.com/), and am really happy with them. If you're a heavy user, their plans might not be for you, but it sounds like your usage is like mine, so you might really benefit; I pay half what I did under AT CC doesn't do contracts, you can cancel or change your plan up or down at any time. If you already have an AT phone, it's 100% compatible with their network; they will even send you your new SIM card for free. Their coverage is the same as AT's (for better or worse), so you'll never notice a difference. And as icing on the cake, their phone support is awesome. Sorry if this sounds like an ad, but I'm really happy with them, and I think that they are the best kept secret in the cell phone carrier market. Happy Consumer Cellular Customer

Cell phone service in Berkeley - T-Mobile?

Feb 2014

I am attracted by the T-Mobile offer to Forget AT and migrate over to them, however I don't know anyone who is currently a T-Mobile customer and that makes me wonder how good the coverage is in the East Bay and SF. AT's coverage is so bad in North Berkeley I could hardly do worse, though. I also have a son at UCSC whose AT service sucks at home so if anyone knows how T-Mobile is in SC, by Western Drive I would love to hear about that, also. Want to break up with AT

I switched to T-Mobile about a year ago. The coverage is definitely not as good as AT, but I have found it more than adequate and would switch again in a heartbeat for the no-contract plan ($30 a month--can't beat this anywhere!) I've used the phone throughout Berkeley and Oakland; I rarely have dropped calls but do occasionally encounter spots in the hills where there is no 3G so I can't access the internet. In the flats I've never had trouble with that, though. (This is especially an issue for maps--once got completely lost because there was no service and I had been navigating by Google Maps. Not fun, though in fairness I'm not 100% sure I'd have had AT coverage there either--but I can't recall that ever happening with AT and it's happened multiple times with T-Mobile). Basically, it's not perfect, but given that I'm paying almost $500 less a year than I was with AT, it's good enough for me. Hope that helps!

I love my Verizon service in Berkeley. We just moved here in June from the other side of the tunnel and we have had no problem whatsoever with our cell service anywhere in Berkeley with Verizon. And I swear I don't work for them. Really. Just a happy customer.

Verizon is expensive, but they have great phone coverage in Berkeley (and in most of the US). (no signature)

I switched from AT to T-Mobile several months ago, primarily since also got terrible signal strength at home (1 bar). I live near Monterey Market and now with T-Mobile, I always have 3 to 4 bars and can finally make/receive calls from home. I work in North Bay and coverage there seems comparable to AT Given T- Mobile's ''no contract'' pricing and simplified plans, I strongly recommend T- Mobile. Feel free to contact me if want anymore info. Daniel dlesh01 [at] gmail.com

I have been with T-Mobile for three years and I think they're great! I've never had coverage issues, and if your phone has 4G then it's even better. I live in Berkeley and also often go to SF. If you travel to the East Coast at all though, I've found coverage for data to be not as good there (coverage for talk/text is still fine). Hope that helps! T

One word: Verizon. David

Page Plus cell reception along Grizzly Peak Blvd?

Aug 2013

We are thinking of switching from Verizon, which has good reception along the north most section of Grizzly Peak Blvd. to Page Plus. I know that some carriers have rather poor reception up there. Anyone have experience with Page Plus along Grizzly Peak, from Shasta to Spruce, for example? Your experiences with other parts of Grizzly are also welcome. Thanks very much in advance.

You should know that Page Plus actually rides on the Verizon network, so wherever there is good Verizon coverage, there should be good Page Plus coverage. We have had Page Plus along Arlington for the last 3 years, and it is fine. Like most cell carriers, there are some spots in our house where it is weak (basement), but overall we are happy. (And you can't beat the price.) cheap phone

Good cell phone service? AT alternatives...?

Jan 2013

I need to switch from AT for cellular service. Paying $140 pre-tax for two iphones is just too much. I want something with unlimited calling, texts and some internet service. What other carriers are good in the east bay? I'd like to use my unlocked iphone if possible. Is TMobile good? kelley

Me too. Sprint has the best deal. ANON

Real cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone service

Oct 2012

We currently have TracFone and pay about $7.00 a month, since it's pretty much for travel, emergencies, the occasional text, etc. Does seldom-used cell phone service come any cheaper than that?

e use T-Mobile pay-as-you-go phones. If you buy enough minutes at a time, it costs .10/minute. They charge .10/text (send or receive). Once you buy $100 worth of minutes, then your minutes don't expire for 1 year. So you just need to buy more minutes once a year to keep rolling them over. I don't use my phone that much, so I'm only paying $10/year for the phone.

No contract.

Even the kids are on it. If they use up their phone allowance, they have to use their regular allowance to supplement. Pay-as-you-go the only way to go

Page Plus Cellular is REALLY cheap (even if you plan to use it more often). For minimal use, it can be as cheap as $2.50 per month (or $10 every 4 months). They ride on the Verizon network. You can buy a compatible phone directly from them, from a Page Plus dealer, or use an old (non-contracted) Verizon CDMA phone. cheap

AT Go Phone recommendations

August 2012

I've cancelled my monthly cell phone service w/AT and now want to get a GoPhone since I was really only using the phone for brief calls and didn't need all the minutes.

AT has the cheapest rates for pay-as-you-go and figured I'd get the $100 card good for a year. But when I read the reviews for the phones, they are quite mixed in terms of reception ratings and are not location specific reviews.

Has anyone had any experience with this service that they would be willing to share? I'm in Berkeley. I get frustrated with all the dropped calls I had with the monthly service but not sure if other services are really that much better.

Mostly, I'd like a recommendation for a solid GoPhone phone that has decent reception and a logical speaker system (my voice in, their voice out, both on and off speaker phone.) I don't think I'd use the web services much and I've never texted. Thank you. Andrea

Any unlocked GSM cell phone can be used with an AT SIM card, so you can get whichever phone you want or use one you already own:). Just buy an AT SIM card (available on Amazon, among lots of other places) for a few bucks. Put the SIM card in the unlocked phone & activate the phone with AT The SIM card comes with the phone # to call to activate. Buy whatever amount of 'pay as you go' time you want.

Last year I bought an unlocked quad band phone for extended foreign travel. To get used to the phone before traveling, I bought the AT SIM card + some time. Easy, low cost solution that worked great. *cell phone plans cost a lot

Best service provider for i-phone

July 2012

My i-phone contract with AT is about to expire and I am thinking about switching to Verizon as I hear they are less expensive. Can someone confirm this and/or give input on the best service provider or other options for i-phones? Are there any features that Verizon/Sprint/T-Mobile would not be able to offer that AT does? What about adding a line for a family member? I feel like I am paying way too much with AT and drop way too many calls in the Oakland Hills. Thanks! thrifty i-phone user

You will likely not save money with Verizon. They are typically the most expensive of the cell-service providers, though they have lots of loyal customers because they are viewed as having the best service/quality by many. Some reports show that verizon has fewer dropped calls/better cell service, and some reports show that AT has better/faster data speeds (for email, maps, surfing the web, etc.) Sprint is newer to the iphone business, and I think they tend to have the cheapest deals currently, though I've heard that their coverage in the Bay Area is still somewhat spotty. But there's also a micro-local factor to consider. Talk to your neighbors to find out what cell service works for them. Because while I know lots of Bay Area friends who say their service got so much better when they switched their iphone from At to Verizon, it's not true in all neighborhoods. Indeed, it's almost impossible for anyone to make a call from my house with Verizon, but AT works just fine. Since I don't have a landline anymore, having really good coverage in my house is essential, so I've stuck with AT ---can you hear me now?

I am also at the end of a contract with AT and am making a switch. I haven't decided yet, but here are some factors to consider:
- The iPhone 5 should be coming out in a few months. I suggest waiting. Your AT contract should switch to month-to-month automatically. Even if you don't want the 5, then the 4s will probably drop in price at that time. I'm definitely waiting since I want 4G on my new phone.
- Sprint has unlimited data. Verizon does not, however they just started allowing data sharing for family plans instead of each getting their own plan.
- I think Verizon probably has the better network, but am waiting to see what some other responses indicate. I think their customer service is probably better too, but I am not positive. I've just heard good things in general
- AT has the only network that will allow you to talk on the phone and surf the web (or tether, etc) at the same time. I never use this, but it may be important to you. Gus

Anyone have a Sprint iPhone?

March 2012

I'm beginning to think about upgrading my iPhone but am a bit tired of ATT. I used to use Sprint before (before data was what it is now) and was wondering if anyone has a Sprint iPhone and whether they had ATT before. Are you happy with the switch? Did you get the unlimited plan? Is the connectivity fast? I haven't heard much and would love to hear real stories. Thank you! not an ATT lover....

My sprint iPhone is great. I have never had AT . I have always had sprint, and this is my first smart phone. My husband has AT and I think I get better phone reception. I have an unlimited data plan and I get a good deal. Very happy. Sprint iphone

Affordable Iphone or Android plans?

Oct 2011

My cellphone contract is about up and my husband is trying to reluctantly drag me into the 21st century to get a smart phone. I'd prefer an iphone since I'm Mac-based already, but don't see how I can afford it. Are there reasonable individual or family plans for iphones or androids that anyone can recommend? I can't imagine i would need a very big data plan, but as I say, I am a Luddite in such matters. Thanks.

My husband has an iphone w AT and I was so fed up with contract gouging that I decided to not add myself to his plan (which would be combined about $170 per month) and get my own prepaid phone. I got Virgin Mobile and I can buy a $35, $45 or $55 dollar card each month depending on how many phone minutes I need. The top price is unlimited everything. You pay more for the phone initially but I got a Motorola Droid Triumph and love it. They have other smart phone options that are less expensive. If the iphone had a prepaid option I would have gotten that, but according to Best Buy they don't. You should go there anyway to get the scoop on phones.

Yes! I switched out of verizon to virgin mobile. I used to have an old school phone without internet and I was paying $70/mo with a mandatory 2 year contract. I now have an android op system, pay $55/ mo for unlimited everything and no contract! I am very happy with virgin mobile and the reception has been good in the east bay. If you live in the country/hills, you may want to check the coverage. Happy with android from virgin mobile

Can I use an iPhone in Berkeley & SF?

