RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service Plans With a Catch

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November 2016 Update. The most recent update:

Starting December 1, 2016, all Plans that are not Mad Plans will not renew at the end of their billing cycle. Members can change to any of the currently offered plans from our website. Phone Swaps will be free starting Wednesday (11/23/16) until further notice.

Realistically, this was always the type of deal that was not going to last forever, and hopefully if you participated you got good value out of it. I got over a year of Sprint-based cellular service with 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text, and 1 GB of data for an total cost of $10 (technically the $10 is still in my account). The party is winding down… in the meantime I recommend taking the following precautions:

Know that your plans can and will be discontinued with little or no notice. Don’t buy an expensive phone just to switch to R+. Don’t pay for their lifetime Member+ plan. To put it simply, commit as little money as possible. Have a plan to port your number elsewhere; Ting can use Sprint or there are many free or $1 SIM cards out there on GSM networks.


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Consumer Report Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2016

cr_car2016_coverThe December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine includes the results from their 2016 Car Reliability Survey with over a half million data points. In this public-viewable article, CR shares the full 2017 reliability rankings by brand and the relative change from 2016. There were some significant moves up and down. Highlights:

  • Most reliable: Lexus and Toyota.
  • Most spots improved: Infiniti and Acura.
  • Biggest ranking drop: Volkswagen, Volvo, and Subaru.

A partial excerpt with the top rankings are below:

cr_car2016b

Consumer Reports also shared some commentary and tips:

  • Toyota and Lexus are on top again, which CR credits to their careful, gradual approach to vehicle feature changes to avoid any sudden drops in reliability.
  • Wait a year or two before buying a newly resigned model from most brands. It takes a while to work out the kinks.
  • Speaking of kinks, a common source of issues in new cars are their new infotainment screens and complex transmissions (CVT, 8/9-speed, dual-clutch, etc).
  • Despite providing these brand rankings, Consumer Reports recommends that you shop by vehicle and not just by brand. Some brands like Toyota and Lexus are reliable across the brand, but others like Ford have a wide range of rankings by model. Of course, you’ll need full print or digital access to get those numbers.

If you don’t see your brand listed, it is probably due to a lack of data points.

My thoughts. In terms of trends as compared to last year’s 2015 survey, I was disappointed to see Honda slip a bit again in the reliability rankings. They dropped 4 spots last year and another 2 spots this year. On an absolute basis, Honda now has the same reliability score as BMW, whose cars have more fancy features and a history of average reliability. On the flip side, both Hyundai and Kia moved up another 1-2 spots this year after both moving up 4 spots last year, earning a solid spot together in the Top 8 “More Reliable” brands.

List of Cheap Basic Cell Phone Plans on Every Network – From $1.25 a Month

phones7Updated. Cellular phone bills remain an area where many people can trim their budgets. If you haven’t shopped around lately, there are many new options available. All the major networks sell wholesale minutes to MVNOs (Mobile Network Virtual Operators), which they in turn sell at a significant discount to individuals. I would also observe that smartphone improvements are slowing, such that using your current phone for another year can also save you hundreds per year.

This post is restricted to talk & text only plans for both light and unlimited usage – no data (although some plans include some anyway). After looking at over 100 MVNOs and multiple comparison engines, and these are the cheapest I could find for each of the major carriers – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile. I organized in this way so that you can simply Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and avoid the hassle of selling your used phone. You can now either go minimalist starting at $15 for an entire year ($1.25 a month), or you can fully replace your landline with an unlimited talk and text plan starting at $15 a month.

mvno_tT-Mobile Network

  • Light Usage – LycaMobile. Their barebones prepaid plan requires a minimum top-up of $10. You must have some sort of activity every 90 days to keep your service (make a phone call, send a text). The rate is a flat 5 cents a minute for talk, and 4 cents per text. If you only used 100 minutes a year, that would be $15 a year for the first year and then $5 a year afterward ($10 minimum recharge).
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Republic Wireless. You can now buy a SIM and bring over your own device on their eligible list (no iPhones) and get unlimited talk and text for $15 a month. They have a somewhat unique service, see my Republic Wireless review for details. Also worthy of mention is Mint, which goes as low as $21 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of data per month. However, you’ll have to pay for an entire year upfront to get that price.

