Thursday, June 28, 2012

How I Got My Child a Cell Phone For $10 Per Month

Deciding whether or not to buy your child a cell phone is a decision that is both personal and fraught with complications. Every child, every family, every situation is unique, making it difficult to judge your decisions by looking at other parents and their children. The debate over how young is too young when it comes to cell phones is one that has raged on for many years and will likely continue for many more.

My opinion on the matter is straightforward – if your child will ever be alone, or away from home without a parent, then a cell phone is justified. As a single father of two children, I would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to my kids. My children are never home alone, do not go places without me, and are only babysat by close family (or those friends who are just like a member of the family).

However, when my eight-year-old son started asking for his own cell phone, I carefully considered the situation and pondered every possible outcome, both positive and negative. Ultimately, I concluded that the number of situations where my son might need a phone were few and far between, but buying him a phone was not a bad idea. I felt he was mature enough to handle one and I could use this opportunity to begin teaching him safe and proper use of the phone.

The next question was what kind of phone to get for him. Because he was only eight-years-old, he had no need for a smartphone or other fancy device. He just needed something he could use to call me in the event of an emergency, or someone else if I was unreachable. I didn’t plan on letting him call his little friends, or even carry the phone with him everywhere. Unless he was going somewhere without me, the phone would be staying on the bookcase.

I also didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a cell phone for an eight-year-old. Every parent knows how easily kids can lose things, or break them, not to mention that my son isn’t exactly the gentlest boy around. I wanted to find an inexpensive phone that was sturdy enough to be handled by a child. My other concern was about the complexity of the device. A cell phone would be worthless if my kid couldn’t remember how to use it!

Some quick internet searching turned up countless results, but none of the phones I found seemed to meet my needs. That is until I stumbled across the Firefly glowPhone. Designed specifically for younger users, this phone was exactly what I was looking for. It was small enough to fit comfortably in a child’s hands, yet not so tiny that I couldn’t use it too. With the parental controls I could restrict inbound and outbound calls to and from only those numbers I personally entered into the phone. This feature was extremely comforting because it alleviated any concerns about my child making calls to people I don’t know or approve of, or from receiving similar calls. The glowPhone contact list can hold up to 50 different numbers, which was more than enough for our needs.

After reading up on the FireFly glowPhone, I decided it was the device I wanted. Buying the phone directly from the FireFly website would have cost me $50. Although this isn’t an entirely unreasonable price, especially considering it had the child protection features I wanted, the thought of spending fifty bucks on a phone for my kid just didn’t sit too well. I decided to search for one elsewhere, the most obvious place being eBay.

I was pleasantly surprised to find several FireFly glowPhones for sale on eBay, all of them available for less than the retail website price. Of course, none of these glowPhones were brand new, but as long as the one I got actually worked and didn’t look terrible I wouldn’t have minded buying one used. In the end, I won an auction for one of these phones for only $18. Shipping costs were $4.

Aside from the safety features of the glowPhone, the technology used in making calls is particularly advantageous. The glowPhone is a GSM device, the type that requires a SIM card to access a cellular network. The FireFly website offers a handful of plans, but none met my needs as far as the cost of the service. I did not need hundreds of minutes on a phone for my child, so spending $35 or more per month was simply out of the question. Thankfully, the glowPhone is not restricted or locked to any single cellular network in particular. This allows you to insert any ordinary SIM card and instantly begin making calls.

Once again, I turned my efforts to finding a suitable calling plan from a GSM carrier. The obvious two, AT&T and T-Mobile, offer a few choices of pre-paid plans. However, neither company had a plan I was comfortable paying for. Additionally, T-Mobile coverage in my location is spotty and mediocre at best. Ideally, the AT&T network would serve my purpose well, but the pre-paid options were just too expensive.

Eventually, I stumbled across a smaller GSM carrier called H2O Wireless. Among their available pre-paid calling plans is a $10 option that gives you 200 minutes per month. Further research also unveiled that H2O Wireless service actually uses AT&T’s existing network to facilitate calls. Simply put, with a SIM card from H2O Wireless I could get my son 200 minutes per month on AT&T’s network for a mere ten bucks.

Looking through the H2O Wireless website, I reviewed the page where you can purchase one of their SIM cards. Their “starter package” cost over $20, which included the customary activation fee. But, being the penny pincher that I am, I started searching for another way to acquire the SIM card for less money. Finally, I found H2O Wireless SIM cards for sale on Amazon for $0.46. That’s right – forty-six cents. Even better, shipping was free.

The SIM card arrived at my house in less than a week. Activation was simple; I visited the H2O Wireless website, entered the SIM card serial number, and created my account. During the signup process, you have to enter your zip code so the company can generate a local telephone number. You are presented with a dropdown box that lists several surrounding towns and are prompted to choose one as your local area. This has no bearing on anything other than the telephone number you get. Unfortunately, you have no choice or control over what number you receive.

Once I finished the registration process, I selected the $10 plan and completed the checkout. Almost instantly I received an email stating that my payment had been received and my account credited with the applicable minutes. I popped the SIM card into the glowPhone, turned it on, and was ecstatic when I saw a full signal meter and “H2O” at the top of the screen. My test call was successful. My search for an inexpensive phone and cheap calling plan was over.

With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to find the best deals on wireless products and services. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to do some simple internet research, you can find an affordable device and calling plan that meets your needs and fits within your budget.

Article originally published on InfoBarrel (06/28/2012)