Sept 2011

I've had an iPhone with AT for almost two years, and it's great - except when it comes to making calls. I have very spotty reception in my house near Colusa Circle, in my parents house near North Berkeley BART, and in my office near Embarcadero BART. Since my contract is almost up, I'm considering switching to Verizon. Does anyone use Verizon relatively successfully in any of these areas? Anon

I use the DroidX in the Berkeley hills and feel the service is fine, especially when I compare notes w/ my friends who have other service providers. jill

We live near the North Berkeley BART station and my husband works at the Federal Reserve Bank at Embarcadero and we have no problems with our Verizon iPhones. I say make the switch! Sally

My husband deliberately waited until the iPhone was available thru Verizon b/c their coverage in the BA is so much better. ATT is notoriously bad in SF and NY, two places where you really want your phone to work. He has not been disappointed and I find that Verizon is very reliable on my 'dumb phone' as well. always connected.

Cell phone service in upper Rockridge?

Aug 2011

I just moved to upper Rockridge and to my dismay discovered I do not get cell reception inside my house. On the street outside my house yes, sometimes in the driveway, but nowhere inside the house. Has anyone had this problem and found a new cell service for this area that WILL give reception inside the house? (I currently have T-Mobile.) Or is there some other way to correct the problem? Apparently other neighbors on the street with Verizon cell service have this problem too. I'm stressed about this as I need cell phone reception at home for both personal and work-related purposes.

Get a femtocell thingie from T-Mobile. It boosts the signal. A friend got one from Verizon for her apartment where she had no cell service and now she's able to get and make calls no problem. Alexandra

We're in upper Rockridge (Harbord) and have both Verizon and AT Both phones seem to work fine in our house. anon

Seeking feedback on Metro PCS

May 2011

My Sprint bill for 2 lines went up to $168/mo after I got a smart phone (a decision I regret!) and I can no longer afford it. I want to get feedback on Metro PCS. If you use it, are you happy with it? If the customer service guys are honest, similar service would cost only $70/mo. What are the disadvantages of Metro?

My husband loves Simple Mobile - $60 for unlimited data/talk/text. It uses T-Mobile's network I believe. Lisa in Oakland

I like MetroPCS; it's cheap and hassle free. Try it, there is no contract anyway so you can opt out whenever you like. The coverage isn't the best. If you have long Bart commutes, perhaps it's not the right provider for you - I never have coverage in the underground Bart. If no Bart commute then go with Metro! Isabelle

We just switched from ATT (had them for years) to MetroPCS - the coverage is obviously not as great, dropped calls, etc and if you want to have someone to talk to you need to visit the stores, there is almost no customer service available by phone (unless you like an hour wait) but given the huge discount and fact that we needed something basic it is worth the decrease in service and quality...after 3 months, so far so good.... metro mama

2009 - 2010 Reviews

Metro PCS?

Sept 2010

I want to stop using Sprint, but none of the other major providers look any better, can anyone recommend Metro PC? How is there coverage throughout Northern California? How do you like there customer service? Patricia

I have a Metro PCS smart phone. For $50/month I get unlimited talk, text and email. It's basic (this is NOT an I-Phone or an Android). It's good enough for all the talking/texting/emailing I do, but it's a pain for longer emails or if you really want to do long responses. Nevertheless, it's way good and cheap for your basic stuff, and I can usually get my email. For coverage, check metropcs.com and look at the map. It's expanded a little bit in the last 6 months. You can still get coverage outside of their basic area (which covers metro areas plus--basically if you're near a freeway you can generally get coverage) but it's 25c a minute roaming. Text is still free even in the roaming areas, if you have a plan that includes texting. Everything is basic and straightforward: $40/month for talk, $50 for talk/text/email. You pay every month or your service goes away. No contract, but I think you have to go back to the store to restart your phone if you don't pay. Also, I think there's a way to do auto-pay, but I haven't done it yet. As for customer service, I'm not sure you can really count on it. It's basic. You can go to one of the stores and stand in line to talk to somebody. I don't think you'll get much over the phone. And other than the 'official' metropcs stores, the places where you can buy the phones but also sell other services are just contractors. You can pay more for little add-ons, like $1 to save your contacts, $4 for insurance. ONe other catch is that every once in a while you can't actually get to your email. I think the fine print is that even though it's 'unlimited,' it's possible that the bandwidth won't be there if everybody else is trying to do the same thing. This only happened to me once or twice in 6 months, but you don't want this service if instantaneous email or web access is important. Also the web browser is very slow. As in not worth it most of the time, as far as I can tell. The other fine print is that if you actually DO use your phone all the time, they can decide to cancel you. I don't know how often that happens. I'd guess not often.

I know that you didn't ask about Verizon, but I believe they have the best coverage in the Bay Area. We rarely have signal problems with Verizon other than in the usual areas: Tilden park, basements of large buildings, etc. Anon

AT cell phone disaster, and who to switch to?

Oct 2009

Since the storm nine days ago, I have had almost zero cell phone coverage, in SF and Berkeley. (I have AT and use a Samsung Synch.) Have spent HOURS on the phone with Cust Service, they just have me do the same useless things over and over. They are insultingly unhelpful, and I feel powerless. (My inner conspiracy theorist thinks they are trying to make me quit them because they don't make enough $ off of me.) So I have two questions: (1) are other people having a similar experience, and (2) which is better: verizon, Tmobile, or?? I live in Elmwood and work in SF. Many thanks for your input. technologically ticked off

Unfortunately, due to the topography of the Bay Area, we all are somewhat doomed to poor coverage of some kind - some carriers are better in certain areas than others. T-mobile stinks in the Hills but are good in the South Bay. Sprint (which I have) has good data and voice coverage even in the Hills. My wife has AT and she has her issues with it - luckily we have different coverage issues so one or the other will always have coverage. Though I can't speak to it personally, I have heard good things about Verizon for voice coverage. Anon

Cell phone service for So Cal move

March 2009

Hi all, I am having to relocate to another city in Southern CA that is somewhat rural and doesn't have MetroPCS service (my current one). Does anyone have any opinions about at, T-Mobile, verizon, or other major companies like that? I am looking at the rather expensive unlimited minute package for at, figuring that what I pay per month will cover the possible overages I would have to pay with a less expensive, but more limited package. At least it may be tax deductible for me, as I will use it primarily for business. Thank you very much! Dial-a-Desert

The best way to determine the best cell phone carrier (at least in terms of phone reception) for your new location in Southern California is to ask the people who live there. I live in a cell phone valley in Berkeley and got fed up with the coverage gaps in our Sprint service. We were about to switch to ATT, but at a neighborhood party I asked everyone about their carrier, and whether they were able to get reception in their houses. Verizon was the clear-cut winner for reliability in my neighborhood. But answers from BPN members won't be as meaningful as answers from people in the area in which you will be using the phone - so ask your contacts there.

you might try t-mobile. we've had them for years and have had good luck. of course, check with your desert, but for saving money they just came out with a new unlimited plan for under 100 (for two phones) which looks pretty good. we didn't have to renew our 2 year contract to do it. if that doesn't work, my husband says there's something called boostmobile which is about 50 a month and is unlimited. good luck!

In my experience, Verizon has the best coverage in CA. But, it is not the cheapest option (though I don't think the most expensive). If you can deduct the cost as a business expense, then I suppose cost isn't as big an issue. When I was on Verizon I always had coverage; my husband still uses Verizon for work b/c there are very few no coverage zones wherever he goes. I switched to T-Mobile b/c I tend to stay in large urban areas where there is always or usually coverage, and for a personal phone the price was cheap. Stephanie

2005 - 2008 Reviews

Credo Mobile/Sprint

Nov 2008

Has anyone had experience with Credo Mobile or Sprint in the Albany (home) and Berkeley (work) area? I'd really like to switch to Credo to support the cause and all, but I've heard the Sprint coverage isn't too great in the East Bay. Please share your experience! Thanks, Holly

We switched to Credo 4 years ago and we love it! We have NEVER had any problems with the coverage. We live in Berkeley, my husband works in Palo Alto and I work in Davis. We use the cell phone in all these three places without any problems. Apart from feeling better about the work that Credo does and the rates, we also get little ''extras'', such as free ice cream, tickets to the Green festival, etc. from them, from time to time. If I could switch my AT DSL to them as well, I'd do it right away! Happy CREDO and former Working Assets customer

I've been a CREDO customer for over 15 years and have been VERY satisfied with the service and the reception on my mobile phone. I live in the flats of Berkeley, which may be an area with fewer challenges. However I have friends close by who complain of dropped calls, and that almost never happens to me. Occasionally, my phone will take a moment to ''find service,'' but we're talking MAYBE 10 or 15 seconds. On the whole, I'd recommend CREDO wholeheartedly. Burr

I have Sprint and I live in the Berkeley hills and drive through Albany on my way to work. It works great in the flats, but there are some patches in the hills (Euclid just north of the Rose Garden, for example) where my calls always get dropped. All in all, I don't think it's any worse than AT or Verizon. Alexandra

How is AT in Berkeley? (iPhone?)

Feb 2008

We're thinking about getting an iPhone, but are worried about AT's coverage in Berkeley/ Oakland. We live in the hills above the Claremont and are concerned that there may not be coverage at our house and also around the Rockridge area. Does anyone have an AT phone who can tell us how the network coverage is? We currently have Verizon and it's pretty good. thanks! signed, iPhone or not?

Check the posts at cellreception.com for specific bar info for various carriers on specific dates at specific locations.

I've had AT since before I moved to berkeley so I can't compare it to others. But my service is always fine in Berkeley, except way up in the hills where it gets spotty. And by the way...I LOVE my iPhone. Seriously, I couldn't live without it now that I have it. iPhone Aficionado

Hi there, I have had AT for a little more than 2 years & they have proven to be very reliable for me. I went on a cruise to the Bahamas in November, & everyone traveling with me were either Verizon or Sprint users. I was the only person who had service both at sea & in port. That really made me a believer! I was literally sitting at diner & receiving calls in the middle of the Atlantic. How cool is that? Afterwards, everyone wanted to use my cell. I don't have much experience with the iphone, but I have a Blackberry curve, & LOVE THIS PHONE! My mom likes it too, so much that she is considering switching from Verizon to AT even though she will have to buy out her contract. Hope this info helps. Satisfied AT user!

