In 1995, Consumer Cellular set out to simplify the often burdensome experience of purchasing a cell phone. Since then, a lot has changed. Cell phones can now easily fit in your pocket. They can stream in high-definition and can even help you surf the Web. What hasn’t changed, though, is Consumer Cellular’s industry leading approach to cell phone service, an approach that comes with no tricks or fine print, just stellar service that caters not only to those in their golden years but also anyone looking for a quality cellular experience. I have a lot of experience working with older adults in addition to the technology that makes their lives easier and more fulfilling. In this rundown, I’ll be taking a look at the current offerings from Consumer Cellular: their phones, their plans, and the overall customer experience. In the end, I’ll find out if they really live up to the hype.
Consumer Cellular Pros and Cons
If you’re looking for the bullet points, then look no further. Here are the main things I appreciated about Consumer Cellular.
What I Liked
- Low Priced Plans: Starting at just $15 for their most basic plan, Consumer Cellular offers plans at a highly competitive price point. What’s more, I was able to stack up additional savings by adding more lines to my service plan. This, combined with no activation fees and additional discounts for AARP members, makes Consumer Cellular one of the most affordable cellular service providers on the market today.
- No Long-Term Contracts: Unlike many traditional wireless providers, Consumer Cellular did not lock me into a long-term contract. Each of its plans are paid on a month to month basis, and I could upgrade my service or cancel it without paying any fees or penalties.
- Wide Range of Devices: From basic flip phones to the newest models from Apple and Samsung, Consumer Cellular’s offerings run the full gamut of cell phones. They even allow customers to put their own phones on their service, provided they use SIM cards.
What We Don't Like
- No Prepaid Options: While I appreciated that Consumer Cellular doesn’t require long-term contracts, it would have been nice to have the option to prepay for minutes. When providers allow this option, it means that any unused minutes can accumulate rather than disappear at the end of each pay period.
- High Device Costs: Consumer Cellular offers several flip phones and smartphones that cost $50 or less; however, these models are mostly outdated and limited in their functionality. For those looking to purchase newer models, the price could be upwards of $1000, a cost that is normally built into the service plans of traditional carriers.
- Lack of Medical Alert: Although Consumer Cellular’s plans and devices can compete with major mobile providers, they lack some of the features of providers that cater specifically to older adults, features such as medical alert functionality.
The Purchasing Process
Ordering a phone through Consumer Cellular is just about as easy as it gets. In addition to Target and some independent retailers, Consumer Cellular devices and plans can also be purchased through their website, which is what I did. Here I was able to view a list of each of their plans and the devices that could be used with them. To my surprise, Consumer Cellular was incredibly transparent about their costs.
Phones themselves can be purchased with either a one-time payment or several interest-free installments, and the service plans clearly state their cost in addition to what else is included. How many of us have signed up for a cellular plan only to be blindsided on our first bill by hidden fees? Activation Fee? Universal Service Fund Fee? Smartphone Fee? No thank you! So naturally, I was pleased by Consumer Cellular’s transparent pricing. The fact that some of these prices were highly affordable only sweetened the deal.
Choosing a Cellular Plan
Before I chose a phone, I had to decide on a service plan. Consumer Cellular offers a wide range of plans, (seven, to be exact), and each of them included some amount of talk time, text messages, and data allowance. These plans are divided into two groups, Talk Only and Unlimited Talk and Text. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the two.
- Talk Only: As the name implies, this type of plan means that your phone is good for one thing only, phone calls. The $15 iteration of this plan comes with 250 minutes, and for $5 more a month, the number of minutes becomes unlimited. I know of a good number of old-fashioned folks in my life who shudder at the idea of text messages and social media, so this would be the perfect plan for them.
- Unlimited Talk and Text: This type of plan puts no limit on the number of phone calls or text messages, and the only difference between its five versions is the amount of data they cover, from the $25 plan with 500MB to the $60 plan with unlimited data. Data refers to activities performed on your phone that require Internet connection, activities such as browsing Google, watching videos, or sending emails. Although it’s somewhat difficult to put an exact number on it, 500MB of data would be roughly equal to visiting 2,700 web pages or streaming 30 minutes of high definition video per month. For those who plan to purchase a smartphone, I highly recommend this sort of plan, as it will allow you to make the most of all of your phone’s features.
