Public Mobile vs Chatr Wireless - So close, no matter how far...


Public Mobile is a TELUS discount brand and Chatr Wireless (aka Chatr Mobile) is a Rogers discount brand. Let's see how they stack up, shall we?

We'll start with a list of the plans side-by-side. Whether you want to read closely, or scroll down past the images to get the nitty gritty details is entirely up to you. Either way, you will soon discover that the base plans are more similar than they are different, and that the major differences are buried in the fine print.

Public Mobile and Chatr $15 plans compared
Public Mobile and Chatr $25 plans compared
Public Mobile and Chatr $35 plans compared
Public Mobile and Chatr $40 plans compared
Public Mobile and Chatr $50 plans compared
Public Mobile does not have a $55 plan, but Chatr does!
Public Mobile and Chatr $60 plans compared

Dollar-for-dollar these plans are identical on the surface with the following exceptions:

The most striking difference is actually the way Chatr has gimped voicemail on the $15/month plan. If you visit the pay-per-use details, you might be alarmed to find that manual voicemail retreivals on this plan are billed at a whopping $0.40/minute. Yikes!


What's Close - Similarities

$10 SIM cards - Both providers sell SIM cards directly from their website for $10, or you can find them on ebay in the $5-9 range. If buying directly from the cell provider, currently Public Mobile will throw in a free 2nd SIM card.

Free activation - Once you have your SIM card you can activate online for free with either carrier.

Prepaid Plans Only - No postpaid plans, and you must have a monthly plan.

No overages - Public doesn't have pay-per-use extras so if you exhaust something you either buy an addon or wait for next month. Chatr has pay-per-use extras but they're only utilized if you've topped up with extra money in your account. Either way, you have control over what you spend.

Data Usage Notifications - Public Mobile sends you a text when you hit 75% and 95% of your included plan data. Chatr sends you a text when you hit 90% and 100% of your included plan data.

3G Speeds - Even though data might transfer over the 4G network, you're limited to 3G speeds. These are discount carriers, after all.

Long Distance availability to other countries - Public Mobile allows long-distance calling to other countries via non-expiring add-ons. Chatr allows pay-per-use long distance.

US Roaming - Both allow roaming in the US - via a 10-day addon for Public Mobile, and at pay-per-use rates via Chatr (Chatr allows roaming in over 150 countries).

No free phone support - Public Mobile support is limited to creating a ticket via their website, with the expectation being that you handle most account management items on your own by logging into your account on the website. Chatr is similar, expecting you to use the website or the app for most account operations, and they go so far as to charge a $5 fee for typical phone, Twitter, and Facebook customer service requests (with exceptions being to solve an issue, activate a SIM, or set up AutoPay).


Where differences become far - the strengths of Public Mobile

Public Mobile has a number of discounts available - $2/month discount for using AutoPay, $1/month discount for each year your account has been active on Public Mobile (to a max of $5/month after 5 years), up to $20 for participating in the community forums, and $1/month discount for each friend you have referred. No discounts with Chatr, which means Public Mobile will almost always be cheaper.

Public Mobile doesn't have any "Surprise, you accidentally burned your excess top up!" options - Chatr's pay-per-use items are structured in a way that makes it easy to burn up any extra top-up amounts you've added. A few examples:

...suffice it to say, if you're on Chatr and have added extra top-up amounts to your account in case you need to make use of pay-per-use items, you do run the risk of accidentally burning through it rather quickly. As much as Public Mobile's addons are limited to specific items, there is virtually no risk of accidentally burning through any excess top-up amounts.

Public Mobile has good data add-ons if you need fast data - $5/200 MB of extra data or $15/1 GB of extra data. This data does not expire, can be used on any of Public Mobile's plans, and is only tapped into once you've used all your monthly data which makes it a great cushion for periodic overages. Contrast those prices to Chatr who hides their Data Plus details/fees from the public website, though from bits gathered on the web they appear to charge $5 for something between 200-500 MB depending on your plan for data that not only expires, but can only be added a certain number of times.

Public Mobile has cheaper long distance - Most of the Public Mobile long distance addons are $15, and the minutes do not expire. The USA long distance package on Public Mobile actually does come in at under $0.02/minute, as does the UK package. The most expensive package works out to $0.15/minute (to the Philippines).