Maybe I am not the best person to ask because prior to the purchase of my iphone, I had Sprint, and and any tin can with a string attached would have been better than that.

Seriously, I live in a black hole in Kensington where reception is problematic, and I have been very pleased with AT

As far as the iphone, seriously addictive. Should only be dispensed with a prescription and should cease to operate after 2 hrs of use a day. I would love it if the battery life were longer. I'd spend the extra $100 and get the new 16 gig model. You think ''how could I possibly use up all of this memory?''...I used mine up in three months.

Family cell phone plans

Feb 2008

Feeling like the last person in the world without a cell phone, I've decided it's time to get on the airwaves with y'all, and now am faced with the project of evaluating family plans. Has anyone recently researched or does anyone have advice about who has a good or the best deal for a 4-phone plan? To make things complicated, I suspect we have a situation where the parents want the phones for short ''I'm gonna be late'' or ''Do we need milk?'' calls, while the teenagers will be tempted to spend time chatting, will certainly be receiving lots of calls even if they can be disciplined about how long they spend on the phone, and may want texting or heaven only knows what else. We're in Berkeley/Oakland in the flats. Many thanks for any advice. cellularly yours

I know some people have had trouble with PacBell-SBC-ATT but I've had nothing but good experiences with them. We have a family plan with 4 lines and we're very satisfied. The fact that our unused minutes roll over means that we never have to worry about who's using minutes. We have more minutes than we can ever use. The few times I've needed to deal with customer service, I've gone to their store in El Cerrito Plaza where I've received good treatment. Their cell coverage has gotten better over the years too. I have no problem recommending them, based on my family's experience with them. Jon

Cell Phone Services for Berkeley Hills

Oct 2007

Could someone please help me out? I'm looking to get a cell phone to use for emergencies only and I live in Kensington. I will get me a basic cell phone, but what service plan should I sign up for that would give me good customer service and good reception in the Berkeley Hills area at a reasonable price (ie, cheapest!). Thank you! Anonymous

I live on the Berkeley-Kensington border and get pretty decent reception up here with Verizon.

Jitterbug Cell Phone and Service

June 2007

Hello there, Has anyone used Jitterbug cell phone and service? Could you please give us insights into their coverage area and customer service? We're looking to get a very simple cell phone to use for emergency only. We live in Kensington, work in San Francisco, and our daughter goes to school in Berkeley. The coverage area that we are most interested in is the SF Bay Area. Jittberbug seems simple and appears to fit our needs (and easier than Tracfone?). Assuming that it works when it's supposed to, of course. Thank you very much for your inpute. Anonymous

The Jitterbug phone costs about $200 bucks. A total rip. I looked at it for my mom. Thats what we get for reading Parade magazine. jitterbugged

Hi, this also addresses the other posts on inexpensive cell phone services. We used, for a number of years, the virgin mobile prepaid plans and were pretty satisfied. Recently, though, I tried the amp'd mobile plan (www.ampd.com), because it's 10 cents/minute all the time, and they use the verizon network, which had better coverage than virgin mobile's Sprint network. The final clincher was the fact that amp'd cell phones all had bluetooth features, which I have yet to see on any other prepaid phone being offered. Bluetooth is very handy, especially for in the car (we have a speaker system). One word of caution: you do need to keep track of topping up your account-- for amp'd, it's every 2 months ($20 minimum) and virginmobile was every 3 months (also $20). Stay on top of that, and you never lose your unused $/minutes. If you don't use your phone exhaustively, that comes to $10/month or ~$7/month, which is pretty cheap. Even so, it doesn't take much to beat the $30-40-50/month of 'regular' plans (not including taxes!). Jim

Best Inexpensive Cell Phone and Service

June 2007

I'm looking for some recommendations for an inexpensive cell phone (no camera phone please!) and service. I need a personal cell phone so I don't have to carry my business cell phone with me all the time. Something simple, with maybe 100 anytime/anywhere minutes a month is more than sufficient! Thanks!

Look into prepaid phones. We got the Cingular prepaid one for my son. You pay into it for minutes that you use up within a specified time. For instance, my son gets $25 worth of time for 3 months, and he is charged by the minute, 25 cents, I think. There are other plans that come with the prepaid phone that might suit you better. But I figure this costs us about $8 a month, which is WAY cheaper than any non-prepaid plan out there. The phone itself was only $20. Linda

I use TracFone. It's buy by the minute, use up minutes, buy more minutes. No monthly contract or fees. I don't use my phone much so it works for me. I spend about $120 per year on cell phone service. www.tracfone.com rami

I recommend Metro PCS service. Long distance and local calls 24 hrs a day for only $45.00! Talk to New York 24 hrs a day with no extra fees from CA! Coverage area is great for around the bay area, but if near placerville, you will need other coverage. I have used metro pcs for 4 years now and I am happy. Phones depend on your preference, but Motorola Sliver which has photo, speakerphone, expandable memory card, mp3 player, calender, voice memo, color screen, bluetooth, slim design, etc is a great buy. A great deal! If you need an earbud, which in Jan. 2008 all drivers must use earbuds instead of holding the phone while driving unless you use handsfree, I recommend a Samsung wep200 earbud. You will love it as it is small, crystal clear, comfortable, and the connection is great. Go on ebay for the earbud and get it for $12.00! Renee

Reliable cell phone service in Redwood Heights?

Jan 2007

I am considering switching cell phone service if I can find a provider through which I can get CONSISTENT service in my house. I'm currently a Sprint customer and am very satisfied with general coverage, but have only an intermittent signal in my house despite walking room to room, window to window, and even inside to outide in desperation. SOS. Any recommendations from other folks in my neighborhood? Stephanie

We too live in a difficult area. Verizon works great. However, what you need to do is ask your neighbors. If you can't do that, borrow phones from your friends with other providers (or lure such friends over with treats) and test their phones at your house. Each spot is unique. hill resident

Hi Stephanie, Try the following website: DeadCellZones.com. It will give you some good information what are the dead zones for various companies in your area. Good luck. anon

Sprint / Working Assets Cell phone covereage

Sept 2006

Hi Folks, I'm wondering if anyone is using sprint / working assets in the Berkeley area? I know Sprint has historically not had the best coverage in the east bay - in 2006 has coverage improved?

I just switched to Working Assets/Sprint about 4 months ago and have been very happy with the coverage. The Sprint network in the East Bay has improved greatly and so most of the time, I have 4-5 bars (I live in Albany, work in SF). The coverage is equal or better than what I previously had with Verizon. In addition, Working Assets has excellent customer service (which I could never say about Verizon). I wouldn't hesitate and go for Working Assets Happy with Working Assets

Cell phone for the hills

Aug 2006

we just moved to Grizzly Peak blvd and get horrible cell phone service in our home. Do any carriers have decent coverage in this area? Is there anything I can do to improve what I've got until I'm free to leave my (verizon) contract? the BPN website has this question from years ago- I've got to assume towers and technology have changed since then. thanks a bunch! earl

We're on the north end of Creston near Grizzly Peak, and we've had pretty good luck with Cingular -- although it varies with the type of phone and sometimes where we are in the house, so we may be on the outer range of the closest antenna.

Cell phone service that works on UCB campus

Feb 2006

I have checked the website, but there was no recent information about this and cell towers go up all the time. For those of you who work on the UC Berkeley campus, which cell phone service provides the best coverage? I will be starting a job at UCB next month and my current (Cingular) service contract is up in April, so I will be free to shop around. I hate Sprint, so I'm basically looking to compare Cingular and Verizon, the latter of which I've heard good things about in terms of customer service. Thanks! Lori

I've had no problem with Cingular on campus. Auntie M

I used to work at Haas, and I had good luck with Verizon in that general area of campus (I rarely went farther west than Telegraph). It seemed that most people at UCB had decent luck with Verizon. Its been 2 years since I worked there, so maybe other services are good, too. Sharon

I get good reception on Verizon - I'm in the basement of Valley Life Sciences and we don't even get AirBears reception. No problems with the phone. G

Prepaid cell phone plans

Aug 2005

I am looking for advice regarding which prepaid cell phone plan is a good one for service & reception local & out of state. I need it for mainly roadside emergencies. Also we will be going out of state soon for a wedding in a new place & will need it in case we got lost. I would appreciate v.much any recommendations. I checked the archives & it seems to be outdated. jane

I've posted before on pay-as-you-go Virgin Mobile's service. We (my wife and I) have been pretty happy with the plan, given that we don't use the phone a whole lot (which sounds like you). You buy your own phone for ~$70-120, depending on how many frills you want. Phone use is then $.25/minute for the first ten minutes in any given day, then $.10/minute after that (e.g., a 30 minute phone call-- very rare for us-- would be $4.50; same for three 10 minute calls, etc.). Roaming included, long distance included (it's on the Sprint PCS network-- not the best, but not bad, either). We've used the phones in Kauai, Wash. DC, and even the US Virgin Islands, with no problems. Virgin Mobile requires that you add $20 to your account every three months. The best part is that the money in your account rolls over-- there is no ''use it or lose it'' (at least, not yet). So, if you're an infrequent phone user, you can get away with the minimum-- $20 every three months, which works out to less than $7/month! I've never had to up my usage past that amount, and I don't feel like I've had to limit my usage unduly. Last time I checked, I had a balance of $60 = lots more talk time, if I need it. Jim

A few months ago we shopped around for a prepaid plan. We chose T- Mobile. The price was the best of all the others. But we wouldn't have chosen it unless it got good service. My neighbor works for the SF Chronicle and travels all over the place. She said she was satisfied with it, so that's why we went with T-Mobile. We haven't travelled much yet but so far everything's been fine. Well connected

We just bought a prepaid plan from TMobile for my parents for similar reasons (emergencies, trips, etc.). I found the company easy to deal with and the phone works fine. I know there are other companies out there, but I couldn't tell which ones would be around long term. I went to the TMobile store in El Cerrito, but I'm sure there are other locations in the area. good luck anne

