Often those that elect to go with a prepaid cellular plan have to put up with second-class phones in order to keep costs down -- no longer.

Ed Hansberry, Contributor

April 18, 2011

2 Min Read

Most of the news regarding cell phones is based on the largest carriers in the U.S.: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. While those networks have definite advantages given their size, they aren't for everyone. Evidence for this is the existence of networks like U.S. Cellular, The problem with regional carriers like this is often its phone offerings aren't exactly cutting edge, especially for prepaid plans.

U.S. Cellular, largest regional network in the U.S., is changing that and if you are a prepaid customer, you can now select from two Android devices: the LG Apex or the LG Optimus U.

The Apex is a side-slider, which means the QWERTY keyboard slides out from the side and the screen switches to landscape for you. It has a 480 x 800 3.2-inch screen, a 600MHz processor, and 256MB of RAM. It runs Android 2.1. While not exactly cutting edge now that Android 2.3 is shipping and the processor isn't going to set the benchmarks on fire, it is a competent phone for the cost conscience. It costs $249.99 outright. Remember, there is no contract.

The Optimus U is similarly equipped, but has a lower resolution screen at 320 x 480 and more memory with 512MB. It also lacks a keyboard. It goes out the door at $199.99.

There are two plans for the phones. One is $60 that includes 2GB of data and 450 voice minutes and unlimited texting. For $10 more, you get unlimited voice as well. Neither phone will set your pulse racing, but neither would you be disappointed given the price you are paying without having to sign up for two years.

Compare those prices to Verizon's prepaid plans. Verizon has several Android phones available on prepaid plans as well. The Motorola Citrus is comparable to the phones offered by U.S. Cellular, down to Android 2.1 being on the device. It costs $224.99, which is similar to U.S. Cellular's phone costs. The plans though are much more. For $64.99, you get 450 minutes of talk time but no data; that's an additional $30 per month. Once you include taxes and other fees, your monthly bill will be over $100 per month for an Android phone.

It is doubtful that prepaid plans will ever have phones hot off the assembly line that are destined to be best sellers for the geek crowd. Carriers save the best for customers under contract. The phone isn't where money is made. It is that monthly payment year after year where the cellular providers bring in the profits and they use hot sellers like the iPhone to get people to sign the next 24 months of their life away.

Still, it is nice to have the option to avoid such contracts and still get a phone with a platform that opens you up to thousands of apps and a rich online experience without breaking the piggy bank.

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