Cricket Wireless has long specialized in feature phones and prepaid plans. It owns and operates a network that provides basic talk and text coverage across the United States, in partnership with other companies such as Sprint. In the past few years, Cricket began spreading into the smartphone market, installing 4G LTE towers in a handful of cities around the country and offering up cheap data plans. Unfortunately, without decent LTE coverage it's difficult to enjoy those plans outside of a few select markets.
Where the bigger cell phone providers can boast 4G LTE coverage in hundreds of cities and metropolitan areas across the country, Cricket offers high-speed data in less than two dozen locations. It has, by far, the smallest LTE footprint of any cell phone provider. This will change in the future: AT&T acquired Cricket in July 2013, so the smaller company will soon be able to take advantage of AT&T's superb nationwide network. Until that happens, however, you should check your local coverage before you invest in a 4G-capable phone.
If you do live within one of its 4G LTE markets, Cricket's smartphone plans are some of the cheapest you can find and come with great extras. Its base plan offers unlimited talk, texts (including international messaging) and 2.5GB of high-speed data for just $50 a month. You can increase your high-speed limit to 5GB for $60 a month, or 10GB for $70. Regardless of the plan you pick, Cricket throttles your speeds once you hit your data limit, rather than charge you overage fees.
The provider doesn't have designated family share plans, but it does provide a $5 discount to every additional line of service you put on your account, whether it's a basic phone, a smartphone or even a mobile hotspot. Thus, you could get four lines of smartphone service – each with unlimited talk, text and 2.5GB of data – for just $185 a month.
If you buy an Android phone that supports it, you can take advantage of a free music service called Muve, which Cricket offers with every smartphone plan. Thanks to a partnership with music providers such as Sony and Universal Music, Muve lets you download and listen to millions of free songs. You can also buy older-model Apple devices like the iPhone 4, iPhone 4s and iPhone 5, but they don't support Muve.
Like all prepaid providers, Cricket doesn't subsidize its phones, so if you want a top-of-the-line model like the Samsung Galaxy S4, be prepared to pay hundreds more up front. Unlike many providers, however, it offers monthly payment plans. Depending on your credit, you'll have to pay more or less of a phone's overall purchase price up front, but your remaining payments will be spread out over 23 months in more-affordable chunks.
In terms of coverage, Cricket Wireless is far from the best cell phone provider around. The vast majority of its network lacks 4G service of any kind, so if you live outside one of its few coverage areas or you travel a lot, consider a different provider. If, on the other hand, you live and work in an area with solid LTE service, Cricket's prices are nearly unbeatable.
Cricket has some of the cheapest monthly prices for smartphone plans you can find, anywhere.
It runs its own nationwide network, and the 4G LTE coverage on that network is extremely limited.
If you live and work in one of the very few areas that Cricket Wireless has 4G, there's little reason not to take advantage of its great prices and fun extras like Muve music. Just don't expect to get the same coverage when you're vacationing around the country.