I've resesarched all the pre pay plans and find Virgin the best. I travel a lot all around the States and have never had a problem with reception. (except Tilden) It's really easy to add minutes right from your phone. mm

I've been a very happy Tracfone customer for four years. I don't use it for ordinary conversations, just for emergencies and ''I'm-going-to-be-late'' type calls. Tracfone airtime cards are easy to find now, at Safeway, Longs and office supply stores such as Staples. The NY Times did a review of these services on August 11th. Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/11/technology/circuits/11basics.html?8hpib

Adapter for call phone headset

Jan 2005

I have a Siemens S56 cell phone which I love, but which has a non-standard headset jack. I have a hands-free headset that I would like to use with the phone, but it has the standard 2.5 mm plug. I went to the AT Wireless (now Cingular) store in Walnut Creek, where the phone was originally purchased, to see if they have an adapter and they don't. They gave me an 800 # to purchase accessories; I called, and they don't have one either. I looked online and saw what appears to be what I need, but it's such an inexpensive item I can't see ordering online as the shipping would cost more than the item itself. Any ideas on how to possibly find one in a store I can walk into? I can go either in the East Bay or downtown SF where I work. Thanks! Lori

There's a little hole-in-the-wall shop on Solano (the block up from Barney Burgers; right next to where a Subway store is going in) that carries a lot of different gear and accessories. Also, what about the shops on University below San Pablo? Seem to carry a lot of gear unique to India -- i.e., converting tapes and such -- and might just have what you're looking for. And, have you tried Radio Shack? Seriously, they have oodles of converters. Happy hunting.

2004 & Earlier

Cell phone service from Working Assets

Dec 2004

I'm considering switching my cell service to Working Assets. I already use them for long distance and like their customer service. Does anyone have them for cell service and can you comment on the quality of the reception? Is it comparable to AT/Verizon? Fran

I have had the Working Assets cell for about a year now. They license with Sprint, so it's the same coverage. There are the occasional dead spots in the hills and in the boonies, but it's been fine overall. Wendy

I've had working assets cell phone for over a year. as you may know, they actually use sprint phone service, so the service is as good as sprint's. (maybe that is for their regular long distance?) anyway it's fine, i've never had any problem with it. I've used it around california and in new york. Nanu

I hate to say it, because I too appreciate the company and their customer service, but after three years with a Working Assets cell phone I bailed last year once number portability kicked in. They run their phones off of sprint lines, which have very spotty service around the east bay. I couldn't use my cell phone in much of my house (in rockridge!) let alone in the Berkeley hills. And this was with a good, new phone. I was sad to do it, but I changed to Verizon and my reception has been phenomenal. And I must say, the verizon customer service is pretty great too. Guilty social conscience, but at least I can use my phone

Simple inexpensive cell phone

Sept 2004

We would like to get a cell phone to use only vary occasionally- emergencies and when in a pinch. So we are looking for a very simple phone and a very simple plan, hopefully one that is inexpensive (and preferably with a free phone!). We are willing to make a year long commitment. Does anyone know of a plan like this? Any information would be helpful! Thanks a lot.
--one of the only people left of the planet without a cell phone!

To the individuals looking for a cell phone to be used ''only in a pinch'': I would highly recommend Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobileusa.com). While you need to purchase the phone ($70-$170), there is NO CALLING PLAN. This has worked great for me for the past two years. Calls are 0.25/minute for the first four minutes each day, then all calls after that are 0.10/minute. No roaming charges, weekend minutes, blah blah blah. You can add money to your account online or through your phone. I think you have to add some $ to the phone once every 1- 2 months to keep the account active. Virgin Mobile user

Virgin Mobile USA might work for you. It is prepaid. The cost per minute is 25 cents for the first ten mins in a day, and ten cents a min after that. You only have to put $20 on your account every three months - and the credit rolls over if you are in good standing. The phone cost $60. This is perfect for me because I do not use my cell phone much - just basicaly for emergencies or to say that I am going to be late.

Note: the website is very, very Gen Xish - which was a real turn off to me. But I had been told about the plan and thought it would work well for me. I have had no problems. margo

Verizon offers a pretty good ''pre-pay'' deal if you really intend to use the phone for emergencies only. There are no contracts or credit checks. Also no taxes, fees, etc. - you just pay for what you plan to use. You pay up front pay for a bank of minutes/cents. All calls (whether local or long distance, as long as it's one of the service areas) are 10 cents per minute, plus a 25-cent connection charge per call (so the first minute ends up being a total of 35 cents). A minimal voice-mail box is included (you will be charged if you check your voice-mail from the cell phone, but not from other phones). The main catch is that the pre-paid time will expire (and you may lose your phone number) if you do not add mroe to your account by an expiration date. So, if you start by paying the minimum $30.00, you have to add more by the end of 60 days, or you lose it. I think add-ons are a minimum of $15.00, which will extend the deadline 30 more days (the unused balance does not disappear - it rolls forward). So, for $15 per month, you get a cell phone! I don't know if they offer good phone deals with it. Look at their website for more details. Verizon coverage is very good. R.K.

If it is truly for emergencies only--that is, 911--any used cell phone will work. Even deactivated cell phones can dial 911. You probably can find a discard somewhere (apparently millions end up in landfills each year) and you'll only pay a few pennies for electricity. Just remember to keep it charged and with you at all times.

If it's also for occasional non-emergency use, you might consider a ''prepaid'' phone, since most ordinary plans now start at $30 or $35 a month (plus tax). Last time I checked Sprint had one for $20/month but you only got 10 minutes (not a typo) included. That's pretty occasional! Try checking some cellular companies' websites for plans. David

Well the cheapest cell phone service i know about is these two guys who are at the Ashby Flea Market on Saturdays. They have ugly old clunky phones for $20 with 100 minutes on them. You can then buy a card with more. The minutes on the cards are pretty expensive 15 cents or more a minute, but it's pay-as-you-go, so this might work for you. For $30 you can get a cooler phone (they had a red one with flames when i was there)with the same # of minutes. I have no idea of the quality of the service, but if you're really broke this might make sense for you. Good luck- and don't get the red one i'm going back for it!

I think a good, inexpensive plan that comes with a phone is the TRACFONE 1 year plan. It works great if you really do use the phone on a occassional basis. It is about 100 a year or $8 per month, I believe. EP

For the kind of limited use you describe, you will be best off with a pay-as-you-go plan rather than a traditional service plan. We use Tracfone (www.tracfone.com) and have been pretty happy with it. You can get a basic phone and a bucket of minutes good for a year for around a hundred bucks. Buy more minutes if and when you need them, at a cost that varies depending on how many you buy at a time, what deals they're running, whether you buy them online or in card form at Target, etc. With some similar plans you'll have to buy more minutes every 60-90 days whether you've used up the ones you have or not, in order to keep your phone number active, but the package we bought allows you an entire year before you have to buy more. In general the per-minute cost is high compared to a regular cell phone plan, but you can't buy a regular cell phone plan for 5 or 10 minutes a month!

We figured if we ended up using more minutes, once we had the phones, than we thought we would, we could always upgrade to a cheap monthly plan. But we haven't, and even though we ''refilled'' our phones before the year was up, we spent a lot less than we would have for a monthly plan. And having a cell has been even more useful than we thought it would be! Holly

Cell phone service provider comparison

Sept 2004

we are changing our service providers, and was wondering if anyone has any experience or opinions on the ''expanded signal strength'' of the at gsm service and the established strong signal of verizon. i know that verizon has towers and coverage where none of the other carriers do, but their plan options pale in value. nextel is also in the mix as my husband is enamoured of the walkie talkie capability. - but again the coverage is questionable. i'm primarily looking at signal strength, after suffering for several years in the ebay with sprint. experience about any of these 3 appreciated. thanks.

I have used AT and T-Mobile. I was frustrated with dropped coverage or lack of coverage. We live in the Oakland Hills and we couldn't make calls from our home on either provider.

We recently switched to Verizon and it is *wonderful*. We can call from our home and almost everywhere else we've tried. It may be a bit more expensive, but definitely worth it. Diane

I have AT It is pretty good as far as reception since they now also use Cingular towers. There ARE choppy places still. The thing I don't like about them is the the customer service. I don't know if this is exclusive to AT (probably not), but when you have to actually speak to a customer service representative, you can wait a VERY LONG time (20 minutes!!). I find the bills to be cryptic and have needed explanations. I am also stuck in a 2 year LOCAL plan (trying to keep the cost down). I think the rollover minutes anytime and anywhere that Cingular offers is a good idea, especially if you have a teenager and/or you travel sometimes and don't want to pay roaming charges. When I first got the family plan I got two ''free'' phones, which we have both come to hate, but replacing them is VERY expensive without signing up for another 2 year plan! So, that said reception: good, customer service/flexibility: bad. I'll be interested in hearing what others say, especially about CIngular. good luck. anon

I have AT and my husband has Verizon. Someone else's post reminded me of the several reasons I need to run out and switch my service. My husband loves his Verizon service (he recently switched from AT), rarely gets dropped and has good sound quality. We both use our phones quite a bit.

I dislike (not strong enough a word, but....) the fact that AT now has Cingular towers (the previous post that reminded me). The first reason is that Cingular 411 does not connect you when you call for a number from information, just what you want while on a cell phone! And it's not that they don't *automatically* connect you, they don't connect you at all. The second issue may not be relevant to you, but I have a 415 area code phone. When the tower switches to Cingular, none of my programmed 415 numbers work. I have to manually dial them with the area code (also just what you want while using a cellphone, to manually dial more numbers). One would think they would have worked out these bugs before joining the systems, but perhaps I am asking too much. I also haven't found that the addition of the Cingular towers has improved the rate of dropped calls. Lisa

Cell service on Alameda

Sept 2004

We recently moved to Alameda, and we are finding that cell service here is not so good with our current provider. I have heard that AT was reasonably good a few years ago, but can anyone recommend a cell service provider with reasonably reliable service on Alameda (or especially the south end near the Otis St bridge) now? Many thanks! Ann

I use Verizon and have cell service everywhere in Alameda (including South shore). We use to have Cingular but could not get service at South shore. Good Luck anon

i also live in alameda and have had verizon for many years. i have great service (not just here but everywhere else). our daughter is using verizon back east in a rural area and has better service than many of her friends; my husband has nextel and it's pretty worthless (here and everywhere else!). peggy

It's true, cell service on Alameda is poor. There are only two cell towers here, I believe! I've had better luck upgrading my AT phone, and even better luck switching to Tracfone. Tracfone is a poor option IMHO if you use quite a few minutes/month, though.

