Rating best prepaid phone service, devices

LOS ANGELES Mary Byrnes is one of 44 million people using a prepaid cell plan. There's no contract to sign, and she's saving lots of money.

"I love my TracFone. I love it," said Byrnes. "I love it so much that I have purchased a TracFone and given them as gifts to some of my old lady friends."

About three-quarters of Consumer Reports' subscribers who chose a prepaid plan did so because it cost them less than a monthly contract plan, explains Paul Reynolds of Consumer Reports. Many typically save 50 percent.

Eyewitness News teamed up with the Consumer Reports National Research Center Survey to cover five of the 11 major prepaid providers, including TracFone, T-Mobile, and Virgin.

"We found people were generally happy with prepaid service, and TracFone got the highest marks, although it's a little more expensive than some other prepaid carriers," Reynolds said.

If you use your cell phone a lot, Consumer Reports says to consider Straight Talk, a newcomer most attractive for its cheap pricing.

But when looking at prepaid plans, always check the coverage map to be sure there's service where you need it, both at home and on the road. Some prepaid providers have limited coverage.

Consumer Reports sized up eight of the prepaid phones, too. After extensive testing, they found the phones are mostly no frills.

"While the phones are pretty basic, our tests have found they're easy to use and fine for making calls and sending simple texts," said Gerard Catapano of Consumer Reports.

"Prepaid isn't for everyone," advised Reynolds. "If your e-mail and Web access is important to you, keep in mind that fewer than half of prepaid users in our survey gave high marks to those services. And if you're on a family plan, you likely won't save as much by going prepaid."

But for plenty of people, including Byrnes, a prepaid cell plan can help cut costs considerably.

Consumer Reports says in California, MetroPCS is another prepaid plan worth considering. It did well in its survey and offers unlimited local calling plans for as little as $30 a month.

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