Cricket Wireless review: Is the budget carrier worth switching to?

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Cricket Wireless review: Is the budget carrier worth switching to?
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Cricket Wireless is a low-cost cell phone service that could help you save big bucks each month on your wireless phone bill.

This budget carrier offers high-quality AT&T service with the same great coverage as the name brand, but at a fraction of the price. Still, is Cricket Wireless really worth taking a chance on?

RELATED: Coverage maps: Find a cheap cell phone plan with the best coverage

Cricket Wireless review: AT&T’s network at a lower price

Team Clark put it to the test for this comprehensive customer review. Read on to learn more about the carrier and my personal experience testing Cricket Wireless…

Cricket Wireless: Table of contents

Pros and cons

As a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T, Cricket Wireless offers the same service, the same towers, the same everything you’re used to with AT&T.

The bottom line is that it’s a money-saving option to consider if you don’t want to pay the high prices that the big name wireless providers charge.

However, the trade-off is you might get slower data speeds for that lower price, as we’ll explain in a bit. That may be of concern to some people.

Pros 

Cons

  • Reliable service on AT&T’s dependable network
  • Much cheaper than traditional AT&T wireless service
  • No credit check necessary to switch over from another carrier
  • No long-term contracts
  • Flat-rate pricing includes all taxes and fees
  • Slower data speeds
  • Not necessarily cost-competitive with other AT&T sub-brands
  • Limited free phone selection

My Cricket Wireless review: Here’s what I’ve learned after 9 months on the service

I’ve been with Cricket for most of the past year now. I joined when I found a limited-time unlimited data/talk/text plan for $40 a month with autopay. Unfortunately, they’ve since stopped offering this deal.

The service has been good, with few, if any, dropped calls. Texting has been flawless. And the data has been very reliable, albeit not blazing fast. I’m on the cellular network for data when I’m out and about and I’m on a secure Wi-Fi connection when I’m at home or the office.

One of the things I like about Cricket Wireless is that there are a couple of store locations in my immediate area, so if there’s ever a problem, I can just stop by and talk with someone.

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When it comes to billing, I set it up as an autopay to a credit card so I don’t have to think about it.

Plans and pricing

Cricket Wireless offers a range of plans for everyone from people who don’t care about data at all to people who want unlimited data. Their two unlimited plans are called Unlimited and Unlimited Extra.

As a general rule for unlimited plans, you may experience slower speeds than other Cricket Wireless customers at times of network congestion after you use 22GB/line/month.

Single lines

Plan name Price Data speed
Talk & Text $25 No data access
2GB $30 Speeds up to 4G LTE
5GB $40 Speeds up to 4G LTE
Unlimited $55, or $50 with autopay Up to 3 Mbps, video streaming at SD quality
Unlimited Extra $60, or $55 with autopay Fastest 4G LTE speeds, video streaming at SD quality — may be temporarily slowed at times of network congestion

Family plans

Finally, Cricket Wireless has separate deals for multiple lines, like the four Unlimited lines for $100 deal that they’ve consistently run for years now.

Activation process

Signing up for Cricket Wireless involved going to a physical store for me — two stores actually! That’s because I was porting in my number from another carrier, Ting, and it didn’t go smoothly.

I’m not sure if the fault was with Cricket Wireless or Ting, but for a day, I was stuck in limbo with a non-functioning phone. Ting was saying my number was now officially a Cricket number and the Cricket associate who was trying to help me was saying my number wasn’t in his system.

I walked away frustrated. But the very next day, I went to a different Cricket store in my town and spoke with a different associate who was able to help me secure my number.

That’s one of the nice things about Cricket Wireless — there are a number of store locations all across the country if you have a problem with something.

Phone selection

Because I was porting a number over, I qualified for a free phone. Several different free phones were available at the time — I chose the low-end LG Fortune Android.