mvno_s
Sprint Network

  • Light Usage – RingPlus. Their plans change constantly, but as of this writing you can get 250 minutes, 250 texts, and 250 MB of data per month with a $10 initial top-up and a $0 monthly fee. In other words, your total cost could be $10 a year. I still don’t understand their business model, so be ready to port out your number in case the fun stops. See my Ringplus review for details.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Tello. Unlimited talk, text, and no data for $18 a month. I will mention that Republic Wireless has $15 a month plan for unlimited talk and text on the Sprint Network, but you can’t bring any used Sprint device over – you must buy a special RW-modified phone in order to use the Sprint Network (see above for their T-Mobile BYOD option).

mvno_aAT&T Network

  • Light Usage – Pix Wireless. Their GSM Blue service is on AT&T, and runs as low at $75 a year which includes 1,875 minutes, 3,750 text, and 938 MB of LTE data for 365 days. Overages are 4¢/Minute, 2¢/Text, and 8¢/ MB 4G LTE. Alternatively, H20 Wireless has a minimum top-up of $10 every 90 days, for a total minimum annual cost of $40 per year. At the flat rate of 5¢/Minute, 5¢/Text, that $40 would buy you 400 minutes and 400 texts over those 360 days.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Airvoice. Unlimited talk, text, and 100 MB of data for $20 a month (technically 30 days).

mvno_vVerizon Network

  • Light Usage – Selectel. $75 a year for a bucket of 2000 minutes and 2000 texts for the entire year (no data included, 3G phones only). The same plan costs $100 a year for 4G phones.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Boom Mobile. Unlimited talk, text, and 250 MB data for $20 a month. (Both 3G and 4G phones will work, but there is a separate plan for each.)

Let me know in the comments if you find a better deal.

List of Free Movie Streaming Sites Online

streamfree2If you are a cord-cutter but are still looking for some free movie content to stream, here is a collection of (legal) links. Shortly after I had kids, I dropped Netflix as I had no time to “binge” on anything. However, I still like to watch bits of movies now and then to relax and take my mind off of things.

Vudu Movies on Us. This Wal-Mart-owned service just announced that they will allow “thousands” of movies to stream freely online with ads. The catalog isn’t great, but sample titles include Margin Call, Mad Max, True Grit, Abduction, and School Of Rock. Streams at 1080p with Dolby Digital sound.

Yahoo View (formerly Hulu Free). This is where a lot of the free content that used to be on Hulu now resides. TV shows include Blindspot, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Chicago Med, and Empire. Limited movie selection as well.

Crackle.com. This one has been around for a while, and they even have a few original series of their own. Some Seinfeld. I always watch the newest episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Popcornflix. An interesting collection of movies that you might not see elsewhere from independent distributor Screen Media Ventures, LLC. Lots of big stars in their movie flops. Several cheap Disney knock-offs. Also… Inspector Gadget!

Free Documentaries (various). Unfortunately, many of these free documentary sites have lots of sneaky pop-up ads while mostly just embedding YouTube and Vimeo videos. The least annoying ones for me were Documentary Heaven and WatchDocumentary.org.

PBS.org. PBS shows many independent films and documentaries in their Indie Film section. You can also find the classics here like PBS Newshour, Frontline, Masterpiece Theater, This Old House, and Antiques Roadshow.

Most of these are also available via their own smartphone apps (iOS, Android) and streaming box apps (Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Xbox 360). Please let me know if I missed anything good.

Amazon Problems: Fake Product Reviews

az5starqUpdate: As of 10/3/16, Amazon has changed their policy and now prohibits reviews in exchange for discounted products. From the Amazon Blog:

Our community guidelines have always prohibited compensation for reviews, with an exception – reviewers could post a review in exchange for a free or discounted product as long as they disclosed that fact. These so-called ‘incentivized reviews’ make up only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of reviews on Amazon, and when done carefully, they can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.

Today, we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.

This the new language in their official Seller Policy:

Additionally, you may not provide compensation (including free or discounted products) for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to modify or remove reviews.

Contrary to Amazon’s claims, incentivized reviews do not make up only a “tiny fraction” of all reviews. According to this ReviewMeta video, 50% of all new Amazon reviews are now incentivized! 20% of all the Amazon Reviews they analyzed are incentivized.

Will this make it better, or worse? In response, many sites still giving out free stuff but are now simply telling users that reviews are no longer “required” and you don’t have to add any disclaimer at all. But, the sellers can usually still CHOOSE which people are eligible to receive the discounted products. Do you think they will give out free products to people who leave mostly positive reviews, or those people who take stuff and do nothing? Hmmm.