For a full list of Consumer Cellular’s plans, look below, or check out our pricing and plans page for Consumer Cellular for even more detail.
|Type of Plan||Number of Lines||Monthly Price Per Line with 500 MB of Data||Monthly Price Per Line with 3 GB of Data||Monthly Price Per Line with 10 GB of Data||Monthly Price Per Line with 15 GB of Data||Monthly Price Per Line with Unlimited Data||Monthly Price Per Line with 250 Minutes||Monthly Price Per Line with Unlimited Minutes|
|Unlimited Talk and Text||1||$25||$30||$40||$50||$60||N/A||N/A|
|Unlimited Talk and Text||2||$20||$22.50||$27.50||$32.50||$37.50||N/A||N/A|
|Unlimited Talk and Text||3||$18.33||$20||$23.33||$26.67||$30||N/A||N/A|
Ultimately, I decided to sign up for Consumer Cellular’s Unlimited Talk and Text plan with Unlimited Data, which would normally cost $60 per month. However, Consumer Cellular offers discounted rates for additional lines. Since I purchased three lines for myself and my children, the total cost for my service plan came to only $30 per month per line, meaning my grand total for service was $90 a month. Now, I can see why this might seem expensive to some, but considering comparable plans from major cellular carriers could run upwards of $200 a month for three people, I was impressed by how much of a bargain I was getting.
FYI: For only $15 a month, you can add on one or more phones to any existing Consumer Cellular plan, making it both easy and affordable for couples and families to share a wireless plan.
Choosing a Device
Consumer Cellular offers an impressive array of phones, ranging from simple flip phones to the latest offerings from Samsung and Apple. I can safely say that they have something to satisfy almost any taste or need. For example, there’s my father, a classic older American man who has had the same flip phone since the early aughts. It frustrates him that even though he needs a new phone, his major carrier no longer offers simple devices made for calling and texting only. Fortunately, Consumer Cellular has two no-frills phones, the Doro 7050 and the Link, that fit the bill.
On the other end of the spectrum, Consumer Cellular offers the iPhone 11 Pro Max with its 12MP triple-camera system in addition to the Samsung Galaxy S20+ with its 3200 x 1440-pixel resolution display. While it’s easy to assume that these types of cutting edge smartphones supersede the needs of most older adults, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume. Studies show that roughly half of seniors with cell phones have smartphones, and the older people that I know get more technologically advanced by the year.
Ultimately, I decided to test out three different phones from Consumer Cellular, the Doro 7050, the iPhone SE, and the Samsung Galaxy S20+. Each of them had their own unique set of features, but more on that below.
Keep Your Phone: If you happen to already be using a phone on another network, you can transfer this device to a Consumer Cellular plan with one of their SIM cards, included when you sign up for a service plan.
For an exhaustive list of the cell phone offerings from Consumer Cellular, look below.
|Brand||Model||Available Colors||Available Sizes in GB||Regular Monthly Price||Monthly Price with EasyPay|
|Motorola||Moto G7 Power||Black||32||$150||$10|
|Apple||iPhone SE||Black, white, red||64,128, 256||$350||$10|
|Apple||iPhone 7||Black, pink||32||$200||$10|
|Apple||iPhone 8 Plus||Gray||128||$300||$20|
|Apple||iPhone XR||Black, red||64, 128||$600||$25|
|Apple||iPhone Xs||Gray||64, 256||$900||$60|
|Apple||iPhone 11||Black, red, white||64, 128, 256||$700||$70|
|Apple||iPhone 11 Pro||Gray||64, 256, 512||$1,000||$80|
|Apple||iPhone 11 Pro Max||Gray, beige||64, 256, 512||$1,100||$140|
|Samsung||Galaxy S10e||Black, white||128||$500||$25|
|Consumer Cellular||Link||Red, black||N/A||$30||N/A|
How My Phones Worked
In terms of phones, I purchased the Doro 7050, the iPhone SE, and the Samsung Galaxy S20+. Between the three of these phones, I got a good sense of the range of options from Consumer Cellular. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:
Doro 7050 ($50 One Time Payment)
This is one of the most affordable options that Consumer Cellular has, and it’s one of two phones that feature the classic clamshell design of yore. I’ve got to say, there’s something I missed about the tactile experience of a flip phone, perfect for an older adult who wants to stick to the basics. For starters, its buttons are actually raised rather than on a touch screen, and they’re backlit so I could see them even in the dark. With nearly half of people over the age of 65 suffering from arthritis, the size and spacing of these buttons made it easy to dial a number or type out a text message. When I made calls with it, I noticed the volume of the receiver was appropriately loud and clear.
