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The Best Prepaid Plans for the Nexus 5

On Halloween Google released their latest pure Android flagship phone, the Nexus 5, priced at $349.99 for the 16GB version.

If you want the latest high-end Android smartphone without paying a lot, the Nexus is the one to get. Here's why:
  • Android 4.4 KitKat the latest Android OS version
  • Guaranteed OS updates: for the next 18 months the Nexus 5 will be get the latest Android OS releases direct from Google as soon as they are available
  • State of the art internals: Quad-core 2.3 Ghz Snapdragon Krait 800 processor, 2GB of RAM
  • Unlocked for use on any carrier with support for every GSM, CDMA and LTE band used in the US except for Verizon's LTE band 13.
  • 4.95 inch 1080x1920px HD Gorilla Glass screen
  • 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash, optical image stabilization and 1080p video at 30fps
  • Wireless charging
  • NFC with Google Wallet support
  • Value: the Nexus 5 has specs that meet or exceed those of $600+ phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One and LG G2 yet it's priced at $349.99 for the 16GB version and $399.99 or the 32GB one.
The combination of state of the art hardware at a relatively low no-commitment price and the fact that the Nexus 5 is unlocked and is fully compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint's networks makes it ideal for use on a prepaid carrier. But which one?

There are lots of prepaid options that will work with the Nexus 5 but relatively few that include LTE data. Here are my top picks, all of which include LTE:

AT&T based: The gold standard of Nexus 5 friendly prepaid plans is AT&T's GoPhone Smartphone Plan which includes unlimited voice, messaging and 2GB of high speed data including LTE for $60/month. Additional data can be purchased at $10 for 1GB AT&T customer support is among the best among prepaid operators. It's easy to get started with this plan, any AT&T store should be able to give you a free SIM and set it up for you.

The only AT&T MVNO's with LTE are Tracfone's Straight Talk and NET10 brands which offer unlimited voice and messaging and 2.5GB of high speed data for $45 per month on Straight Talk and $50 on NET10. Straight Talk and NET10 are a good deal unless something goes wrong. Unfortunately lots of users are currently having trouble sending MMS on both services and TracFone tech support tends to be sorely lacking.

T-Mobile based: If T-Mobile's somewhat limited coverage (map) works for you and you don't talk on the phone a lot, T-Mobile's $30/month, unlimited data, unlimited messaging and 100 voice minutes plan is hard to beat. The first 5GB of data per month is delivered at full 4G LTE or HSPA+ speeds wherever those technologies are available. After 5GB, data speeds are throttled to an almost unusable 128 Kbps, but 5GB is a lot of data for $30. Additional voice minutes are 10¢ each so if you need 5GB of data, this plan is cost effective at up to about 300 minutes/month of voice usage.

The $30 100 minutes, 5GB plan is only available online or through Walmart. You need to either order a SIM from T-Mobile.com or Walmart.com or pick one up a Walmart store. SIMs from Walmart can be activated online or by calling the number printed on the SIM package. If you buy a SIM from T-Mobile.com you can only get the $30 plan by activating online at prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-activate.

If you need more than 100 voice minutes, and can get by with a bit less data, T-Mobile owned MetroPCS has a $50/month plan that comes with unlimited voice and messaging and 2.5GB of hi-speed data including LTE. For $60 a month MetroPCS will give you unlimited talk, text and unlimited, unthrottled data. SIMs are available for MetroPCS stores and online. MetroPCS SIMs use the T-Mobile network so coverage data speeds are identical to those on T-Mobile etc.

Sprint based: Although the Nexus 5 is technically compatible with Sprint's network, Sprint traditionally as been extremely unfriendly to the idea of customers bringing their own non-Sprint phones to their network. Change is in the wind and Sprint is officially allowing Nexus 5s from the Play Store to be activated, but only on post paid plans. Sprint will not activate a Nexus 5 on its Boost, Virgin or Sprint As You Go brands.

The situation on Sprint MVNOs is a bit more promising. Ting has reported being able to activate several Nexus 5s with working voice and SMS but no data yet. There have been several reports of activations on RingPlus and one on PrepaYd. One Ringplus user even says he has working data including LTE.

Update, PrepaYd dealer freedomwirelessbc.com, has posted a YouTube video showing LTE and 3G working on a Nexus 5 on PrepaYd's $60/month plan that includes unlimited voice, messaging and 4G data.

If you want to try activating a Nexus 5 on a Sprint MVNO you will need a special Sprint LTE micro SIM, part number SIMGLW206R. These are in short supply. Only a few Sprint stores have them and many reportedly refuse to sell them to customers unless they are willing to activate on a post-paid account. The special SIMs are currently available on Ebay for an average price of $20.