Original post:

For while, I was convinced that one day I would only shop at two places: Costco and Amazon. But recently, I’ve been concerned that Amazon’s quest for growth has hurt their customer-centric reputation. Here’s one part in what unfortunately may become a multi-part series.

Discounts for reviews. In the past, I wrote about a few websites that provided you with discounted products from Amazon in exchange for an “honest review”. I originally felt that since Amazon itself does this type of thing with its Vine program, it should be fine for the makers of a product to send out a few samples for review.

In the months since, I’ve gradually changed my mind. This practice is no longer a way to “jumpstart” your product with a few reviews. Instead, it has basically resulted in a race to the bottom where other sellers feel they must give out tons of free product and end up with hundreds of 5-star reviews with the disclaimer “I received this product at a discount in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.” This screenshot from Reddit is a perfect example of the bottom of this downward spiral:

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ReviewMeta.com analyzed 7 million reviews and found that the reviews with disclaimers had nearly all 4 and 5 star ratings, with a much lower occurrence of 1 and 2 star ratings.

I think where I messed up was that when a regular website like CNET does a gadget review, they have a readership and reputation to maintain. An anonymous individual is probably busy and just wants to satisfy the review requirement in order to keep getting discounted stuff. There is no feedback system to keep them accountable.

Fake reviews. What’s worse is that some reviews are simply fake with no such disclaimer. As someone who has to deal with spam comments every day, I see the same language patterns in Amazon reviews. Another website called FakeSpot.com also analyzes the quality of reviews:

Fakespot utilizes numerous technologies to validate the authenticity of reviews. The primary criteria is the language utilized by the reviewer, the profile of the reviewer, correlation with other reviewers data and machine learning algorithm that focuses on improving itself by detecting fraudulent reviews.

Check out this Micro SD memory card, and see it’s FakeSpot analysis.

fakespot1

ReviewMeta adjusted their 4.8 star rating down to 1.3 stars:

reviewmeta1

Survivorship bias. As someone who has bought a few “discount-for-review” items in the past (I no longer participate), I can tell you that when I left a less-than-positive review and others did as well, the item simply disappeared from Amazon shortly thereafter. It’s quite easy for a factory to simply slap on another made-up brand name and thus create a separate, new listing. This makes it quite easy to just start over, seed with positive reviews, and keep selling until too many “real” reviews start lowering the average rating. Repeat as necessary.

As always, buyer beware. Amazon has already filed some lawsuits over paid fake reviews, but they still have a lot of room to improve.

Don’t Have Prime But Shop at Amazon? Read Those Prices Carefully

ProPublica has a new article Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t, which outlines how Amazon does not always list the lowest price including shipping as the first available option. Here’s an example they provide of how this works on some pruning shears if you don’t have Amazon Prime or reach the $49 Super Saver Shipping tier:

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Amazon really, really wants everyone to buy Amazon Prime. They do all kinds of little nudges to get you to join. For example, their Super Saver Shipping option went from a few days to oftentimes weeks to get to me. Another way they promote Amazon Prime is by promoting merchants that join their Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) program, because that means customers can buy more stuff with Prime. ProPublica points out that Amazon used to be more blunt about it with this former language:

Because most FBA listings are ranked without a shipping cost, you get an edge when competing!

Bottom line: If you don’t have Prime and don’t qualify for Super Saver Shipping, the default buying option will often not be the cheapest. By using the term “algorithm”, that suggests to me some sort of complicated scheme. What Amazon does is simple but perhaps deceptive: They assume that their Prime-eligible items will ship to you free, whether you have Prime or not. If you don’t have Prime and don’t reach the $49 tier for Super Saver Shipping, you should remember this rule across the entire site. Don’t click on the “Add to Cart” button without closer inspection. Amazon is simply adding yet another inconvenience for non-Prime shoppers. (I can’t wait for the new Top Gear, er… Grand Tour to start though!)

Access from AT&T Review: Affordable Home Internet For Low-Income Households

accessatt0Access from AT&T is an affordable internet access plan for low-income households offered in certain areas with AT&T service. The cost is either $5 a month at 3 Mbps or $10 a month for 5-10 Mbps, depending on your area. According to their FAQ and press release, other features include:

  • No deposit required
  • No activation or installation fee
  • No contract
  • Free modem + WiFi router rental
  • Free access to the entire national AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spot network.

