Zact becomes the latest carrier to rethink wireless plans

Most wireless carriers make you gamble when you subscribe to their service: You either risk over-paying with a big data plan, or get a smaller plan and risk overage charges or speed penalties.

A new service called Zact takes a different approach. With Zact, you sign up for as much talk, text, and data as you’re comfortable paying for. Anything you don’t use gets credited back to your account at the end of the month.

Zact’s plans are highly configurable, with the ability to add minutes, messages, and data in small chunks. When you approach your limit, Zact sends a warning to your phone, and lets you add more service through its mobile app. Plans can be tied to a single device or shared between multiple phones. Parents can also set limits on their children’s usage and restrict certain contacts or apps.

Zact’s pricing plans let you sign up for the talk, text, and data amounts you want; unused amounts are credited back to your account.

The approach is similar to that of Ting, another wireless service that only charges for exactly what you use. However, Ting charges a $6 per-device fee, and doesn’t allow users to cut off usage over a certain limit. (Ting users can set their own alerts, at least.) Zact also appears to be slightly cheaper than Ting overall.

Zact doesn’t offer up-to-date hardware. One of its supported phones is the LG Viper 4G LTE, which is running an older version of Android.

But Ting has one major advantage: Its selection of phones is much better, including high-end handsets such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy Note II; iPhone support in the works for Ting. Zact only offers the LG Viper 4G LTE and the LG Optimus Elite, both stale phones running outdated versions of Android.

Both services rely on Sprint’s network for coverage. That means slow 3G speeds unless you buy a device that supports 4G LTE, and you happen to be in area where Sprint’s 4G network is up and running. If you need faster coverage, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Zact and Ting have other drawbacks. Neither carrier subsidizes their handsets, so while you don’t have to sign a contract, you’ll have to pay more up front, and the savings won’t really kick in until you’ve subscribed for a while. Also, keep in mind that neither service is economical for people who actually need lots of data. On Zact, 5GB of data alone costs $104 per month—in addition to voice and text. Sprint’s unlimited voice, text and data plan only costs $110 per month.

The idea with services like Zact and Ting is that most people don’t need as much voice, text and data as they pay for, and they shouldn’t be penalized for guessing incorrectly. Their very existence is a good thing, and they’re worth investigating further if you’re OK with the high up-front cost, the selection of devices, and the quality of Sprint’s network.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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