Free phone list (as of December 2018)

Eligible devices for the free smartphone offer when you port a number in include the following models:

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  • Moto e5 Cruise
  • LG Fortune 2
  • Alcatel Tetra
  • ZTE Overture 3
  • ZTE Blade X

Bring your own phone

If you want to bring your phone to Cricket Wireless, it must be an unlocked GSM phone. A Cricket SIM card costs $9.99, but be sure to check your phone for compatibility before ordering.

Premium phones for sale

Cricket Wireless also sells phones. I checked the Cricket Wireless website and found a good selection of iPhone and Android devices. See the latest phone deals here.

When you’re browsing phone deals for the latest phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 or iPhone XS, you’ll see more than one price on Cricket’s website:

cricket wireless apple iphone x 64GB

cricket wireless samsung galaxy s9
That’s because Cricket Wireless has a slightly convoluted system of phone pricing based on your customer status:

New to Cricket?

  • Number transfer price: For new customers only who transfer an eligible phone number to Cricket. Excludes AT&T mobile and landline numbers.
  • New number price: For new customers who want to start with a new number, rather than transferring an eligible phone number.
  • New line price: The same price applies to the phone whether you port your old number over or get a new number.

Already a Cricket customer?

  • Upgrade price: Current customers who want to upgrade to a new phone will pay this price, plus a $25 upgrade fee. However, you can only upgrade once every 90 days.
  • Full retail price: Want to upgrade more often than once every three months? Current customers will pay this price, plus a $25 upgrade fee.

Returning customer?

  • Full retail price: You’ll pay this price when transferring a number that’s already been transferred to Cricket within the last 90 days.

Call and text performance

I’ve tried multiple phone services over the years — both big-name and second-tier — and Cricket Wireless performed comparably to all of them. There have been no dropped calls and no phantom texts never made it to me.

Calling and texting is unlimited on my plan, so Cricket doesn’t record in my online account how much I call and text. But anecdotally, I can tell you I do a lot of both almost every day of the year — well in excess of hundreds of text messages per month and probably several hours of call time each month, as well.

And I never hear those dreaded words — “Can you hear me?” — when I’m on the phone, so I know the connection is good!

Data speeds

Here’s one area where Cricket Wireless seems to be sorely lacking. Data speeds are drastically slower compared to regular AT&T customers.

I used the Speedtest by Ookla app to compare Cricket Wireless, AT&T and even a third competitor. Take a look at the results and keep in mind that download speed is most important because that impacts how you surf the web and stream video.

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Cricket Wireless speed test results

The Unlimited plan I’m on is capped at data speeds of up to 3 Mbps. Other Cricket Wireless plans aren’t as slow.

speedtest cricket wireless

AT&T speed test results

As Cricket’s parent company, AT&T offers much faster speeds — more than eight times faster!

at&t wireless speed test screenshot

Unreal Mobile speed test results

For a third comparison, here’s a speed test from Unreal Mobile, a $10 cell phone plan that also runs on the AT&T network.

Even it offers speeds that are more than three times faster than Cricket Wireless:

UnrealMobileSpeedTestNEw (1)

Analysis

Cricket Wireless has the slowest data speeds of all three services tested. When I watch videos, there is an occasional pause as they buffer.

Customer service

In the nine months that I’ve had Cricket Wireless, I haven’t had a need to contact customer service. The service has worked that well for me.

But as I mentioned earlier, Cricket Wireless does have numerous stores across the country so you can always go in to speak with someone face-to-face if the need arises.

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Customer service issues can also be handled online through your Cricket account:

cricket account screenshot

Final thought

If you like AT&T service but don’t want to pay the big price tag for it, Cricket Wireless may be a solid option for you.

Just remember that if you get the cheaper unlimited deal, Cricket Wireless will restrict your data speeds to 3 Mbps. That may work for some people, but not for others. It all depends on how important watching uninterrupted video on your phone is to you.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a guide to the best cell phone deals and plans for 2019 that gets updated monthly right here.

More mobile phone stories on Clark.com

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