However, note that AT&T will run a credit check. I don’t quite understand the reasoning though, as they state it won’t affect your eligibility. From their website:

As part of standard AT&T policy, all orders for new service are subject to a credit check. Results of the credit check will not impact your ability to obtain Internet service under the Access program from AT&T.

Qualifying households must have:

  • At least one resident who participates in the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and
  • An address in AT&T’s 21-state service area, at which we offer wireline home Internet service, and
  • No outstanding debt for AT&T fixed Internet service within the last six months or outstanding debt incurred under this program.

California residents also are eligible if:

  • At least one member of your household receives SSI benefits; and
  • At least one of the Access from AT&T Internet speed tiers is available at the address where you live.

You can apply for the Access by AT&T program here. You can also learn more by calling AT&T at 1-855-220-5211 for assistance in English or 1-855-220-5225 for assistance in Spanish.

I am not applauding AT&T for this effort, just promoting its availability. AT&T agreed to offer this service as a condition of their merger with DirecTV. I think people should take advantage of it if it works economically for them. However, I see no evidence that AT&T did this for charitable reasons. They are only doing the bare minimum required by law. I think they are rightly being criticized for not offering this affordable plan in areas where they have speeds lower than 3 Mbps.

Also see:

Secret Eaters: Fighting Your Unconscious and Semi-Consicous Choices

In my last Buffett post, I talked about the importance of tracking performance carefully when trading your own portfolios. Most casual traders “think” they are doing fine, but if you ask them their rate of return for the last year compared to a benchmark, they won’t be able to tell you. They may have a rough idea, something like “last year was bad but this year I did a lot better”. Alternatively, they may point out that they gained a lot on Apple but lost a lot on Valeant.

This reminded me of a British TV show called Secret Eaters. Along the same lines, most people “think” they eat relatively healthy. They remember the time they turned down that bacon cheeseburger and had a nice salad instead. Participants in this show had their eating habits quietly tracked by private investigators, hidden cameras, or by digging through their trash. Many were surprised to find that they ate an additional 1,000+ calories a day in snacks, desserts, and oversized portions. Here’s a sample episode (the intro shows you the general show structure):

Now, this is a TV show and thus more about entertainment than proper nutritional science, but the point remains that the people profiled did a lot of semi-conscious eating. After being presented with the hard evidence, they were quite surprised. Here’s a Mirror article that follows up on some of the participants and how they started tracking their diet more carefully using things like smartphone apps. In addition to better tracking, another tip is to change your environment. In my opinion, watching TV is the great enabler of mindless eating. I try to avoid eating in front of the TV or computer whenever possible.

The same fuzzy tracking is what gets us into trouble with spending. You get the credit card bill, and all these little charges here and there added up to an extra 500 dollars. To counteract this, you could use one of the many budgeting apps now available. Changing your environment also applies: unsubscribe from some daily deal e-mails, pre-plan your weekly meals, and only visit a shopping website when you have something specific to buy (no browsing).

If you consistently make poor eating decisions, your body will probably tell you. If you consistently make bad spending decisions, your bank statement will probably tell you. But unconsciously bad choices in investing are especially sneaky because you may never know how much potential money you lost on high fees or badly-timed trades.

7 Essential Money Questions from The New York Times

green_questionThe NY Times has a new essay called 7 Essential Money Questions Sure to Start a Conversation:

What follows are the seven best queries that I could find that tend to stop people cold and get them to open up about whatever money they have and the emotions that wrap themselves around their personal finances.

I found myself answering them in my head, so I figured why not share my answers.

What lessons about money did you learn from your parents?

I would say that I remember frugality being a part of everyday life growing up. We would live in apartments and duplexes, while some of my friends would live in big houses. We rarely ate in restaurants, except on birthdays when I got to go to Olive Garden or Red Lobster. I remember being scolded when I used a paper towel for a task that could have been done with a cloth towel. I was taught to use no more than a dab of shampoo. To this day, I have a visceral dislike of wasting food.

Another thing that stuck with me was that my dad worked hard at a career that he enjoyed, but he could have made more money elsewhere. I didn’t like that he seemed to work all the time, but at least he seemed passionate about what he was doing. Together, I feel like I have combined these characteristics. If you can control your spending, you can be more flexible in your work situation.

What does the word “money” conjure up for you?

