Archive for March 4, 2009

Cell wars? T-Mobile announces $50 unlimited voice plan

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Is a price war in the making for cell phone service?  Somewhat quietly, T-Mobile is offering a $50-per-month unlimited voice plan to longtime customers, according to a report in RCR Wireless and acknowledged by a T-Mobile rep I spoke with. For now, the plan is only available to those who have been with the company for at least 22 months, and the offer appears to be more of a perk for existing customers— and an incentive to stick with T-Mobile—than a straight promotion.

Still, many see the offer as a return salvo aimed at Boost Mobile, Sprint’s prepaid wireless carrier, which last month began offering a no-contract, $50 “everything” plan, including unlimited voice, texting, and data.

(T-Mobile isn't providing much information about its new plan. In an email, Amanda Ginther, a T-Mobile spokesperson, echoed verbatim the company statement provided to RCRWireless: "We are offering select customers pricing plans that reward their loyalty to T-Mobile. We are not providing further comment at this time.")

From a pricing standpoint, the advantages of Boost and T-Mobile's plans are clear. Why pay Verizon Wireless or AT&T $80 for a 1,350-minute plan when you could get unlimited minutes for only $50? Unlimited text and data are not included with the T-Mobile plan, but customers have the option to add those for an additional $35 a month.

The T-Mobile deal thus appears to offer what amounts to an everything plan for $85 a month. By comparison, Verizon offers an unlimited everything plan for $150 a month, Sprint offers one for $100, and the best unlimited plan I could find from AT&T cost $130.

T-Mobile also offers respectable service overall, according to our survey of satisfaction among readers in 23 cities, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. (Carrier Ratings are available to subscribers.) Boost Mobile uses the Sprint network, which was average among providers for connectivity across cities we surveyed.

Will Boost and T-Mobile force the other carriers to enter the budget-pricing battle? If they did, what would make you consider switching from your current plan?

—Nick K. Mandle

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Long-overdue Mac Mini upgrade arrives today

Apple Mac Mini
As it's been so long since the Mac Mini has had a major update, rumors were flying that Apple might kill its diminutive desktop or somehow "merge" it with its AppleTV set-top, which it resembles in some respects.

Today the company confirmed its commitment to the Mini by announcing a new, improved line. (Click the image for a larger view. The Mini sits to the left of the monitor.) Features include an NVIDIA graphics card with a claimed fivefold improvement in performance, RAM expandable to 4GB, more USB ports (5), and dual display support. The new models also continue to support FireWire 800, which was a concern after Apple dropped a Firewire connection from its MacBook laptop line last year.

The new Mac Minis will cost the same as their predecessors—$599 and $799—with monitor, keyboard and mouse being extra. At those prices, the Minis won't compete on price with budget desktops. Indeed, some of my colleagues at Consumer Reports and other bloggers question the allure of the new Minis. They're more expensive than comparable PCs, they argue, and even Mac users might be better off getting a refurbished iMac—adding that refurbs of 20-inch iMacs can be had for $1,000 or so.

To me, the Minis bring advantages that no PC has—including iLife '09, Apple's superb suite of multimedia applications—in a small package, and might be good choices for:

  • Consumers who are either switching from PCs or who simply want a Mac in the house alongside their PCs;
  • Serious home-network users wanting an additional Mac to use either as an everyday machine or a small-footprint server; or
  • Small-to-medium size business users seeking a more budget-conscious way to expand or update their existing array of Macs.

Also, the new Minis are said to consume just 13 watts of power at idle. By comparison, in our tests, a typical budget PC consumes 40 to 60 watts at idle, and a high-end model about 100 watts.

—Tom Olson

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