Additionally, the exterior of this phone featured an assistance button, which, when I pressed it, called a number that I had chosen, which happened to be my husband. However, it could also be another emergency contact or service like the police. This feature in particular made this phone seem like an ideal option for older adults. Sure, the Doro 7050’s 3MP camera wasn’t going to help me win a Pulitzer in photography, but for those of us looking for a simple way to remain connected on the go, the Doro 7050 is a solid option.
iPhone SE ($350 One Time Payment)
Originally released back in 2016, the iPhone SE packed in enough features to impress me, though my technophile kids looked at the thing as though it were a fossil. Regardless, I appreciated its 12MP camera, which captured photos in accurate coloration. In addition, the smartphone had the intuitive menu screens that I’ve come to expect from Apple products. But what about the phone itself? Well, I’m happy to report that the actual phone portion of this smartphone worked beautifully. The audio quality was crystal clear, even when I took the phone on bike rides through the wilderness. Plus, even though it operates through a touch screen, I rarely found myself pressing the wrong button, although this could be an issue for those with arthritis.
While Apple says that the SE’s battery life lasts for 26 hours of call time, my phone seemed to last even longer during testing. For the more adventurous buyer, someone looking for not just a cell phone but also a camera, music player, and television, the iPhone SE is a good choice. Even if the idea of using a smartphone is a bit intimidating, the SE’s intuitive design made it easy to explore its wide array of features.
Samsung Galaxy S20+ ($1,000 One Time Payment)
Now I assume that most people over the age of 65, let alone from my generation, don’t require the technologically advanced feature set of the Samsung Galaxy S20+. But I’ve been surprised by older adults before, so here goes nothing. Similar to the iPhone SE, the Galaxy operates primarily through its touch screen; however, this phone features a higher resolution, which came in handy while browsing the web for complicated dinner recipes. When the text was too small, I simply pinched the screen and zoomed in to my heart’s content, a great feature for older adults, considering over 15% of people over 75 suffer from some form of vision loss.
The Galaxy’s camera featured a 64MP lens, and the images I captured with it looked as though they were professionally taken. But once again, as with all smartphones, I had to consider the ultimate question. How did the phone work? I’m happy to report that the Galaxy S20+ worked brilliantly. Calls were easy to dial on its large, 6.7-inch screen, and the audio quality seemed even clearer than the prior two phones, even in areas with poor service. The only drawback I could see with this phone is its size. Although its large screen makes for easy viewing, the phone was a bit bulky to carry around, especially if you’re a woman without pockets like me.
Savings Tip: For most of its devices, Consumer Cellular allows you to purchase RFG-certified returned items, pre-owned devices that have been refurbished and can cost around $100 less than the new factory versions.
For over a decade, Consumer Cellular has been an official partner of AARP, meaning that current members of this group receive a 9% discount on their monthly fees. Now, I’m not an AARP member just yet, but let’s say for the sake of argument that I was. Since my monthly service charge from Consumer Cellular was $90, this would have added up to an annual savings of $54. In addition to this generous discount, AARP members receive an extended 45-day money-back guarantee on their devices and service plan, 15 days more than that of regular customers. Trust me, I’m counting down the days until I’m eligible for membership and all that it has to offer!
When it comes to cellular service providers geared towards older Americans, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone better than Consumer Cellular. Its breadth of phone compatibility ensures that there’s a device for just about any taste or ability level, and the straightforward nature of its service plans takes the headache out of an industry often filled with hidden fees and complicated contracts. Arguably, the only thing missing from Consumer Cellular would be more robust features for medical alert functionality, like the kind that’s built into the Jitterbug Smart2 from GreatCall; however, for those looking for a simple and affordable way to have a cell phone, Consumer Cellular has just what you’re looking for.
Consumer Cellular FAQ’s
- If I go over my plan’s limit of minutes, will I be charged extra?
Not exactly. Unlike other cell phone providers, who implement overage charges for minutes used beyond the parameters of your plan, Consumer Cellular instead automatically upgrades you to a plan that covers the number of minutes you’ve used. For example, if you’re using a plan with 250 minutes of talk and you go over this amount, they’ll simply upgrade you to the next plan. The plan comes with no overage charge; however, you will pay the difference between the plans.
- Do I get free minutes on nights and weekends?
All of Consumer Cellular’s plans include the minutes listed on the plan, regardless of the time of day or day of the week. This is what we’d call “anytime minutes.” On a related note, the tradition of giving free minutes during nights and weekends comes from the fact that these are the least used times by customers.
- Do my unused minutes and data roll over each month?
Unfortunately, they do not. Consumer Cellular plans begin on the first day of the month and reset at the start of the following month. Luckily, if you find that you’re not using a large portion of your minutes, you can easily change your plan at any time for no extra cost.
- With Consumer Cellular, can I keep my existing cell phone number?
Depending on your current service provider, you most likely can transfer your existing number to Consumer Cellular’s network. Just be sure to undergo the transfer process before canceling with your current service provider. This way, the number will remain active so that Consumer Cellular can guide you through the process.