Well, for starters money means survival. Food, housing, and personal safety. I am a conservative person that enjoys a feeling of security. By making clear what is need vs. want, I can be confident that I have enough in the bank to “survive” for a very long time.

Above that, money means freedom. Freedom to quit a job with management that cares about short-term profits or metrics more than long-term value or people. Forget you money. Freedom to have more kids without worrying.

How many children would you like to have when you retire?

Three. This is such a personal choice. What’s worse, with fertility problems and adoption hurdles you may not even be given a choice.

How do you think your children feel about that?

I think they’ll be fine. They may have to share clothes, books, toys, and later vehicles. They’ll have to share rooms. Every kid doesn’t need their own room… What’s wrong with bunk beds? I hope they appreciate having siblings.

Raising kids is both so more much difficult and enjoyable than I thought it would be. I used to idealize some ideal “future with kids”. Nowadays, instead of long-term planning, I just try to enjoy the process. Every day usually has a few precious moments and a few difficult ones that test our patience.

Tell me about your financial situation when you first met.

My wife and I met when we were both 18 years old and freshmen in college. Her parents had taken out home equity loans to help fund her education. My parents were also paying for a good chunk of my education, and in addition I was accruing what would end up being $30,000 in student loans. We both had part-time jobs (that’s actually how we met, while I was on the job). Our combined net worth was negative.

What are the most important things in your life?

Family, then friends, then community.

What does the prospect of retirement look like to you?

Here’s my ideal “early retirement” weekday from roughly age 40-60. Wake up early. Prepare kids and send off to school. Work at any job that I enjoy until noon. Eat lunch with spouse and run any errands. Pick up kids and play with/teach/chauffeur them. Have the time and energy to be present with them. Cook at home and eat dinner as a family. Put kids to bed. Read. Go to bed early-ish. On weekends, add in hiking, sports, backyard cookouts, festivals, etc. Travel together as a family for 3-6 weeks at a time in the summer.

Amazon Problems: Counterfeit Products

azbirky0In my previous installment of Amazon Problems, I talked about fake Amazon product reviews. This time, I talk about fake products themselves. Thanks to lax Amazon policies, buyers now have to worry about whether their products are genuine or counterfeits.

Amazon is now more of an open marketplace and less a “store” like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Nearly 40% of Amazon’s total sales now come from two million third-party sellers. When you buy something, the website might still look like Amazon but the behind-the-scenes process could be very different. You basically have one of three options:

  • Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. The real “Amazon store”. Amazon buys the products wholesale directly from the manufacturer, keeps them in Amazon warehouses, and then Amazon ships it you.
  • Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA). This means a third-party bought the product from somewhere, claims that it is authentic, and then ships it over into an Amazon warehouse. You buy it, and Amazon ships it. This allows the merchant to make their products eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime.
  • Ships and sold by Third-Party. The sellers have to follow certain rules, but you are mostly dealing directly with a third-party seller with their own warehouse and order fulfillment. This is like eBay or traditional flea markets.

Because Amazon essentially allows anyone to ship them something and say “These are the real thing!”, that opportunity itself can encourage counterfeiting. In July 2016, Birkenstock announced that due to counterfeits and Amazon’s lack of response, they will no longer supply products to Amazon as of January 1st, 2017. In addition, they will no longer authorize third-party merchants to sell on the site.

According to another CNBC article, other brands with questionable authenticity include Michael Kors and Canada Goose. Amazon even commingles inventory from various third-party sellers, so you end up with no idea where your product really came from:

To unsuspecting consumers, fake products can appear legitimate because of the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which lets manufacturers send their goods to Amazon’s fulfillment centers and hand over a bigger commission, gaining the stamp of approval that comes with an FBA tag.

Furthermore, Amazon’s commingled inventory option bundles together products from different sellers, meaning that a counterfeit jacket could be sent to an Amazon facility by one merchant and actually sold by another.

I can only hope that Amazon’s own inventory is still kept separate from the Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA) inventory.

Per The Counterfeit Report, here are some other brand name items with reports of counterfeit copies online:

  • Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoes
  • The North Face Denali jackets
  • Gillette Fusion Razor Blades
  • Giorgio Armani: Acqua Di Gio fragrance
  • Bose headphones
  • Otterbox smartphone cases
  • Duracell batteries

It’s really hard to tell between fake and real products. Last year, a detailed teardown of a $199 Beats headphone that revealed only $17 of cheap parts went viral. That pair of headphones turned out to be fake. But wait, they did a another teardown of authentic Beats headphones and found them to be still very similar, with $20 of cheap parts. It really says something these hardware experts didn’t even recognize a fake after tearing it apart (the boxes and internal materials are also excellent copies).