Good luck with your search. You might want to sign up with a provider, try it out, and return the phone within their return period to see who has the best service. (Tracfone piggybacks on whatever signal it finds.) Beware of restocking fees etc. Jennie

Cell phone provider w/ethical business practices?

Sept 2004

I've had a Cingular phone for the past 2 years and am very unhappy with their customer service. It always feels to me like they could care less if I am a happy customer and all they care about is how much money they can get from me. Are there any cell phone providers that have ethical business practices and want to keep you happy with their service and company? Please share your story if you have a good one about one of these companies. Toby

We're former Cingular customers, too. We now use the pay-as-you- go plan of Virgin Mobile USA, which I think is the best of that category of cell phone plans. Whenever I've needed to contact customer service (either by phone or by email), they've been pretty quick to respond and seem (to me) to be friendly and knowledgeable. They do seem to target a younger (MTV) kind of demographic, which feels a little strange to me (I'm 50 this year!), but, we're pretty satisfied. JW

AT or Cingular versus Verizon

July 2004

Thinking of getting AT or Cingular versus Verizon. I'm going to be using it as a real estate agent working in Berkeley. Any thoughts? Any recommendations? Any horror stories? Thanks.

I had Cingular for a year... their rollover minutes plan is wonderful and their price was right... BUT I couldn't get reception in my own house, not even in the street in front of my house! (I live in Berkeley, in the flats.) So I tried out Verizon for two weeks and got reception everywhere I wanted it. My advice: Give them a two-week trial, take the phone everywhere you might go, and see. You can compare prices all you want but if you can't get reception, what's the point? All my friends and my daughter's friends say nothing beat Verizon for reception. Paying More and OK with it

I've used both AT and Verizon and live in the Berkeley Hills. I experienced many holes in service with AT (there's a really bad one as you're going down Marin through Albany, of all places), so I decided to try Verizon. I've had Verizon for a year and have been very happy with all aspects of the service. I can use it in the hills with no problem. Maria

T-Mobile vs. AT Cell Phone Service

Aug 2003

I'm thinking of switching our AT cell phone service to T-Mobile, because it's cheaper. Does anyone have any experience with T-Mobile--mostly I'm interested in if the signal works well all over the Bay Area, their service, etc. Thanks, Joan

I have T-Mobile service and it is OK, but could be better. Since this is my first cell phone, I do not have much comparison. But there are times when I manually search for service and most of the times AT appears on the display alone or with T-Mobile. So that tells me that AT has the same or better coverage than T-Mobile. Also I see people using cell phones in places where my phone gets no service. So again, I think there are plans with better coverage. But overall, I am able to contact my wife most of the time. Sometimes I need to go out of my building to call her or she needs to drive a short distance to get a better signal, but we do connect. So for the purpose of connecting with my wife, T-Mobile works. If I was to use the cell phone for calling customers or clients, then I would look for better service. David

I've never used T-Mobile, but I know AT has decent coverage at a mid-high price. I use Verizon's America's Choice and have never had a problem with connectivity or service. I pay about $35 plus tax for 300 minutes, and I use my phone nationwide (I travel to NYC often). My kids ALWAYS use the cell to call me, and they've never had a problem reaching me. I also got them a 100 minute prepaid phone, so we can always reach one another if we need. The 100 minutes translates to 200 minutes if you use it mobile-mobile within Verizon service. I've also heard that Cingular's new ''roll over'' plan is good if you don't always use all your minutes. Karin

My husband decided to switch to T Mobile last year because their phones can be used in other countries and we travel a lot. However, we found out as we were about to sign up for a very inexpensive plan for both of us that TM is currently using Cingular towers. I knew from previous experience that I can't get a signal in my office at UC with Cingular so we decided to leave me with AT So now we have 2 calling plans: he on T Mobile which is considerably cheaper but the service area is weak, and me on AT which is quite expensive but with great coverage.
There's always a downside

We switched a couple of months ago from AT to T-Mobile. Basically we switched because my old phone died and decided to get a family plan, T-moblie's was cheaper than AT Basically the T-Mobile service is good. We have been able to use it everywhere we have been in the bay area... from Redwood City to Santa Rosa, the San Francisco Zoo to Danville. Plus it has a national calling plan so we have been able to call easily from New York, Chicago, Las Vegas. The only reception problems I notice consistently are 1) no reception in a certain 4 block area near where I work in El Sobrante... but I had the same trouble with AT in that spot, and 2) when I drive under the BART tracks near the El Cerrito Plaza, especially if there is a train at the station. Rose

Quality of T-Mobile Service?

June 2003

Can anyone comment on the quality of T-Mobile as a cellular phone provider (with or without internet access)? I've read the few recommendations that exist on this list, but wanted more current observations. Thanks. Dianne

My wife and I are on the Family Plan with T-Mobile. We can call each other for free any time and ALL weekend calls are free. In general, I can connect with my wife most of the time. Since this is my first cell phone, I do not have much to compare other than the following observations.

Occasionally the phone will have not be able to connect to a T-Mobile (actually Cingular) tower, but can communicate with an AT tower. But upon requesting a connection to the AT tower, the request is refused. The point is that it seems that overall the coverage of AT is better than T-Mobile (Cingular in Northern CA).

The places where I do not have service are on Grizzly Peak from Fish Ranch Road to Centenial. Also I had spotty service while skiing near Sugar Bowl near Truckee. Also I do not get good reception in my office at LBNL, while two doors a coworker gets fine reception. I am not sure which service he uses, but I suspect that it is AT David

We just signed up for T-Mobile service, with the plan where we can talk to each other for free, plus unlimited weekend calling.

My husband works in Berkeley, and I work in El Sobrante. My husband gets excellent reception all day long, even inside the building where he works. I don't get such great reception where I work though... I didn't expect to get reception in doors where I work as I never did on my previous service, but the reception on the streets is a little inconsistent near there also. I get fine reception the closer I get to Richmond and it is excellent by the time I get to El Cerrito.

I also must note that on my previous service (AT) I got horrible reception driving near (within 4 blocks) of a BART station, I have not had that experience with the T-Mobile. I don't know if that is service related, or because of a change in phones (we got two new Nokia 3390's for free when we signed up), or if it is just a coincidence (the reception was usually worse when a train was pulling in, and perhaps that just hasn't happened while I have been using my new phone.) Rose

We have the family plan with T-Mobile. It's mostly fine, except for a few 'dead' spots around Berkeley, namely most of Cedar Street, parts of MLK Way (near Fat Apple's). I'm sure there's more, but it hasn't really been a problem for me. However, if I lived on Cedar... julie

Best plan for 2 phones, unlimited use

Feb 2003

As of the 12th of this month I am finally free of my current cell phone provider! I am looking for advice on a new provider. This is what we need, perhaps you've been in the same boat ( :

* 2 phones
* we're thinking about dumping our land line completely so would need unlimited (almost) talk time, both local & nationwide.
* GOOD reception. our last provider (cingular) has not worked good for us, we've even had problems with no service on san pablo and on the berkeley campus!

Any experiences are most appreciated. There wasn't any new advice/recommendations on the website.
Thanks! looking for a new cell phone provider

My husband and I have a two phone plan with Verizon wireless. He got the cheapest phone they have and he has stange reception trouble all over the place. On San Pablo,etc. I, on the other hand, bought a $200+ phone. I have never had a reception problem. I even get it at Lake Anza in Tilden park when none of my friends get reception on their phones. So it is worth considering that it could be the phone and not just the service. Dana

Verizon is the best for reception. I know this has been proven by someone (Consumer Reports?) but I don't remember by who. Also, their America's Choice plan covers a lot of America, including the very small town in Vermont my mother lives in, which other plans don't. They are costlier than Cingular, but offer specials every two months or so that you can take advantage of. We now pay $75/month, not including tax, for 750 shared minutes (two phones), 1,000 mobile to mobile, and 3,000 night and weekend. Regarding T*Mobile: their local service is provided by Cingular. I believe their network is east-coast or Europe based, and after they grow their network they won't use Cingular. Also, check www.letstalk.com, www.getconnected.com, www.cnet.com, and www.epinions.com. Jodi

I used to work for a telecom reseller company which ofered a range of telcom products, including wireless and long distance. Regarding wireless reception, one option is to rent a phone for a week or so, try out the different local providers. Verizon (used to be GTE) is good, but I have found AT (used to be CellularOne) to have better reception overall in the Bay Area, especially hilly areas.