The Ting site has detailed instructions for activating a Nexus 5 along with a warning that it's an unsupported device and that data doesn't currently work. The process should be similar on RingPlus and other MVNOs that accept Sprint LTE phones like PrepaYd and ChitChat.

Here's a table detailing all the AT&T and T-Mobile based options mentioned above. I will add Sprint MVNO's plans to this table once it becomes straight forward to active a Nexus 5 on them with everything working, including LTE.

Nexus 5 Friendly Prepaid Plans
Plan Network Monthly Cost Minutes Messages Data
T-Mobile T-Mobile $30 100, overage 10¢/min unlimited 5GB 4G, unlimited 2G
Straight Talk AT&T $45 unlimited unlimited 2.5GB 4G, unlimited 2G
MetroPCS T-Mobile $50 unlimited unlimited 2.5GB 4G, unlimited 2G
AT&T GoPhone AT&T $60 unlimited unlimited 2GB, overage $10 per 1GB
MetroPCS T-Mobile $60 unlimited unlimited unlimited 4G

Related:
AT&T and AT&T MVNO Prepaid Plans Compared
T-Mobile and T-Mobile MVNO Prepaid Plans Compared
Sprint and Sprint MVNO Prepaid Plans Compared

31 comments:

Comment Page :
  1. On that howard forums thread there is a video showing the nexus 5 running on prepayd wireless

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  2. How is the GPS on this device? I have the Nexus 4 and it gets very hot when I use the GPS.
    This makes me hesitant to purchase another LG Nexus phone !!!

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  3. has T-Mobile significantly changed the metro pcs offering into a truly nationwide plan? my understanding was metro phones became significantly crippled outside their home areas (2g data if at all, etc)

    also, why aren't"independent" handset manufacturers putting more than one SIM in their handsets? seems like you could get a data plan separate from a paygo 2g talk and text plan that way (on separate networks even).

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    Replies
    1. MetroPCS GSM phones and SIMs have the same coverage and speeds as T-Mobile prepaid.

      The old MetroPCS CDMA phones still have 2G data only when roaming on Sprint. Data is and always has been full-speed on Metros's native CDMA network regardless of whether one is in their home market or a different Metro CDMA market

      Dual SIM phones exist. Nokia, Samsung, Blu and others make them but they aren't widely sold in the US. You can find them on Sbay, Amazon, etc.

      Delete
  4. In an location such as Denver, CO where both TMO and MPCS no-contract plans are available for pretty much the same model handset, is there any advantage of going with TMO ($50 per person for unlimited) over MPCS ($40 per person for unlimited) ?

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    Replies
    1. The T-Mobile plan allows 2.5GB of tethering, the MetroPCS one doesn't. I doubt that MetroPCS enforces the tethering ban beyond blocking it on the phones they sell.

      Delete
    2. Plus the new limited data roaming is probably a premium benefit of T-mobile Prepaid and not Metro Pcs that could be another difference have you heard is that the case Yeswap?

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    3. That's correct. There's no data roaming on MetroPCS.

      Delete
  5. Does Aio offer LTE?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, on AT&T's network. It's throttled to 8Mbps, though.

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    2. Aio has LTE 7 gigs for $70 it is speed tested on my nexus 5 at 9mb/sec. It is fast enough for me they are going to merge with cricket but I have been told nothing will change


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    3. AIO $55 2Gb plan here in Massachusetts (used up my allowance and now throttled unlimited at 0.28Mbps). I could upgrade from the 2Gb plan to 7Gb paying only the plan cost difference of $15 or add 1Gb at $10). I like the options and don't see the need for >8Mbps at this time.

      Delete
  6. Doesn't get vzw LTE. But will it activate on page plus or next G as they don't offer LTE anyway? This would finally be an up to date phone for page plus.

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    Replies
    1. Not currently. Like all non-Verizon and/or LTE phones it needs to be flashed and no one seems to have figured out how to do that yet.

      Delete
  7. My Nexus 5 just arrived this afternoon. I am using Solavei. $50 a month for unlimited text, talk, & 4 gigs of HSPA+, throttled if you go past the limit down to 2g. It is the best deal that I have found, and it is working perfectly well with my new phone! I have just briefly experimented with tethering, and it seems to work no problem.

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  8. Is either of Straight Talk's or AT&T Go Phone's network throtled, meaning it won't get the same speed as post paid subcribers, even when you have data left.

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    Replies
    1. At&t mvno customers are deprioritized meaning slower latency generally and slower speeds on crowded towers

      Delete
    2. I've seen some very good speed test results on both Straight Talk and GoPhone as high as 50 Mbps on LTE.

