AT&T to Pure TalkUSA, one month later
TL;DR: If you have questions about Pure TalkUSA unanswered by the official FAQ, I have some information for you starting from the section "migration experience".
I became an AT&T customer days after arriving in the U.S., and stayed one for three years. The service was okay (I'm not a picky customer), but the pricing was ridiculous. I was paying somewhere between $50 and $60 per month for an AT&T Next plan, with unlimited talk and text and a mere 300 MB of data, phone installments not included (which I was paying the full price anyway). That's actually below average; see average phone plan in the U.S. costs ten time as much as that in the U.K.. I could save a bit by joining a family plan (or more precisely, "data share plan"), but then I would lose control over my line and account, which have proven to be very annoying when I needed to upgrade, or otherwise be serviced.
The biggest concern was that I didn't really need unlimited talk and text, so I wasn't using what I was paying for. These days we have too many channels of communications, most of them free. My monthly talk usage was usually around a hundred minutes or less, so I was basically paying a few dimes per minute. Which was like being robbed.
Then I heard about Pure TalkUSA — an AT&T MVNO — from one of my friends. Pure Talk offers cheap limited plans1 that looked appealing to me. It uses AT&T's network, so for me, the only thing I would lose by switching was part of my monthly expenses, to which I wouldn't object. So I switched last month. Now that I've been on Pure Talk's network for a month, I'll try to talk about the good and bad, as well as some migration caveats, since information is sparse on the Internet. Note: I'm not comparing Pure TalkUSA to other AT&T MVNOs, since I know nothing about any of them.
Disclaimer before I start: I can't guarantee that information provided here is accurate (I only speak from the experience of a single customer, that is myself, although I'll try not to make unfounded claims), and I didn't consult Pure TalkUSA before publishing this post, so please don't hold me accountable for anything.
A few tips about migration from AT&T:
About unlocking: After allegedly unlocking your AT&T phone, naturally you would want to make sure it is actually unlocked before ordering a Pure Talk SIM. And you'll find a lot of guides when you google "check if iPhone is unlocked". I'll just tell you this: don't trust those guides. iOS is constantly changing, and the only guaranteed check is to plug in your new SIM. To this day my General->About->Carrier shows AT&T, although I'm happily using Pure Talk's network.
Pure Talk ships your SIM card using USPS (they don't have physical stores), which is slow and expensive. However, I got my SIM much earlier than the estimated delivery date. Not sure if it's a coincidence. Probably location-dependent.
Porting number: You can choose to port your number during activation, whether you're calling or doing it online (filling out a few webforms). Beware that you must not have cancelled your AT&T service at the time of porting. The porting system was actually down for two days (customer support was very polite and kept apologizing although I said it didn't matter), and on the third day I used the webform but got an error in the end due to the wrong AT&T account number (there's an account number associated to each account — different from the phone number — that I've never heard of or used, and I had to call AT&T to extract that info). After acquiring the account number, I called Pure again and the porting process finished almost in an instant. I swapped in the new SIM card (the phone has been unlocked) and was able to make calls after a few seconds.
About AT&T cancellation: Porting the number will automatically cancel your service with AT&T, so you don't need to call them for cancellation.
An anecdote here: I initially feared the usual customer retention bullshit when I tried to cancel my AT&T service through online chat (I didn't know about automatic cancellation at that time), but there was none. Representative was very polite, and I only got a "sorry to see you go" at the end. So kudos to them.
Pros and cons
Here is a short list of pros and cons of Pure Talk compared to AT&T, in my opinion:
Cheap. Obviously. I am currently paying $22.90 ($12.95 + $9.95) for 500 minutes and 400 MB of data, and I'm switching to 250 minutes next month, which would make it $19.95. Note that as advertised, there are no taxes and hidden fees. I always hated the before-tax price tags in the U.S. Just tell me how much I need to pay!
Network quality (both talk and LTE) is good. Switching from AT&T, I didn't notice a difference. I don't know if this is true nationwide (I live in the Bay Area), but they say it's true on their FAQ.
By the way, shortly after activating the service, I got a text message pointing me to download a profile to my phone in order to use LTE. It's titled "PureLTE" by "Giesecke and Devrient AB Nordic", and I verified with customer support that it is legit.
You may change your plan at any time with a few clicks, and only need to make up for the price difference. Note that downgrading doesn't grant you a refund.
Customer service (U.S. based) is mostly very polite and helpful (I did encounter a guy who sounded very tired with his job though), and wait time is generally very short.
Tip: For customer support, call 611 from a Pure Talk line (instead of the usual ten digit customer service number listed on their website) to avoid being charged.
There's no visual voicemail, only old-schooled voicemail which you need to dial a number to listen to, in the order they were received; moreover, dialing and listening to voicemail counts toward your minute balance. I hardly missed that. I never grew accustomed to voicemail anyway; now I have an excuse to forget about it completely.
All incoming phone calls and text messages count towards your minute balance (I don't know about what's most common in the U.S., but as far as I know this is rarely the case in China — you usually only pay for active usage, although you do need an active service to receive calls and messages). Calling toll free numbers counts, too, so now you'll be even more angry when you're put on hold for an hour.
For iPhone users, or Android users who otherwise bring in their own phones: since they don't sell you your iPhone, they also don't offer insurance plans. So be extra careful with your phone! Paying $100 for a replacement (from AT&T's insurance program) is no more.
That's basically all I want to say. Hope this post helps someone who's researching Pure Talk.
Pure Talk also offers an unlimited talk & text plan for $24, excluding data. According to the "unlimited plus plan" page:
Compare our Unlimited Plus plans to similar unlimited cell phone plans on the market and you'll see the savings you can receive! While others may pad their higher priced plans with "free" international minutes, we're focused on giving you the best rate for unlimited talk and text, plus data used within the United States.
I honestly don't know which competitions they are referring to here. If it's AT&T, I'll share an anecdote about international roaming: I went back to China, and got a text message from AT&T saying that I could use data for TWENTY DOLLARS PER MEGABYTE. I would have had to pay $200 to visit The Verge once on 4G.↩︎