Unlimited talk time with no long distance programs on wireless providers are not always available at the low-end range, and are not usually cost effective one-stop providers. A good telecom company should provide analysis for you if you give them your previous 3 months bills. Like any sales situation - cars, houses, sevices etc - , don't let them fast-talk you into anything on the spot. There is a grace period, even after you've signed a contract, so read the fine print! PP

I'd recommend AT, purely on the basis of reception in BK is far better than what what my friends have, cingular, t- mobile... I heard it is comparable to verizon tho'. John

I'm not sure about the 2 phone thing, but as far as reception goes I've always had good luck with Sprint pcs. I've had cellular service with them for about 2 1/2 years now and there have been few times that I didn't have service when I needed it. But I also wasn't using it as a land line too. Good luck! Sarah

If you are thinking about dumping your land line then your main criteria should be coverage. The best reception is usually with AT Wireless or Verizon. Borrow a friend's phone and check if it works in all parts of your house -- I can use my AT Wireless phone in only one small part of my home, although it's fine on campus. Good luck. Elizabeth

Family Cell Phone Service

January 2003

I primarily use my cell phone to stay in touch with my teen-aged daughter and realize we each need our own phone. I'm looking for a service provider for two cell phones in the Berkeley area at a reasonable price. I currently pay $25 per month for Verizon service and would prefer to pay less than $50 for service for two phones. However the Verizon two phone plan is at least $60. Previous messages on the website about cell phone service are primarily about quality of reception for one phone. Can anyone suggest a reasonably-priced two phone plan with good service in the Berkeley area? Arlene

Try Cingular. As I understand their family plans, you pick the level of minutes you want and then add additional phones for $10 a month. The two phones share the total number of minutes, so you'd need to be sure your daughter (and you) didn't exceed them, but if your need is just to keep in touch with other with short calls, you ought to able to find a plan that will suit your budget. We have three phones and keep it under $50 a month since we don't use them a lot -- but, boy, it's great to have them when you need them. Norm

If you don't plan on using the phones for extensive chatting, why not consider a pay-as-you-go plan? My wife and I looked at the various family plans, and you're right-- you can't get away with less than $60/month. We ended up buying 2 phones from Virgin Mobile, where roaming and long distance are free, and the flat rate is 25 cents a minute, and 10 cents a minute after the first $2.50 (on any given day). They require you to use a minimum of $20 every three months, so, for two phones (and limited use), you can go as low as ~$14/month-- which includes all taxes and surcharges (the other plans forget to tell you that there's another ~$5/mo, or more, in taxes and misc. charges on top of your plan). As an added bonus, I suspect that unused minutes on Virgin Mobile will roll over, as long as you keep seeding the $20 every 3 months. The only caveats- no free phone deals, and the possibility that they could raise the 25 cent/minute charge. With respect to the latter, I think the cell phone market is competitive enough that they won't do that. Jim

Nov 2002

Has anyone recently researched family plans for cell phones--I'm looking for lowest possible monthly rates & not mega minutes. bstrads

I am on the Verizon Wireless family plan. I just wanted to make sure you are aware of the service needs as well. I have found that our phones have service up in the Oakland Hills as well as out on the Ocean when my husband goes out fishing. We did not have this good of a service when on Sprint. This is just advice to note that you may get a great deal, but no service where you need it. AT service is pretty good too from what I have been told of those users. I use my phone a lot to call my family back in the midwest, so I am paying for the minutes. Verizon has lots of good plans, I suggest calling them and talking to whom ever you choose as a carrier, you can usually get a better deal when talking to someone over the phone. Chris

Cell phone for AT Wireless

Nov 2002

I am planning on switching to AT Wireless for my cell phone service. I would be curious to know what others who have this service use for their cell phone (manufacturer, model) and what they like/don't like about the phone. Is it worth getting a Bluetooth model phone or is it still too early in the game for Bluetooth to be useful? (Re: Bluetooth, I am a Mac user using OS X Jaguar.) Anyone have the Sony Ericsson T68i or the Nokia 8390? They are both highly rated AT phones (as per Cnet). Lori

AT is onhe of the providers with the worst coverage in the Bay Area. And once your are a customer try calling there customer service number, you will wait for hours and then talk to untrained customer service reps that try to up-sell you instead of solving your current problem. I have heard good things about the new company T ''something. I have 5 lines, (all my kids have phones) and coverage in Oakland/Berkeley is terrible. DRS

I'm not sure if it's a Nokia 8390 or not, but I got my cell phone free from AT because I was ''switching'' from WorldCom to them (not that I had been given much choice). If you call AT wireless and ask them about the free cell phone offer for ''migrators'' I think they call it, they will give you a number to call and send you a pretty nice Nokia phone. elisabeth

Replacing a cell phone

Jan 2003

I need to replace a cell phone. I use it rarely & want to spend as a little as possible for a very basic phone. I don't want to spend the $75 some I was quoted for a refurbished one. Is there a used market? Any suggestions welcome. Thanks! Rebecca

E-bay is probably your best bet. Just make sure the phone will work with your service. Cecile

Sept 2002

Help! Being the frazzled mom that I am, I recently lost my two month old T-Mobile Cell phone. I would like to replace it ASAP but the service provider wants to charge me between $150-200 (ouch!) and two of the stores I checked out are just not interested in me because they sell activations not phones. I'm really annoyed by this because I know folks have cell phones all over the place that they no longer use. Any suggestions are much appreciated. Thanks! Heather

T-mobile is operating in CA & NV on Cingular's network. They're on a GSM 1900 network which uses a digital PCS phone and a SIM chip. The phone can be replaced rather cheaply, if you only need basic functions, at eBay auctions or anyone who's discarded their Cingular/Pac- Bell phone when switching to another provider. I've never lost my phone, so I couldn't say how one would replace the SIM chip, which uniquely identifies your phone and phone number. I would guess that only T-mobile could issue them. It's a thumbnail-sized plastic card that was once attached to a plastic ''credit card''. It's usually inserted into the phone underneath the battery. Good luck. kim

You can get a cheap cell phone from ebay or craigslist (perhaps even on the parents network if you post there) and then have them create a new chip and install it. I also lost (temporarily as it turned out) my cell phone. It cost me about $25 to have cingular burn the new chip and five minutes to install it. Good Luck.

Coverage in the Hills

Sept 2002

I'm thinking of getting a Handspring Treo (cellphone/PDA/wireless email) for my wife and wanted to get reactions to ''Sprint PCS Vision '' coverage in the Berkeley/Kensington area. She spends a lot of time in the Berkeley/Kensington Hills and I wonder if coverage is spotty there. Also, any feedback on the Treo itself would be great.

FYI, we currently have conventional cellphone service through AT Coverage in the hills has deteriorated over the past year, with random disconnects added to the known dead spots (on Arlington near the Circle, around Monterey Market, etc). John

We found Sprint PCS very spotty even on the Clark Kerr Campus, which isn't far up in the hills. Joanne

I used Sprint PCS a few years ago and I got no coverage past the Marin circle. I've now been with Verizon for 2 yrs and been very happy with it. I have some spottiness right around my house (behind Cragmont school at Marin and Spruce) but I at least know that someone is calling me and can call back from my home (land-line) phone. John

I had Sprint PCS because I used to live and work in SF and it was pretty reliable there. However, I moved to Montclair and the reception was terrible. I worked at Cal and drove around the Berkeley and Oakland Hills often...I could not get service from work to home. I went down to the Sprint store in Emeryville, stood in line for a long time, and had new software downloaded on my dual phone- this, I was told- would solve my problems. No such luck. I finally got so fed up I switched to Verizon. Now I get great reception. annon

Sept 2001

Recent world events have convinced us to finally get a cell phone - genral anxiety reduction effort, I guess. The archives have some advice but it's outdated due to mergers and changes in the cell industry. Any advice on reception with Worldcom and Verizon in Kensington/the hills? Past posts praise AT & T's hills reception, and report bad performance of Sprint and pac bell; any updates from subscribers to those companies? Lastly, any advice on current bargains or where to buy a phone? Thank you for any advice; it's such a wonderful thing to benefit from all your experience. Marty & Valerie

We have Verizon analog service: we chose analog because my husband does a lot of bike riding in sparsely populated areas. We live in the Berkeley Hills near Kensington and he's called from various areas of the Hills without problems. We signed up through Radio Shack and got a really good deal on the phone: the phone ended up costing us less than $0 (we actually got a rebate). We initially thought we'd get the service for a year and then restudy the situation but it's been two years now and we're not in any hurry to switch. My husband's advice when I asked him: shop around and see who will give you the best deal. Also: Verizon is supposed to have the best coverage around here but if you travel around the US a lot, Sprint is supposed to be best. Fran

I've been pretty happy with my cell phone. It was the lesser- cost phone, but it is fancy enough for me. It was free, as they all are these days, with a 2-year contract, which suited me just fine. The company was Cellular One, which was swallowed up by AT Wireless. The reception is _ok_ but not crystal- clear. I looked at getting a more expensive plan (after my contract expired) that included unlimited long-distance, in order to save some money, but the connection just isn't that clear, especially from home. Maybe the newer phones are better now; maybe not!

Another thing I looked at when shopping around (I got mine at Good Guys in Emeryville) was the coverage area. I had heard that Cellular One had great coverage in a wider area, and was hoping to use my phone as a safety backup on trips up I-5 to Oregon. At the time, Sprint & PacBell PCS just didn't have to coverage in that area. So if you visit relatives often, check to make sure the area is sufficiently covered. Jennie

Good Article in the New York Times (somewhat specific to New York) on emergency mobile phones. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/27/technology/circuits/27STAT.html -- Myriam


Dear Parents,
I have finally decided to break down and buy the peace of mind that comes with a cell phone. I just want to know that in the event that my child gets sick or injured that I can be reached when I'm not in my home or office. So I ask for your expertise! What brand and service has worked/is working for you? I certainly don't need anything fancy. I don't need to use it very much, so a plan with a minimal # of minutes per month would be sufficient. And all the call waiting and bells and whistles would just go unused, so I'm talking very basic phone and very basice service. If you wouldn't mind including some information on cost, that would also be much Mary

Does anyone have positive or negative recommendations for particular cellular phone companies? More specifically, we'd like to buy two phones, and their main usage would be to call each other, several times a day, for extremely short calls.

I found a GREAT!! site to help figure out which service to select: www.talkingonair.com
You pick your region and then using their Wizard, you select choices based on where you'll be using the phone, how much, which is more important - voice quality, coverage, price, etc. etc. It also lists the current promotions!! Check it out!

Based on recommendations in this list, we recently started Cellular One service with a pair of Ericsson KF788 phones. Dual mode, tri band, with built-in vibrate, also data-capable. Very small, appx 125% size of Star-Tac. Battery seems to last 35+ hours on standby (based on one week's usage). $150, currently getting $100 rebate so net $50, also ours came w/ gift certificate for extra battery. Cellular One has some plans that let you roll-over unused hours, we went with one of those. www.ericsson.com or www.cellone-sf.com, also try www.simplemobile.com or www.talkingonair.com.

