Monthly Experience with T-Mobile
Monthly services, in my opinion, is a good way to experience what a payment plan is like for any first-time phone user. Currently my service provider is T-Mobile. The value of their monthly service is their pricing. For $29.99 a month (not including fees) you can have up to 300 monthly minutes plus any optional minutes that you can add using their flex-account. Unlimited Weekends also come with this plan. This is another added bonus.
Having come from a variety of prepaid services (Virgin Mobile, Verizon Wireless) T-Mobile's minute plan was a relief to my draining pocket.
For the value I would have liked to pay a little less. I got a brand-new phone (months old from manufactured date) that fits my needs. The cost for the phone itself was $249. Considering the cost range of other phones ($300, $400) I decided to get it. It was the cheapest phone available that was literally new, and had enough features were I could still continue to use the phone even if I didn't want to add anything extra and still be satisfied. I didn't want all the gimmicks of a $300 phone that I know I would rarely use, nor did I want the phone to be almost bare. So I bought a phone that was in between.
As for the features itself depends on what phone you get. I received the t45 or the samsung gravity with the basics of text-messaging, IMS, sound-recording, mp3 player, picture messaging, audio-picture messaging, blue-tooth stereo enabled, 1.3 megapixel camera, hi-fi and megatones. Its also web-enabled with their Web2go features (which is cell-phone web). It's pretty basic stuff, but it has a lot more features than what I've seen on other phones (considering if you want just the basics). You can also download stuff from your computer onto your phone by USB cord. If you slide out the keyboard the screen will automatically flip itself to adjust. Nice.
For the features concerning the plan itself you have web-browsing, unlimited calling to the same service provider, and unlimited calling up to 3 people, text packets, and incoming call tunes. The last time I've checked the unlimited calling to any other T-mobile customer was $7.99. Unlimited
to any 3 people was $14.99 or you can add both features if you want. I don't have any of these features but the plan itself works fine for me.
My only real complaint is that 1.3 megapixel camera, which converts moving objects into blurry masses. Trying to take pictures of a nightly parade is impossible much to my dismay. The camera has no flash-support, so if its even a tiny bit dark outside you're out of luck. Keep an eye on your coverage area and stay away from roaming charges, there's also mandatory and state tax fees associated with the phone that varies depending on what your state taxes. Also if you don't have their "easy-pay" option enabled (automatically taking money out of your account for their service) you also pay a fee for this. When getting their flex-pay plan be specific that you want their monthly flex-pay, and not their contract flex-pay. Also pricing on the website can change without prior notice. I have just recently checked their pricing an hour ago, and their $29.99 plan seemed to have vanished, leaving only the $39.99 plans and up. Also keep an eye on making any calls or messages to anyone not within your area.
As for monitoring the balances it's fairly easy. At anytime you can call their customer-service number and check on how many minutes you have left. They also have a cap on their minutes, meaning you can't go over those 300 minutes so you don't have to worry about paying any additional "per-minute" charges. Once your minutes are use they are deducted from your flex-account. If you have nothing in your flex-account you can't make any calls. So a flex-account is basically a "refill-account". Once a month a statement is sent including a detailed listing of what you're being taxed for and the pricing; this is all calculated into your monthly bill. Any "roaming-charges" are also calculated into your monthly bill.
I would recommend this service to a friend who wants the benefits of a contract without a contract plan. They have a wide variety of phones associated with this plan, so if you want something with more bells and whistles you can get it. ;)