LOS ANGELES—If you saw that chunky milky Mint Mobile Super Bowl ad offering a too-good-to-be-true $20 monthly plan, we’re here to tell you it really is good. But read the fine print. Please. There’s a lot of it.
At $20 per month for 8 GB of data and unlimited talk and text, Mint is considerably cheaper than the lowest offerings from the big four wireless carriers: Verizon ($45, 8 GB), AT&T ($60, 9 GB), T-Mobile ($40, 10 GB) and Sprint ($40, 2 GB).
What you need to know
For starters, the $20 monthly for Mint Mobile is a trial period that expires after 90 days. The rate then jumps to $35 monthly, which is still bargain-priced compared with competitors. However, Mint says customers can lock in the $20 rate by pre-paying $300 for the entire year.
Mint offers a 7-day guarantee and will refund and cancel the contract if you don’t like the service, the company says.
Bring your phone, but probably only T-Mobile or AT&T
Mint Mobile’s offers a SIM card that needs to be ordered online and delivered to your home or office. Once you get it, you install the card and activate it via a smartphone app.
To qualify for service, if you have an old, unlocked phone lying around, use it or pick up a used or cheap phone online at Amazon, eBay or elsewhere. And this is where the biggest fine-print issue comes up: If your old phone was purchased to work on the Verizon or Sprint network, you might be out of luck. Mint Mobile only works on the GSM networks, used by T-Mobile and AT&T. So if you shop for a new handset, make sure it’s GSM, T-Mobile, and AT&T compatible.
Mint actually doesn’t run its own network. Instead, it licenses the ability to utilize T-Mobile’s coverage for its service (also known as an MVNO). For optimal results, you’ll want to have a phone that is compatible with T-Mobile. If T-Mobile is known to have poor service in your area, Mint might not be right for you.
Now if you are shopping for a new unlocked T-Mobile phone, make sure it has support for the company’s Extended Range LTE (known as LTE band 71). This will make sure you’re getting the best service when it’s available.
Other things to note: Mint Mobile is a low-cost wireless carrier and will throttle you to a lower speed if you use more than 8 GB monthly, down to 2 G speed. Additionally, if you call customer service, as we did Tuesday, prepare to wait. It can take some time for Mint to come to the phone.
How Mint compares to other low-cost carriers:
—Unreal Mobile: $20, 3 GB of data, (and only works with GSM phones)
—Cricket: $30, 2 GB of data
—Walmart Straight Talk: $35 monthly, 3 GB of data
—Boost Mobile: $35, 3 GB of data
—Virgin Mobile: $35 monthly, for 5 GB of data
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.