GTE has a family-net program where the second phone has a reduced monthly rate, and calls from phone b to phone a (but not from phone a to b) are either free or cheap. We looked a little bit and didn't see any similar deals with other companies, but things might have changed. Dominic

We have GTE for emergency use. I think the most basic plan is ~$18/month which includes 10 free minutes, then it is around 34 cents after that. After various taxes the monthly charge (assuming you don't exceed 10 minutes) is about $22. Though digital phones are more clear, their range is smaller and the phones cost more. I'd recommend the analog Nokia #918 which you can purchase at GTE..., I think its around $20. The battery is good (it lasts about 20 hours on standby) and you can store a lot of phone numbers. Kevin

I wanted to give some recommendations to the father interested in purchasing a cellular phone. I too waited for almost two years to purchase a phone, because for a while it started looking like a fashion trend to own one. Everyone had a phone and for some stupid reason they would all use it while driving and stop traffic. Ugh!!!!Well, over Christmas my husband and I decided to purchase one and looked to several companies and what they had to offer. Of course during the holiday season all the cell companies had wonderful offers, but we found GTE to have the most profitable one. I am not sure if they are still running the special, but we currently pay $18/month for 300 minutes a month, off-peak hours, meaning after 7pm and weekend starting Friday, at 7. We get charged $.35/minute for every minute we speak during peak hours (7am-7pm), and insurance is included in that price. Therefore, if anything happens to the phone or it's stolen, GTE automatically replaces it. What comes to be most expensive are the phones. My husband, as a Christmas gift, purchased a really nice one, but I am sure that there are several under $100. You would probably have to go to a GTE server to check out the phone prices.Around the same time my parents purchased a phone through that Ronald McDonald special, which cost them $20 for the phone and a $50 activation fee. The problem with this deal were their rate plans. My parents got the least expensive one, which included 500 minutes/ month, but only on weekends. And, their weekend minutes did not begin until midnight, Friday through Sunday. For $10 extra, you were able to get 100 min./ month during peak hours. Finally, CellularOne is offering 2000 minutes, any time until the year 2000. I believe for $24 or so, you can get 170 minutes a month, for any time. Any minutes not used during that month, are transferred over to the next month which could allow you to have over 200 minutes or more a month if you are careful with the amount of time you use your phone.Like I said earlier, the service rates are great, but what comes to be very expensive are the phones. Since you are not interested in anything fancy, you could probably get something for under $100. Check it out and compare! I hope this helps! Monica

I recently got a cell phone for the same reasons. I got mine via a promotion through Parrot Cellular/PacBell: donate $20 to Ronald McDonald House and get a free Erikson phone. You have to sign a year-long contract agreement, of course. The cheapest deal they had was 10 free minutes, 100 free on weekends, for $25/month. I think every extra minute is $.45/minute. I don't know if the promotion is still going on, but you can call Parrot Celullar, or call a Pac Bell PCS retailer. There's one on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. I recently got a cell phone for the same reasons. I got mine via a promotion through Parrot Cellular/PacBell: donate $20 to Ronald McDonald House and get a free Erikson phone. You have to sign a year-long contract agreement, of course. The cheapest deal they had was 10 free minutes, 100 free on weekends, for $25/month. I think every extra minute is $.45/minute. I don't know if the promotion is still going on, but you can call Parrot Celullar, or call a Pac Bell PCS retailer. There's one on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Laurel

I just wanted to make a few comments on the 'emergency' use of cell phones. On a recent climbing trip in Joshua Tree I had the opportunity to borrow a cell phone for 'emergency' use. The emergency came in the form of a crashed motorcycle in the center lane of Hwy. 1 in Malibu. I went to help out the victim, while my girlfriend spent 5+ minutes waiting to get through to 911 on the cell phone. In a cell phone emergency situation you're better served if you have your local emergency dispatcher number. I further found that our particular cell phone company/service did not work in the clear environs of Joshua Tree. No people, no relays, no service. Soooo, the moral of the story is: know your cell phone's limitations! 8^) Elmar

Check earlier string of replies to a similar question. My wife has found a deal w/Cellular One. For about $20/mo., you get a phone and 45 *ANYTIME* minutes, with a two year commitment. The whole transaction was done over the phone w/ credit card. We received the cell phone by mail. She did some comparison shopping and found this was the best deal. You can get GTE (w/phone) for $15/mo, but those minutes are off peak. Eric

Occasional cell phone use

November 2002

I make occasional trips to Hawaii for my fieldwork, where I rent a house that has no phone. I want to have a cell phone that I can use when I'm there, and toss in my glove compartment for emergencies when I'm at home. I don't mind paying a high per- minute cost, as long as the monthly cost is low, because my use would be so occasional. Is Trac-Fone the answer? I would need good coverage in Hawaii and here, and it looks like I could get plenty of minutes (i.e., about 300 per year) for about $10/month. Has anyone tried it? How was their customer service? How good was the phone? Did you use minutes much faster than anticipated? Alternatively, is there some other service I should consider? Virginia

I use TracFone and it's great. I bought a reconditioned phone for $20, and bought 150 prepaid minutes in the spring which I still haven't used up. It's so much cheaper than a monthly contract and I've had no problem with customer service (because I really haven't needed any). I think the mobile phone coverage is the same as other services - I can hear pretty well when I'm in the city and there's no coverage out in the mountains. ramisima

You should also look into Virgin Mobile. The per minute charge is .25/min for the first 10 minutes per day and only .10/min for every minute after the first ten. No roaming/long distance/extra regulatory fees/taxes. You can buy the phone at Best Buy and through the Virgin website($99) and that gets you 30 minutes to get started when you activate service online. You can buy extra minutes at at minimum of $20 which will last 3 months. All in all, I think that I calculated that the Virgin phone might be a tad more expensive for the first year than the Trac phone if you purchase the one year prepaid plan. However, in the event that you happen to use the phone more than you think (and if you have ever owned a cell phone, you know what I mean!), then it makes sense to go Virgin. You just won't find any per minute rates that low on any phone service (less than $7/mo. and/or .10-.25/ minute after the initial phone purchase). CA

I actually use AT's prepaid phone, and the service so far has been excellent. Virgin also has a prepaid plan. The AT free to go seems to offer severral bonus minutes, and if you ever decide to switch to ''regular'' service, the chip is already installed. With a Tracphone, you would need to have the chip replaced. Mizzbee

I got Tracfone after reading a post here. Initially I bought the phone at Longs but it was an obsolete analog phone so I returned it and went to the Tracfone website. The reconditioned phone plus 150 mins and a year's service was $94, a great deal. I was happy w/ their quick delivery of the phone, the set-up was relatively easy online (though I had to call to get the 150 mins to show up on the phone). They made a call to me to make sure activation was all under control, which seemed considerate.

Most of my calls are under a minute so I'm not burning through the minutes much at all. You might want to make sure they have coverage in Hawaii. I haven't tried roaming yet...you spend 2 units per minute to roam and have to call a number before you leave to reset the phone. Kristine

Pay as you go cell phone

Sept 2002

Our two year term with Cingular Wireless is up and we need to change our service. We haven't been happy with Cingular, and we actually want to switch over to a pay as you go emergency type service. We already own the phone, obviously. Is there such a service if you already own the phone? We almost never use it, mostly because we can't even make a call when we need to (can't get a signal). If anyone has any ideas, I'd appreciate it. We live in the Walnut Creek area, but we spend a lot of our time near Albany and Berkeley. Jen

We just got a TracFone. You have to buy a special phone and activate it for a particular number of minutes that you must use within a particular unit of time. I bought 150 units (1 unit = 1 minute locally; 2 units = 1 minutes when you're roaming, which is basically when you're outside of Northern/coastal Calfornia) that I can use within a span of a year for about $90 from walmart.com. I also bought the phone through them for about $60. I got a lot of extra minutes for activating the phone for the first time and activating it over the web. Supposedly, they hook in to any available network. In practice, my coverage in Berkeley is ok, but not as good as I got with Verizon. If you think of it as cost-per-minute, it's expensive. If you think of it as service for a year, it's cheap. I was spending $30/mo. for 250 minutes/ mo. with Verizon, but I was only using 6 minutes/mo. It's really for people who only want a cell phone occasionally. Get more info at http:// www.tracfone.com/. Mimi

Virgin mobile has a pay as you use plan. The calls turn out to be 25 cents/minute for the first ten minutes a day then 10cents/minute after that. They have a minimum spending requirement of $20 every three months. Under an arrangement they have with Sprint PCS, customers have access to service anywhere on the Sprint network. I bought my phone at Target and activated it online. Check out their website: www.virginmobileusa.com Good Luck

Cheap cell phone service for emergencies only

Sept 2002

Hi - I am wondering if anyone can recommend a cell phone service provider. I am looking for a cell phone only to use in emergencies, and I want to pay as little as possible for the service (of course!) I am not a ''talk on the phone'' kind of person so extra minutes, roaming minutes, long distance or whatever is of no value to me. I just want a number that school, summer camp or whoever can call me at in an emergency. Theresa

Try Tracfone! I've had Tracfone service for a year, because I wanted exactly what you're describing. It's like having a payphone with you. They've changed their rates a bit (and upgraded the phones to all-digital, so the phone is no longer as cheap as the one I got), but basically you buy their phone (mine's a Nokia) and prepaid time -- minimum 30 minutes for $17.99. After that, the only requirement is to buy more time every 60 days. If you don't, you can easily start service again, but they don't guarantee you'll get the same phone number. That's less than $9 per month. Plus, if you haven't used up your time in the 60 days (I never have) it's carried over -- you do not lose it if you don't use it. I have not had any problems with the service, nor have I encountered any ''blind'' areas. The website is www.tracfone.com.