      But that's under ideal conditions. I think John is right, mobile operators prioritize traffic when bandwidth is in short supply and prepaid and MVNO customers likely have lower priority than postpaid and business customers.

      Also, ping time tends to be higher on Straight Talk than GoPhone for some reason.

      I'm not sure any of this really matters though GoPhone/Straight Talk data speeds are fast enough for stutter-free YouTube, etc streaming and reasonably fast downloads.

      Delete
  9. One time it may matter is when you happen to be in a place where there is some large event happening--like the Super Bowl. I have experienced this in my home area where we have some very large events during the summer and my usual good service deteriorates on those days to almost nothing at times. I suspect the postpaid subscribers get a higher priority during those situations.

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  10. Is sprint mvno prepayd wireless really unlimited because they cut me off at 2gbs

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    Replies
    1. They claim it's unlimited but that's unlikely to be true with any MVNO. 2GB is awfully low. I haven't heard any other complaints of people being cut off. Did this happen to you recently?

      Delete
  11. I have been a longtime AT&T customer and am interested in going with straight talk. This phones specs seem very good even compared to what I am currently using (S4 Active). Could some one explain or point me in the right direction to find what it would take to get this phone onto straight talk. Would I need to go through BYOP program or is it just a matter of buying a card.

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    Replies
    1. Just get a Straight Talk AT&T (or T-Mobile if you prefer) micro SIM and set up the Straight Talk APNs: Updated: How to Setup Straight Talk & NET10 Data and MMS on Android, iPhone & Windows Phone

      Delete
  12. Dennis, when you say that StraighTalk gives you 2.5GB of high speed data for $45 a month, does "high speed" mean 2.5GB of "LTE" data?

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    Replies
    1. High-speed just means unthrottled and could be any data technology the phone and network is capable of including LTE but also HSPA+, UTMS, Edge or GPRS. Once 2.5GB of data of any type has been used in a month all data is throttled to a maximum speed of about 128 Kbps.

      Delete
  13. The T-Mobile $30, 100 minute/5GB plan is *only* available from Walmart, with a SIM purchased at Walmart. I was informed this by the support person at T-Mobile when I tried to activate the SIM I received from T-Mobile online.

    So this part of the article isn't quite right:

    "The $30 100 minutes, 5GB plan is only available online or through Walmart. You need to either order a SIM from T-Mobile.com or Walmart.com or pick one up a Walmart store. SIMs from Walmart can be activated online or by calling the number printed on the SIM package. If you buy a SIM from T-Mobile.com you can only get the $30 plan by activating online at prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-activate."

    No -- You cannot activate a SIM from T-Mobile online at that activation URL. Only a Walmart SIM.

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    Replies
    1. Regardless of what T-Mobile support tells you, an unactivated Prepaid SIM Activation Kit purchased anywhere can be activated on the $30 5GB plan using the online activation form at prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-activate.

      See: http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-plans
      "$30 100 minutes talk | Unlimited text | First 5 GB at up to 4G speeds
      This plan is only available for devices purchased from Wal-Mart or devices activated on T-Mobile.com."

      There are numerous reports of users activating non-Walmart SIM kits on the 5GB plan using the online activation form.

      Do you have a prepaid activation kit which contains a SIM and an activation PIN? What happens when you try to activate it using the online form?

      Delete
    2. I agree with Dennis. Online new activation works for the $30/5gb plan. One time my activation pin did not work and Tmobile CS did it for me. They will also activate the $30/1500 min or sms plan over the phone if you ask for it specifically. That one is only supposed to be available for activation in stores.

      Delete
  14. MetroPCS will not activate for the Nexus 5. They were unable to provide a date for its availability. Looks like they lost their chance to nail me down as a customer.

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  15. The 30 plan with tmobile is the best plan for the nexus 5 if you live in good tmobile coverage. I ordered the sim card from tmobile website for free. It took about a week for the sim card to arrive. I activated the phone via the web. I live in Sacramento and get LTE service (10-40 mb download, 5-15 mb upload speed). The plan includes 100 min talk, unlimited text and 5G of LTE data. I use the vonage app to make free out going calls. The app will allow you to use 3000 minutes a month. Your phone number will even show up on the caller id of the person you are calling. Just remember to keep a balance on your account to ensure that you have phone service when you use more than 100 min for incoming calls. You can teether the phone but will have to research the web and change the settings. If you are rooted purchased the wifi tether router app by Fabio Grasso on the play store. This is the cheapest prepaid plan with 5g of LTE service. If you need unlimited data go with metro pcs 60 unlimited plan. If you need att coverage go with straight talk 45 plan or net10 50 but you will only get 2.5g of data.

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