I Guess I'll Tello Everyone About Tello because it has provided me with a perfect cell phone plan for my daughter, who is a freshman at a new school. Or at least it allowed me to figure it out without too much difficulty so that I can help the rest of the dads out there do the same with my review of Tello.
Until now, I'd been trying to make due with an unlocked phone, Google Voice, and Duo. She could use it like a real phone while on wifi. As an 8th grader at a school with decent wifi (and her mother working there), the free combination of Google apps worked pretty well. And it was absolutely free.
But then high school hit us. Not just any high school, mind you. It's 20 minutes away with no bus service. And it's busy. And the wifi lacks stamina. And she plays sports there. After about a dozen calls and texts from new friends she had to bum phones from, I decided to at least look into a phone plan for her.
She needed a real cell phone, not an expensive one. But I could not add her to my $20 per month Sprint Unlimited Kickstarter plan (converted to TMobile). My wife and I are perfectly happy to spend $40 a month for "unlimited" data. It's throttled down and has kinda-limits, but that's pretty cheap. Anyhow, TMobile would only allow me to add a new device if I also chose a new plan, so it was time to look around.
I didn't bother to look at Boost Mobile because the ads with Pitbull annoy me. I like the Mint ads, so I looked there, and it seemed to have a decent deal. But those are the mid-level resellers, and I like to think even more different. So I checked out Republic again (we'd used this provider once before), but for all the hassle of being forced to use any open network known to man, it wasn't really a better deal. I think Ting is out there, too. Probably a bunch of others, too.
Then I saw an article that mentioned Tello as a good basic plan. Since I don't need to provide data to a daughter who gets it all day at school and all night at home, I figured a basic talk and text plan would be just fine. For $8 a month + taxes, I could get her unlimited talk and text. That's about $9.50 a month. With a 25% off sale and a $2 sim card, this was a total no-brainer to try. (More on this later)
Supposedly, she'll be on the same TMobile network as us, but it really doesn't matter. She'll be in populated areas with plenty of reception, even if her phone was still on Sprint's old network. Or whatever Dish Network owns. Or AT&T's or Verizon's loser subnetworks. They all put most calls through. For an investment of $10 with no contracts, it makes you think about adding service to other "burner" phones you might have sitting around. Not that I need a burner phone or am planning on fleeing justice anytime soon. It's just if I did, Tello makes it pretty cheapo. And, while fleeing, you can basically call most other countries for free, so I'm sure lots of political exiles and illegal immigrants dig this phone plan, too.
After some testing and frustrating attempts to get texting working, I've figured out that the no-data Tello plan means you can ONLY send text (characters) and emoji messages in the Messages app. And there seems to be issues with receiving some texts, probably from iPhones. We'll experiment for a month, maybe adjusting the data to 1gb so that she'll have access to a little more than sms. However, we've agreed that having 1gb might be a mistake if all her social media explodes every time she's off of wifi...maybe there's a setting to only get that over wifi and not data.
No, there isn’t. After one month, we decided the plan with unlimited call and text but no data was not going to work for a high schooler with friends. Too many MMS texts.
The under-$10 plans that we hope will work include the following:
-500 minutes of talk, unlimited text, and 500mb data.
-300 minutes of talk, unlimited texts, and 1gb data.
I can remember when either of those plans would have been top-tier, but now that's what you get for your probably dissatisfied kids. We went with 300 minutes of talk and a gig of data, since she averaged way under 100 minutes of calling in two months of not getting MMS texts.
I tried to keep the 25% discount and switch, but if you switch plans, you lose any initial discount. I also went ahead and got a second phone for my son (in 8th grade) in order to make sure MMS works and that the 1 GB rate seemed adequate. Customer service was quick in telling me that I couldn’t keep the discount, but still disappointing in its answer.
After three months with the service, Tello has been great for our purposes. She can call or text whenever she needs us for sports pickups or whatnot. And she's not mindlessly streaming videos, uploading photos, or surfing for content (contentment) like most of her peers. Not yet, anyway. I turned off all app data, and I set a hard limit on the phone itself. The cool teen apps still seem to find a way to leak data, and there are MMS data amounts, but most days for her average around 15mb of data. Even at 20mb per day, she’d be at 60% usage for the month, so she’s safe. If she starts hovering around 30mb per day, then it might become a problem, but the settings we’ve used seem to be adequate for now.
Sure, she can’t read full emails or watch videos until she gets to some wifi, but that has not been an issue. We can always store some music on the 128gb sd card I added if she needs entertainment. Probably even movies.
I hope this helps you to decide if Tello might work for your family. There’s no reason to spoil kids with $50 unlimited plans, and there are plenty of reasons not to, since they’ll just InstaSnapTok their way through the day.
Tello also has a referral program. If you use my Tello link, you get “Tello Dollars” and so do I, but I have not figured out how to use the ones I’ve earned for anything. I have a credit card set to autopay, and there doesn’t seem to be an option to skip that and pay with the Tello Dollars. I guess if I earn enough, I’ll delete the credit card and start the hassle of paying with the saved money. Anyhow, that’s just one of the weird quirks of going with a bargain-basement phone provider, but that’s honestly what your high school teens should expect.