We have had great cell service from Verizon, much better than we previously had with SprintPCS. The phone works around the bay and in our hilly North Berkeley neighborhood (the old Sprint phone didn't get a connection there). The only places where the phone is dead is in Tilden Park and in the basement of the YMCA. We pay $35 for the first phone and $15 for the second (plus taxes) for 250 minutes per phone. There may be a cheaper Verizon plan available. Its pretty useful for all sorts of things, not just emergencies. A one-minute phone call to order a pizza on the way home or check on any additional groceries to buy can save a lot of time going back and forth, so I would aim for a minimal plan with say 60+ minutes a month - keep the conversations to a minimum and you won't spend money on extra minutes. John

Verizon seems to have the best coverage in the area. I can't use my cingular (used to be PacBell) phone in the basement of Barrows and the only people who can are those with verizon. Myriam

Hi - We were in the same boat. Despite what everyone told us (ie once we had a phone we'd use it all the time) we only talk about 1/2 hour per month - if that. So i needed the CHEAPEST plan possible - really just for emergencies or if i'm late/lost. I chose a prepaid cellular plan - Verizon's Free Up. You have to buy a phone (currently $99 w/$30 rebate). Then you buy minutes in increments of $30, $50 and up. The minutes are good for 60 days. We only buy the $30 card so we have been paying $15/month since January! We love it! No contracts, no roaming, nothing. We have a designated phone number and voicemail. The only 'downside' is we have to remember to purchase more minutes every two months (they have stores everywhere - either Verizon or RadioShack, online or simply via an 800#). The phone begins to remind you to 'Re-Up' (every time you make a call) when you have about 5 days left. And they have signon bonuses - we got 1500 weekend/eve minutes (and still have like 1200 left) and 100 daytime minutes when we bought our phone. Good luck! Julie

If you only want a number that people can reach you in an emergency, a pager might better serve you. Service plans are very cheap, and you will have peace of mind. You may also keep them ''powered on'' in an airplane and at the hospital, and they seem to be connected better, that is to say you will get the page more relilably than that with a cellular call. Ilan

We have Cingular and have been very happy with our service, rates, etc. I would not recommend Sprint. When we had it, service was sketchy and customer service was horrible (long waits on the phone and/or in the store). Brightstar

I have a Verizon Free-up account for my cell phone service. What's nice about it is that I just buy minutes to use with the phone (the minutes are good for 60 days before expiring) and can spend as little as $30 every 60 days for about 80 minutes (depends on current rates.) I don't know what it costs to set up the initial account/get the phone/etc., since I won the phone/set-up in a drawing (and if I hadn't won it, I might not have gotten a cell at all) but it might be worth checking into. I keep the phone in case of emergency, and I find it a convenience at times when there is no pay phone available. The Verizon web site has lots of info about the account. Patty

I just got a cell phone for the same reason and chose the AT Free 2 Go plan. I got a Nokia phone and the first 70 minutes of air time for about $42.00--no activation fees et al because I bought it through Phoneshark.com. The Free 2 Go plan has you buy minutes as you need them, but check out Phoneshark.com for complete details on the plan and savings. My husband looked at a lot of plans and this one suited my needs (the same as yours) best. Judy

Alameda cell phone service

Sept 2002

Which cell phone service works best in Alameda? Alameda provides notoriously bad reception, but one service must work better than the rest. Who is it? Any help will be gratefully accepted. melvicarr

I live in Alameda and have just recently upgraded my AT (formerly Cellular One service) phone. It is a bit better...but not a lot. It's really a result of the fact that there are no 'cells' or transmitters in Alameda, from what I understand--the city council wouldn't let anyone put any up. So you really get better reception the closer you are to an Oakland transmitter. Note that you can get continuous cell phone reception through the Posey Tube--but that you lose your radio reception. Crazy. Jennie

Cell Phone Service in Berkeley

September 2002

hi, i'm looking for a cell phone service in berkeley-- and t-mobile looks like a good service but no one has commented on it yet--does anyone have any experiences with them (good or bad)? thanks! joanne

I use Tracfone and am very pleased. I bought the reconditioned phone for $30 and only buy the minutes I need. I paid $100 for a full year's service and 120 minutes, and when I run out of minutes will buy more without losing the phone number before my year is up. I haven't paid a cell phone bill since February! And did it all on the website. Rebecca

Try Tracfone! I've had Tracfone service for a year, because I wanted exactly what you're describing. It's like having a payphone with you. They've changed their rates a bit (and upgraded the phones to all-digital, so the phone is no longer as cheap as the one I got), but basically you buy their phone (mine's a Nokia) and prepaid time -- minimum 30 minutes for $17.99. After that, the only requirement is to buy more time every 60 days. If you don't, you can easily start service again, but they don't guarantee you'll get the same phone number. That's less than $9 per month. Plus, if you haven't used up your time in the 60 days (I never have) it's carried over -- you do not lose it if you don't use it. I have not had any problems with the service, nor have I encountered any ''blind'' areas. The website is www.tracfone.com.

We've had great cell service from Verizon, much better than we previously had with SprintPCS. The phone works around the bay and in our hilly North Berkeley neighborhood (the old Sprint phone didn't get a connection there). The only places where the phone is dead is in Tilden Park and in the basement of the YMCA. We pay $35 for the first phone and $15 for the second (plus taxes) for 250 minutes per phone. There may be a cheaper Verizon plan available. Its pretty useful for all sorts of things, not just emergencies. A one-minute phone call to order a pizza on the way home or check on any additional groceries to buy can save a lot of time going back and forth, so I would aim for a minimal plan with say 60+ minutes a month - keep the conversations to a minimum and you won't spend money on extra minutes. John

Verizon seems to have the best coverage in the area. I can't use my cingular (used to be PacBell) phone in the basement of Barrows and the only people who can are those with verizon. Myriam

Hi - We were in the same boat. Despite what everyone told us (ie once we had a phone we'd use it all the time) we only talk about 1/2 hour per month - if that. So i needed the CHEAPEST plan possible - really just for emergencies or if i'm late/lost. I chose a prepaid cellular plan - Verizon's Free Up. You have to buy a phone (currently $99 w/$30 rebate). Then you buy minutes in increments of $30, $50 and up. The minutes are good for 60 days. We only buy the $30 card so we have been paying $15/month since January! We love it! No contracts, no roaming, nothing. We have a designated phone number and voicemail. The only 'downside' is we have to remember to purchase more minutes every two months (they have stores everywhere - either Verizon or RadioShack, online or simply via an 800#). The phone begins to remind you to 'Re-Up' (every time you make a call) when you have about 5 days left. And they have signon bonuses - we got 1500 weekend/eve minutes (and still have like 1200 left) and 100 daytime minutes when we bought our phone. Good luck! Julie

I use AT Wirelss and I'm very happy. I am a doula and I'm on call most of the time, so good service is a necessity for me. I used to use Cingular but found the service was very spotty -- switched to AT and I'm glad I did. Laurel

We're in the cellphone business, so I borrowed a Cingular phone for a few days for my wife before buying service (T-Mobile & Cingular use the same system and antennas, so you will get exactly the same coverage). I'd heard horror stories about Cingular, but we generally got good coverage where ever we went. The T-Mobile service plans are great deal if the service works for you- make sure you buy your phone from a reputable dealer that will allow you to return it if it doesn't work. lfrey

Cell Phone Service I just did a lot of research on this and decided on Nextel. T- mobile currently uses Cingular's towers- I had quite a few problems with Cingular having little service in many areas- particularly here in Alameda Juliette

July 2000

I'd appreciate hearing about whether the rest of you have as much trouble with cellphone service in Berkeley as I do. Until a year ago I worked in San Francisco and only used my cellphone occasionally in Berkeley. Now that I'm based here, I find that my service (Cellular One) is almost impossible, especially North of University Ave. I have had constant problems with poor reception (I can hear the other person, they can't hear me) on MLK, Shattuck, Marin, not to mention in the hills proper. This has gotten to the point of being a family and client joke -- and that's no laughing matter.

I assume the problem is with antenna coverage. CellOne told me they were putting a new antenna on Tolman Hall that would help, but there's been no change. Do other Cellular One customers have the same experience? Do subscribers to Sprint, GTE or PacBell? In short, which companies provide reliable service in North Berkeley? Timothy

I've been very disappointed with my digital Cellular One service using a Motorola Star TAC 7797.One day, I tried an A-B comparison in central north Berkeley with a friend who has the equivalent Star TAC phone but GTE digital service--and GTE was noticeably clearer, better. Can't speak to coverage, but none work particularly well in the Berkeley hills. When I got C-1, I was told they were the best, Sprint the worst, but I tend to think that GTE is likely to be better.

I'm not sure if this is helpful or not... I recently got PacBell PCS and am largely pretty pleased with my range. It doesn't work in the basement of Barrows (but then again, nothing much does) but it does work at the center of campus, up near Strawberry Canyon and Lawrence Hall of Science, in Tilden Park and in the Oakland Hills. I've got their free phone (the Nokia 5190) so I am not using anything fancy. I was told, admittedly by the guy at PacBell, that the reception in the Oakland Hills for PacBell PCS was quite good, and have found this to be true. I don't use the phone a whole lot, but my husband uses the same exact phone (we got their deal with two phones and a hundred minutes) and he's called me from various locations in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills and from as far away as the Marin Headlands with good reception and no problem getting a dial tone. Kevin

We have had good luck with GTE, now Verizon, with the only real problem being deep in Tilden. The older analog phone we have is slightly better than our digital one, which may mean that their analog coverage is better. Nathaniel

I have GTE service and I have the same problems you are having. Especially when I am in North Berkeley. I live near Colusa Ave and last night called a friend at her home on Santa Fe. This is a only about four blocks and not exactly in the hills. My call was clear but then unexpectedly dropped. This happen twice in a row. I was not even moving. I have a friend living in Orinda and using Pac Bell. She says she does not have these problems very often as I do. I would like to hear from other Pac Bell users to see if this holds true. lynn

CellularOne reception: it's dreadful in the North Berkeley and Kensington areas as mentioned. It seems to me, now that I recently renewed my commitment to them, that it's considerably worse than it used to be. I haven't explored any alternatives, but I'm equally interested in what suggestions get posted. victoria-g

I have pac bell, and it works in North Berkeley, but badly. Foggy reception on the Arlington, and no service at all in Tilden Park. D. Banks/ R. Porter

re Comparison of Cell Phone Reception in Berkeley re Long distance Please check out http//www.decide.com For all matters concerning cellphones or long distance. They have unbiased comparisons of services and rates. Roger