With the opening of our local Super Wal-Mart Nextel announced eight or nine towers in our area, thereby opening up Nextel and, more importantly, Boost Mobile, for me. It opened yesterday, so why not talk about Boost today?
Bad news first: Boost Mobile runs off of Nextel's iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) towers, which means you can forget about roaming; there is none. The coverage area also covers only about 86% of the U.S. population. The network's voice quality on regular phone calls, especially ones with background music, can at times be nauseatingly computerish. And the phones have a somewhat annoying family resemblance, meaning that if you don't like one flip phone's interface you probably won't like any of the others', or the bar phones' for that matter. The phones are also a bit large for something that's still very actively marketed. And the phones are expensive ($60 for a black-and-white phone, $80 for a color phone, $180 for a color flip phone).
Now the good news...
Walkie-talkie! Walkie-talkie! Walkie-talkie! The voice quality for direct-connect (that's what they call it) is very good and all the phones support it (though the same stylized speakerphone grill on the same part of the phone gets repetitive). And if you're a talker, you'll like that $1.50 per day gives you unlimited nationwide service, something not found standard on normal Nextel plans. Also, the secret to Direct Connect is whoever starts the conversation gets charged for it, as long as the ocversation keeps going. So you may end up not having to pay anything unless you yourself start the session. Another thing about Walkie-Talkie is because of the iDEN network the transmissions, starts and stops are almost instant on both ends, just like a normal two-way radio (whose infrastructure iDEN is built on so no surprise there).
The second piece of good news is the rates are lower than quite a few prepaid companies'. They are all the same (although you can sometimes get larger-value cards at a large discount on eBay); 20 cents per minute peak, 10 cents nights (starting at 9) and weekends. So if you used the phone at those times you would have the one of the best prepaid deals available (well, INPulse has unlimited nights but costs 99 cents per day so you'd have to use 300 night minutes per month on it to be a better deal). During peak hours the rate isn't all that horrible either, being about the lowest Tracfone minutes go, cheaper than Simple Freedom or Virgin Mobile (unless you use 16 or more minutes one day) and less expensive than Cingular's Pay As You Go 25 cent and even 10 cent (if you use less than 11 minutes one day) plans.
You also get 10 cents outgoing\free incoming text messaging and, on one or two phones, multimedia messaging, though the messages can only be sent to other Boost Mobile or Nextel subscribers. You even get unlimited "wireless web" (WAP internet, essentially limited web browsing from your cell phone) for 20 cents a day, though this is charged every day unless you turn it off (I'm pretty sure but not 100% on this).
The phones, while expensive and on the large side, are relatively well-featured and modern, being about what Nextel gives their postpaid customers, at only a little more cost (and maybe even cheaper if you wanted to sign up for a 1-year Nextel contract, which adds $50 to the prie of any phone they have). They also have a few phones (or special editions of phones) not available to regular Nextel customers. You can even use regular Nextel phones, which can be cheaper if bought off of eBay than a similar Boost phone. Beware though thatif you ever wanted to (God forbid ;) ) go to a Nextel contract you'd have to leave a normal Boost phone behind; they're locked tightly to Boost and Boost only.
Now for the fun part. You can, via a cable and the Nextel connection software,browse the web through the Boost phones for free. You can also use a Boost SIM in a Nextel Blackberry and, using Reqwireless Web Viewer, access the full internet from anywhee a Nextel signal is available...for free as long as your Boost account is active.
So you have comparatively low rates, a walkie-talkie feature and a host of "undocumented features" that make Boost well worth trying, but phones that are on the large and expensive side, as well as subpar voice quality (on normal calls) and not-so-robust nationwide coverage keep it from going striaght to the top of the prepaid heap, though it offers local numbers practically everywhere it's sold, a nice plus.