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Cricket Wireless vs Tello: Which carrier is better for you?
There are a variety of pre-paid carriers in the US, one of the newer options being Tello Mobile. That company promises to undercut a lot of the competition, including what may be the best-known pre-paid provider, Cricket Wireless. But how do the two carriers actually stack up when you weigh factors like pricing and coverage?
Cricket Wireless vs Tello — Pricing
If all you’re considering is cost, Tello wins hands-down. You can mix call/text and data options to get some ridiculously low prices, down to as little as $5 per month for a dataless package with 100 voice minutes. Cricket is limited to a handful of plans that are still cheaper than the Big Three (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon) post-paid options but don’t dip below $30 per month.
It’s hard to do a direct face-off between Cricket and Tello because of the latter’s mix-and-match focus, but Tello does offer a few “ready-made” deals we can compare. All of the plans below are single-line options that include 5G and unlimited talk/text within the US.
|$30/mo. (5GB data)
|$10/mo. (1GB data, free tethering, free calls to 60-plus countries)
|$40/mo., $35 with Auto Pay (10GB data, service to/from Mexico and Canada for new accounts)
|$14/mo. (2GB data, free tethering, free calls to 60-plus countries)
|$55/mo., $50 with Auto Pay (unlimited data, service to/from Mexico and Canada, unlimited texts from US to 37 countries)
|$19/mo. (5GB data, free tethering, free calls to 60-plus countries)
|$60/mo., $55 with Auto Pay (unlimited data, 15GB tethering, 150GB of cloud storage, service to/from Mexico and Canada, unlimited texts from US to 37 countries, ad-based HBO Max)
|$29/mo. (25GB “unlimited” data, free tethering, free calls to 60-plus countries)
As you can see, Tello’s focus is on calling, whereas Cricket is more concerned with data. The latter is the only one that has true unlimited data, and there are related perks with its top-level plan. The best may be HBO Max, which normally starts at $9.99 per month.
Tello's focus is on calling, whereas Cricket is more concerned with data.
While Tello does offer cheaper single-line fees, Cricket offers multi-line discounts. Its top-tier plan drops to $45 per person for two lines, and to $32.50 for four lines. That takes some of the sting out of the price gap.
Cricket also sells a variety of add-ons:
- Cricket Protect ($8/mo.) and Protect Plus ($11/mo.): The basic Protect plan covers loss, theft, damage, and out-of-warranty issues, offering replacements as soon as the next day. There are still deductible and service fees, and you can only get a $29 cracked screen repair once every 12 months. As a bonus you get 16GB of photo and video cloud storage. Protect Plus lifts the cap on photo and video storage, removes the time limit on screen repairs, and adds US-based tech support through the myExpert app.
- Cricket International ($5/mo.) and International Extra ($15/mo.): International allows unlimited calling from the US to landline phones in 35 countries. International Extra adds unlimited picture and video messaging to those countries, plus 1,000 minutes of mobile-to-mobile calling from the US to 31 countries.
- Individual country add-ons ($10-15/mo.): These let you pick a specific country and get unlimited calling, texting, and picture/video messaging to it from the US.
- Mobile Hotspot ($10/mo.): Depending on your base plan, this either enables hotspot usage or adds an extra 15GB of data to it, for one month only or as an ongoing upgrade.
- Data ($10/mo): You can add an extra 5GB to your main plan for one month only or as an ongoing upgrade.
Cricket Wireless vs Tello — Coverage
Cricket relies on the AT&T network, whereas Tello is based on T-Mobile. You’re not going to notice a difference in most populated areas, but one or the other may be preferable depending on where you live, all the moreso in rural areas. We’d automatically choose Cricket for crossing Texas, for instance, since T-Mobile’s network has gaps in rural parts of the state.
Tello should in theory offer better access to 5G, since as of September 2022 T-Mobile had 37% 5G coverage in the US (according to WhistleOut) versus AT&T’s 16%. Those figures are in constant flux though, and 5G isn’t necessarily better than 4G. It’s usually faster, but not always by a huge amount, and that can sometimes come at the expense of battery life. Don’t make 5G the sole basis of your decision.
Tello doesn't offer any roaming.
What may be critical for some people is roaming. Whereas some Cricket plans bundle roaming in Canada and Mexico, Tello doesn’t offer roaming at all. That could be a deal-killer if you travel to those countries on a regular basis, since the alternative is picking up a local pre-paid SIM card on your way out of the airport.
Cricket Wireless vs Tello — Perks and Promos
Tello may occasionally offer some discounts. As of this writing, for example, you can pay $10 for the first month of its normally $19 5GB plan. That’s not going to make much difference, of course, but it doesn’t have to, since its prices are already very low.
Cricket is more likely to provide meaningful deals, providing some budget phones for free or at a sharp discount. You can get a Moto G Stylus for $29.99, well below the $189.99 the carrier usually asks for.
There are more perks with Cricket in general, which we’ve already touched on in our pricing and coverage sections, and we’ll revisit in our conclusion. But you’ll be paying more upfront.
Cricket Wireless vs Tello — Phone selections
Tello’s selection is heavily budget-oriented, the cheapest option being a $79 flip phone. The most expensive phone in its collection is February 2022’s Samsung Galaxy S22, not even including the S22 Plus or Ultra as options. The best iPhone it sells is a used iPhone 12, which may be concerning given that Apple’s latest models are in the iPhone 14 lineup. You can bring your own phone, naturally, and you may be able to find better deals elsewhere, since Tello only slashes prices by $10 to $60.
Cricket’s store is easily superior, with many recognizable phones (like the Galaxy A13, the 2nd gen iPhone SE, or the Moto G 5G) being free if you’re sign up for a new plan at the right price point. The Samsung selection is oddly outdated at the top end — the best option being a Galaxy S21 FE 5G — but if you want an iPhone, you can spring for state-of-the-art devices like the iPhone 14 Pro Max. You’ll have to go with older models if you want any kind of savings on Apple products. Like Tello, Cricket has a bring-your-own-phone option.
Which carrier is right for you?
We think most people will be better served by Cricket. Yes, it is more expensive, but less so if you sign up as a couple or family, and as a new customer you can get some budget phones for free. The carrier’s perks may also be hard to ignore, including roaming around Canada and Mexico, the various add-on options, and that HBO Max bundle in the top tier. If you consume a lot of music or video on the go, only Cricket’s high-end plans guarantee unlimited high-speed data — Tello tops out at 25GB before throttling.
We think most people will be better served by Cricket, but there are reasons to choose Tello.
There are reasons to go with Tello, the obvious answer being price. If you don’t need much data, or roaming outside the US, you can save quite a bit of money. Tello might even be preferable if you frequently call family living internationally, since many countries can be called for free. Just note that in some places (like Japan and Taiwan) the fee waiver only applies when calling landlines, not cellphones. Thankfully, countries like Canada, Mexico, and Colombia don’t have that limitation.
If you feel like something’s missing from both carriers, check out some of the other cost-saving options out there: