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Chances are that no matter how sophisticated your smartphone has become, you've probably been fed up at one time or another with limited calling plans or the cost of overages. But there's a cell phone service that employs self-styled goal to change all that: Ting. Launched just this past February, Ting operates a no-contract mobile phone service on the Sprint network and charges monthly fees based on your actual data usage.
If you saw our deal last month that took $50 off your first cell phone or data device from Ting (now expired), you may have grown intrigued by the flexibility that the service promises. And at first glance, Ting does look ready to shake things up and offer an opportunity to save money. However, it also merits a closer look, namely at its cost structure and suitability for different types of cell phone users. Here's a quick primer on the Ting service and what it does — and doesn't — offer consumers.
Because there are no contracts involved, signing up for Ting is as simple as clicking your mouse and buying a phone. To get a better idea of pricing levels, you can look at Ting's rate plans, which are clear-cut and easy to understand. For starters, you'll pay $6 a month to hook up to Ting's Sprint network. Then you select your ideal talk, text, and web plans based on the amount of minutes, text messages, and megabytes you want.
For example, 100 minutes costs $3; 500 minutes costs $9; and 1,000 minutes costs $18.
The benefit here is that you'll receive a credit for whatever you don't use. Some surcharges include directory assistance ($1 per call) and traveling calls. (A call from Mexico to the U.S., for example, runs $1.50 a minute.) If you go over on your minutes, Ting bumps you up to the next service level and you pay that amount. Freebies include voicemail, picture and video messaging, 3-way calling, caller ID, tethering, and free WiFi hotspots.
While many cellular service providers hit hard with hefty overage charges, Ting's floating system offers a fool-proof way of bringing clients to the usage levels they belong; there are even pricing discounts for higher tier usage plans. And as stated above, you won't have to worry about overbuying and getting stuck with minutes or texts you'll never use; Ting moves you down to the right billing level based on actual usage.
Sadly, there's nothing here for the Apple iOS crowd (see below), and phones/devices are limited to those you purchase within the Ting system — right now Ting only offers a handful of Android options, that cost from $70 to $485 and include the Kyocera Milano ($145), the LG Optimus S ($170), and the Samsung Galaxy SII 4G ($485). While you can bring your own phone number, Ting requires that you purchase one of their mobile devices. So no, you can't bring your own phone to Ting — not even a Sprint phone, as Sprint seems intent on making its already-contracted customers stay put in its conventional (and lucrative) contract system.
If you're a fan of what Ting has to offer, but remain a devout iOS user, you may be out of luck, as Ben Lucier, the director of customer experience at Ting, recently had this to say in a blog post: "We're big fans of Apple and all that they've accomplished with the iPhone. Perhaps one day we'll be in a position to offer it to our customers, but currently we have no plans to offer the iPhone. As for Windows Phone, we like that OS and some of the hardware that runs it, too. Again though, no current plans to offer it."
Lucier seems open-minded about the subject, so perhaps hard lobbying from iPhone fans might create some sort of movement in the Ting pipeline. Then again, Apple would have a lot to say on the subject, and without their cooperation, the notion of iPhones on Ting is a nonstarter for now.
Ting is apparently so confident that customers will stay with them, they've made opting out ridiculously easy, especially when compared to canceling a typical wireless contract with a big carrier. There are no penalties, salesman hassles, and the like.
If you're not happy with Ting, you simply log into your account; choose "Cancel Your Account" from the drop down menu in the upper right corner of the page; type "Cancel" in the field; and click to confirm. That's it.
Ting strikes us as a smart, hassle-free way to stay connected with your smartphone or other device and make the most of your budget. It makes sense for equipping younger family members with cell phones, for example, or transforming your small-business team into a lean, mean mobile arsenal. The big hole here is Ting's dedication to Android, which is great for Google enthusiasts but means a de facto velvet rope that shuts out iPhone users. But there's nothing here to stop an iPhone-loving user from, dare we say, switching to Android. We say go for it (especially if your iPhone contract is nearly up), and if it doesn't work out, you can easily leave the program and resell your Ting-ready phone for some cash to put towards the alleged iPhone 5.
It nothing else, Ting phones for a household suggests a catchy slogan: "The family that Tings together clings together."