Public Mobile has cheaper USA Roaming via their addons if you talk for more than 16 minutes in a 10 day period - Also cheaper if you send more than 20 text messages while in the US on the cheap plan in a 10-day period. Also cheaper if you use more than 100 MB of data while in the US in a 10 day period.

You can add cheap Canadian minutes to the $15/month Public Mobile plan - Both Public/Chatr have 100 outgoing Canada-wide minutes on the $15/month plans, but Chatr charges $0.40/minute for overages whereas Public Mobile will let you buy 500 minutes for $5 ($0.01/minute) and let you use them at your leisure (they don't expire).

Public Mobile has a community forum - The community participation discount has strongly benefitted Public Mobile customers. Any time someone asks a question in the community forum, it invariably receives a number of answers rather quickly. This means if you search for an issue/question you will usually find the answer you seek, and you'll often find further details/discussion. Chatr doesn't have a public forum.

If you need to change your plan, Public Mobile lets you choose between doing it immediately or scheduling it for your renewal date - Chatr on the other hand instantly applies changes (though plan upgrades are prorated on Chatr).

Overall, the costs you can expect on Public Mobile are much more simple and clear - Chatr on the other hand has a lot more complexity, in part due to the highly varied costs of each pay-per-use item.


Where differences become far - the strengths of Chatr

Chatr has free "unlimited" data (albeit throttled) on all plans except the $15/month plan - If you are on any of the $25+/month plans with Chatr, once you have used up your data, you can continue using data at a throttled speed of 64 kbps (a little faster than dial-up) although it's not clear if this is limited to in-zone behavior. Public Mobile by comparison simply stops your data once you have hit your limit, and requires you to either buy an addon or wait for your monthly renewal to continue using data.

Chatr has Phone Support - Hours are limited, and you may be charged if you call them for an item you could have tackled on your own, but unlike Public Mobile, Chatr does have phone support and they also offer Twitter and Facebook support with even longer hours available.

Retail outlets! - Chatr has actual retail outlets. Public Mobile does not.

Chatr App - Chatr has an iOS/Android app called "My chatr". Public Mobile doesn't have anything similar.

Chatr allows roaming in almost 200 countries - While the pay-per-use fees can be extreme (from $0.50/minute in the USA to $4/minute in Australia to $6/minute on a Cruise Ship, and up to $30/MB of data in many countries - not a typo), incoming texts appear to almost always be free, and you do have the ability to use your phone when travelling.

Chatr has long distance available to over 200 countries - Public Mobile is limited to 41 countries. Additionally, if your long distance calls aren't lengthy and tend to be to countries where Chatr has low rates, it's possible that you'll spend less than you would have by using a $15 addon from Public Mobile.

The Chatr Day Pass - If you're really strapped financially and can't afford to pay for your plan, Chatr has a $2 and $3/day plan you can make use of to hold you over. Of course, since this works out to $60-90/month it's probably not a wise option unless you're using it to pick a day here and there.

Fixed anniversary dates - Chatr sets your renewal date to be the same day each month (ie the 27th). This can be extremely useful when tracking usage on Android phones and also makes it easier to remember if you have to budget. Public Mobile plans renew every 30 days and thus don't have a consistent renewal date, making usage tracking more difficult and making it more challenging to remember when your next renewal is.

Notification when your credit card will expire - This seems like an obvious thing, but Chatr will send you 2 text messages when your credit card is about to expire. Public Mobile surprisingly doesn't, which means if you're using auto-pay, you need to remember to update your credit card when the time comes or risk your service dropping when your payment fails.

Chatr Secured Credit Card - If the primary reason you're using Chatr prepaid is due to financial difficulties that have resulted in a poor credit rating, Chatr has a Secured Mastercard with rewards and a $5/month fee (or a non-secured Mastercard with slightly better rewards and no fee).

"Add extra money" auto-pay option - If you want to make use of pay-per-use items (like long distance or roaming), you'll need to have a little extra money available in your account. If you'd rather do this on a regular basis (add $5/month extra for example as a bit of a "Slush Fund") you can.