This counterfeit problem should be a huge concern for Amazon. Every time I look at a brand name product like Bose headphones, Nespresso coffee pods, or Ray Ban sunglasses, I have to pause and weigh the chances that I’ll get a fake product. Is the price too good to be true? Why is this other price so much lower? If another big merchant comes along with a good user interface and reliable product sourcing, then I would definitely consider shopping there instead. (You hear that, Jet.com + Wal-Mart?)

What can you do? One option is to only buy things marked “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” This may mean you have to voluntarily pay more for the same product – so painful! – but it may be worth a few extra bucks for the peace of mind. I would also consider third-party sellers if they are the original manufacturers of the product. For example, you could buy ExOfficio boxer briefs directly from the ExOfficio seller account (although sold by Amazon is cheaper right now).

Amazon’s return policies could still be considered “customer-friendly”, but only if you are an alert and active customer. It is your responsibility to examine your product for any inconsistencies. If you spend the time to contact them and complain, by most accounts Amazon will refund your money if under FBA, or at least pressure the 3rd-party merchant to refund your money. This isn’t good enough; I hope that Amazon becomes less reactionary and be more pro-active about this problem.

Store-Bought Rotisserie Chicken: An Economic Analysis

costco_chickenCostco’s $4.99 rotisserie chicken is about as famous as their $1.50 hot dog and soda combo. It’s cheap, but is it a good value? Priceonomics went out and did an real-world experiment using store-bought rotisserie chicken. You may have noticed that the rotisserie chickens are often smaller than the raw whole chickens you can buy in the same store.

To test out whether rotisserie chickens are still a bargain after you account for their size and reduced water weight, we ran an experiment. We visited seven supermarkets and bought a rotisserie chicken and a raw chicken from each. After draining each rotisserie chicken of the fluid that collects in the container, we weighed them. Then we cooked the raw chickens […] and weighed them.

Here are the results from Priceonomics:

rotchicken

At Costco and Smart & Final, the rotisserie chickens are actually cheaper than cooking it yourself. At other grocery chains, on a per pound basis you can save money cooking it yourself. You can save even more by stocking up when there is a sale. Whole chickens go for $0.99 or less per pound pretty regularly in my experience.

This analysis tried to focus on the numbers, but there are other factors to consider. Time is a big one – If you don’t like to spend your time cooking, you may prefer the rotisserie. Control is another – if you prefer to buy organic, avoid any “enhanced” flavorings and additives, or otherwise customize your chicken, you may still prefer to cooking yourself.

OpenSignal LTE Network Comparison: T-Mobile vs. Verizon

opensignallogo

OpenSignal (mentioned previously) crowdsources cellular coverage and speed maps directly from individual network users. They recently released the August 2016 update to their State of Mobile Networks USA Report, which was based on 2.8 billion measurements collected by 120,000 OpenSignal users. The results may surprise you.

Verizon is still first, but T-Mobile is now a close second in terms of LTE Network availability. Note the definition of availability is based on the percentage of time that users get a LTE signal; it is not directly based on geographical coverage.

opensignal1

T-Mobile is now first (again, the difference is small) in average LTE network speed.

opensignal2

Coverage is still location specific. At the bottom of the report, they list which networks have the best coverage in your metro area. For example, Verizon is tops availability for Boston and New York City, Verizon and T-Mobile are tied for top in Los Angeles and Seattle, and AT&T and Verizon are tied for tops in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Using their crowdsourced maps, you can even drill down to your home, school, workplace, or commute route. It’s free to see their coverage maps online, but you should consider downloading their free smartphone apps (Android / iOS) so that you can also contribute anonymous information and improve the data quality for everyone. The app will even direct you if you want to walk towards a better signal.

Bottom line. LTE is now the most important form of cellular data. T-Mobile has invested a lot of money into 4G LTE coverage, while Sprint has less complete and slower 4G LTE coverage. While Verizon still has the best geographical coverage, depending on your location the T-Mobile network may offer equally good LTE coverage and speed. This is good to know since T-Mobile is always offering some sort of promotion, while the MVNOs that use their network like Ting and Republic Wireless are the cheapest options.