Total Wireless review: Cheap cell phone plans on Verizon’s network

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Total Wireless review: Cheap cell phone plans on Verizon’s network
Image Credit: Total Wireless/Clark.com
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Total Wireless is a low-cost cell phone service that may be able to cut your current bill in half!

The TracFone-owned carrier is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that relies on Verizon’s towers to provide customers with the same great coverage at a fraction of the price.

Is Total Wireless really worth it? Team Clark put it to the test to bring you this comprehensive customer review.

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

Total Wireless review: Verizon’s network at half the price 

I signed up and paid for a 30-day plan to see if Total Wireless lives up to the hype. Read on to learn more about the carrier and my personal experience…

Total Wireless: Table of contents 

Plans and pricing 

The wireless industry is shifting toward unlimited data plans, but you won’t find that option with Total Wireless.

This budget carrier offers a number of single and family data plans. I chose the unlimited talk, text and 5GB of data plan that costs $35 a month or $33.20 with auto-refill, plus taxes and fees.

That’s about $20 less than Verizon’s 5GB data plan for $55 a month before taxes and fees.

One of the volunteers at Team Clark’s Consumer Action Center recently made the switch from Verizon to Total Wireless. He told me that he lowered his bill for two lines of service from $130 to $60 a month — an annual savings of $840!

For those who use Wi-Fi at home and work, the 5GB data plan is probably the best choice. Customers can also buy 5GB of add-on data for $10 that rolls over from month-to-month.

The following Total Wireless plans have unlimited talk and text, but mobile hotspot isn’t included:

Total Wireless 30-day service plans 

Single line plans
Unlimited talk and text only $25 or $23.70 with auto-refill
5GB of data $35 or $33.20 with auto-refill
15GB of data $50 or $47.50 with auto-refill
Shared family plans
2 lines: 15GB of shared data $60 or $57 with auto-refill
3 lines: 20GB of shared data $85 or $80.70 with auto-refill
4 lines: 25GB of shared data $100 or $95 with auto-refill
Service add-ons 
5GB of add-on data $10
Global calling $10
Updated: November 2018 

TOTAL WIRELESS PROMO: Bring your own number to Total Wireless and get 50% more data. For example, you would get 7.5GB of data when you pay for the 5GB plan that’s $35 a month. Details at TotalWireless.com!

Activation process 

Setting up service with Total Wireless was a snap. I bought a CDMA SIM Kit ($1) and a device plan ($35 for 5GB) at Best Buy, but you can also buy them at Walmart and online at TotalWireless.com.

I inserted the SIM card into a compatible device, got a new phone number and activated my service in about 10 minutes.

Since I didn’t transfer a number to Total Wireless, I wasn’t able to test the porting in process. A customer support representative told me it could take two days, but it’s usually completed in about two hours.

This was my first time setting up service with a prepaid carrier. This video takes you step-by-step:

Phone selection 

For my 30-day test, I used an unlocked Moto G6 that money expert Clark Howard let me borrow. The budget smartphone is unique because it works with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks.

If you want to bring your phone to Total Wireless, it must be CDMA compatible, not GSM. (Check compatibility here.)

Total Wireless also sells phones. I checked TotalWireless.com and found a good selection of iPhone and Android devices. Visit Total Wireless’ website for the latest phone deals.

Total Wireless phones

Phone

Price 

iPhone XR 64GB

$749
iPhone Xs 64GB $999
Samsung Galaxy Note9 $949.99
Moto G6 $179
Samsung Galaxy J3 Orbit $99.99
Reconditioned iPhone SE 32GB $69
Updated: November 2018

Call and text performance 

Total Wireless’ call and text performance met my expectations. I experienced zero dropped calls and zero missed texts over the month that I tested the prepaid carrier.

For some perspective, I spent more than three hours talking on the phone and sent/received more than 200 text messages.

When I talked to my family and friends on the phone, I asked them to rate the call quality. Everyone confirmed that I sounded fine. I had no trouble hearing any of the people I was talking to.

Total Wireless supports Wi-Fi Calling on some devices, but my unlocked Moto G6 didn’t allow me to test this feature.

However, I was able to try its Enhanced 4G LTE Mode, which appears to be another name for VoLTE (Voice over LTE). Once enabled, I could talk on the phone and use data at the same time.

For example, Enhanced 4G LTE Mode let me look up something on the internet while on the phone.

Data speeds 

One of my biggest concerns with Total Wireless was that my data speeds would be slower compared to Verizon customers, but that wasn’t the case whatsoever.

I used the Speedtest by Ookla app to compare Total Wireless and Verizon. Take a look at the results:

After the test in the video above, I continued to check the data speeds 10 more times during my 30-day trial. The average Total Wireless download speed was 32.61 Mbps and the average upload speed was 9.72 Mbps.

I used Total Wireless for Google Maps, streaming Hulu with Live TV and general web surfing with absolutely no issues.

Customer service 

I had no reason to contact Total Wireless customer service, but I called them twice to ask general questions for this review. The calls were answered promptly and the representatives helped me, though there was a language barrier.

I also initiated two chat sessions on Total Wireless’ website and had a different experience — I think I got bad information.

Earlier, I explained how activating Enhanced 4G LTE Mode allowed me to make calls and use data at the same time. This feature is usually called VoLTE or Voice over LTE.

When I asked the chat representative a question about the capability, I got this response:

May: Hi! I’m sorry, in our service you cannot make a phone calls while using mobile Data.

Total Wireless chat transcript
Total Wireless chat transcript

The second time that I contacted Total Wireless for support via chat, the representative correctly answered my question and then said “Thank you for using Simple Mobile,” which is a different TracFone-owned carrier.

I also checked the Better Business Bureau and found quite a few customer service complaints. Review them here.

On a more positive note, I frequently used Total Wireless’ help textline to get answers to my questions. I sent the keyword “USAGE” to 611611 and quickly got a response with my data usage.

Total Wireless' help textline
Total Wireless’ help textline

Pros and cons

If you’re someone like me who doesn’t want to pay the high prices that the Big 4 wireless providers charge, Total Wireless is a money-saving option to consider.

However, no unlimited data plan is a drawback for heavy users. I kept my usage to 3GB for the entire month.

Who should switch to Total Wireless? If you’re a Verizon customer who likes the network and wants to keep your phone, this may be a cheaper option — just be willing to monitor your data usage.

Based on my research and limited interaction with customer service, that’s one area where there’s room for improvement.

Total Wireless: Pros and cons 

Pros Cons
Affordable single line and family plans Lack of an unlimited data plan
Verizon’s dependable network No mobile hotspot
Good phone selection Customer service

Total Wireless isn’t the only Verizon alternative! We have a list of the best cell phone plans and deals from low-cost cell phone providers that run on all the big networks — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

Share your Total Wireless review in the comments below and read more in Clark’s cell phone guide!

More Clark.com stories you may like: 

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Michael Timmermann paid off his mortgage in two years. Now, he shares his money-saving tips on his blog, MichaelSaves.com.
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