HowardForums user discovered a new section at the bottom of the Tracfone Web page that lets users buy airtime. It lists "Data Cards with Carryover - Only for Android Phones" in three denominations: 300 MB for $10, 750 MB for $20 and 2 GB for $50.
Currently there aren't any Tracfone Android phones but the existence of the data cards means suggests they are on their way The same Howard Forums user who discovered the data cards also found four unreleased Android phones on Tracfone's activate phones page. They are the LG L38C Optimus Dynamic. Samsung S738C Galaxy Centura, ZTE Z665C Valet, and the Huawei H868C Glory,
The LG Dynamic, Samsung Centura and Huawei Glory are all currently available on Straight Talk and NET10 and all three use the Verizon network.
The ZTE Valet is new to me but as it's a C suffix (CDMA) phone it uses either Verizon or Sprint, most likely Verizon like the other three. The Valet is the only one of the four to run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Centura and Glory are on 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and the LG is stuck in 2011 on Android 2.4 Gingerbread.
The tutorials and manuals for the Straight talk versions of all four phones are online.
LG Optimus Dynamic L38C
Samsung Galaxy Centura S738C
ZTE Valet Z665C
Huawei Glory H868C
There's a disclaimer on the data cards that says they "...will only add data usage if the phone has service days remaining. This card does not add service days, minutes or text messages, and can only be used for Activations or Reactivations if combined with an Airtime card." To me that sounds like the data balance does not expire as long as the phone is kept active - which can be done for as little as $5.99 per month by enrolling in Tracfone's Service Protection Plan or for $8.34/month by adding a $19.99 60 minute card every 90 days.
I'm a big believer in the pay as you go model and I'm happy to see that Tracfone is expanding it to Android devices. This should put a little pressure on the other operators and MVNOs to maintain and expand their own pay as you go plans. Provided the data balance doesn't expire as long as the account is active you will actually be able to use up all the data. The price of data with the cards runs from 2.5 to 3.3 cents/MB which is very reasonable for prepaid and will be great for users who need just a bit of data.
I wonder how Tracfone will handle billing on the Android phones. Tracfone feature phones use custom "Airtime Tank" software embedded in their firmware. Unlike other operators, Tracfone keeps track of days of service available and minutes and texts used with custom software on the phone rather than at the network level. Tracfone's are heavily locked down to keep users from getting free service by removing or disabling the Airtime Tank software. On Android that would mean heavily locked boot loaders to prevent users from installing custom Airtime Tank-free ROMs. The phones would also have to be impossible to root, otherwise users might be able to remove or neuter the Airtime Tank. Locking down a platform as open as Android is going to be difficult. I'm hoping Tracfone leaves their Android OS relatively stock and uses network based billing. That would be better for users and more fraud proof for Tracfone.
Someone who claims to work for Tracfone, left a comment on a five month old AndroidCommunity.com post saying that Tracfone's Android phones will be released this Saturday, Sep 21. We shall see, but I'm taking that date with a huge grain of salt..