What Is Tello, and Is It Worth It?

Tello is one of the newest entries into the increasingly crowded field of low-cost carriers, offering very flexible monthly service plans on Sprint's network. Tello's plans are all prepaid, so there are no contracts, no early termination fees and no activation fees for its service. You can easily build a custom plan with just the minutes, texts and data you want.

Here's what you need to know about this relatively young mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), and whether its plans come with any catches.

What network does Tello use?

Tello provides coverage using Sprint's network. It provides full speed 4G LTE everywhere Sprint does. Once you use up your data allotment for the month, your data access will be slowed to 64 kbps. That's slower than a lot of other carriers, which throttle your speeds to 128 kbps when you use up your data.

What phones can you use with Tello?

Tello offers 16 phones on its site, most of them on the cheap side, and refurbished. Your best Android options are the Galaxy S7 or the Moto G4 Plus, both of which came out last year. Tello offers the last few iPhone models, up to the iPhone 7. There are no payment plans for phones: You just pay full price when you get your phone from Tello.

However, you can bring your own phone to Tello's network, and any Sprint-compatible phone will do. You only have to make sure  your device has no unpaid balance on another network, and that it is unlocked for use on other carriers (if the phone was previously used on a network other than Sprint). If the phone is compatible with both GSM and CDMA networks, you'll have to make sure it has a CDMA SIM card. Tello will sell you one if you need it.

MORE: A Guide to No Contract and Prepaid Phone Plans

What are the best Tello plans?

Tello  does only prepaid plans, with an emphasis on its custom plan builder. You simply choose how many minutes, how many texts and how much data you need. This can be a real money-saver if you don't talk or text much, or if you rely on Wi-Fi for most of your data needs and don't need to pay  for data over LTE.

Talk plans start at zero minutes and range up to unlimited talk time (for $15 a month). You can opt for no texts, or add either 200 texts ($2 a month) or unlimited texts ($3 a month). Data plans start at $4 a month for 200MB of LTE data, with a maximum of 5GB ($45 a month).

You're required to build a plan that's at least $5 a month, but if you want no minutes, 200 texts and 200MB of data, you can do that — and it will  cost you only a flat $6 a month. Expert users that live on over-the-top services for voice and messaging can eliminate talk and text altogether, and pay for a pure data plan.

Talk PlansMonthly Cost
No minutesFree
100 minutes$3
200 minutes$5
300 minutes$7
500 minutes$10
Unlimited minutes$15
Text PlansMonthly Cost
No texts
200 texts
Unlimited texts
Data PlansMonthly Cost
No data
200 MB$4
500 MB$8
1 GB
2 GB
3 GB
5 GB

If you use more than your allotted data for the month, speeds will be reduced to 64 kbps and tethering will be disabled. You can add data at any time at pay-as-you-go rates, though.

Tello also offers pay-as-you-go options with competitive rates. It's 3 cents per minute for calls to and from the U.S., a penny for each text, and 2 cents per megabyte for data. Calls are rounded up to the nearest minute.

What special features does Tello offer?

The big hook with Tello is simple, customizable plans. There are no phone-exclusive plans, no lock-ins, no contracts and no extra fees. You just pick the minutes, texts and data you need. Tethering is included at no additional charge, and just uses your regular data allotment. Talk- time minutes begin when the other end picks up, not while the phone rings. 

Outside of the promise for simplicity, transparency and no extra fees besides standard federal and local taxes, Tello doesn't offer much in the way of perks. Tello doesn't offer roaming or service outside the U.S., either. There is a My Tello app (Android, iOS) that lets you make calls over Wi-Fi in the U.S. or abroad, but minutes will come out of your talk-time balance.

What do customers say about Tello?

Tello has an A from the Better Business Bureau, but with only one customer review, that can hardly be considered a comprehensive endorsement. We couldn't find a listing on Yelp at all, nor on BestCompany.com, which isn't unexpected given Tello's low profile.

Sites such as PhoneDog and ThreeThriftyGuys do feature user reviews, and they're mostly positive. Tello is praised for its customer service and prices, and for delivering pretty much exactly what it says it will. 

If there's a red flag, it's with coverage. Everywhere Sprint has native 3G or 4G coverage, you should be fine. But in some parts of the country, Sprint relies on roaming in any area that's a little off the beaten path. If you do a lot of traveling, you'll want to check Sprint's coverage map. In the areas marked "off-network roaming" or "LTE roaming," you're not going to be able to use Tello. We should also note that Sprint had the slowest speeds among the big four carriers in our LTE network testing, so that's going to impact your Tello experience as well.

Bottom line

Tello can save you a lot of money if you don't need a whole lot of talk or text. A plan that gives you 100 minutes of talk and 200 texts along with 1GB of data will set you back just $16 each month, for example. And Tello has generally competitive pay-as-you-go rates to fill in the gaps.

If you use your phone primarily in one area that's served well by Sprint's network and spend most of your time connected to Wi-Fi, you can really save a bundle. If you often travel to areas where Sprint's coverage relies on roaming, or if you need a large bucket of data, Tello probably isn't a good idea.

Credit: Tello

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