The pay-as-you-go market for cell phones in the US has exploded. There are so many damn choices out there now that it is hard to decide just who to go with anymore. Living in Sweden, I did not want to be locked into a monthly contract. I did, however, wish to make it easier for friends and family to reach me on my frequent jaunts to the US. I had already gotten burned heavily by Virgin Mobile last year, so they were out for sure. That narrowed the playing field down to just 19 jillion…

After standing there reading packages on various phones for an hour, we settled on the Net 10 service. I liked the look of their Motorola V176 phone, and it started off with 300 minutes. This flip phone was comparable in price at $88 to all the other flip phones, but those services had considerably less time with them from the get-go, making this one the most cost effective. Besides, it's blue and I love blue. heh.

The other deal-maker was that even though other services may advertise 10 cents per minutes anywhere in the US, it ain't so. Virgin Mobile, for example, actually charges 25 cents per minute for the first 10 minutes each day, and then drops to 10 cents per minute. That's crap (on top of their lousy customer service.) Net 10 is a just a straight 10 cents per minute, no pussy footing around about it.

Most of the pay per minute services also limit you to the US. With Net 10, I can now call Europe too. For an additional 5 cents per minute. That's right. Once you sign up for their International Long Distance service at the Net 10 website, you can call just about anywhere in Europe for a mere 15 cents per minute. Oh, some countries you can only call to land-lines and not other cell phones, and people cannot call me while I'm at home due to the 1800 vs. 1900 systems between the two, but that's ok by me. I just wanted to be able to call home if I ever needed to in an emergency… (like if I needed to call Lars' sister and tell her I had beat her brother near death for staying out til 5:30AM celebrating a Hungarian friend's birthday at a strip club on Bourbon Street…)

So. Yeah. The choice made, we went to the website to activate the phones. We actually bought 3 of them. Activation on the first two via the website was quick and painless. The website is very easy to navigate so finding the activation area was toot-sweet. The site is all about cool blues and white, with menus on the left side and up top. These are different menus, mind you, so do look at them both. Rather than a small top line of options, though, they are big and bold and easy to see for folks like me with aging eyes.

Across the top you will find links to Add Airtime, Activate Phone, Buy Airtime, Buy Phones, Buy Accessories, and Buy Ringtones. Down the left side of the page you can go Home, see How It Works, view Rates, Compare to others, look at their various Phones, find Retailers, view Coverage Maps, Questions, Voice Mail Setup, ILD, Test Messaging, aaaaand Tech Support. Things do seem to open slowly on this site, but I will temper that by saying that I am on a fairly slow hotel connection right now so it may be the fault of that rather than the fault of Net 10. They do tend to open pages slower than other sites though via the same connection.

The first phone (Lars) activated immediately. The second phone (mine) took about 10 minutes before it activated. The third phone we bought was for one of Lars' employees from Hungary who wanted to call his wife back home inexpensively. It took me several hours to get that one activated. Seems they were experiencing a short glitch by the time I got to his. I called their customer service line to find out why the delay and those folks were just very nice and apologetic.

The website has a large variety of ringtones, wallpapers, and screen savers available for download. You can pay for them with your minutes or with a Credit Card. I went with the She's In Love With The Boy ringtone and paid I think it was about 20 minutes (or about 2 bucks) for it. It was on my ringtone menu on my phone within seconds. Their ringtones do have a bit of a tinny quality to them, unlike some other services which have much clearer music selections, but for the major price difference on the airtime and the ability to call Europe, I can live with that sound quality.

Net 10 is owned by Tracfone, but they utilize cell towers of pretty much all the major carriers I believe. I know the coverage area is practically everywhere it seems. They have the ability to surf the web and check email, but I am not likely to use those. You might, though. The phone also came with a few little simple games on it. I'm a bit old school so of course got sucked in by their version of umm oh what the hell was the name of that game… Space Invaders! So much for the 7-day battery life when you aren't talking.

I ended up calling their customer service a few times and was quite pleased with them at first. Apparently, they have a much different process for calling outside the US than most phones. I missed that part even though it is displayed on their website, so I called to gripe when Jordi had trouble reaching Hungary (I am the designated griper when it has to be done in English.) That chick was very patient with my idiot moment, and we had a good laugh over it.

Then, Lars' SIM card blew up after one day of usage. I called again. Again they were very patient and nice, and the new SIM arrived in just a few days, free of charge… and they said we would get the same number. That was important to him as he had already added this number to his business cards and had handed out quite a few.

Unfortunately, the promised number being ported to the new SIM never happened. All that happened was a run-around of being told to call back every day for a week, with the end result being one chick activating the phone with a new number while telling me she was activating it with the old number.

Also, I was told by on CS rep that I would be given extra time on the phone for all our trouble. The amount they gave? 10 minutes… the equivalent of a dollar. I am now fed up and disgusted with this company. I used them until we got back to Sweden, but I will not be renewing any time on these phones with them like I had planned. I have trashed these phones, and will be trying yet a different company next time I am in the US on business.