Chatr plan *upgrades* are prorated - If upgrading to a larger plan, Chatr will discount it based on how much time you had left on your old plan. On Public Mobile if you force an immediate plan upgrade (rather than scheduling for the renewal date), you pay the full price of the new plan immediately.


When does Public Mobile make more sense?

If you're shopping for the cheapest plan possible, not only can you reduce your monthly fee by $2/month on Public Mobile by attaching a credit card for AutoPay, but you can use the non-expiring addons to fill the gap when you need a little more outgoing call minutes ($15/month plans) or data (all plans). Other rewards can bring down the monthly price even further.

If you roam to the US and use your phone to talk/text or use data to any reasonable degree, the Public Mobile addons work out to be substantially cheaper than relying on Chatr pay-per-use rates.

If all you need is unlimited calling to the USA, Public Mobile's cheapest plan is $50/month compared to Chatr's $55/month.

If you are looking at the $15/month plans, Chatr's $15/month plan is actually quite poor due to the cost of voicemail retrievals, and high cost of extra Canada minutes if you go over.

If your data usage tends to be consistent and you're good at predicting it, the hard cap on data usage likely won't impact you, and if it does, a 1GB data addon for the few times you do go over might be cheaper (and more preferable) over the long term instead of choosing a more expensive plan with Chatr.

If you tend to stick with a single provider over the long term, sticking with Public Mobile long-term grants you the annual $1/month discount. After 5 years, that reaches the max loyalty discount of $5/month - combined with a likely $2/month discount for AutoPay, you're saving $7/month on whatever plan you're currently on.


When does Chatr make more sense?

If you need unlimited data (even if throttled), assuming you can handle the $25+/month price point, Chatr has it and Public Mobile does not.

Need long distance to a smaller country? On Chatr you can call over 200 countries, although some are quite expensive and you'll need to top up your account with suffient credit to make those calls. Public Mobile only has long distance addons for 41 countries (split up across 6 packages), though they are generally cheaper and unused minutes do not expire.

Need to travel outside of Canada and the US? As long as your country is one of the nearly 200 that Chatr offers roaming in, you can probably use your cell service there. Pubic Mobile is Canada/US only.

If you're less price sensitive and simply need the ability to make your phone work to/from all locations and you're willing to keep your account topped up so that you can do so, Chatr ultimately makes more sense.

If you don't actually use your cellular service to talk/text when travelling but like to receive texts and see who called (so you can call them back via a cheaper method), Chatr may be a good option for you here since those features should work in most countries.


Short version: Public Mobile or Chatr?

Choose Public Mobile if using the $15/month plan. Seriously, if you end up needing more talk time, the Public Mobile Canada addon will be far cheaper in the long run than Chatr's pay per use cost here. You'll also have access to voicemail on Public Mobile without paying $0.40 just to retrieve your darn messages. The only reason to use Chatr's $15/month plan is if you need roaming outside of Canada/USA, you absolutely need to make long distance calls to countries that Public Mobile doesn't support, or the only provider that has coverage in your area is Rogers/Fido/Chatr.

On $25+ plans, go with Chatr if you need unlimited data, need to roam outside of Canada/USA, or need to call long distance to countries that Public Mobile does not offer long distance to. Otherwise, choose Public Mobile.

If the only thing you need is unlimited calling to the USA, choose Public Mobile as it's included in their $50/month plan whereas you need a minimum $55/month plan to get unlimited calling to the US via Chatr.


While base prices appear quite similar between these providers on the surface, the story becomes quite different once you dive into details. For the data-centric in Canada who need "unlimited", Chatr will likely be the more attractive option. Putting that aside, the major difference between Public and Chatr is in the addons vs the pay-per-use, with Public utilizing the former (at lower prices) and Chatr using the latter (at higher prices but with higher flexibility worldwide).

In some ways, Chatr is more reminiscent of the more typical Canadian postpaid cell plans: you get certain amounts as part of your plan and if you use something beyond the basics you pay extra - sometimes a *lot* extra. The difference with Chatr is that being prepaid, you inherently limit what your total bill can be to your top-up, whereas with postpaid you would have simply received a massive bill.



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